Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

Dealing With Government Inspectors and Other Gilded Age Flashbacks

alecaustin linked to this NY Times story on Blackwater making oblique death threats against State Department investigators. I was reminded of a story from "Empire Express" which exhibits a far gentler method of redirecting attention, from 1868.

Three inspectors each had been sent to examine the quality of the railroad line being built by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific. One of the Central Pacific inspectors was a silent partner of the railroad, and another a long-time friend of one of the founder. But certain parts of the road would not stand up to close inspection. So Charles Crocker resolved to "have them our examining culverts, ballast & bridges between here & Wadsworth--- so that they won't want to hear of culverts or anything of the kind beyond there." At the section that was most troublesome:
I said to the commissioners that we were approaching the point where the [Sacramento] Union has said it was unsafe to go over the road.... "And," said I, "Here is a tumbler of water which I will set on the floor of the car. Now, gentlemen, take your watches: here is the station, and from this station to the next is so many miles. Note the time we leave this station and when we arrive at the other, so that you will know the rate of speed at which you have gone." I instructed the conductor to the tell the engineer that I wished to go over that piece of the road at 50 miles an hour, and they made a little better time than that. The tumbler was still standing and but little water had been spilt.... and the commissioners all laughed and said that was the strongest proof that had been given. They did not ask for any more; did not want to get out and look at the culverts.

Another connection I made with recent news is Grant's election as the first national example of black votes being viewed as an "illegitimate" path to victory.

A lot of the book is told from Grenville Dodge's point of view--- probably because he has many extant letters--- and while he has lots of scathing remarks about Durant's profit-seeking maneuvers he sees nothing out of line about scouting for coal and staking claims to sell back to the railroad employing him. In another modern connection, the initial Pacific Railroad act of 1862 was immediately lobbied into better shape (for the railroads) in 1864 and modified again in 1866. The same strategy of "get something passed, then complain about how bad it is" seems quite familiar today too. On the other hand, some of the pre-SEC financial maneuvers are quite odd.

Overall, my re-read of "Empire Express" is a lot more depressing that I remember. There's really a lot of genocide, fraud, and incompetence. I sure miss the radical Republicans' support for railroads, though.

ETA: I totally forgot one! Theodore Judah totally tried to croudsource the Pacific railroad $10 at a time (as a first payment on a $100 share.) He ran into Collis Huntington who convinced him to do it with just five backers at $1,500 each.
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