Ken Bishop started a garden supply store called “Bishop and Mathews” in 1927. It quickly became a thriving garden supply center in Los Angeles.
In 1928, he decided to try his hand in the Christmas tree business by bringing in carloads of Christmas trees to the rail yards at 8th and Alameda for the purpose of wholesale distribution to retailers. At that time Christmas trees were sold primarily from retail lots and Nurseries. Southern Pacific had established this acreage for the purpose of unloading produce and freight from their boxcars before the turn of the century. Prior to the 1050’s nearly everything was shipped by rail. Other businesses were soon to follow with wholesale yard.
At that time the only Christmas trees available were wild Douglas Fir, White Fir, and Red Fir (Silver Tip). He and his crew traveled to the slopes of Mt. Shasta, cut natural Silvertip Christmas trees, and brought them down to the team tracks at 8th and Alameda for resale. Ken also purchased rail car loads of Douglas fir Christmas trees from Washington Farms, and brought them into the wholesale yard by rail car.
Wholesale and retail buyers of Christmas trees soon discovered this area. They flocked to the team tracks to get their trees. Thousands of retail customers from all over Los Angeles flooded the area. There were also a number of other tree companies that brought trees in. Over the years, the team tracks became the major supplier of Christmas trees in the southwest. Many times there were as many as 200 rail cars full of Christmas trees at the tracks at one time. Families would come in to watch the trains moving around and the trees being unloaded and shipped to various locations. Even though the location was in one of the worst areas of Los Angeles, people would drive from all areas to come down to buy their trees fresh out of the boxcar. Thousands of retail buyers arrived daily to walk through the numerous retail lots which sprang up in the area. It was possibly the largest retail Christmas tree outlet ever existing. On the weekends the place was a circus with all types of vendors all wanting a piece of the action. Lunch wagons, balloons, hot dog carts all contributed to the carnival atmosphere and people loved it. At times there were as many as 200 people on the retail lot, making it very difficult to manage. The folks in Hollywood favored the area, since they could come after 10:00PM and avoid the crowds. One weekend while unloading a boxcar someone shouted out “how much for that one”. Another said “I’ll give you $28 for that one”. That created the auction. A platform was built to set in front of the door of the rail car and each weekend there would be an auction.
At that time there were no truck shipments, and everything came by rail. After closing down their retail lots, the retailers would come down to the tracks and pick up their trees for the next day or so. The wholesale business went on all night.
In the late 50’s, two men from Corvallis Oregon brought a pickup load of sheared Douglas fir to our farm, They had been experimenting with shearing and trimming them to try and produce a better Christmas tree. Ron purchased a carload of them. They sold like hotcakes. The next year Ron purchased 3 carloads. Buyers would show up at night with flashlights and unload the rail car themselves to fill their orders. Soon to follow were Noble and Grand fir. Since these trees seemed to be a higher quality tree than the others, they became “premium” trees, the rest were “regular”. and tree grading began. This marked the beginning of modern Christmas tree farming as we know it today. Today their farm is the largest in the entire world.
When trucks rather than rail shipping became popular, farms began shipping directly to their retailers, and the wholesale yards were used primarily for distribution and fill ins. In 1978, after 50 years, Bishop and Mathews was forced to relocate. This signaled the end of the days at the “tracks”. We have relocated many times since, and many of our customers follow us and still purchase trees. Our current wholesale yard is located in Torrance, Ca.
The Ken-Del Ranch Christmas tree farm near Mt. Shasta covered over 5000 acres. It was primarily a silvertip growing area, as they tend to grow at higher elevations. As plantation grown Christmas trees became more popular, Ken eventually sold most of the farm and kept the lower ranch for summer recreation.