PIECES OF THE PAST: Juice Trains Roll On

juice trainsBy Brenda Eubanks Burnette

Anthony T. Rossi, founder of Tropicana, immigrated to New York with the dream of making movies, but ended up in the grocery business for 13 years before heading to Florida in search of warmer weather. Using the skills he’d developed in the grocery business, he began packing gift fruit boxes for Macy’s and Gimbel’s, and jars of sectioned fruit for salads under the name Manatee River Packing Company.

He then expanded to Bradenton with a company called Fruit Industries, which supplied the fresh fruit salads on the menu of New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel. With juice as a byproduct of that business, he began producing frozen concentrated orange juice. As that sector grew, he purchased the Grapefruit Canning Company in Bradenton in 1952, eventually completely phasing out the gift fruit business.

In 1954, Rossi developed flash pasteurization, a process that rapidly raised the temperature of juice for a short time to preserve its fresh taste. He began shipping orange juice from Florida to New York via an 8,000-ton ship called the SS Tropicana. At its peak, 1.5 million gallons of juice were shipped each week to Whitestone, Queens, where Tropicana had built a distribution center. The SS Tropicana made its final orange juice voyage in 1961. The company then began relying exclusively on truck and rail transport.

By 1970, Tropicana shipped bulk orange juice via insulated boxcars in a weekly round-trip from Florida to Kearny, New Jersey. By the following year, the company ran two 60-car trains a week, each carrying approximately 1 million gallons of juice. That was the year the “Great White Juice Train” (the first unit train in the food industry, consisting of 150 100-ton insulated boxcars) began service over the 1,250-mile route. An additional 100 cars were soon added to the fleet with small mechanical refrigeration units installed to control temperature. Tropicana saved $40 million in fuel costs alone during the first 10 years in operation.

The “juice trains,” as they are now known, are all orange — not white — and serve as a powerful form of advertising, running 10 trips each week to Jersey City and Cincinnati. Additional shipments trek 3,000 miles to California in specially-equipped refrigerated cars.

How’s that for putting the squeeze on transportation costs!?

Now I’d just like to hear the real story behind how “Tropic-Ana” got its name, since I’ve heard two different claims as to who is responsible. Was it Jane Beckley Burt, an artist whose husband headed up the U.S. advertising and marketing division for Tropicana, whose design was based on a neighbor’s little girl? Or was it Ed Winarski, who was a graphic artist for Owens-Illinois Co., the bottle supplier for Tropicana? If you know, please contact me at BBurne1003@aol.com or 561-351-4314 so the information can be added to the citrus archives!

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.

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