Bill Todd -- An Uneasy Utopia
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 Chapter 15

Huntington, Indiana

This is a difficult morning for me. I've had yet another operation, and, in addition to the usual pain, I'm too immobilized to write. However, one of the many nurses who spoil me, Sister Harkins, has volunteered to take dictation. She flatters me by saying that she and her colleagues are curious to discover just which route through the turmoil of life has finally landed me in their hospital in Swansea. I have long since given them permission to read this little memoir of mine, and, with all their young men in the armed forces, they seem to need something to distract them.

In the middle of February of 1932, I returned to Scranton for my day in divorce court. I went first to see my lawyer, John Sturgis. We had already agreed on a general approach. I would present the appearance of a completely ruined and demoralized man who's been lucky to get a lowly job on the railway which has taken over his old one. I would wear my threadbare travelling salesman's suit, and would hardly dispute any of the attempts to defame my character.

Nevertheless, more out of desperation than anything else, I would still ask for a division of the property. That consisted only of the large house and a modest portfolio of stocks and bonds. Sturgis thought that it would all go to Marcia, but he wanted to shield my future income, so far as possible, from alimony. As he said,

"If we do it right, it'll never occur to anyone that you'll ever have any income worth mentioning."

Unfortunately, there had been a good deal of publicity, not only surrounding the original incident, one might almost say the original sin, but also the present divorce action. When we arrived at the courthouse, the photographers were there waiting for me. At that time, it seemed that the newspapers hardly went a week without printing on their front pages photographs of prominent men, suddenly in disgrace, on the courthouse steps. Some stared defiantly at the cameras, and some covered their faces with their hats. I did neither, contenting myself only with an apologetic look downwards. It was my hope to appear before the newspaper readers of Scranton as one who still had the instincts of a gentleman.

Sturgis felt at home in the packed courtroom, and he led me easily through the crowd. There must have been a good deal of hostility toward me, but I noticed only curiosity. Everyone seemed to want to know what I looked like.

Arriving at the front, Sturgis greeted Marcia's two lawyers in a friendly fashion. Marcia stood beside them, some fifteen feet away, and I nodded to her. She did not return the nod, and I knew that she was inwardly blaming me for making her a spectacle for the town.

I felt, but didn't attempt to point out, that we, the two spectacles, had more in common with each other than with almost anyone else. Despite a certain amount of sympathy for her on the part of the women, some of it sincere, she was probably almost as much an object of ridicule and contempt as I was myself. But, then, adversity suited her well. She stood straight in one of her best dresses and looked dead ahead with an attractive flush on her extremely pale face.

When proceedings began, it became clear that Judge Holman, a visiting judge from another circuit, had no sympathy for men of my inclinations. Since I was the defendant, Marcia's lawyers began with their witnesses, and attempted to place my character in the very blackest light. Sturgis had predicted that they would do so, and had said to me,

"Unless they're much cleverer than I think they are, they'll overdo it. They'll paint you as an evil monster when it'll be obvious to everyone that you're only rather hopeless and ineffectual."

I hadn't been quite as enthusiastic about being hopeless and ineffectual as Sturgis seemed to think I should have been, but I saw the point.

My transgression north of the state line was quickly brought to light in all it's petty but lurid detail. Sturgis nodded with satisfaction as one of the girls testified. She was a pretty girl, very embarrassed by the circumstances, but obviously healthy and unscarred by her experience. She even gave a little laugh at the wrong time, when she was asked whether she had been approached by a sex fiend on any other occasion. Sturgis could have objected then, and at many other times, but, with one exception, he let the other side have its innings unchecked.

Sturgis' one intervention occurred when he cross- examined Sam Grundy, Marcia's doctor. Marcia's lawyers had put him on the stand to testify to her delicate health. The hope had apparently been to arouse sympathy for her, and also to make a case for continuing support. Sturgis asked him,

"Doctor Grundy, would you say that, during the time you treated Mrs. Witt, Mr. Witt was concerned for her health?"

Sam Grundy rumbled a bit in his usual way, but came out with,

"Yes. I would say that he was very concerned."

"Was it your impression that he brought her to see you whenever he detected any disquieting symptoms in his wife?"

"Yes. Yes, I think he did a number of times."

"Doctor Grundy, were you also Mr. Witt's physician during this same time?"

"Well, yes. I do remember making a house call or two when he was laid up with the flu."

"Did he often seem concerned with his own health?"

"No, I don't recall that he was."

"So, then, would it be fair to say that Mr. Witt was more concerned with his wife's health than with his own?"

Sam Grundy was an honest unimaginative man. He didn't try to explain that Marcia was sicker than I, or anything of the sort. He answered only with the single word, "yes."

When Sturgis sat down next to me, he pencilled a note,

"That undoes at least half of what they've done."

Marcia was the last witness for her side, and she did very well. She was now, not the doctor's patient about to be informed of her incipient demise, but a different kind of innocent victim, one whose marital problems provided amusement for the vulgar.

The transition from one role to the other was not really very great, and no one in the room doubted that she had suffered. On the other hand, her stance didn't fit well with the position taken by her lawyers. They had pointed to me as the monster who had destroyed the life of the woman unfortunate enough to be married to him. But Marcia was better at being a quiet and dignified martyr in unfortunate circumstances than in being the shrieking victim of a sex fiend.

When our turn came, Sturgis called Sam Hanks, by now a lieutenant general and the chief financial officer of the railway. Of course, we didn't wish to give the impression that anyone of such an august rank was concerned with my case, and Hanks gave his position as that of an accountant with the GER. He was first asked to give the particulars of my position. Not confusing the court with our military ranks, he gave my pay as fifteen hundred a year, the rate at which I was actually being paid, and my job that of a clerk. Hanks explained that it was the railway's policy to frequently transfer personnel around the system, and that men in my position lived either in railway cars or in the bunkhouses constructed primarily for track gangs at the division points.

The description of my new life sounded dreary enough. No one listening to it would have imagined that my abode was a car custom-designed by Vignis. When, under cross-examination, Hanks was asked if I wasn't likely to fulfill other functions than that of clerk, he replied,

"We do encourage versatility in all our employees, and we occasionally assign office workers to outdoor functions so as not to have entirely separate classes of employees. I understand that Mr. Witt has been a member of a switching crew on at least one occasion."

Of course, what Hanks said was deliberately misleading. However, he had no way of knowing that I had represented myself as a lieutenant general in conversations with Beach, Howison, and Atwater, and that I had, on some occasions, worn the purple-on-pink patch of that rank. Sturgis didn't think that the opposition's research would extend that far. If it did, I would be represented as one who put on false airs and ranks.

In the event, Hanks was asked only why I had been hired. He replied,

"I knew that Mr. Witt was good at figures, and that he'd be a good record-keeper. He doesn't handle money, and his job offers very little opportunity for fraud or theft."

"But, surely, a man who was president of a railroad would have a great deal of knowledge and skill. Might he not be appointed to high rank again?"

"There's a question of character. We want to be able to rely on our principal officers, and we don't want to be disgraced by their behavior outside of working hours."

Hanks hadn't directly answered the question, but, as Sturgis pointed out in his next pencilled note, the other lawyer was too dumb to follow it up. Hanks was let go, and Sturgis called me to the stand as his only other witness.

At that point, I believe that I was almost enjoying myself. I stumbled across to the witness stand in my old suit, and took the oath as if I were asking forgiveness. In replying to Sturgis' routine questions which were meant to highlight the contrast between my presidency of the Lackawanna and my present low estate, I acted as if I were very much ashamed, but could still hardly believe what had happened.

The cross-examination was quite vicious. I indeed felt as if I were being hit with a sledge-hammer in the stomach, and I had no need to feign distress. As I admitted that I would probably never be admitted as a decent member of a community anywhere, I actually did begin to cry. As I was assisted back to my seat, there was a hush in the audience, the only noise being the frantic scribbling of the reporters in the front row.

I was aware that a court proceeding could degenerate into a circus quite rapidly. For example, some half dozen years previously, a judge had ordered the alleged mistress of a rich man to undress in the courtroom to make it more evident to the jury that she had Negro blood. In other cases, judges had come off the bench to whip youthful miscreants, and had encouraged re-enactments of mayhem which were very close to mayhem themselves with the words,

"Show the court how you beat your wife."

In my case, the judge was a frustrated preacher and promulgator of moral law. He lectured me for some twenty minutes on my sins, my failures as a husband, my arrogance in demanding any part of our joint property, and my presumption in daring to show my face in the community I had outraged. He didn't say whether he would have preferred that I come masked, but he did announce his verdict. I would forfeit all my property to Marcia, and I would remit fifty dollars a month alimony to her until such time as she re-married. Since my salary would shortly be very large, I wasn't entirely destroyed.

Once outside, Sturgis assured me that there was little chance of the settlement being overturned once I again became a "success". He added,

"It might be a good idea to live simply for the next few years and avoid any display which is likely to make its way back to Scranton."

"I'll continue to live in my railway car, and the position I'm taking up is a semi-secret one anyway. I don't think there'll be any problem."

I then left Scranton with little inclination to return.

By that spring, the spring of 1932, the depression had moved along a little further. Unemployment was edging up to thirteen million, about twenty five per cent of the work force. Most business activity, including railway activity, was about forty per cent of what it had been just before the crash.

President Herbert Hoover alternated between quiet retreats into unreality and the taking of some steps which did turn out to be effective. However, the effect was delayed, and no one then knew that there would be any effect at all. In the meantime, more banks closed, leaving their depositors no way of getting their money. A great many people, both their jobs and their savings lost, were realizing, for the first time in their lives, that it might not be possible to get another job, even one of the most menial sort.

This atmosphere, seemingly so depressing, was the best possible one in which to found a great enterprise, at least if one had the necessary capital. I was soon to find that Mac had it.

Another thing that helped was the growing army of hoboes, eventually to number as many as a million. Most weren't tramps in any traditional sense, but simply men who couldn't find jobs. Some were basically quite respectable, were possessed of skills, and would jump at any job offered them. It was hard for a railwayman who had just had his pay cut to strike or quit when the hoboes were virtually looking on. He might not like his job, but the presence of someone waiting to snap it up made him think more than twice about surrendering it.

In March there was a meeting of the highest officers of the system in Huntington, Indiana, the first that had ever taken place. As Mac said to me on the phone,

"I don't think it would be a bad thing if a few of us get together and decide how to run the country."

Huntington was a factory town, old enough to be dirty and dreary, but not old enough to have a history. It had been chosen simply because the Erie and Wabash crossed there, and because there was plenty of flat empty space in which to lay out the yards and facilities we would require. Mac, never profligate with money, didn't build us a shiny new headquarters building. Instead, he bought and refurbished an old fleabag of a hotel in the downtown area. The top floors were converted to offices, but the hotel facilities and a number of rooms were left for visiting firemen such as myself. We came in on a Sunday, and met for breakfast the next morning in the private dining room on the top floor.

In the table of organization Mac had drawn up, there was the field marshal in command of the system, and, immediately below him, two colonel generals in command of the eastern and western circles. Mac took all three functions, and the combined salaries, unto himself. This action might have seemed high-handed to many, but Mac, at the time of announcing it, remarked,

"I want to be in a position to engage in a little philanthropy later on, if that should become necessary."

No one had asked him exactly what sort of philanthropy he had in mind.

Next down was the rank of full general, and there was only one, a Scot named A. C. Glencannon. He spoke in a thick accent and seemed always to verge on disreputability, but he occupied a key position, that of locomotive superintendent. It was, in fact, one of few that Mac didn't believe himself capable of fulfilling.

Originally a workman in the great Clyde shipbuilding yards, and then a marine engineer aboard a tramp steamer, Glencannon had later become Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Glasgow and Southwestern Railway.

In Britain, the C. M. E. of a railway designed the locomotives. He also supervised the locomotive works, and often had control of a great deal else. He was a powerful, and often feared, man. Glencannon was highly unorthodox, and was also given to sudden violent rages. Despite his undoubted genius as a designer, he had had to resign and leave the country after attacking a subordinate with his fists and beating him badly.

Although not a young man, Glencannon's red-gold hair and moustache gleamed in the light as he sat across from me. I decided to have as little to do with him as possible, and, fortunately, there was virtually no overlap in the responsibilities of the C. M. E. and the Director of Intelligence and Security.

Next in seniority came the lieutenant generals, including myself. On my left was Atwater, who had been promoted and made Assistant Commander of the Eastern Circle. On my right was his opposite number from the Western Circle, General D. H. P. Davis, USMC, retired. Davis, nick-named "Damned-hard-to-please Davis" in the marines, was tall, athletic, and a good fifteen years older than he looked. He smiled, laughed, and joked, but I wasn't in the least deluded. General Davis was, in his way, just as fearsome as Glencannon. Of necessity, I had more dealings with Davis then Glencannon, but I was always extremely careful around him. On the whole, it was a good thing that he was based in Pueblo, Colorado.

Diagonally across from me, next to Glencannon, was Sam Hanks, who really had a dual role. One was important and fairly straight-forward, that of chief financial officer of the railway. The other was important and quite devious, that of Mac's chief assistant in stock manipulation and the raising of capital. When we had met the evening before, Sam said nothing about having been so recently a witness on my behalf, but he now gave me a curious and amused look.

Mac, at the head of the table, opened matters by giving us some bad news. We were losing money too fast. Of course, we hadn't expected to show a profit for some time, but, at the present rate of loss, we would be bankrupt before we ever did show a profit. He said that Sam Hanks would shortly give us a more detailed account of the finances, but that, in the meantime, he proposed to touch on some other matters.

Even before he did so, some things had already been clarified. Contrary to what one might have supposed, Mac treated us like a governing committee to which he was making a report. He didn't address us as children, nor did he use his Texas voice. I think we all understood that, if we could manage to make sensible recommendations, Mac would probably follow them. This wasn't because he was desperate, or because he had given way to panic. He had announced the looming financial crisis as if it were only to be expected.

The operations were going, Mac said, much better than he had expected.

"We haven't tried to do too much with the western circle, but we have fifty two forward freights and four reverse ones moving around the eastern circle regularly. Some of those freights consist of only twenty or thirty cars, and could be combined, but it's essential to get everyone used to running the full schedule without the slightest deviation."

Atwater pointed out,

"It's really a good thing that we aren't getting enough business to force us to run longer trains. The yards at most of the division points are only half built, if that. We wouldn't be able to handle many more cars."

Mac replied,

"I'm still not happy that we aren't getting more of the business away from our competitors. But, on the operational side, it's an achievement that we've been able to do this much with only partially completed facilities."

After a brief pause, during which we were allowed to congratulate ourselves, he continued,

"The labor force has performed satisfactorily. If it hadn't, we wouldn't be running all those freights with so few delays. From what I've been able to see, the new recruits from the south have contributed the most. They may not know as much as the old hands, but they're willing and they learn quickly. On the whole, the new men have been worked in with the old with less trouble than I expected. There's been some labor trouble in most places, but not a single one of our component railways, much less the whole system, has been struck by all the major unions at once. Where there have been strikes, we have, in every case, replaced the strikers."

Hanks next spoke in a way that was a revelation to me. I knew that Mac had promoted a giant new company in the fine old tradition of J. P. Morgan, but I hadn't realized that it was a unique sort of promotion.

There were two ways in which holding companies usually took over railways, other sorts of operating companies, or other holding companies. One was to trade stock in the holding company itself for the stock of the companies to be taken over. The other was to float issues of bonds, generally with high yields, and use the money to buy the shares of the target company, either in the stock market or by arrangement with large holders.

The first strategy was hard to sell. The person who owned Wabash stock had a known quantity. Before the crash, it was paying him a regular dividend and its assets were readily identifiable. It was very difficult to say how much stock in the new holding company it would take to match the value of his Wabash stock, and, thus, whether he was being offered a good deal.

Bonds were easier to sell because they advertized a fixed rate of return. If the promoter had a good reputation, the high yield would tempt many investors, both amateur and professional.

Hanks knew that the rest of us weren't financial men and explained,

"The difference between stock and bonds comes afterwards. In the case of bonds, the new company, immediately after its launching, has to start paying interest. If there's a pyramid of holding companies, some or all of which have issued bonds, interest has to be paid up and down the pyramid. That means that the operating companies have to quickly generate enough earnings to pay the interest on the very large debt.

The great thing about stock is that there's no obligation to pay any dividends at all if the management judges that it's not in the best long-term interests of the company."

While most promoters had relied on a mixture of stock swaps and what were even then called junk bonds, Mac had emphasized stock swaps, particularly after the crash. A man who had seen his stock go, say, from 120 to 4 was likely to think that it had become almost worthless. If someone like Mac came along, full of confidence, and said that he could make something of it, the usual inclination was to let him have a try. There was, after all, not much to lose.

It was usual, of course, for the promoters to take a large block of stock in the new company to compensate them for their trouble. When J. P. Morgan and the others had done this, there was always a certain amount of controversy. In one sense, the new company was no more than the sum of its parts. At the beginning, at any rate, it possessed no factories or other tangible assets which hadn't belonged to one of the component operating companies. If one calculated the proportion of the old company owned by a shareholder, and then his proportion of the new company after the stock swap, he often came out with no more then half the value. The rest had gone to the promoters and their agents. Some people always said that this was robbery.

In another sense, the United States Steel Company, promoted by Morgan at the turn of the century, had been much more than the sum of its parts. Because of the integration on a massive scale, the resulting economies of scale, the new management, and the financial power of the promoter, it was in a position to make a much greater profit than the sum of the profits of the old companies. So it had come to pass. Everyone profited!

Of course, everyone lost if the new company was a failure, or even if it merely plodded along in an unspectacular way. In that case, the original shareholder would get a smaller dividend than he had before the merger, and the total price of his stock would probably be diminished. However, in the early thirties, there wasn't much to lose, and even quite knowledgeable people were willing to bet on Mac.

What came next was the unusual and surprising twist. While Mac had allowed himself the usual company promotor's share of stock, he was, according to Hanks, willing to sell it on the market at any time and loan the proceeds to the railway. The previously issued stock could be sold overnight, and sudden large infusions of cash would be available, either for emergencies or for taking advantage of bargains. The company might end up loaded with debt, not to the public generally, but to Mac personally. Hanks summed up by saying,

"Mr. Garner has great confidence in us, and will be willing to let us defer interest payments until we get on our feet."

Hanks had spoken with a smile, and Mac smiled in return. He replied only,

"The better the image we can acquire for ourselves, the more I can get for the stock. That will allow us to stretch out the grace period."

So far as I knew, no promoter had been willing to loan back to the company all the money he had made out of the deal. Some had taken partial payment in bonds, but this was on an entirely different scale. J. P. Morgan would have done nothing of the sort.

I was immediately reminded of Mac's reception in Dundee, Michigan. Those were the sorts of people who would get together every last penny to buy GER stock. They might not buy more than a few shares, but there were millions of them. The contagion might turn out to be catching.

There was, at that point, a recess for mid-morning coffee, snacks, and elimination. Almost immediately, A. C. Glencannon came up to me and asked,

"Where did you spring from, then, laddie?"

He was being friendly, according to his lights, but there was still a piercing stare and the hardly hidden assumption that I might more appropriately have been placed somewhere else. I replied tactfully, evidently to his satisfaction, but noticed that he moved away when Sam Hanks came up to join us. Hanks was young, confident, and even cocky. Glencannon, at the same age, might have been rather similar, but he evidently had limited toleration for younger versions of himself.

Recalling now that first meeting of the ruling echelon of the GER, it's really rather surprising that it functioned as well as it did. It certainly wasn't populated with heroes. Glencannon was an inventor of great ability, but apart from that, he was little more than a ruffian, often a drunken one. Davis was a talented organizer, but he had always been a martinet, and was always hated by many of his subordinates. Hanks was an ambitious young man on the make. I, whatever virtues I might have had, was a sychophant who never even dreamed of opposing Mac on any issue of substance. Only Atwater might have been thought to be admirable, and even he could be remarkably cold-blooded when he thought that the situation demanded it.

Why, then, didn't each of these individuals pursue his own selfish ends to the detriment of the organization? Was it that Mac somehow made us all better people? Hardly. Mac wasn't in the business of making other people better. Indeed, he sometimes encouraged the worst in people in order to take advantage of them. Nor was he a saint himself. He would have been insulted if anyone had suggested it. If anyone even hinted that he was a person of superior moral fibre, Mac would launch into a story which usually began, more or less,

"Well, son, I remember one time in Laredo when I'd spent a week banging the Mexican chambermaids and gambled and drunk more than a man really oughtta ........"

Even after Vignis put a stop to such stories, there was still little question of Mac inspiring people to be new better people.

I think the answer must have been simply that we all knew that the petty little maneuvers which carry the day in most organizations wouldn't have worked on Mac, and would, in fact, have boomeranged on the perpetrator. It wasn't only that he was smart, but that he had the kind of suspicious nature that immediately divined the ulterior motive in anything that anyone did.

When we reconvened, Mac pointed out,

"Our troubles are mostly on the revenue side. We've been moving the freight that we get, but we aren't getting enough. In the west, where we haven't attempted much reorganization, it's costing as much to move freight as we're collecting in revenue. If the depression ever eases off, those lines will collectively show a modest profit. In the east, costs are running almost ten per cent over revenue. We've still got a lot of work to do there before we'll show a profit, depression or no depression."

Atwater then spoke for the Eastern Circle. Although he was only assistant commander and it was nominally Mac's responsibility, it seemed to be assumed that he was in effective command. He spoke with a touch of levity.

"Marshal Garner and I have discussed this, and we've concluded that the Eastern Circle is two to three thousand miles too long."

He then went to the system map on the wall. The Eastern Circle went south through St. Louis and Arkansas down to the Gulf, and then eastwards to Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. It then came up to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and finally returned to Huntington via Toledo and Detroit. Atwater said,

"For one thing, there's a great tonnage moving from the Chicago area to the northeast, and we don't get our share of it. The New York Central and the Pennsylvania have fairly direct routes, and we have to go by way of Louisiana."

I didn't take Atwater to be questioning the wisdom of circle routes, on which we were presumably all agreed, but only the shape of this particular circle. He then pointed silently to the Norfolk and Western, a railway under our control which, stretching from the east coast to the midwest, almost bisected our circle.

At this point, Mac said to me,

"Jimmy, you've had more railway managerial experience than anyone here. Probably more than the rest of us put together. What do you think of the Norfolk and Western?"

I responded immediately and spontaneously,

"Why it's the best railway of its kind in the world, perhaps the best of any kind."

The others nodded. My reaction was hardly surprising. The N&W hauled coal, and no other railway had ever been able to haul so much so cheaply. Charging something under a half of one cent to haul a ton of coal a mile, they had still been able to make a good profit almost every year for many years. I added,

"It really consists of two conveyor belts. The eastern one takes coal out of West Virginia to the docks of Norfolk on one track and brings back the empties on the other. The western conveyor belt, which is even bigger, takes coal from the same place to Columbus, Ohio, and points north and west. It's really because of the railway that the soft coal from southern West Virginia has gradually dominated every market from New England to Minnesota."

Mac replied only,

"It's a very valuable property. We would never have gotten it without the depression."

At the time that Mac pounced, the Pennsylvania, one of our main competitors, had owned more than a third of the N&W stock for years. They had never attempted to run the road, which was better run than their own, but they had thought that their interest was sufficient to keep the N&W out of any hostile empire. They hadn't realized how tempting shares of the Great Eastern Railway, by that time very much in the news, would be to the shareholders.

Mac had, very sensibly, left the main lines of the N&W entirely alone. I had heard him mention the railway only once recently, and then in connection with locomotives. The N&W designed and built its own locomotives at Roanoke, most of them huge mallets which could drag up to two hundred hopper cars. They also had a number of new designs in the process of development. These, like so many things connected with the road, would probably turn out to be the best. It was tempting to let Roanoke design all the locomotives for our system, and to have it build as many of them as its facilities permitted.

That, of course, wouldn't leave much room for Glencannon. He thought he could design a better engine than Roanoke, but not many people agreed with him, particularly since his engines had all been the dinky little ones used in Europe. In a conversation with Mac about locomotives, I had had the feeling that he and Glencannon shared some secret, quite a close one.

I soon realized that a more immediate issue was at stake. Atwater said,

"If we revise the Eastern Circle, using the N&W and some smaller lines, we can get it down to approximately two thousand miles. The excised part of the circle in the south can then be made into a separate circle, so we really won't lose anything."

The specific proposal was to use various roads we controlled to go from Huntington to Portsmouth, Ohio, and there connect with the N&W. We would use the superlative mountain divisions of the N&W to cross the Appalachians to Roanoke, and then use the Shenandoah Valley branch, as before, to connect with the northeast part of our circle.

The trouble was, of course, that we couldn't make the main line of the N&W part of our circle without totally disrupting both its eastern and western conveyor belts. We could still haul coal, but on nothing like the same scale. It wasn't necessary for anyone to explain that the price of shortening our circle would be the virtual destruction of the N&W as it then existed.

Atwater was more willing than anyone else to take a definite position. He said,

"I have as much respect for the N&W as anyone, but we've got to do something. You can't go from here to New York via Baton Rouge and be competitive, no matter what efficiencies the circle makes possible. And there's no other way of dramatically shortening our route."

No definite conclusion was taken at that meeting, but, when Mac said that he thought that the Director of Intelligence should look into the matter immediately, everyone agreed with him.

I have always believed, not only that there's no free lunch, but that there is no benevolence which doesn't demand a return. I knew, from the beginning, that, even though my job seemed rather curiously informal, I would earn my keep. What surprised me was that Mac seemed about to delegate a decision of this importance to me. I would have expected him to make it himself, and only then tell people about it. On the contrary, he had set things up in such a way that he couldn't over-rule me without, at the least, an abrupt change of style.

As we were filing out of the room, Mac tapped me playfully on the shoulder and said,

"Vignis is expecting you for lunch, son. Don't let her talk you into anything unwise."

It soon developed that the others were going off together for lunch, and that I would be alone with Vignis. I could hardly imagine what Mac thought she might talk me into, but, without explaining further, he summoned a driver for me.

Bill Todd -- An Uneasy Utopia
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