Cinder Buggy - part 3 - Chapter I - New Damascus
Click here for parts 1 and 2 of The Cinder Buggy review.
Chapter I of The Cinder Buggy takes place in the present (early 1920's) and sets the background for the story. The book describes the fictional town of New Damascus, Pennsylvania as Garrett envisioned it in the 1920's. New Damascus had enjoyed an industrial boom in the 1800's, as iron mills sprang to life and provided the iron needs of the world. The observer from the 1920's would notice that this industry was mostly gone by that time. Much of this chapter is spent describing abandoned portions of the town and the industry that used to exist.
Garrett points out that the wrought iron industry remains active in the town. This fact is significant, as wrought iron is a purified form of iron. Thus the opening poem grows in relevance. Based on the opening poem and Chapter I, it appears that we are about to read how the iron industry in New Damascus was destroyed somehow due to the process of refinement. I think it is obvious that Garrett means more than just the process of refining iron. This poem will somehow apply to the people of New Damascus in addition to merely the industry.
Garrett notes that the fictional New Damascus once produced the world's first iron rails, but did so no longer because all rails are now made of steel in faraway places. The same is true for iron nails, which were supplanted by steel nails. New Damascus' iron ore mining was also replaced by mines far away that produced ore at a lower price. (pp. 4-5.)
The decline of New Damascus' iron industry is ostensibly blamed on the rise of the steel industry elsewhere in the late 1800's. But there is obviously more to the story that relates to the opening poem and the symbolism flowing therefrom.
There is a brief reference to a committee of New Damascus that investigated steel as the steel industry was beginning. The committee determined that "there was nothing in it" (page 4). As a result, New Damascus' iron industry did not adapt and was rendered obsolete by steel produced elsewhere. This reference makes me wonder if we will see a parallel to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, where the government-protected steel industry attempted to ignore and then destroy Rearden Metal. The events of Cinder Buggy may have influenced Rand in her creation of Hank Rearden and the challenges he faced in producing his advanced metal.
On page 1, Garrett summarizes the isolation that has overtaken New Damascus. "A generation has fled since a stranger was seen in the streets of New Damascus on an errand of business."
On page 3, the following appears, "New Damascus appears to be haunted with memories of things confusedly forgotten, as if each night it dreamed the same dream and never had quite remembered it."
But these quotes don't answer the real question, "But there is still the question: What happened to New Damascus?" (page 7).
As we seek the answer to that question, we will also learn (1) how this question relates to the opening poem's process of refinement and (2) whether Ayn Rand relics lurk on subsequent pages.
But before we move on in the story, we will visit the real New Damascus in the next installment - part 4.