Friday, December 24, 2010

The Cinder Buggy - Part 6 - the seeds of the iron industry (chapter IV)

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

Chapter IV described the characters of Aaron Breakspeare and Enoch Gib as they grew up. They were competitive, but with opposite personalities. Their childhood was defined by a series of competitions/confrontations:

They were never friends. They were rivals, unable to conceal or control their rivalry, the essence of which was antagonism. But they were inseperable. They could not let each other alone.
(p. 18)

Garrett's most interesting quote from this chapter described Enoch Gib's method of enduring the confrontations with Aaron:
Instinctively he knew that the way to save oneself in a trial of endurance is to keep one's mind not on one's own discomfort but on the agony of one's adversary.
(p. 18)

By the end of the fourth chapter, the two had reached age 21, and had resolved to go into business together. The iron industry had not yet begun, although each of them owned substantial iron ore land holdings. They envisioned the existing town being replaced by a new industrial city:
In its place will be a city that shall walk out of those mountains, - a city of furnaces, full of roaring and the clangor of metal, flaming and smoking to heaven. Your father and my grandfather imagined it. They could not themselves bring it to pass. It was not for their time. They left it for us to do. We have a destiny here. Let's take it together. Let's form a partnership and found an iron industry.
(p. 26 - quoting Aaron)

Garrett did not identify the year, but it had to be in the early part of the 19th century - almost 100 years before Garrett's description of the modern (1920's) New Damascus and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the iron industry.

I find it refreshing to read a story where characters discuss industry (including the "flaming and smoking") without lamenting over the environment or "global warming." It is refreshing also to read of characters discussing the formation of industry without babbling about how many "jobs" they will "create" like some modern pandering politician or a "journalist" who thinks about economics (if at all) backwards.

At this point, the main characters are in place and the story is ready to unfold. Without having read further, I expect a conflict between the two new partners similar to what Garrett described of their childhood (only on a larger scale).

Click here for part 7


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Cinder Buggy - part 5; Chapters II and III; Aaron Woolwine; Christopher Gib; Aaron Breakspeare; Enoch Gib

Click here for parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

Chapters II and III establish the blood lines for two of the main characters in the story. Page 11 states that Aaron Woolwine founded the town of New Damascus in 1879, but this is almost certainly a typographical error. Page 14 contains diary quotes from Aaron Woolwine in which he identifies 1774, 1781 and 1788 as the years of his three marriages. A founding date in the late 1700's for New Damascus is also consistent with the rise and fall of the iron industry. We cannot be sure whether Garrett meant 1789 (a transposition) or 1779. The difference probably does not matter to the story.

These chapters establish that Woolwine and Christopher Gib were business partners. The description of Christopher Gib is reminiscent of some of the Randian characters from the 1940's and 1950's, but without the depth and moral justification that Rand would provide.

Chapter II includes an interesting discussion of coal, especially the distinction between anthracite and bituminous ("soft") coal. Bituminous coal is softer and burns more easily. But anthracite is much more plentiful in the New Damascus area. Woolwine spent years trying to sell customers on the idea of buying and using anthracite, with the result that people thought he was trying to trick them with mere black rocks. A method was finally discovered (by accident) for using anthracite, but only after it was too late to benefit Woolwine.

Unappreciated innovation and invention often play a big role in Garrett's (and Rand's) writings.

Aaron Breakspeare is Woolwine's grandson, while Enoch Gib is Christopher Gib's son. Aaron and Enoch were born on the same day in an unidentified year. Chapter III ends with Breakspeare and Enoch Gib as the remaining sole heirs of Woolwine and Christopher Gib. In the first three chapters, Garrett has established the town (and the mystery of how it lost its main industry) and presumably the two main characters whose story will resolve the mystery.

Click here for part 6.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Cinder Buggy - part 4 - Danville, Pennsylvania; the real New Damascus; Geisinger Health System; Coxey's Army

Click here for parts 1, 2 and 3 of The Cinder Buggy review.

I pause from reviewing the text of the book to visit the location of the story. There is a real New Damascus, even though it does not go by that name.

Nestled in the mountain ridges of the Appalachian range in east/central Pennsylvania sits the town of Danville, along the Susquehanna River, among streets named "Mill," "Iron" and "Factory." The town contains modern businesses selling motorcycles, books or pizza with "Iron" or "Old Forge" in their names.

Garrett describes New Damascus as "the most important point of trade between Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre. . . " (p. 11). Garrett also referenced a geographic similarity with the original Damascus in Syria - "a plain bounded on one side by a river and on the other three by mountains . . . " (p. 11).

Danville is not exactly between Wilkes-Barre and Philadelphia, but the geographic description is very similar. But that is not what makes Danville the model for New Damascus. The similarity comes from the iron industry:

The Iron Age, 1829 thru 1950 and Danville, PA are truly synonymous. In 1829, the first Iron foundry was established in Danville to manufacture wagon boxes, plowshares, andirons [sic] sadiron and griddles. In 1839-1840 Iron Ore started to be mined locally and in 1840 the first Anthracite furnace to efficiently produce iron was opened in Danville. On Oct 8, 1845, the first T-rail in America was rolled out at the Montour Iron Works, the largest iron manufacturing plant in the United States. The T-rail made it possible for Pennsylvania and America to become the leader in the industrial revolution.

More specifically, Danville was the site of very specific achievements that Garrett would later attribute to his fictional New Damascus:
On October 8, 1845, the first T-rail rolled with iron ore, smelted with anthracite coal was produced at this mill [Montour Iron Works].

The Montour Iron Works was the largest mid-nineteenth century rail mill in the country.

In the 1850s, there were more rails produced at this iron mill than any other in the United States.

The North Branch of the Pennsylvania Canal was located near the mill and brought thousands of tons of anthracite coal, one of the ingredients necessary to produce anthracite iron, from the northeast fields to their wharves.

The Montour Iron Works, after many changes of managers and ownership, became the property of the Pennsylvania Iron Company in 1861. At that time, Thomas Beaver, one of the stockholders, became the resident overseer of the company, a position he held until 1876. It was at the beginning of their ownership that they built a grist mill to supply flour and feed to their Company Store. The Iron Mill had its most financial [sic] successful period during the Civil War, operating at full capacity, manufacturing railroad iron.

Thomas Beaver, later a generous benefactor to the town of Danville, sold his interest in the Penna. Iron Company in 1876, reserving by purchase the Mansion on the Hill.

Garrett specifically referenced the "first American rails" (p. 4) and the "canal" (p. 12) in describing New Damascus' history in Cinder Buggy. I cannot yet identify an equivalent for the real Thomas Beaver, but I am sure one exists. Beaver's "Mansion on the Hill" sounds like Garrett's "Woolwine mansion on the east hill" and the "Gib mansion on the west hill" (p. 2) and "[t]hem mansions on the hill..." that owed their existence to "that mill." (p. 7). I expect to learn more about Woolwine and Gib as Cinder Buggy goes on.

That New Damascus was eventually left with only a wrought iron industry finds a parallel with Danville's real history:
The Danville Foundry and Machine Company was founded [in 1906] on a portion of the National Iron Company Area. They manufactured fire escapes, building fronts, bank grilles and similar wrought iron products.

Garrett states that New Damascus ("this place") was founded in 1879 (p. 11), by which he must mean 1779 (or 1789) or the rest of the story (especially page 14) makes no sense. The real Danville was founded in 1792.

I found the only library copy of any Garet Garrett novel I have ever seen when I visited the Pennsylvania room of the Milton, PA public library (about 15 miles away from Danville). In that room, an original edition of Cinder Buggy sits virtually unnoticed among other Pennsylvania related books that are prohibited from circulating due to their age and historical importance. I believe another copy exists at nearby Bucknell University, in Lewisburg Pennsylvania.

On the inside front cover of my copy, there exists a handwritten note dated April 3, 1927:
Today we walked about Danville to pick out the places mentioned in the story - the old mill where the first iron rail was rolled - and the same roller is still there. The two mansions which are both now Catholic Convents. The history of the industry and the towns' rise and fall is true. The love story more or less fiction. [unintelligible] the daughter in the Bennett Mansion (Gib in the book) was kept a prisoner and was only seen when riding her bicycle about the grounds. The tobacco shop mentioned in the 1st or 2nd chapter is now just as it was and the same man running it. The "Lycoming House" where the funeral was really held is the Montour House where I spent my first two days

The note is addressed "To Harry F. Astrander" and is signed "A.L.H."

I do not know who those people are/were or any more about them than appears in that note.

The tobacco shop that A.L.H referenced is described on page 3. The mansions/"Catholic Convents" mentioned by A.L.H. are noted by Garrett on page 2 as a "nunnery" and a "monastery."

Danville continues to celebrate its iron history with a festival every year in July.

Danville is known today primarily for Geisinger Medical Center, which opened in 1915 from the proceeds of the iron business of George Geisinger. Geisinger is today one of the premier health systems in all of Pennsylvania.

Another interesting parallel arises because Jacob Coxey once lived and worked in Danville. Coxey is now obscure to all but a few Garrett readers who remember his role in Chapter I of The Driver. Is it possible that in researching Coxey's Army for The Driver, Garrett discovered the history of Danville? Or did Garrett discover Coxey's Army by researching for The Cinder Buggy? Were both stories originally intended to be combined into the same book?

Another explanation is that both Coxey's Army and the history of Danville/iron were well known to our ancestors in the 1920's such that a common link between them would not seem unusual to a writer from that period. Maybe it is only our government educated minds in the 21st century that find such subjects obscure and the connections between them coincidental or surprising.

One of my motivations for writing this blog and promoting Garrett's works is the hope that one day such historical knowledge will be common instead of being rare.

Danville, Pennsylvania

Civil War buffs have always had physical locations in which to enjoy their hobby. Gettysburg and other battlefields are crowded with many, many visitors every year. The same is true for devotees of other historic events. JFK conspiracy theorists spend much of their lives trapsing around Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Even movie fans can visit the sets or locations of some of their favorite films. But until I discovered the Danville/Cinder Buggy connection, I knew of no physical location related to the study of free market economics/history/literature.

Ayn Rand inspires as much of a loyal following as do Civil War literature and documentaries. But her stories take place in generic settings in New York City, Colorado, Leningrad, etc. Her books provide no "Gettysburg" for her fans to visit. Garrett's Driver provided something close with its walking tour of Wall Street, but that location is too common for Garrett/Rand fans to claim ownership. Danville is now the closest thing that free market historians, Randians and other followers of economic literature have to a "battlefield" that we can visit and trace the events that we have studied (depending on the outcome and quality of the story, of course). The study of Garet Garrett and free market literature as a whole just became a lot more interesting.

Click here for part 5.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

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.

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