WATERMELONSCannonballs in Florida and South Georgia (and in South Carolina as well where the Southern does a big business in them) are watermelons-nice, big, firm, almost round and completely luscious watermelons. These, and a similar melon, the Black Diamond, are all-green, black-seeded and red-meated beauties that account for more than 95 per cent of the watermelons shipped over the Southern. Grown from certified seed produced in the state of Oklahoma, they have almost entirely replaced in the commercial market the Cuban Queens, Tom Watsons, Thurmond Grays, Garrisons, Dude Creeks and Pearsons that furnished the juicy eating for watermelon feasts in years gone by. These are all good melons and many are still grown for consumption but they don't ship well-and melons that won't ship well often fail to get to the waiting lips and mouths of watermelon lovers who are many hundreds of miles from the main growing areas. Seed houses, the United States Department of Agriculture, state agricultural organizations, farmers' associations and others have worked steadily to improve melons so that they will retain their eating flavor while growing in a "package" that will permit them to be shipped long distances. And, the railroads have encouraged and aided in these activities freight claims on watermelons were once a nightmare to claim adjusters and, sometimes, resulted in what amounted to a net loss for the railroads carrying them. A load of watermelons being transferred from a farmer-grower's truck to a refrigerator car for a safe, cool journey to melon lovers in some other part of the country. A bed of straw (insert)is spread on the car floor before loading begins. But this, too, has been changed. The Southern will make money this year from the approximately 2,000 carloads of melons that will originate on its lines. Proper packing, good train-handling, better cars and faster freight schedules all are contributing toward reducing the claims filed on watermelon shipments to a point " where-revenue-wise--the traffic is highly desirable and where--customer-satisfaction-wise--the Southern's reputation as a carrier of perishables has increased greatly. Almost as soon as the watermelon seeds go into the ground the Southern begins to plan for moving the crop. Local traffic officers keep in touch with farmers to learn of crop prospects and to solicit their business for the Southern. The operating department begins to plan for furnishing cars to meet the anticipated demand and for running extra sections of "The Cannonball Express" during the height of the marketing period-usually the last two weeks of June and the early part of July. Freight claim prevention men, aided. by men from the special service department and the freight claim department, go into the shipping territory. to instruct and encourage shippers in so loading their cars that the melons will command top prices from buyers and will reach markets in prime condition. When the melons begin to roll these same men spend their time at major shipping points to observe the loading of cars, help shippers in this loading and, when ecessary, to note exceptions against cars that are ill. properly loaded so that the freight claim department may have this evidence available if a claim is filed later on a car that was loaded improperly. Everybody is busy in watermelon time but never too busy to stop to sample a melon. And, there are plenty to be sample because inspectors of the United States Department of Agriculture "cut" a number of melons from each lot loaded to determine that they are properly ripe and fit to receive the recommendation "U. S. No.1." That's the only kind of melon that moves by rail and a carload to be so graded must have in it ripe, evenly-sized, disease free melons of more than 25 pounds in weight. A lot of poorer melons--culls, diseased and undersized melons-move to markets by truck. None such can go by rail. More watermelons' are shipped from Adel, Ga., than from any other point on the Southern but the heart of the watermelon territory extends from Lake Butler, Fla., north to Viadilla, Ga. Cars loaded at Southern stations in this region are mostly purchased on the spot by representatives of various commission companies and it's an interesting sight to watch growers waiting at the end of a day for these buyers to "name their price," When the buyers want watermelons badly to fill the requirements of those whom they represent, prices have a way of jumping. And the expression "coy as a kitten" can be easily paraphrased as "coy as a watermelon grower in a rising market." But, finally, prices are agreed upon and the buyer gets a bill of lading for his car. Most cars move consigned to the buying company at the "Southern's Inman Yard in Atlanta. That's when Valdosta gets really busy. Here is where J. C. Greene, district freight agent, oversees the diversion activities that go on as cars are reconsigned by telegraph notice to Inman directing they be sent to one or more of the hundreds of receiving points in the North, East and West. Most of the large buyers, for chain groceries and other large outlets, maintain their own diversion bureaus to direct where melons shall be sent for marketing. But it is the Southern's Valdosta forces that issue the necessary orders-often on cars that never move through or near Valdosta because they may have been loaded on other railroads' tracks in territory that the Southern does not reach. Fourth of July picnics just wouldn't be the same without watermelon to eat. And the people who eat the Florida and Georgia melons before, on or after that holiday, probably owe a debt of thanks to the Southern for getting the melons to them in best eating condition. The Southern is geared to do that job and does it well. After that, it's up to the eater to decide whether he'll be dainty and eat 'his watermelon with a fork or just bury his face till he reaches the rind.
© S.A. McCall