Conditions! Blessed word! It stands for so many things that it almost saves thinking. When one surveys the work of the electric current, for instance, in wafting people hither and you over the face of the earth, he believes that the trolley car has “created conditions, which” — And it has. Surely, no other mechanical contrivance ever so affected our economies in an equal time. It took half a century to develop the steamship into a swift, comfortable, and commodious vessel; the population, irrigation, and vegetation that the locomotive was to carry to the Pacific are pursuing it, but slowly; the loom was opposed by labor leaders, and so has been every other work-shortening device; but the electric car was accepted almost at once, with thanks.
What are the conditions it has made?
Quicker transit, with cleaner, larger cars, heated and lighted by electricity, and provided with electric signals that arrest the driver’s attention, and his progress, when he is in a complying humor.
The dismissal of the horse from car service, to the cheapening of that animal, the saving and cleanness of our streets, and the sparing of no end of feelings.
Increased scope in service, for not only are the usual closed and open cars operated in the cities, but postal cars, parlor cars, express cars, repair cars, coal cars, freight cars, even, and there is a report that one line, with an important rural extension, is to have dining and sleeping cars!
A much up-building of suburbs and the emergence on the map of a thousand Daisy Knolls, Sparrow Parks, and Maplehursts.
An increase in the size and number of melancholy institutions called pleasure resorts, within reach of the cities; therefore, the vexation of hitherto tranquil regions by rowdies and picnic parties.
The hurt to far-away hotels and boarding places, through this diversion of holiday makers to beaches and beer gardens near home.
The disfigurement of streets and injury to roads worked by the erection of poles, the stringing of wires, the cutting of pavements, the lopping of shade trees, and the blight of vegetation due to escaping currents.
A multiplication of the dangers and bothers of street traffic through increased speed in the cars, blown-out fuses, broken wires, and charged rails.
An immense increase in the capital invested in local transportation; hence, an increase in corporate and public wealth through dividends and taxes.
The promise of a wide extension of electric power to other vehicles and other industries.
The lowering of our standard of public manners, due to the overcrowding of cars.
Of these conditions, or elements in a condition, that is happiest which tends to deplete the city and persuade the people into roomier, healthier districts, where factories and slums are not; where flowers and trees are many. And, lacking the power to remove the city folk for good and all, it does a lesser, yet a kindly service, by taking them out for an occasional summer day, at least. Those who by need are forced to keep in touch with the cities have comfort in the fact that while the electric car takes them into town, it also takes them out again; so, if it increases human sociability by feeding the centres of trade and industry, it does not overdo the matter, for it relieves more than it adds to the congestion of cities. Of a stable populace, it would doubtless be found that those who take holidays out of town, now that cheap, fast transit is afforded, are a hundred per cent more, as to numbers, than in the days of horse cars. And as population are not stable, but increase in almost geometric ratio in American cities, the business of local railroads has grown from that circumstance also.
On one point the American is determined: he will not live near his work. You shall see him in the morning, one of sixty people in a car built for twenty-four, reading his paper, clinging to a strap, trodden, jostled, smirched, thrown into harrowing relations with men who drink whiskey, chew tobacco, eat raw onions, and incontinently breathe; and after thirty minutes of this contact, with the roar of the streets in his ears, with languid clerks and pinguid market women leaning against him, he arrives at his office. The problems of his homeward journey in the evening will be still more difficult, because, in addition to the workers, the cars must carry the multitude of demoiselles who shop and go to matinées. To many men and women of business a seat is an undreamed luxury. Yet, they would be insulted if one were to ask why they did not live over their shops, as Frenchmen do, or back of them, like Englishmen. It is this uneasy instinct of Americans, this desires of their families to separate industrial and social life, that makes the use of the trolley car imperative, and the street railway in this manner widens the life and dominion of the people; it enables them to distribute themselves over wider spaces and unwittingly to symbolize the expansiveness of the nation.
To take another view, it has its part in the compacting of our social system, by extending the material advantages which invention has given to the race. And how quickly we accept these advantages, and how cheaply indignant we are if we lose them for a little! There is more complaint over a five-minute delay in the progress of a car that trundles us through clean and spacious streets than there was fifty years ago over a half day’s lateness of the stage-coach that jounced its passengers over the worst of roads to a place a score of miles away. It is promptness and frequency in car service that have so built up the suburbs of great towns. Still, in the encouragement of these districts the electric car negatives its own advantage, for, so soon as the suburb is merged in the town, and children begin to tumble about the streets, the car will be crowded and must go slow; and a slow electric vehicle is an inconsistency, an anomaly.
Next to the locomotive the trolley car is the swiftest of passenger projectiles. It has never made such speed as a mile in thirty-two seconds, which has been attained by a locomotive, and has rarely equaled Murphy’s bicycle record of a mile in fifty-eight seconds, but passengers who have been whisked over a roughish road, and made to turn unexpected corners with vehemence, are satisfied with less. Fifteen miles an hour is a fair pace, on a smooth and unobstructed track; and on elevated roads, where motor cars have been introduced, this is the average speed. It is three miles better than that of the steam engine on the same roads, while fifty miles an hour are recorded on third rail systems.
It is alleged that electric roads have so cut into the business of steam lines that there is no longer a profit in passenger trains. At best, the passengers pay but a fifth of the operating expenses of steam roads, the other four fifths coming from freight, express matter, mails, and bankruptcies. For short trips the trolley is usually preferred, because a five or ten cent fare is good for any reasonable distance, whereas the steam roads charge by the mile. Because there are no afflicting gas, dust, smoke, or cinders; because one may leave at any point along the line, instead of being taken to a station a mile or two from one’s destination. This economy of price applies to the city, however, rather than to the country, for it costs as much to drive one car with a dozen passengers through a village as it does to send a dozen cars with two hundred and fifty passengers through a town. In Brooklyn a transfer system is in vogue that enables on to ride eighteen miles for five cents, whereas on a road extending from Watertown, N.Y., to Brownsville, five miles away, the fare is ten cents, and to Dexter, only two miles farther, it is ten cents more, this bringing the cost of a round trip of only fourteen miles to forty cents. Long trolley rides, such as those undertaken for a lark, or an experiment, between New York and Boston—a trip of two hundred and sixty-seven miles on sixteen lines of cars, with breaks of, say, forty miles in all, and requiring three days, without night travel—are thus not as cheap as they seem, yet the tendency toward consolidation that exists everywhere to-day—social, financial, municipal, industrial—may result in the lessening of operating expenses, and the offer of longer rides for less money.
The extent to which this country has been “trolleyized” may be guessed from the investment of over $1,800,000,000 in street railways, on which are paid yearly interest and dividends of $70,000,000. The employees number three hundred thousand, and their yearly wage foots up $250,000,000. We have twenty thousand miles of track, on which sixty thousand cars are running. This appears small in comparison with our one hundred and ninety thousand miles of steam railway, but in 1899 a mile of electric road was laid for every two miles of steam road, so that the ratio of increase in street-car traffic is greater than that of the trunk lines.
Americans ride farther and more cheaply about their towns than do other people. All Canada has but seven hundred and sixty miles of trolley lines. New Jersey ‘s mileage is the same, and that little state has put more than twice as much money into their operation. London has not half so many miles as Brooklyn, albeit it has four times as large a population. Glasgow, which owns its street lines, has but seventy-three miles, and the fare for a six-mile ride is threepence, or one cent more than is charged in American cities for a ride of from ten to twenty miles. Paris has but two hundred miles of track, and the maximum fare is eight cents; but, then, Paris and London have their circular railways, and these roads carry many thousands of passengers, those of London dutifully grumbling at the darkness and the smells, for their underground road is not aired and lighted like Boston’s subway.
The trolley system of Brooklyn, which is the largest in the world, illustrates the way and tendency of growth in electric railways, and is worth a brief review. Fifteen years ago electric cars ran between Brooklyn and Jamaica, eight miles away, over an ill-laid track, with many rockings and bumpings, and with many rockings and bumpings, and when the motorman turned on the power, the lights went out. It was a poor, crude affair, that of the old plank road, and it instances the depth of popular knowledge on electric traction at the time to learn that an old woman afflicted with palsy used to ride often on this line, because “the electricity escaping through the seats helped her nerves.” The belief cured her, too. This little road showed possibilities, and it was deemed that the cars run experimentally in New York soon after did not, for they were equipped with individual motors, cumbrous and not swift in action. The Jamaica line was studied by engineers and capitalists, and the result is the equipment of all railroads in Brooklyn, and of the leading systems throughout the country, with electric cars operated either by the overhead or underneath trolley.
Brooklyn, place of one navy yard and a thousand prayer meetings, “the bedroom of New York,” the butt of witlings who declared it the rival of Philadelphia as a capital of peace, and the safest town in the world for the trundling forth of infants, became with startling suddenness a place of perils and excitements. It hummed and clanged with cars rushing through its streets at express speed, smashing wagons, bowling over citizens, thrilling those inside with pleasurable alarms, and spreading consternation among those outside. People soon realized that a speed which made the electric car superior to the horse car could not be maintained in busy districts, however exhilarating it might be to travelers, and convenient to those who were to be spirited to their homes after the day’s work. An attempt was made to create an interest in lynching; mass meetings of protest were held, and fulminations of rage and oratory scared the town; aldermen and other patriots sprang to the rescue, and after a time the motorman was tamed, yet not till he had destroyed two hundred and fifty lives, and maimed many of his fellow creatures, — a small matter, after all, as compared with the slaughter in Pennsylvania, for in that state, during the year ending with June, 1900, the street cars killed fifteen hundred and eight-two people, as an incident to carrying over half a billion passengers. The damage suits resulting from these accidents made it a matter of equal concern to the company to protect life; hence, the rate of slowness, except in the suburbs, was presently what it had been when patient horses went jingling up and down the town on interminable journeys.
Now appeared another difficulty—congestion. As capital makes capital, so travel makes travel; means of traffic are self-multiplying. Given a road with good service, and it induces people to settle in the districts that it reaches. The more they settle, the harder it is to “handle” them, — “handle” is a railroad term, designed for the lowering of pride, — and the settlers are taxed for tunnels and elevated and sunken roads and grade changes, that the ways of escape from one another may suffice. The importance of the local railroad as a factor in city extension is betokened, to use a single instance among hundreds, in the result of a three-mile extension of one of the Brooklyn lines in 1896. The territory thus invaded was a farm and garden tract, without streets, sewers, or other improvements. In less than twelve mouths streets were cut, graded, and lighted, and over five hundred houses were built and occupied in that district.
It was not long before the benefits of consolidation presented themselves to the officers of the Brooklyn roads. A central power house could as easily supply energy for a dozen lines as for one; a great saving would thus be effected in fuel; salaried offices could be abolished, and fewer employees would be required; small car sheds, yards, and repair shops could be sold, for a price, and rolling stock housed at the more important stations; then, a harmonious aggregate would have more influence than a disorganized multitude of directors, when it was necessary to convince a board of aldermen that the good of society required the giving up of certain streets to the car companies, or that the taxes paid to the city were too high. Nor could the city object violently, for there was a promise of its increase, and of payment of their taxes by two or three of the companies that had fallen out of the habit of doing such things. There could be a gain to the public, moreover, since the vesting of authority in a single head and the massing of an immense capital would secure uniformity in operation, in speed and accommodations, better service on the small roads, and free transfers between lines that were formerly at odds. As to the stockholders in the various companies, they were pacified by guaranteed dividends of from four to ten per cent, for as long as most people would expect to need them—nine hundred and ninety-nine years, in fact.
Thus the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company came into existence, and into possession of five hundred and fifteen miles of track, — all but twenty-nine miles of the whole mileage of Brooklyn, — and began trying to earn money. Consolidation means a trust, and that means what its directors make it, or what the public allows it to be. In Brooklyn the quality of the service has given rise to criticism, and the economies have occasioned strikes, attended by savage and protracted hostilities; yet Rapid Transit stock performed queer antics in the market place, bounding up to one hundred and forty, — a wondrous price for stock that had never paid a cent of dividend, and was not likely to for years to come, — then tumbling back to forty-seven. Several who were struck in the fall complained loudly.
Brooklyn trundles to its work as usual, the Rapid Transit Company supplying wheels if not seats. It gives a ride to over eight hundred thousand citizens every day; it has spent $7,000,000 in improvements; it has replaced the old cars with thirteen hundred and fifty better ones; it has established over one hundred transfer stations; it has secured control of the bridge, and carries its patrons across the East River without paying an extra fare, — a proceeding that has broken the hearts of the ferry companies; and it pays $2900 a day into the state and city treasuries as taxes. Spectators who look with shuddering on what appears to be a frantic riot at the Manhattan end of the bridge, what time each insurgent smells supper in the distance, will not be startled to learn that three hundred thousand people daily cross from shore to shore, and that three fifths of all the railroad business in the city is done in six hours, — the “rush time” of morning and evening. Imagine the merest attempt at this kind of thing in the day of the horse car.
Now come we to the men who drive the car and gather nickels, and who in a day of hard work and harder responsibility earn from $1.50 to $2.30 apiece. Not counting clerks, starters, cleaners, engineers, electricians, and firemen in the power houses, mechanics, linemen, transfer agents, and spies, there are in this country, say, two hundred thousand men in regular employment, whose daily or nightly task it is to pilot cars and gather fares. The quality of these men varies as widely as do the localities in which they work. In certain cities of the South they have been seen to lift their hats when addressed by women, while in New York they have been seen not to. In Boston the average conductor is of the clerk and the average conductor is of the clerk and mechanic class, while in New York he resembles the day laborer, save that he speaks English, for our laborers are now Italians, Poles, and Slavs. Men of lean wits and a wabbling conscience are as forlornly out of place in the charge of a street car as they are in Congress, and every company that employs cheap service buys sackcloth and cash registers soon after.
The successful conductor joins to the chivalry and impressiveness of a police-man the savoir-faire of the gentleman behind the silk counter, for persons who go home from clubs at two in the morning may have to be persuaded in six different ways before they offer anything to “ring up.” The conductor must keep fifty or sixty streets in mind; he must be sure to let the elderly lady off at the one she has been thinking of, and when she foils him, he must not impeach her veracity if she just knew she told him. He must not allow the man who immerses himself in a newspaper to forget an obligation of five cents to the company. He must curb a natural inclination to embrace the wives of strangers when he lifts them up the steps. He must call the attention of forgetful persons to the fact that they are chewing tobacco, or are drunk. He must arbitrate between the man who opens the window and the woman who wants it shut, and shut it. He must insinuate himself up and down the aisle of his car without tipping standees into the laps of irascible bankers, or treading on the corns of such as wear them. And while others clutch at straps or dashboards or door-knobs or the cord he rings his fares with,when the motorman is seized with a sudden frenzy for action, he must never lie down on the floor or lose his dignity. He can be philosophic after he grows used to it, and find advantages in his wild career. As a conductor remarked, “The worst of goin’ by ’lectricity is it ’most shakes your liver out. But you never get dyspepsy.”
The motorman, facing the storms of women and the elements outside, looks in at the cheery congregation, and in the bitterness of his envy at the conductor’s lot starts his chariot with a vehemence that sends the whole company sliding against the man at the farther door, and crushes him. Yet many times the conductor as keenly envies the driver, and the two have to declare a peace when some passenger must be put off for having smallpox, or hysterics, or a bill too large to change. If the conductor must be a diplomat, the motorman must be a soldier, and, as in larger matters, the soldier is at the behest of the diplomat; yet the latter cannot shirk responsibility, for in a case of accident the conductor is arrested as well as the driver. A successful motorman is not of too fine grain. If he were his trips would take a day apiece. He would so fear doing injury and hurting the pride of strangers that the passengers in his charge would learn to dislike him. Having fewer nerves, therefore, than poets have, the trolley driver makes way for his car with the fewer compunctions, and in a contest with a truck he expresses himself with admirable directness. These encounters, ending, mayhap, in the dismantling of the truck, as well as the obloquy he endures from shoppers who stand in distant doorways and shake a finger at him when they wish to ride, seldom make him surly or indifferent, for he has ever on his mind the consciousness of peril. Frightened children have a way of appearing from vacancy, and throwing themselves in front of vehicles, that brings the whole of one’s internal anatomy into his throat and nearly chokes him, and the way of elderly females is to cross within four feet of a farther curb, and then run back when they hear a trolley gong. The extent and significance of the risk are known, for many of the drivers are men of family. A motorman in New York who had beheaded a child in a crowded street exclaimed, “My God! I’ve been that at home!” You cannot charge carelessness against that man. The carelessness was the child’s.
Yet, withal, it is a healthy calling—this running of street cars. A trolley driver is no scholarly anæmic. He stands against the weather for ten and twelve hours, and seventy to one hundred miles a day. He feels the strain, but he feels more the air and sun, and becomes as tough and ruddy as a man-o’-war’s man. Irregular meals are digested with a speed to amaze a club-man. Commonly his bride, or his son, or his boarding mistress intercepts his car at the home corner, and hands up his breakfast, piping hot, in a pail or basket. If he has half an hour to himself presently, well and good. If not, and he must eat his terrapin and pâté de foie gras with one hand while he twists his brake and stirs his coffee with the other, eating is no sinecure. And in the case of the conductor, though he may dine at greater leisure, the passengers are liable to object to the odor of canvas back, or Limburger, or sauerkraut. When passengers grumble because a car is off the track, or blocked by a broken truck, or paralyzed by a failure in the current, it is of no use to scold the motorman. He is not staying there because he likes it. Some companies oblige him to make good the time that is lost, although most of them make no charge against him when the lateness is due to unpreventable causes, or even to a snowstorm. A Brooklyn motorman has drawn his regular wage for making so few trips a day as one, that one involving a battle against a blizzard with covered rails and icy wires and heaped drifts. Injuries in service are usually requited by medical attendance at the company’s expense, but not illness, the theory being that trolley driving is so sanitary and joyous a calling that there should be no illness.
Trouble has grown from the arrangement of “swings,” which compel a man, though he is on duty no more than nine or ten hours, to be away from home for twelve or thirteen. He is busy during the rush, at morning and evening, but as fewer cars are needed at other hours he is laid off in the middle of the day. There is barely time to go home and say “hello” to his family and disappear again, if he chooses to spend his enforced leisure in travel; but he does not, and so he lounges discontentedly about the station, pulling gloomily at a pipe, or gossiping with the other employees when he would fain be napping. In Brooklyn these recesses are held in less aversion than they were, for the Rapid Transit Company has established at each of the car sheds a clubroom for the employees where they can talk and smoke and eat in comfort, read the papers and magazines that are provided for them, play billiards, play on the piano if they know how, and where they give occasional entertainments to their friends. In sharp weather the company likewise provides, at the end of every run, hot coffee—all that the thirsty call for—and sandwiches, and makes no charge for them. During the last strike on the Rapid Transit lines the faithful received not only coffee and sandwiches, but meals from the leading hotel in the city, so that many a trolley man fared better than the average citizen who lived behind a brown stone front and walked to his office rather than have stones thrown at him for riding.
As in all instances where concessions are made to employees, these shows of interest have improved the service and lessened discontent. Recently the company made a voluntary increase in pay, and it has put a premium on sobriety and faithfulness by progressive additions to the wage. The conductors used to receive a little more than the drivers in the era of horse cars, but the drivers would so beseech the conductors to spend this difference in their behalf at various saloons that the conductors themselves asked for an equalization of the pay. Men who affect places of cheer to such a degree that the cheer comes out on their noses and affects their breath are not working now for the Brooklyn roads, and conductors and motormen earn the same wage, namely, $2 for a day of ten hours. After two years of continuous service this rate is increased to $2.10; the next year they receive $2.20, and after five years, $2.30. Good behavior and caution have likewise been stimulated by prizes, the sum of $10,000 having been apportioned among the men who showed the best records at the end of a year. Some hardships are involved in securing a place, for the applicant is last in a long list, and must show himself at the sheds every morning, at an unearthly hour. As those ahead of him fall out, through discouragement, illness, alcohol, or incapacity, he moves up, peg by peg, earning the chance to do more and more, and after a wait of anywhere from six weeks to six months, during which time he has been making from $4 to $10 a week, he has learned the business and has “got his car.”
Of one person who figures in the operation of our street railways the passengers are but vaguely conscious, though he appears for an instant at some point along the route, and there may be even two or three of him to vex the car crew. He is the inspector. He jumps upon the platform or footboard, makes a rapid count of noses, glances at the register of fares, and drops to earth again. He represents Truth, but in a form that the conductor would willingly crush; not that the conductor denies the right of his employers to compare the number of passengers with the figures on the dial, but the act implies distrust and the inspector is a spy, a hated being. There is not much sequestration of nickels by car conductors. They are men of average honesty, and also average prudence and intelligence, wherefore they know that even were an inspector to overlook a discrepancy there is always a chance that a more insidious reptile may insinuate himself among the passengers, basely disguised in human form—a “spotter.” It may be the stolid-looking person who gazes into vacancy and thinks for ten long miles, or it may be the young woman who is immersed in a novel, and who from time to time dog-ears the pages of her book to correspond to the number of passengers, and carelessly glances at the fare register as she leaves the car. This horrent creature shows him in various forms, and once in a while so transparent a form that the conductor spots the spotter, and takes opportunities to lurch against him and bruise his hat. There have been a few instances in which the spotter has confessed himself, and shared the dishonest gains of a conductor, but Tammany methods do not so prevail in our business enterprises as to oblige us to hire men to detect the detectives.
The future of transportation in our cities is a serious problem, which may be solved in an unlooked-for manner, by not solving it. Instead of keeping pace with the growth of population, the street-car industry may remain where it is. This is not likely, for it would involve a reconciliation to more stationary conditions of life, and a resignation to flats and tenements which have already aroused the reformers to belligerency. Yet in the centralization of millions there is a tendency to create sub-centres, each, in its housing, industries, and amusements sufficient to itself, and the more sufficient they become the less will people leave them. Not only is New York a federation of boroughs, but each borough is a congeries of social and industrial settlements, differing as widely in the dominant race as in geographical place, yet increasingly self-sustaining. Harlem does not go to Murray Hill nearly so often as it used to, and Brooklyn, which had to go to New York to see a play thirty years ago, now has sixteen theatres of its own. When the employees of a great factory live in its shadow, and brokers move to flats within five minutes’ walk of the exchanges, transportation difficulties will have solved themselves.
It is probable, however, that much of local travel in the future will be over elevated roads—not in the public streets, where they have no place, but through yards, where they have bought a right of way—and through tunnels. Economy and facility suggest the tunnel. It does not cumber the highway; it avoids grades, angles, and crossings; it does not rust; it is never fouled by mud, or drifted with snow; its temperature is fairly equable; it offers room not only for car tracks, but for gas and water pipes, telephone, telegraph, and electric light wires, and pneumatic tubes; it is never blocked by wagons and pedestrians; hence, any speed of cars is possible, and while it is unpleasant, by reason of its darkness and dampness, there is unlimited range for lighting, and fans and chimneys insure ventilation.
In the country we may look for the greatest change. The appropriation of public roads by trolley companies will probably cease, except in those instances where the roads are wide, where shade trees will not suffer, and where at least two thirds of the residents along the way consent to the privilege. Room must be left for the horse, the automobile, the bicycle, and the neglected walker. Corporations are ceaselessly clamoring for public properties. They even try to secure sites in our parks for shops, restaurants, museums, merry-go-rounds, news stands, and places in capitols and city halls for smaller forms of trade than law-making. The dignity of public ownership must be kept inviolate, and electric roads, which now threaten to absorb the best boulevards and driveways, must take to the fields. This their projectors are increasingly willing to do, for, when it runs on private property, a car may be driven at any speed, it may cut off corners, economizing power and distance, and especially it avoids collisions, and delays damage suits. The companies are already learning to avoid grade crossings, and the trolley cars, which the power of Niagrara sends whizzing from Buffalo to the cataract, leap the tracks of the trunk lines by bridges so steep it is a wonder they can be climbed. The grades on electric roads are impossible to steam. Of course the electric car must not stray widely from the farmhouse, because its advantage over the steam-driven vehicle is that it can halt where its passengers list, and there is the less need to set up stations for it because, being relatively light, easily handled, and giving slight resistance to the brakes, it can be stopped and started with less rack to its timbers and machinery than is the case with a steam car. Considering how much oftener the trolley car is stopped, its life of fifteen years is long.
In the country the effect of the trolley is already seen in the quickened social life of rural populations, wider knowledge of the world’s doings, and the importing of city ways. Within thirty years steam has wondrously welded country and town together, and now electricity is perfecting the work. Differences in speech, dress, and custom are little marked to-day, because country and city mix more freely than they did. Time was when a run of a hundred miles into the country was a jump backward. Now, as we step from the car we hear the new slang, the new song, the new news, and discover the native in hand-me-downs and a pot hat, like those from which we fled in town. At first the farmers opposed the electric car, as they did steam roads, and its rural advocates were principally speculators who had land to sell; but being at last established, it would not be given up, for, although it has been the habit of the farmer to spend twenty minutes in catching and harnessing his horse when he would go to the post office, which is ten minutes’ walk from his door, he finds it an economy of brain, muscle, and time to effect this visit in a car, even if it does cost ten cents.
So, while in mere utility the electric car does its best service in the city, as a factor in progress it is worth most to the rural districts. It threatens the old peace and isolation that make the country dear to those who spend their summers there, and it would be not in the least surprising if bands of farmers went careering around their county, one of these evenings, blowing horns and shouting a chorus in time, if not in tune, with the local cornet band, and faring forth in a car radiant with flags and aglow with colored lights, after the fashion of the chowder clubs and Bierundprezelundgesangvereins of the cities. Let this consummation be hoped. It will be worth more to the farmer than a new potato bug destroyer.
With good roads, and with trolley cars to carry one to the shop, the prayer meeting, the library, the school, the sewing circle, the village improvement society, country industries will be made easier, touch with the markets more rapid, amusements more generous, and life will be broader, freer, more diverse. Even when a farmer makes only a moderate use of the car, the fact of his premises being under survey of people who ride more will touch his pride, and he will keep his yards and fences in better order, paint his buildings oftener, plant flowers and water them, and set out a tree or two for shade’s sake. As he and his wife touch elbows and wits with strangers, when they go to town, they will give more thought to their personal and mental appearance than when they drove about in the old buggy.
In the city the street car is a corrupter of manners. Such manners as people used to have in American towns hardly survive the scramble in the rush hours. Women were treated with consideration, even in New York, once. Now, when they ride they may cling to a strap, and the burly fellow who has pushed his way past them and taken a seat will be seemingly indifferent to their presence. But gentlemen are always what their name implies, and it is rare indeed when three or four of them are not to be found in a congregation. They are as often in overalls as in broadcloth. To them the woman need never look in appeal, and indeed she often looks in sympathy, for when they have done a day’s work in a foundry or a shipyard, while she has been making calls or attending a concert, she appreciates their right to rest. One such woman, in a Southern city, said to a laborer who had arisen to offer his place to her, “I don’t like to deprive you of your seat.”
“There ain’t no depravity, mum,” he answered gallantly.
And, really, there isn’t. Generous instincts are beneath the seeming selfishness, and one of these days—when the companies run cars enough—there will be no complaint. Even now, the crippled, the suffering, the aged, and the woman with a child in her arms may always command a seat, no matter how many rough the passengers. It is a better world than it used to be. In the hurry of modern life we can stop to be polite to everybody. If we did we should block the procession, and it would use bad language. We see find manners abroad, and deplore their lack among ourselves; but who sees abroad the awkward courtesy, the bashful kindliness, and the constant good nature that pertain among the American people, even when they are squeezed together in a street car?