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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/347

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RAILROADS AND TRADE-CENTERS.

which interest is to be earned), but the minutest daily detail of such operation, is a rather costly method of gratifying a single Senator's or even a whole Congress's laudable curiosity as to "what are the natural channels of traffic, or what would be the effect of the natural laws of trade upon many, at least, of the present commercial centers"; and that it appears to be a rather cool proposition to charge the cost of gratifying the aforesaid curiosity upon the only party who had betrayed no curiosity in the premises whatever, but kept on its even tenor, operating at its own cost the franchises the people had given it, and endeavoring to pay one and one third per cent on the capital it employed.

But, to drop the student of political history, it is important, it seems to me, for the present generation to know, at last, just why the Interstate Commerce law was passed, and for just what sins of the railways they have been put under pedagogical surveillance. It is because these wicked railways have been creating trade-centers! The revelation is a particularly startling one, because among the railways themselves the maxim had always been to try and accommodate themselves to such trade-centers of the country as already existed at any possible expense and at all hazard. No terror of injunctions out of chancery were too terrible; no right of way was too costly; no rivers too broad; no mountains too solid; but the railway must supermount and penetrate, at whatever expense, to reach the trade-center which Nature had already provided. This, I say, has always been the maxim of the railway company: "Do the business of your territory, count first cost of construction as absolutely nothing. A railway is a means of supply to a trade-center, or a connection between two or more trade centers. The product of the country must have its best markets, but those best markets are at its trade-centers; at all odds we must get to them. No matter where the president of the company lives, or where the capital is subscribed. Construct our line to the best market!" Such, practically, have been the directors' and the promoters' instructions. And, indeed, it has always seemed to be supposed, even outside of the magic circle of the railway companies, that the capital to build railroads was subscribed on the understanding that they were to do the public business, and not operate against it and in its teeth, and that it would be unnecessary demonstration of corporate idiocy to attempt to procure capital upon any other. But now comes Senator Cullom with his proposition, and we are advised that we have all been wrong; that, instead, these naughty railways have been at work not connecting but creating trade-centers!

Had anybody but one of the fathers of the Interstate Commerce Commission made this statement, not much attention might have been paid to it. Every railroad man—certainly every shipper over a railway—knows that the establishment of a trade-center is a matter entirely out of the power and beyond the control of railway companies