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The Sugar Mill Opens
"Coming here in the infancy of the county, E. H. Dyer was quick to see her necessities and her possibilities, and with the push, energy, and determination of purpose that have always characterized him, he has stood in the face of, to ordinary men, insurmountable difficulties, and has succeeded in raising his own limited fortune to ample proportions and in establishing an industry in our midst the possibilities of which, not only to our country, but to the whole coast, no human foresight can today set the bound," wrote M. W. Wood in his History of Alameda County.
Ebenezer (E. H.) Dyer came to California at his brother, Ephraim Dyers, urging, to help him manage his farm business. He was manager of the farms and Ephraim Dyer was to prepare leases of acreage. E. H. was elected surveyor of Alameda County. The County Surveyor's job was to establish township maps and check out boundaries for title claims. In 1861 he was also appointed U.S. Deputy Surveyor for the State. His brother got a similar appointment covering the boundary from Lake Tahoe to the Oregon line. A History by E. H. Dyer, grandson of the founder, gives us this story:
"About this time the agricultural press was featuring sugar beet culture to reduce the heavy importation of sugar from Germany and the Tropics. Only 25,000 tons of America's 450,000 ton consumption was produced at home in 1867. Every effort in America . . . had been a failure. As E. H. studied the subject he observed that every venture had been deficient in one or more of the essentials of beets, machinery, men, and money."
So E. H. sent for beet seed from Germany and started some test plots, expanding these to 150 acres of his Alvarado farm. He found that his stock thrived on the beets.
"it happened that in 1858 a small beet sugar factory was built in Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin ... two men had left their sugar house employment in Germany and came to America in 1867," wrote Dyer. The purpose was to build a pilot beet sugar factory.
A. D. Bonesteel, instigator of the project, knew about the Alvarado experiments and decided to try California for his health and for the development of a "beet sugar estate."
The net result was that Bonesteel and his experts came to Alvarado. The Dyer brothers and their neighbors, General Hutchinson, B. P. Flint, W. B. Carr, J. N. Risdon, W. T. Garret, E. G. Rollins, and E. R. Carpentier (and others) formed the California Beet Sugar Company.
"The first spadeful of earth was turned on May 9, 1870" on Dyers farm. The first ton of sugar was delivered to the market in November, 1870. "Glamorous barrels of polished black walnut staves bounded by resplendent brass hoops were filled with specially refined coarse grain sugar and dispatched to Washington for President Grant."
The method for refining sugar was to process 50 tons of beets daily, which resulted in 4 tons of sugar. The beets were mashed, rasped to mush and separated into pulp and juice. The juice was filtered several times and concentrated and filtered again, and finally boiled to crystals in a vacuum pan. The fill mass from the pan was centrifuged and the sugar was washed with steam and spread on the floor to dry. When it was dry enough it was put into barrels.
"Alameda Creek, 100 feet wide and 5 to 6 feet deep at the factory, provided the only means of transportation available to compete with horsedrawn trucks and dusty roads. The creek reached salt water four miles below the factory at Union City. E. H., the seafarer, built a small side wheel steamer christened 'The Rosa,' having five-foot beam and thirty length," Dyer wrote.
Due to a falling out among the Dyers and the German technologists at the factory, the Germans moved on to Soquel to produce sugar at a new site. E. H. Dyer salvaged the Alvarado buildings and "determined to abide his time til the clan of Dyer boys could achieve stature and wisdom." "(The) career sugar craftsmen included three sons of E. H., three of Ephraim, one of B. F. Ingalls (brother of the wives of E. H. and Ephraim), and certain eager members of the boy's 'gang."' Ephraim's sons were Henry S., Hubert, and Harold. Ingall's son was Merrel. E. H.'s sons were Edward Franklin, and twins Hugh Thomas and Guy Sawyer. In 1879, with the help of outside stockholders, E. H. Dyer incorporated the Standard Sugar Manufacturing Company. "This company made a success of the business from the start," according to Historian Wood.
The following years brought success, followed by problems caused by a sugar war with San Francisco refiners. The price was low, but the factory continued to operate (1886-1887). A pair of boilers blew up, causing the death of a fireman. The works shut down. E. H. liquidated the warehouse stock. E. H., E. F. and H. P.,as Dyer called them, began reconstruction plans.
The Pacific Coast Sugar Company was organized in February, 1886, with new equipment on a new site across the road (State Historical Landmark#768).
The year 1888 brought enough results "to attract attention," Dyer wrote. Claus Spreckels and others came to see the plant.
Later, E. H. Dyer & Company built the pioneer Utah factory at Lehi, Utah. Part of Dyers stock was sold to E. C. Burr and John L. Howard, who organized the Alameda Sugar Company. "E. F. Dyer was under contract to direct operations for the 1889-90 campaign.
"The free sugar act brought discouragement to the domestic sugar producers. The Alvarado plant shut down in 1914.
"When the war came Congress not only repealed the free sugar bill but urged and assisted the home industry to expand and produce. Alvarado's plant had been closed for a year and had lost its operating staff."
J. McCoy Williams, pioneer of an operation in Oxnard, was commissioned to reopen the factory. "He brought with him Charley Fleener as superintendent and W. E. Loranger as plant engineer. The old Factory at Alvarado satisfied war demand for sugar but the cost was high. Through J. McCoy's recommendation the chronicler (Dyer) was selected to serve in the place of the Consulting Engineer who had died. (To get the plant going, the crew dug into the 'graveyard' of parts from 1887 and had those rebuilt.)
"Williams revived the old custom under which the superintendent's house on the factory grounds was a center of social activities. The ceremony of lighting the kiln a few days before beet slicing began was conducted by Mrs. Williams in the presence of the factory staff. Some little girl of the neighborhood was usually selected to apply the match. The formal opening of the factory was accompanied by a half holiday of the public schools."
In 1925 the leaf hopper destroyed much of Alvarado's beet crop. The plant was "now finally doomed," people said. But they were wrong. "Holly Sugar Corporation (Colorado Springs, Colorado) purchased the two factories (Tracy and Alvarado)." (Holly Sugar already had stock in the Alameda Sugar Company.)
The Alvarado plant was started up again in 1927. Water Zeigler was named superintendent in 1928.
The old plant was reconstructed in the late 1930's. Dyer wrote: "Some of the old timbers in the factory, harking back to 1870, carried their load year after year by the grace of Providence, and 80 years later were still stored in the 'graveyard' behind the beet sheds, outwardly sound but mealy within. At every reconstruction of the plant there was always 'something new and something old;' but always the same old plant-as grandfathers knife, fitted from time to time with new blades and new handles, always remained grand-father's knife. The final achievement in 1937 was a modern 1800-ton factory of beauty and efficiency - a credit to the Holly staff and a monument to the redoubtable E. H. Dyer."
The company operated until 1969 under the direction of Clarence V. Lesser, field engineer,
E. H. Dyer retired in the 1890's and lived until 1906.