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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/63

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59
THE RULE OF THE ROAD

factor of the long interregnum-disuse of the English custom, whereby men's minds were freed from the influence of the special force which had made the old English custom differ from that of the continent. In the old countries war and jealousy, quarrels and crime, made men watchful of each other, kept old customs in vigor, etc., while with our colonists the common enemy banded our ancestors together in friendship and mutual trust. The habits of the continental immigrant also came into action, so that with the factors of disuse, of walkers, of horse-riders, of ox-teams, etc., all uniting, the more natural and universal law came to be customary. Two other necessities cooperated to win the easy establishment of the change: When wagons came into use they were hauled by two, by three, often by four or even by six horses or mules. The driver, of course, being a right-handed man, sat upon the near wheel-horse, and guided the leaders by the "jerk-line," held again, of course, in the left hand. The "prairie schooner" was an illustration of this universal American custom, and the six-mule team of all our armies in the war of the sixties was and remains a distinctive proof of conditions which gave it birth during the earlier history of the country. When the driver left his near wheel-horse and jerk-line, and mounted the seat in the "schooner," wagon, carriage, etc., handling the pair of reins for each pair of horses, there was the best reason in the world, wholly overlooked by writers, that he should sit on the right of the seat as did and does the driver in England, although he did not, as do they, pass to the left. This reason is that he might operate the brake with his right hand or right foot. In a hilly country and with ungraded roads, the braking was fully as necessary as the driving. The combined force of all these factors is fully sufficient to account for the change in our country's custom from that of England.

But the most interesting and by all odds the most financially important part of the story still remains—that concerning the railways. The history of double-tracking in the United States is not yet written. An illustration of what took place on one trunk line, the Union Pacific, is not very different from that on others. This company in constructing its line across Idaho put in sidings one and one half miles long, every three miles, and located these all upon the same side of the track, the object being to utilize these as parts of a second continuous track at a later day. The English rule was of course to pass to the left, as with carriages in the common highways and streets, a rule naturally adopted in Europe, India, etc. In our country there was said to have been sufficiently active political feeling to think that "what was English was bad," and from the first this made some of the double-track railways right-hand passers. I very much doubt this; the right passing of our common wagons even in revolutionary times had