Conservation Through Engineering Part 4

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It has often been said that the plan would be applied only in the West and South. The truth is that it has been the purpose from the first to extend it to every State where feasible projects could be found, and that our preliminary investigations lead us to believe this will include every State in the Union.

The wide discussion of the measure has been highly educational to the country, and some of the criticism is of constructive character. For example, attention has been sharply called to the fact that in certain localities there are individual farms well suited to our purpose which may often be had at a price representing rather less than the value of their improvements. These are the so-called "abandoned farms" so numerous in the Northeastern States. In some cases they are interspersed with land now cultivated, so situated that it is not possible to bring together a large number of contiguous farms as the basis of a Government project.

In New England and elsewhere public sentiment strongly favors a modification of the pending measure which will enable the purchase of individual farms rather than community settlement. This would be practicable only in localities where a sufficient number of farms, even if not contiguous, could be had to make possible the necessary supervision and instruction, together with cooperative organization for the purchase of supplies and sale of products. Without these advantages the plan of soldier settlement would fail in many instances. My information is that these conditions could be met. Not only so, but it is urged that existing farm communities would be inspired by the presence of soldier settlers and benefited by the presence of soldier settlers by their cooperative buying and selling agencies.

Another criticism of the pending measure is directed to the amount of the first payment the soldier settler is required to make. As the bill now stands it calls for 5 per cent on the land, 25 per cent on improvements and live stock, and 40 per cent on implements and other equipment. It has been urged by some friends of soldier settlement that no first payment should be required, but that the Government should make advances of 100 per cent in view of the soldiers' peculiar claim upon national consideration. It might be feasible to do this in the case of community settlements. But it could not be done in the case of scattered and individual farms, at least without abandoning the principles of sound business.

In the case of community settlement the soldier literally "gets in on the ground floor." Starting with a territory that is entirely blank so far as homes and improvements are concerned, he finds himself in a place where community values remain to be created. When he buys an improved farm in a settled neighborhood the situation is precisely reversed. In both cases there is or will be "unearned increment," or society-created values; but in the one case he _gets_ the increment, while in the other case he _pays_ it. Obviously, a larger advance would be justified in one case than in the other.


One of the first recommendations made by me in my report of seven years ago was that the Government build a railroad from Seward to Fairbanks in Alaska. Five years ago you intrusted to me the direction of this work.

The road is now more than two-thirds built, and Congress at this session, after exhaustively examining into the work, has authorized an additional appropriation sufficient for its completion. The showing made before Congress was that the road had been built without graft: every dollar has gone into actual work or material. It has been built without giving profits to any large contractors, for it has been constructed entirely by small contractors or by day's labor. It has been built without touch of politics: every man on the road has been chosen exclusively for ability and experience. It has been well and solidly built as a permanent road, not an exploiting road. It has been built for as little money as private parties could have built it, as all competent independent engineers who have seen the road advise.

Edwin F. Wendt, of the Interstate Commerce Commission, in charge of valuation of the railroads of the United States from Pittsburgh to Boston, after an investigation into the manner in which the Alaskan Railroad was constructed and its cost, reported to me as follows:

In concluding, it is not amiss to again state that after the full study which was given to the property during our trip, we are satisfied that the project is being executed rapidly and efficiently by men of experience and ability. It is believed that it is being handled as cheaply as private contractors could handle it under the circumstances.

The road has not been built as soon as expected because each year we have exhausted our appropriation before the work contemplated had been done. We could not say in October of one year what the cost of anything a year or more later would be, and we ran out of money earlier than anticipated. It has not been built as cheaply as expected because it has been built on a rising market for everything that went into its construction--from labor, lumber, food supplies, machinery, and steel to rail and ocean transportation. I believe, however, it can safely be said that no other piece of Government construction or private construction done during the war will show a less percentage of increase over a cost that was estimated more than four years ago.

The men have been well housed and well fed. Their wages have been good and promptly paid; there has been but one strike, and that was four years ago and was settled by Department of Labor experts fixing the scale of wages. The men have had the benefit of a system of compensation for damages like that in the Reclamation Service and Panama Canal. They have had excellent hospital service, and our camps and towns have been free of typhoid fever and malaria. That the men like the work is testified by the fact that hundreds who "came out" the past two years, attracted by the high wages of war industries, are now anxious to return to Alaska.

There has been but one setback in the construction, and that was the washing out of 12 miles of tracks along the Nenana River. This is a glacial stream which, when the snows melt, comes down at times with irresistible force. In this instance it abandoned its long accustomed way and cut into a new bed and through trees that had been standing for several generations, tearing out part of the track which had been laid.

The work of locating and constructing the road has been left in the hands of the engineers appointed by yourself. The only instruction which they received from me was that they should build the road as if they were working for a private concern, selecting the best men for the work irrespective of politics or pressure of any kind. As a result, we have a force that has been gathered from the construction camps of the western railroads, made up of men of experience and proved capacity.

That they have done their work efficiently, honestly, and at reasonable cost is my belief.

It is not possible during the construction of a railroad to tell what it costs per mile because all the foundation work, the construction of bases from which to work, the equipment for construction, and much of the material is a charge which must be spread over the entire completed line. The best estimate that can be made to-day as to the newly constructed road is that it has cost between $70,000 and $80,000 per main-line mile, or between $60,000 and $70,000 per mile of track.

This cost per mile includes the building of the most difficult and expensive stretch of line along the entire route from Seward to Fairbanks--that running along Turnagain Arm, which is sheer rock rising precipitously from the sea for nearly 30 miles. There are miles of this road which have cost $200,000 per mile. Even to blast a mule trail in one portion of this route cost $25,000 a mile.

The only Government-built railroad--that across the Isthmus of Panama--cost $221,052 per mile. The only two recently built railroads in the United States are (1) the Virginian, built by H.H. Rogers, which cost exclusive of equipment $151,000 per mile, with labor at from $1.35 to $1.75 per day and all machinery, fuel, rails, and supplies at its door, and (2) the Milwaukee line to Puget Sound, which is estimated as having cost $130,000 per mile exclusive of equipment.

The work has been conducted with its main base at Anchorage, which is at the head of Cook Inlet. The point was chosen as the nearest point from which to construct a railroad into the Matanuska coal fields. That was the primary objective of the railroad, to get at the Matanuska coal.

From Anchorage it was also intended to drive farther north through the Susitna Valley and across Broad Pass, and to the south along Turnagain Arm toward the Alaska Northern track. To secure coal for Alaska was the first need. So in addition to Anchorage as a base, one was also started at Nenana, on the Tanana River, from which to reach the Nenana coal fields lying to the south. If these two fields were open, one would supply the coast of Alaska and one the interior. This program has been acted upon, with the result that the Matanuska field is open to tidewater with a downgrade road all the way. The Nenana road has been pushed far enough south to touch a coal mine near the track, which may obviate the immediate necessity for reaching into the Nenana field proper.

There is an open stretch across Broad Pass to connect the Susitna Valley with the road coming down from Nenana. This gap closed, there will be through connection between Seward and Fairbanks.


By decisions of the Commissioner of the Land Office all of the claims in the Matanuska coal field were set aside, and by act of Congress a leasing bill was put into effect over the entire field. Under this law a number of claims must be reserved to the Government. The field was surveyed, and some of the most promising portions of the field have been so reserved.

Two leases have been entered into by the Government, one with Lars Netland, a miner, who has a backer, Mr. Fontana, a business man of San Francisco, and the other with Oliver La Duke and associates. There are many thousands of acres in this field which are open for lease and which will be leased to any responsible parties who will undertake their development. Government experts who have examined this field do not promise without further exploring a larger output of coal from this field than 150,000 tons a year.

The population of Alaska has fallen off during the war. She sent, I am told, 5,000 men into the Army, the largest proportion to population sent by any part of the United States. The high cost of labor and materials closed some of the gold mines, and the attractive wages offered by war industries drew labor from Alaska to the mainland. All prospecting practically closed. But with the return of peace there is evidence of a new movement toward that Territory which should be given added confidence in its future by the completion of the Alaskan Railroad.

There is enough arable land in Alaska to maintain a population the equal of all those now living in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and all that can be produced in those countries can be produced in Alaska. The great need is a market, and this will be found only as the mining and fishing industries of the country develop.


When the whole story is told of American achievement and the picture is painted of our material resources, we come back to the plain but all-significant fact that far beyond all our possessions in land and coal and waters and oil and industries is the American man. To him, to his spirit and to his character, to his skill and to his intelligence is due all the credit for the land in which we live. And that resource we are neglecting. He may be the best nurtured and the best clothed and the best housed of all men on this great globe. He may have more chances to become independent and even rich. He may have opportunities for schooling nowhere else afforded. He may have a freedom to speak and to worship and to exercise his judgment over the affairs of the Nation. And yet he is the most neglected of our resources because he does not know how rich he is, how rich beyond all other men he is. Not rich in money--I do not speak of that--but rich in the endowment of powers and possibilities no other man ever was given.

Twenty-five per cent of the 1,600,000 men between 21 and 31 years of age who were first drafted into our Army could not read nor write our language, and tens of thousands could not speak it nor understand it. To them the daily paper telling what Von Hindenberg was doing was a blur.

To them the appeals of Hoover came by word of mouth, if at all. To them the messages of their commander in chief were as so much blank paper. To them the word of mother or sweetheart came filtering in through other eyes that had to read their letters.

Now this is wrong. There is something lacking in the sense of a society that would permit it in a land of public schools that assumes leadership in the world.

Here is raw material truly, of the most important kind and the greatest possibility for good as well as for ill.

Save! Save! Save! This has been the mandate for the past two years. It is a word with which this report is replete. But we have been talking of food and land and oil while the boys and young men that are about us who carry the fortune of the democracy in their hands are without a primary knowledge of our institutions, our history, our wars and what we have fought for, our men and what they have stood for, our country and what its place in the world is.

The marvelous force of public opinion and the rare absorbing quality of the American mind never was shown more clearly than by the fact that out of these men came a loyalty and a stern devotion to America when the day of test came. Had Germany known what we know now, it would have been beyond her to believe that America could draft an army to adventure into war in Europe. There should not be a man who was in our Army or our Navy who has the ambition for an education who should not be given that opportunity--indeed, induced to take it--not merely out of appreciation but out of the greater value to the Nation that he would be if the tools of life were put into his hand. There is no word to say upon this theme of Americanization that has not been said, and Congress, it is now hoped, will believe those figures which, when presented nearly two years ago, were flouted as untrue. The Nation is humiliated at its own indifference, and action must be the result.

To save and to develop, I have said, were equally the expression of a true conservation. What is true as to material things is true as to human beings. And once given a foundation of health there is no other course by which this policy may be effected than to place at the command of every one the means of acquiring knowledge. The whole people must turn in that direction. We should enable all, without distinction, to have that training for which they are fitted by their own natural endowment. Then we can draw out of hiding the talents that have been hidden. The school will yet come to be the first institution of our land, in acknowledged preeminence in the making of Americans who understand why they are Americans and why to be one is worth while.[5]


[1] Extract from the annual report of the Secretary of the Interior for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1919. The page numbers are the same as those in the report.

[2] In spite of the strike order, effective the last day of the week, the production of soft coal during the seven days Oct. 26-Nov. 1 was greater than in any week this year save one. The exception was the preceding week, that of Oct. 25, which full reports now confirm as the record in the history of coal mining in the United States. The total production during the week ended Nov. 1 (including lignite and coal made into coke) is estimated at 12,142,000 net tons, an average per working day of 2,024,000 tons.

Indeed had it not been for the strike, curtailing the output of Saturday, the week of Nov. 1 would have far outstripped its predecessor.

The extraordinary efforts made by the railroads to provide cars bore fruit in a rate of production during the first five days of the week which, if maintained for the 304 working days of full-time year, would yield 715,000,000 tons of coal. It is worth noting that this figure is almost identical with the 700,000,000 tons accepted early in 1918 by the Geological Survey and the Railroad Administration as representing the country's annual capacity. During these five days, therefore, the soft-coal mines were working close to actual capacity. There can be little doubt that the output on Monday, Oct. 27, was the largest ever attained in a single day. (U.S. Geol. Survey Bull.)

[3] It is the western and southern fields that are most affected by the seasonal demand. As a typical example, Illinois may be cited, with 18 per cent of the year's production in 25 per cent of the time, April, May, and June, in 1915, and 15 per cent in 1916. Retail dealers received 27 per cent of the coal from Illinois in the period from August, 1918, to February, 1919, compared with 4 per cent from the Pittsburgh, Pa., field.

[4] In every trainload of coal hauled from the mines to our coal bins, 1 carload out of every 5 is going nowhere. In a train of 40 cars, the last 8 are dead load that might better have been left in the bowels of the earth. No less an authority than Martin A. Rooney states: "Every fifth shovel full of coal that the average fireman throws into his furnace serves no more useful purpose than to decorate the atmosphere with a long black stream of precious soot. At best one-fifth of all our coal is wasted."

Conservation Through Engineering Part 4

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