Cape Cod Cold Storage trolley and tramway.
Fish didn’t get into the West End freezer by themselves. Instead, a remarkable little intermodal transportation system was created. It featured a narrow-gauge freight railroad that ran on a trestle about one-fifth of a mile over the water, from the remnants of Freeman’s Wharf, and an aerial tramway that hoisted the catch roughly 50 feet up in the air and into the freezer building. The “engine” of this little freight train, a couple of carts long, was a Model A Ford modified with rail wheels. Francis Grant “Molly” Joseph (1929-2006) worked at the “Col’ Storage” for decades, driving this trolley. His son, Mel Joseph, wrote an evocative essay for the 2010 Provincetown Portuguese Festival booklet:
“The trolley’s day was one of backing up all the way down to the end where the boat crews off-loading them. The trolley made its way back to the tram where my dad would turn a large turnkey so that some contraption would rise up and open the cart’s bottom, and the fish would drop down a level into a hopper. He’d climb down a level and pull a gate up and the fish would drop into the ‘basket’ that would be pulled up the tram to the third floor.
The Cold Storage trolley transported fish from the boats to a tramway. Photo courtesy of Mel Joseph.
Left: The motive power for the little freight railroad was a converted Model A Ford with rail wheels. Photo courtesy of the late Anthony L. “Tony” Thomas III. Right: Francis G. “Molly” Joseph drove the trolley for many years. Photo courtesy of Mel Joseph.
An aerial tramway took the fish from the pier up to the freezer. This postcard is from the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 1, Page 9, on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 457.
Here, the tramway can be seen going over the two-story filleting department and into the third floor of the freezer. Photo from the Charlotte Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 27.
After ice floes destroyed the outermost 400 feet of the trestle in February 1971, The Advocate ran a photo of John White and Keith Holloway, workers at the freezer, surveying the wreckage from the top of the tramway. Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 2, Page 124, on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 477.
“The fish would would be dumped onto a conveyor belt that had a spinning basket that spun the scales off. I was young and what I remember was a lot of moving pieces, noise, and sharp objects. When in there, I never ventured too far from my dad’s side. I asked Manny ‘Blue Boy’ [Santos] if they joked around and played practical jokes and had fun. He said: ‘There was no fun. It was too dangerous and things happened too fast to have fun.'”¹
Given the infernal, frozen environment within, Molly Joseph may have had the best perch at the Cold Storage. “When my father was in failing health in 2006,” Mel recalled, “he and I discussed how blessed he was to have lived his entire life with the view of this harbor as his backdrop.”
The tramway was an undeniably dramatic element on the waterfront. This photo, which also shows the trap shed, is courtesy of Frank X. Gaspar, who lived next door.
¶ Last updated on 2 December 2016.
125 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 125 Commercial Street:
Cape Cod Cold Storage cannery.
United States Coast Guard Station Provincetown.
United States Coast Guard Pier.
Thumbnail image: Photo courtesy of Frank X. Gaspar.
• Francis Grant Joseph
Find a Grave Memorial No. 170861793.
¹ “The Cape Cod Cold Storage and Freeman’s Wharf,” by Mel Joseph, Portuguese Provincetown Festival 2010, Page 46.