Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/296

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vessels reduced to rattletraps. True, federal provision for river improvement continued sporadically under what was long jocosely styled the "pork barrel" committee, from which the stigma finally faded under the leadership of the stainless and brilliant Burton, until the aggregate expenditures for rivers and canals reached several hundred millions—yet the federal policy remained repressive and commonwealths and capitalists held aloof: there was never a cabinet officer charged with the duty of developing or maintaining commerce by water, the admirable engineer corps was barred from initiative by custom and even by law, the Rivers and Harbors Committee found its chief function in scaling down or turning down estimates and projects presented by the people. Mechanism for progress there was none; of means of repression there were many. And population and production gradually overtook and then outpassed railway capacity.

The Re-awakening

Shortly after the abundant harvests of 1906 were gathered a great popular movement began to stir the interior and the west, and a cry went up against an intangible but real tyranny of transportation that barred produce from markets and withheld supplies from the producers. The movement did not arise in a day; by some it was foreseen for months, by others it was felt only when the pinch of winter came with fuel-famine and need for clothing and transported food-stuffs; yet even by mid-autumn some millions of citizens were astir—far more than felt the thrall of foreign stress a century and a third before. At first the movement was vague and without definite aim; groups met for discussion, conferences were called, complaints were voiced, and then county boards and state legislatures were invoked, and national law-makers were deluged with appeals from half a million constituents. The situation was simple—within a decade the productions of the northern interior had doubled, while transportation facilities had increased but a small fraction. Fortunately it was sized first by railway men: there were not cars enough; neither were there locomotives enough to move the cars required for the products, nor tracks enough to carry the trains; there were not terminals enough for the rolling stock, nor could these be acquired without imposing a ruinous burden; there was not iron enough in the country to build the cars and locomotives and tracks, not available labor enough to mine and smelt the ore—and besides the cost (estimated, e. g., by James J. Hill at $5,000,000,000 to $8,000,000,000, or one third to one half of our aggregate railway investments) would consume so large a part of our currency as to paralyze other business. Even if the extension were possible, the relief would be but temporary; with normal growth of the country and ordinary increase in production it would be effective for only seven to ten