Contributed by Roger Woodling
As you are aware the Omaha location of Fruehauf was not only home to the Omaha Plant, but it was the LBT Division HQ for the Omaha, Uniontown PA, Fresno CA and later Fort Wayne plants that primarily made welded products.
Another unique project assigned to Div. Engineering by Detroit was a project for United Fruit Co. The Fruehauf Div. plants had been building refrigerated 40' containers for UF to get bananas from S. America to the US for several years. United Fruit had funded research by Dr. Stanley Burg from the University of Miami to develop a longer term storage system for bananas. Dr. Burg developed a system in his refrigerator using a bell jar, vacuum pump and a hydration unit. He was able to rapidly cool the fruit, maintain a near full vacuum, provide circulation to remove gasses and maintain a specific temperature and humidity. Further experiments led to apples and other fruits, flowers and fresh meat being equally preserved.
The next step was an over the highway unit to prove the system. The first unit designed by the Division Engineering Department was quickly put together with a 20' fiberglass-reinforced-plywood refrigerated container and chassis pulled out of production at the Fresno Plant and a custom-built round stainless steel tank built and assembled inside the container at the Omaha Plant. This unit preserved bananas in Miami for several months and was then loaded with fresh-cut flowers 6 weeks before Mother's Day and driven west over the mountains and delivered fresh flowers 5 weeks later in California.
The next unit was a more practical 40' built from an aluminum container kit from Fruehauf R&D in Detroit and a standard 40' container chassis from one of the other plants. Omaha Plant built a square aluminum vacuum chamber. The container was assembled in Omaha around the chamber with insulation placing tubes between the two structures. The unit was then returned to Fruehauf R&D where they used their holding fixtures to support the container walls while pumping foam-in-place insulation through the withdrawal tubes between the structures. This unit had a practical payload and was used for numerous trials.
Unfortunately, even though the concept worked well, it was not economical for bananas, so UF pulled the plug on the project.
Several years later a shipping company commissioned an East-Coast manufacturer to build 125 40' containers with the same system to ship fresh US beef to the Mid-East where cost was not a concern. I'm not aware of and further use of the concept. I always expected to see such a compartment in our home refrigerators.
The advancement of transportation accelerated the economic growth of all industries in the industrial booming United States. The Fruehauf Trailer Company contributed to the advancement of American industry.
Ruth Ann Fruehauf and Darlene Norman have dedicated hard work, determination and intuition to bringing this project to life. This is the ongoing investigation and reporting of their efforts.
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The society has created historical books and a traveling exhibit rich with Fruehauf memorabilia and archival materials. Our next book, “Fruehauf, the First Name in Transportation” an in-depth analysis of the company’s history will be published soon.
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