Santa Barbara Business College Western Farmers and The Railroad Questions.
Please read the excerpt below from Frank Norris’s The Octopus — the first primary source for this class.
As you do, read to answer the following questions about this document:
- Summarize this excerpt from the novel. Hit the most important points and use only your own words. No quotations. At minimum, be sure your summary is 200 words long.
- What’s happening to Dyke’s autonomy? How is he likely to react to the increase in the cost of transporting hops?
- How does Dyke’s story link to the events and themes of chapter 18? First, identify at least two themes, then discuss how the primary sources link with them.
- What Dyke and many others at this time in history were undergoing is what economists call “system change,” a profound shift in the economy that causes dislocations, pushing the fortunes of some upwards, and snuffing out the fortunes of others. Many today believe that President Trump got elected because of his appeal to those who were either suffering system change or feared that they were about to — such as the coal miners in West Virginia. Where do we see system change in U.S. society today? Do a little research and show us what you come up with. How does it compare with the example of system change given here? Do you ever feel like Dyke?
Put your answers to these questions in your Initial Post and post it and your response posts before the deadlines listed at the top of this page.
[Excerpted and edited from Frank Norris, The Octopus, published in 1901. This novel was a fictional depiction of the relationship between western farmers and the railroad, but it was based on real incidents and situations. Bonneville, California (now spelled Boonville) is a town in Anderson Valley 115 miles north of San Francisco.]
“Dyke reached the Post Office in Bonneville toward eleven o’clock, but he did not at once go to Ruggles’s office. It was seldom he got into town, and when he did he permitted himself the luxury of enjoying his evident popularity. He met friends everywhere, in the Post Office, in the drug store, in the barber shop and around the court-house.
At the drug store, his eye was caught by a “transparent slate,” a child’s toy. “Now, there’s an idea, Jim,” he observed to the boy behind the soda-water fountain; “I know a little tad that would just about jump out of her skin for that. Think I’ll have to take it with me. Smartest little tad in all Tulare County, and more fun! A regular whole show in herself.”
“And the hops?” inquired the other.
“Great!” declared Dyke, with the good-natured man’s readiness to talk of his private affairs to anyone who would listen. “Perfect. I’m dead sure of a bonanza crop by now. The rain came just right. I actually don’t know as I can store the crop in those barns I built, it’s going to be so big. That foreman of mine was a daisy. Jim, I’m going to make money in that deal. You know the crop is contracted for already. Sure, the foreman managed that. He’s a daisy. Chap in San Francisco will take it all and at the advanced price. I wanted to hang on, to see if it wouldn’t go to six cents, but the foreman said, ‘No, that’s good enough.’ So I signed. Ain’t it just great?”
“I suppose you’ll stay right by hops now?”
“Right you are. I know a good thing when I see it. There’s plenty others going into hops next season. I set ’em the example. Wouldn’t be surprised if it came to be a regular industry hereabouts. I’m planning ahead for next year already. I can let the foreman go, now that I’ve learned the game myself, and I think I’ll buy a piece of land off Quien Sabe and get a bigger crop, and build a couple more barns, and, by George, in about five years’ time I’ll have things humming. I’m going to make money, Jim.”
At Ruggles’s office, which was the freight as well as the land office of the P. and S. W. Railroad, Dyke was surprised to see a familiar figure in conference with Ruggles himself, by a desk inside the railing.
The figure was that of a middle-aged man, fat, with a great stomach, which he stroked from time to time. As he turned about, addressing a remark to the clerk, Dyke recognized S. Behrman, banker, railroad agent, and political manipulator.
“I’ll be wanting some cars of you people before the summer is out,” observed Dyke to the clerk as he folded up and put away the order that the other had handed him. He remembered perfectly well that he had arranged the matter of transporting his crop some months before, but he liked to busy himself again and again with the details of his undertaking.
“I suppose,” he added, “you’ll be able to give ’em to me. There’ll be a big wheat crop to move this year and I don’t want to be caught in any car famine.”
“Oh, you’ll get your cars,” murmured the other.
“I’ll be the means of bringing business your way,” Dyke went on; “I’ve done so well with my hops that there are a lot of others going into the business next season. Suppose,” he continued, struck with an idea, “suppose we went into some sort of pool, a sort of shippers’ organization, could you give us special rates, cheaper rates—say a cent and a half?”
The other looked up.
“A cent and a half! Say FOUR cents and a half and maybe I’ll talk business with you.”
“Four cents and a half,” returned Dyke, “I don’t see it. Why, the regular rate is only two cents.”
“No, it isn’t,” answered the clerk, looking him gravely in the eye, “it’s five cents.”
“Well, there’s where you are wrong,” Dyke retorted, genially. “You look it up. You’ll find the freight on hops from Bonneville to ‘Frisco is two cents a pound for car load lots. You told me that yourself last fall.”
“That was last fall,” observed the clerk. There was a silence. Dyke shot a glance of suspicion at the other. Then, reassured, he remarked: “You look it up. You’ll see I’m right.”
S. Behrman came forward and shook hands politely with the ex-engineer.
“Anything I can do for you, Mr. Dyke?”
Dyke explained. When he had done speaking, the clerk turned to S. Behrman and observed, respectfully:
“Our regular rate on hops is five cents.”
“Yes,” answered S. Behrman, pausing to reflect; “yes, Mr. Dyke, that’s right—five cents.”
The clerk brought forward a folder of yellow paper and handed it to Dyke. It was inscribed at the top “Tariff Schedule No. 8,” and underneath these words, in brackets, was a smaller inscription, “SUPERSEDES NO. 7 OF AUG. 1“
“See for yourself,” said S. Behrman. He indicated an item under the head of “Miscellany.”
“The following rates for carriage of hops in car load lots,” read Dyke, “take effect June 1, and will remain in force until superseded by a later tariff. Those quoted beyond Stockton are subject to changes in traffic arrangements with carriers by water from that point.”
In the list that was printed below, Dyke saw that the rate for hops between Bonneville or Guadalajara and San Francisco was five cents.
For a moment Dyke was confused. Then swiftly the matter became clear in his mind. The Railroad had raised the freight on hops from two cents to five.
All his calculations as to a profit on his little investment he had based on a freight rate of two cents a pound. He was under contract to deliver his crop. He could not draw back. The new rate ate up every cent of his gains. He stood there ruined.”
“Why, what do you mean?” he burst out. “You promised me a rate of two cents and I went ahead with my business with that understanding. What do you mean?”
S. Behrman and the clerk watched him from the other side of the counter.
“The rate is five cents,” declared the clerk doggedly.
“Well, that ruins me,” shouted Dyke. “Do you understand? I won’t make fifty cents. Make! Why, I will owe,—I’ll be—be—That ruins me, do you understand?”
The other, raised a shoulder.
“We don’t force you to ship. You can do as you like. The rate is five cents.”
“Well—but—I’m under contract to deliver. What am I going to do? Why, you told me—you promised me a two-cent rate.”
“I don’t remember it,” said the clerk. “I don’t know anything about that. But I know this; I know that hops have gone up. I know the German crop was a failure and that the crop in New York wasn’t worth the hauling. Hops have gone up to nearly a dollar. You don’t suppose we don’t know that, do you, Mr. Dyke?”
“What’s the price of hops got to do with you?”
“It’s got this to do with us,” returned the other with a sudden aggressiveness, “that the freight rate has gone up to meet the price. We’re not doing business for our health. My orders are to raise your rate to five cents, and I think you are getting off easy.”
Dyke stared in blank astonishment. For the moment, the audacity of the affair was what most appealed to him. He forgot its personal application.
“Good Lord,” he murmured, “good Lord! What will you people do next? Look here. What’s your basis of applying freight rates, anyhow?” he suddenly vociferated with furious sarcasm. “What’s your rule? What are you guided by?”
S. Behrman, who had kept silent during the heat of the discussion, leaned abruptly forward. For the only time in his knowledge, Dyke saw his face inflamed with anger and with the enmity and contempt of all this farming element with whom he was contending.
“Yes, what’s your rule? What’s your basis?” demanded Dyke, turning swiftly to him.
S. Behrman emphasized each word of his reply with a tap of one forefinger on the counter before him:
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