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^Travel by Jraw 











"seeing what kind of country it is that I live in." 

Rollo 'Walter 'Brown 



D. Appleton -Century Company 



1-939, BY 
I>. -.p^ETOfsTf^^T^Y COMPANY, INC. 

^ . 

rights reserved. This book, or parts 
thetfebff* tytust not be reproduced in any 
form**vtJiout permission of the publisher. 




IN THE dead of night in the Oklahoma Panhandle 
country, I climbed aboard a long train from the Pacific 
Coast that had generously offered to stop at a small town 
for a solitary passenger. I was still much awake from a busy 
evening, and while the porter made down a berth for me, 
I wandered back through the train through two or three 
darkened sleeping-cars where passengers snug behind green 
curtains were sound asleep, then through four or five others 
that were almost as dark, but not made down for the night, 
and without passengers. In the rear section of the last of 
these a brakemana man of forty or forty-five with an ac- 
tive face sat musing in the dim light of the berth-lamp. 
The unoccupied cars, he explained, had carried a com- 
pany of youngsters to a Conservation Camp farther south- 
west, and were now going "deadhead" back to Kansas City. 

For five minutes I stood and talked with him. 

"Sit down/' at last he begged of me. "I haven't talked to 
anybody all day/' 

He seemed a trifle loquacious, and it was late, but I com- 
plied. As soon as I was seated, he laughed a little. "I wanted 
to get you down so as I could ask you a question. If you 
don't mind, I'd just like to know what you work at. When 
you came walking back here I hardly thought you looked 
like a business man/ 1 

I let him guess. Then I told him. 

viii Preface 

"Well, say! A writer? I don't often meet any of them 
that is, that I know of. But I know a book you or some- 
body ought to write about trains and railroads and the 
excitement of them/' 

I told him that I was soon to go to work on a volume 
that might not be altogether unlike what he had in mind; 
that for more than a dozen years I had had to cover much 
of the United States three or four times each year, and that 
I meant to write about what I had seen about a trip here 
and there out of many. 

"But you'll be sure to say plenty about trains, won't you? 
Anybody that ever saw as much water as the Cimarron 
River has got in it in August writes about ships. And trains 
are lots more thrilling. Ever stand in the Union Station at 
Cincinnati or St: Louis, or in one of the big stations at 
Chicago or Minneapolis, at night maybe, when the big 
boys with their names on their tails are all lined up to go 
the Bluebonnet, the Chief, the Corn King Limited, the 
Katy Flyer, the Viking, the Meteor, the F.F.V., the Fla- 
mingo, the Wolverine, the Zephyr, the Columbine, the 
Golden Arrow? You see, I know some of them, all right. 

"And boyl You don't go to sleep while you're working 
on a train. Can you imagine what it's like jumping off the 
pilot of a freight engine to run ahead to open a switch, 
and your feet slip out from under you where there's some 
smooth ice under the snow, and you fall smack across the 
rail with the old engine creeping along only about eight feet 
behind you? Or when everything is covered with ice, slip- 
ping down ka-plump between two flat-cars when they're 
moving? I did that once starting on a night run to Omaha. 
I had sense enough to keep on running, down in there be- 
tween the two sets of trucks, but she was already going too 
fast for me to dodge out across the rails, and I didn't know 

Preface ix 

how long I was going to be able to keep on running, with 
the engine picking up a little all the time. Then she began 
to slow down, and finally stopped! Boy, oh, boy! The engi- 
neer said his engine didn't feel as if she was pulling just 
right, and he thought he'd better stop and find out what 
was wrong before he got going. 

"Now isn't that good enough for a book?" 
"Yes, but you are the person to write that one. Mine will 
be about the people I see on trains what they are up to, 

He interrupted: "Say, I could write one like that, too 
if I knew how. I talked once with fourteen movie actresses 
on this run. And sometimes I see something along the way. 
There! in that little town the agent's wife is a sour-looking 
devilI know that much/' 

I tried to pull him back to my point of view. I told him 
that I was interested in the people I saw when I got off 
trains, too: in the people who produce food, in the people 
who must go hungry, in what people endure, in what they 
dream, in what comes true and in what it all seems to 
mean when you try to put it together. 

"I get youl" he said. "The low-down on about every- 

No, I protested; it would not be a book of such preten- 
sions. But it would at least be about the United States 
which one long-distance train traveler had eventually come 
to see and think about. 

R. W. B. 











VII. HEAT 107 


IX. SMOKE 141 

X. DUST 157 

XI. WASTE 170 



XIV. RAIN . 217 







!7 Travel by Jrain 



WHENEVER I think of traveling, I see the United 
States as merging areas of color. For I always 
begin my travels in the autumn. It was so a 
dozen years ago; it was so the year before last; it was so last 

The day of departure carried its own announcement. 
Chill winds swept across the New Hampshire hills from 
Mount Monadnock and whirled the showering maple- 
leaves everywhere. The last lingering bluebirds sought the 
protected side of the barn and chirred regretfully in the aft- 
ernoon sun. Shining pheasants, a dozen strong, marched 
boldly into the open meadow, stopped, and while the wind 
almost blew them off their feet, looked toward the house as 
if to say, "What? You still here?" By the next morning I was 
without regrets at going. For the wind had left the hills only 
dull, colorless pinnacles that were rendered all the more 

2 / Travel by Train 

desolate by occasional areas of evergreen and clumps of 
birches the least bit too white in their fresh nakedness. 

Down in the edge of Massachusetts the maples still pro- 
vided a little color until you came too near and in Con- 
cord and Arlington and Cambridge there were almost as 
many yellowing leaves on the elms as in the streets beneath 

There was much to be done in Cambridge in two short 
hours if I were to catch the noon train. As I hurried to the 
haberdasher's I was reminded at the end of the summer I 
never fail to be that I had reverted to type. For when all 
sorts of persons looked at me as though there were a reason 
for doing so, I began to wonder what was wrong. Did I have 
shaving cream in my ear? Did my last year's hat look worse 
than I had thought? Or was I merely looking in general 
like the provincial that I was? But when one man stopped 
me on the sunny side of Harvard Square, introduced him- 
self, and told me that he had read my latest book, I felt so 
immeasurably better that as soon as I had visited the bar- 
ber's I ventured over into the Harvard Yard just for one 
brief minute, to see how it felt. I met many old friends, 
and I snatched a second from all thought of unwaiting trains 
to survey the trees. After the sight of natural woodland all 
summer, these trees in the Yard looked carefully pruned, a 
trifle overcivilized, as if they lived too constantly in an in- 
tellectual air. 

Just when I was about to rush away and take a taxi to the 
house, a stranger came up to me and timidly wondered if 
I would be good enough to tell him how to get to the new 
chapel. There it was in plain view, but many distant, imper- 
sonal smiles along the paths had made him hesitant. I 
glanced at the clock to see if I had still a precious minute 
or two that I could spare. "But perhaps I shouldn't have 

Color 3 

troubled you either," he began. I protested that it was no 
trouble; that I was only thinking of a train that I had to 
catch; that I should have just time enough to go with him. 

Inside, while he stood and looked awesomely about, I 
enjoyed the quiet. It is a white and sterilized quiet, but 
quiet none the less. I once came upon the architect of the 
building sitting in there alone. He told me that he never 
knew how he happened to produce that great sense of quiet, 
but that it was there, and that he sometimes came and sat 
for fifteen minutes just to enjoy it. When the stranger at 
last regained speech, he felt a little better toward the people 
in the Yard. We said good-bye, and I sped to the house to 
rediscover a half-dozen things after our six months' absence 
things that I had suddenly thought of in the quiet of the 

Nobody of consequence in Boston ever takes his train in 
South Station. It is not so much of a station, as stations come 
and go, and it is surrounded by an atmosphere of leather, 
wool, roasting coffee, and dank sea water. But the traveler 
who is not too much in social bondage knows that it has its 
advantages. The sleeping-car is there in readiness twenty 
minutes before leaving time. It immediately quiets the 
nerves to go into a car that is standing as if it meant to stay. 
And it increases a man's self-respect to walk to his space, see 
his luggage slipped under the berth, and then sit in the calm 
of green upholstery for ten minutes just as if only a half- 
hour before he had not been raging at everybody because 
his shirts had been smudged in the laundry. I had done 
pretty well in packing up and so had my wife. I could think 
of nothing at all that I had left behind. Yet I pretended that 
I thought of something. Yes, it was something that would 
justify me in going to the rear of the train to telephone back 
to the house. I wanted my wife to hear me say in perfectly 

4 / Travel by Train 

restrained voice that I was there and settled and all ready 
to go. 

Even if it does sound like writing a testimonial for some- 
body, I must confess that I enjoy this traveling on a train. 
For a journey, as I like to think of it, consists not only of 
getting there, but of going. In the course of a week, a 
month, I shall be able to use all my spare time in seeing what 
kind of country it is that I live in. 

Immediately, too, I began to see it. For within five min- 
utes after the engineer had given us the none-too-gentle 
jerk which assured us that we were on our way, we were 
coming into the Back Bay Station. Crowds of compe- 
tently dressed men and women with dogs and children were 
saying good-bye on the platform. No fringes of any other 
classes of people were in sight. It wasand always is 
America's best cross-section of a Brahmin population. In a 
crisp atmosphere that is a blending of the acquisitive and 
the intellectual, they are at perfect ease among themselves. 
Their language on such occasions, when they speak a little 
excitedly as if they were doing something unusual, has a 
flavoring that is more European than American. It is not 
precisely British the British would be the first to tell you 
so yet there is in it something that is more like Charing 
Cross or Bowness than Broad Street or Mackinac. 

Only a few of them came into the car. They usually stick 
so close to the Atlantic seaboard that it is unnecessary for 
them to take a sleeper except on those rare occasions when 
they go to Washington, and those rarer ones when they go 
to Miami. When they are sailing from New York they can 
ride down in a parlor-car. Yet when the last redcap had 
rushed from the starting train, our passenger list in the 
sleeper had been increased. In front of me was a little girl 
of four with her mother. They were going to Elizabeth, 

Color 5 

New Jersey, and thought a section in the sleeping-car would 
be more comfortable for so long a journey. Across the aisle 
a boy of six and his mother adjusted their belongings for a 
trip as far as Newark, Ohio. The mother was not a Bos- 
tonian; she had only married one. 

I felt perturbed. I had had in mind looking over some 
jottings. There might not be great quiet. But I fortified my- 
self. I like children. I recalled proudly how I had always 
been able to work with children playing though not fight- 
ingright beneath my window in Cambridge. And the lit- 
tle girl smiled at me with great blue eyes round the corner 
of her high-backed seat. 

The boy saw her smile, and felt that he must participate. 
But he was less subtle. He walked over and wanted to know 
what my name was, and where I was going. His mother, 
who tried to look unadorned and sheer, very mildly repri- 
manded him. Then he asked the little girl. Soon they were 
playing in the aisle and looking out at my window, and the 
two mothers were discussing education or rather, schools. 
The boy began a demonstration of what his school had al- 
ready done for him by swinging between his seat and mine 
and turning flipflops to the constantly accelerated accom- 
paniment of a school chant. Then he began to yell very 
rhythmically as if he had learned that through teaching, 
also. I began to feel the least bit caged in. Instead of looking 
at my jottings, I concentrated on what was outside my win- 
dow. The blueberry bushes were clumps of scarlet, the oaks 
beyond them were a brown that still somehow suggested life. 
It seemed a long hour before we had passed enough factories 
to be at Providence. I was on the state-house side of the 
train, and spent the five minutes allowed for the stop in 
wondering why Providence, with all its many attractive 
spires and towers, would let somebody erect a great square 

6 / Travel by Train 

hulk of a yellow building just across from the state-house 
and dwarf the graceful older building until it seemed to be 
shouldered off its hill 

At Westerly a little dried-leaf of an old lady who must 
have been at least eighty-five came shakily into the car. As 
the train started, it tottered her into a seat on the wrong 
side of the aisle. 

"Oh," she exclaimed with a startling clearness, and rather 
eagerly, as if she were not always heard attentively, "I didn't 
mean to do that. I want over there, on that side where I 

The very courteous, very black porter helped her over. 

"Now!" she said. "Now! Now I can see them when we 
pass. It is so comfortable, too. So if it wants to storm now" 
the sky was a little heavy "well just let it storm." 

The boy had watched her. He gave his upper lip a twitch 
of contempt. "She's an old devil, that's what she is!" 

"Why, sweetheart, dearest!" his mother protested softly. 
"You shouldn't say that. Don't you see, she might be your 
own nice grandmother." 

"I don't want any grandmother!" he shouted at the top 
of his voice. 

A waiter came through from the dining-car hammering 
out some musical notes every so often and announcing that 
this was the last call for luncheon. I remembered that I 
had meant to eat a bite after I got aboard. Could there be 
a more appropriate hour? 

A man can put in a lot of time in a dining-car if he is 
experienced. He can order item by item as he eats, and then 
eat very slowly, with full pauses now and then to read two 
or three consecutive pages in some interesting book, and 
with other pauses for the passing landscape. So for an hour 
ami a half I sat a&d ate lettuce salad, and belated blueberry 

Color 7 

pie, and ice-cream, and read a little, and reordered coffee 
that was hot, and looked out at the sea, and heard, without 
trying, the conversation of the two youths at the other side 
of the table who professed ardently to believe that their 
prep, school had more class than either Groton or St. Mark's. 
One of them had just bought a yacht for which he had paid 
more than I in an entire lifetime had ever earned or at 
least had ever received. He felt sure that his father would 
be able to stampede somebody into buying several blocks of 
stock at a good fat advance and by so doing pay for the boat 
without any drain whatever upon the established treasury. 

Back in the sleeping-car I grew weary of the rhythmic 
jungle cries, and decided to seek out a place in the observa- 
tion-car. I have made the test through a dozen years, but I 
made it yet again with the same result: on these Boston- 
New York trains, as one walks through, there are more peo- 
ple reading books than on any other trains in the United 
States. It must be said also that there are more feet stuck out 
in the aisle, more people who glance up in disgust at you 
when you wish to put the aisle to other use. 

There were no unoccupied chairs in the observation-car, 
and I immediately walked the full length of the train in the 
other direction. In the coach smoker close up against the 
section devoted to baggage I sat on the sleek oilcloth uphol- 
stery all the rest of the way to New York and enjoyed the 
bronzed reds of the Connecticut hills, the lighthouses on 
rocky points, the gulls flying everywhere, and listened with 
approval from some vague emotional depth of myself to 
two battered old pugs with heavy cauliflower ears while they 
declared with many variations that it was the good old sock 
right on the corner of the chin that made the world go 
round at least for the other fellow in the ring. 

Somewhere in the region of Hell Gate Bridge the train 

8 / Travel by Train 

moved hesitantly for a time, and then made a broad sweep 
to the southward as if it were trying to find a way of getting 
around New York. It was exploring as it sped along. As it 
circled into open space, one of the fighters they had both 
been silent for a time looked off to the westward with a 
puzzled, interested stare as though he were seeing something 
that was beyond his understanding. Then I saw. The whole 
of New York from the region of Forty-second Street on 
downtown stood up in a leaden sunset sky like the dream of 
some brilliant madman. In a moment everybody in the car 
was silent and looking. It was something pagan, yet some- 
thing unearthly. What had men been celebrating when they 
built it? A moment later when the train carried us along 
slowly where a veil of smoke in the foreground subdued the 
fading sunlight even more subtly than the clouds in the 
background had, the gray of the towers was less of the earth 
still. Soon afterward the train came to a full stop. There 
was no confusion near us outside, and everybody in the car 
for the moment was as silent as if he slept. We participated 
in something fantastic. 

Evidently the train decided that there was no way of get- 
ting around. The only thing left to do was to go under. It 
gave us a violent jerk, swerved sharply to the right, and 
made a dive into a roaring tunnel which eventually brought 
us into the bowels of the Pennsylvania Station. 

I went up for air. I bought the latest edition of three or 
four papers. I bought a magazine or two. I bought a book. 
And I received the welcome reassurance that New Yorkers 
are just as childlike as anybody else, by watching hundreds 
of them solemnly ride a newly opened escalator down, since 
they were not going at the end of the day in the direction 
that would enable them to ride it up. 

But it is never a journey until one is beyond New York. 

Color g 

From New York it is still possible to telephone back home in 
a jiffy. And always among the pushing millions there are 
some of your friends. When I take a bedtime train in this 
direction I always find a vague inappropriateness in going 
to bed until we are past New York at two o'clock or so. And 
if I do go, I do not feel that I can settle down to solid sleep 
until after the long stop and the quick coming of the tin- 
gling pressure in the ears as the train drops swiftly beneath 
the Hudson. But when we are beyond the Hudson we are 
away-regardless of the hour. We have left behind every- 
thing peninsular and known. We are facing something 
vastly expansive. The train moves as if it had plenty of room. 

The next morning when I awoke the light was squeezing 
in at my window. I pushed the shade up to see where we 
were. We were racing along a winding river among rounded 
hills, and two old women in sunbonnets fished from a flat- 
boat. The maple trees on the hillsides beyond the river were 
as much green as yellow or red. When the train sliced off a 
piece of corn-field to save the trouble of keeping to the river, 
the ground from which the corn had been cut was matted 
with white and pink and purple morning-gloriesand the 
fences were covered, 

We swung out into more open country. Far in the dis- 
tance I saw a dark train as long as our own, and racing as 
swiftly. I could tell by the design of the cars that they were 
sleepers. As day grew bright, today and every day, how many 
of them were there, racing everywhere in the United States, 
carrying whole towns of people along in their beds and 
preparing breakfast for them? I tried to visualize a map of 
the United States with every long-distance train designated, 
as we mark the daily location of ships on the Atlantic. There 
they were, speeding everywhere up from the South, across 
the Alleghenies, along the Great Lakes, down the Missis- 

io / Travel by Tram 

sippi, across the Great Plains, through the Rockies, across 
the sands, up and down the Pacific coast. 

When I was up and dressed and fed and ready to leave the 
breakfast table, our train slowed down and was cut over 
to the eastbound track. A moment later we passed scores of 
foreign-looking laborers who were busy putting down new 
steel on the track that normally would have been ours. Al- 
most before we were at full speed again there were wild 
shrieks of the whistle, and a jolting, shuddering grind of 
brakes which brought us to such an abrupt stop that table- 
ware crashed to the floor. 

Since I had finished eating, anyhow, I went to the nearest 
open vestibule to lean out and see what had happened. 
There were fifteen cars or so in the train, and the diner was 
in the middle. I saw the conductor hurrying along on the 
ground from far in the rear, looking intently under the 
train as he ran. Far forward, the engineer in clean-looking 
striped overalls was coming back, looking under a bit more 
deliberately. Three or four porters had swung down and 
were standing back on the turf so that they might see farther 

I swung down and walked forward toward the engineer. 
Before I came quite up to him, he stopped, looked back 
toward the conductor, and with a single easy lift of his 
stout arm signaled for him to come on up. 

The conductor was there as soon as I was. 

"There he is, under the front trucks of that baggage- 
car," the engineer said, without being quite able to be 
wholly matter-of-fact. 

The conductor steadied himself by putting one hand 
against the lower edge of the car's body which stood high 
above the road-bed and looked under. A very black-headed 
Italian boy of about fourteen lay there limp and almost 

Color 1 1 

completely nude from having been dragged and rolled over 
the rough limestone ballast. 

"He's not cut up to speak of," the conductor said. "We 
ought to get him out of there and be on our way in no 

From somewhere a representative of the railroad com- 
pany appeared. He glanced under. "That's easy. I'll look 
out for everything. You can scoot right along." 

From somewhere also from the houses on the hillside 
just above the right-of-waya number of dark-eyed children 
came running to see why the train had stopped. 

"Any of you kids know who that boy was that was walk- 
ing on the tracks bringing groceries home from the store?" 

A cloud swept the faces of the entire group, as if they 
thought the boy had been arrested for something that he 
should not have done. 

"Do you?" 

"Yes," the oldest boy in the group said. "It was For- 

"Fortunate? Your brother?" 

"No, just myfriend." 

"Well, he was walking on the tracks, and the train killed 

In terror and helplessness the boy looked about at the 
rest of us as if we ought not to be there, twisted slowly 
away without moving his feet, lifted his hands to his face 
and then sank to the earth sobbing, "Oh, Fortunatol" 

The other children stood speechless, except one boy 
who said half to the rest, half to the conductor, "The train 
was running on the wrong track." 

"Yes, I know it was. But you see, he shouldn't hav? been 
walking on either track. He should have walked in the 

12 / Travel by Train 

"But there are automobiles." 

I wandered back along the train. As I passed the dining- 
car it was still crowded with people who were obliviously 
enjoying their breakfasts and the bright morning. 

I swung onto the train and walked all the way back to 
the observation-car. 

There was only one person back there a stout woman 
all freshly made up for the day, who was busy with a story 
in the Delineator. 

She glanced up. "Can you tell me why this train is stand- 
ing so long?" she asked. "We don't seem to be in any 

"Oh," I replied, "we killed an Italian boy up ahead/' 

"Why, how perfectly terrible!" she said in a voice so well 
modulated that she might have been reading from the 

The train gave a little shrug of a lurch forward. "But I 
guess we must be going now." 

Passengers began to come in from breakfast. Soon they 
had filled all the comfortable chairs. For two hours I sat 
with my back to the window and read. Periodically I let the 
book drop to the arm of the chair and looked out at the 
windows on the other side of the car past the heads of the 
solid row of those who sat across the aisle and did their 
own reading or smoked as if for once it would do no good 
to be impatient. Groves of maples, numerous in the hills 
and on the flat land alike, were splashed with fire. Occa- 
sionally some tree was solid yellow. Why had nobody ever 
said anything about the beauty of the hills between Co- 
shocton, Ohio or Athens and St. Louis? Only Brown 
County, Indiana, has received any part of the praise due 
the entire region. And Brown County became known 
chiefly because a group of painters found it paradise when 

^Ssi r^ i 

Co/or 13 

the genteel population of neighboring cities laughed at it 
because it was short on railroads and plumbing. 

Within the train, too, a change had taken place since 
yesterday. Most of the New Englanders had gone on to 
Washington if they had not taken a boat at New York 
and the transcontinental passengers had already been out- 
numbered by energetic Buckeyes, who are always going 
somewhere, and who are not troubled in the least by get- 
ting up and taking a train at five or five-thirty in the morn- 
ing. They sat wherever there was room, smoked cigars, 
talked pleasantly with some half-recognizable remnant of 
New England or Virginia in their speech, and felt that the 
world was not such a bad place, after all. 

One of them left the chair next to mine. It was promptly 
taken by a rangy, bony man whose heavy dark hair was 
loosely combed over to the side, and whose brows were 
shaggy. "Did you ever think," he began rather promptly 
as if he were in great need of expression, "of taking a straw 
vote of all the people who travel on a train like this to find 
out how many of them are running away from something 
the same as we are?" He gave a single ha of a silent laugh. 
"They might not tell you what they were running from, 
but they might be willing to say whether they were run- 

I twisted a little in my chair to look him in the face. His 
eyes were very wide open, like those of a maniac occupied 
with his favorite hallucination. But there was a trace of a 
smile close round his lips and under his eyes and in front 
of his ears. It spread till it covered his face. 

"Maybe you think I'm crazy," he said as he tried to make 
out the expression on my own face. "And who knows, 
maybe I am." 

"And maybe you are only another Hoosier poet." 

14 / Travel by Train 

He laughed his single ha of a silent laugh again. 

"Maybe I am that, too. You know, there's a mighty thin 
shade of difference. And I come from Kokomo, if there's 
anything in a name." 

His face spread in a new smile. "And 111 be coming back 
from St. Louis by way of Paris/' 

I must have seemed puzzled. "Paris, Illinois," he added. 
"Don't you remember? That's where lots of American girls 
have got their French." 

We talked about Booth Tarkington, Meredith Nichol- 
son, James Whitcomb Riley, Lew Wallace, Theodore Drei- 
ser, George Barr McCutcheon, Gene Stratton Porter, and 
a dozen others of the older generation of Hoosier writers. 
Of course, he had known them all. He paused sometimes 
to speak of the sumac in the ravines in southern Illinois, or 
nod for my benefit toward the men in small towns who 
were selling late roasting-ears, and apples fresh from the 

As we came into the smoke of East St. Louis, the train 
moved cautiously. It was above the housetops. It seemed 
to be getting ready for something important. 

"Old Man Riverl" the man from Kokomo announced. 
"I find something to come over here for every once in a 
while just to see this." 

He glanced at the man opposite us who had his face 
buried in a copy of Liberty. "It must be a hell of a good 
story he's reading if he means to pass this up for it. Or 
maybe he's just afraid he'll fall short three seconds of the 
prescribed reading time." 

There was quiet as we moved deliberately above the last 
houses frowsy affairs of tarred paper, corrugated iron, and 
oddments of boardsand out over the east bank of the 
spreading river, over the resistless, eddying, boiling middle 

Color 15 

of it where we could look down through the steel of the 
bridge into it just as if nothing much supported the train, 
and at last over steamboats moving in to the western water- 
front. Then everybody scrambled forward to be ready by 
the time we were in the station. 

But for me St. Louis was only a pausenot long enough 
to rob me of my sense of motion. My next train stood ready, 
I was on it so soon, and it was so soon away, that I had 
difficulty in feeling that I had made a change. 

After a late luncheon I sat in the lounge half of the cafe- 
car and studied the world outside. Without effort, even in 
spite of myself, I heard the conversation of two men who 
had lingered, after everyone else, at the luncheon table 
nearest me. One had a heavy roll under his chin; the other, 
on the back of his neck. They talked and ate and drank 
time away. 

Within two or three hours we were climbing toward a 
ridge of the Ozarks over sharp curves and counter-curves, 
on and on, up and up. Close beside the long train, which 
moved a little below speed yet resistlessly, thin-looking 
cows picked grass from steep rocky hillsides under good- 
sized papaw bushes that were just beginning to lose their 
greenish yellow leaves and reveal fat clumps of green fruit 
not yet quite ready to fall. The only bright color anywhere 
was the red of some gum or persimmon tree. 

How many railroads are there in the world that spurn 
the valleys, as this one does, and follow low mountain 
ridges for a hundred or a hundred and fifty miles? In 
these ancient worn-off hills the valleys were too compli- 
cated, too stuffy, for some dreaming surveyor, and he took 
to the hills. Now, after the engine's long steady climb 
that seemed to be taking us across a county or two, we were 
up on them ourselves. We swept round long curves from 

i6 / Travel by Train 

which we could look down over ranges of hills on both 
sides of the train; we took long straight-of-ways on the 
comb of watersheds; we described letter S's; we made sharp 
hair-pin turns all in an effort to keep to the ridges. Once 
we passed a freight train that was taking water at a tank 
and filling the air with surplus steam. Several minutes later 
I saw the same train not more than a mile or two from us 
across a wooded valley. We had followed a wide round 
horseshoe in order to get where we were. 

The two men had been drinking steadily while they dis- 
cussed the economic ills of the country, and their eyeballs 
were getting pretty yellow. But they could still see what the 
train was doing. 

"I bet you, by God," one of them began easily as if he 
were established in a point of view that enabled him to see 
whatever was wrong, "that the fellow who had the contract 
for building this railroad got paid by the mile. Just look 
there, will you? There's that same damned freight train 
that we passed a half-hour ago. Why didn't they come 
straight across there? It wouldn't have required a trestle 
more than three or four hundred feet high or maybe five 
hundred. If we were building her today, that's the way 
we'd do her." 

Once, to the southeast and east, as far as eyes could see 
detail, the sun was on billowing woodland; and at the 
horizon there were dark, indistinguishable ridges. There 
seemed to be no houses. One felt a thinning-out of tele- 
pathic ties. Man had not yet done enough to the region to 
make his kind feel at home in it. Once, to the west, for a 
memorable second, the red sun shone full in our faces 
through a gaunt and abandoned old log tobacco-house just 
above us. 

All the while, the steward, a slender youngish man whose 

Color iy 

hair was thinning, stood at the buffet end of the car, neat 
and official in his blue suit and white vest, and looked at 
the floor as if nothing of grandeur were to be seen. Only 
occasionally did he glance up to learn if the two men were 
signaling for further drinks. 

The two talked onin cumulative friendliness. One of 
them was interested in oil. The other was the head of a 
dozen factories. They talked in millions-regardless of what 
they discussed. One of them said the most valued thing he 
possessed was his acquaintance with nice people. "If there 
are any nice people in town, we know them. I wouldn't 
take five million for that-just that. Honest to God, I 

They grew confidential. They discussed their wives. For 
ten minutes their wives would have been in heaven if they 
could have heard. Then one of them set forth a list of his 
wife's deficiencies that would have made her stick her 
fingers in her ears and run if she had been secretly present. 
The other admitted that his was sometimes a little hard 
to manage. But he was gleeful over the birthday present 
she wanted. He was getting off with nothing more than a 
trinket of a ten-thousand-dollar necklace. "I said, 'All right, 
if that's what you want, you shall have it.' " He chuckled. 
"The jeweler is making it up." 

They returned to the state of the nation. "The real 
trouble with this God-damned government," the man with 
the roll on the back of his neck said finally, "is that there's 
too much extravagance among the higher-ups." He was 
now in the stage of inclusive, graceful gestures, and set out 
to discuss the matter in detail. But something interrupted 
the flow of his thought, and he ended up by insisting that 
he pay for the luncheon now four hours agone and for 
the drinks. 

i8 / Travel by Train 

His friend would hear nothing of the kind. "Or at least 
we'll go Dutch." But the other was insistent, and held on 
to the slips which the steward had very tactfully presented 
face downward. He looked at the bills. Then he fumbled 
for his large-style reading glasses. The, luncheons were 
$3.50; the drinks thus far, $14.25. After swallowing once 
in consternation he said, "You see, I'll just put it on my 
expense account." 

The other showed a ready acquiescence. "Oh, welll 
That's different. If you want to let the stockholders pay it, 
O.K. But I won't let you pay it yourself wouldn't think 
of it." 

One of them begged the other to see the gorgeous sun- 
set. It was not gorgeous. In fact, it was a washed-out, pale 
blue-green affair hardly deserving of a glance. But it was 
a sunset. The sun was going down. So the two of them de- 
cided just to stay right on where they were and eat their 
suppers. They ordered sirloin steaks and French fried 
potatoes and apple pie and cheese and ice-cream and coffee. 
An hour later, when I had finished my own meal and was 
thinking that I might go early to bed, they were having a 
little drink together as an aid to digestion. 

The next morning I was awakened by inescapable early 
risers. I am sure they never get up early at home. They 
probably are very lazy. But on a train they talk across the 
aisle to each other about whether they should set their 
watch forward an hour, or back an hour, or leave it just 
where it is. Then after they have awakened everybody in 
their end of the car, they call to the porter to come and 
make up their berths right away so that they may sit in 
them. One of the upper berths sticks, and the porter has 
to do some hammering. But eventually he has all in readi- 
ness for them, and they then sit dumb for two hours. In 

Color 19 

the wakefulness that these on our train brought to me, I 
had a drowsy memory that we had stood still for a long time 
in the middle of the night. Then I heard a porter explain- 
ing in subdued tones why we were hours late. 

But when I lifted the shade to see where we were, I was 
glad we were nowhere else. A clear sun was coming up over 
low wooded mountains somewhere in eastern or southeast- 
ern Oklahoma. There were no accompanimentsno clouds, 
no mottled skies, no romantic haze; just hard outlines of 
gray-green flecked with settlers' unpainted low houses, and a 
great stark ball of deep red. I was blinded to the band of 
evergreen and white birches on bleak hills that stretched a 
thousand miles westward from New Hampshire, to the 
bronzing reds westward from Massachusetts and Connecti- 
cut, to the living brightness of Ohio and Indiana, to the 
billowing green merely touched with bright tips of red 
that extended from the Ozarks back eastward across Ken- 
tucky and Virginia. Here one was in the presence of noth- 
ing but fundamentals. 

By noon I was off the train in northern Texas where the 
world bore yet another face. Cattle roamed in limitless 
fields, and the trees were still green. 

"I'm mighty glad to see you," the hotel manager assured 
me as if he meant it. "I sure am." And Jake the black 
"boy," who according to his own testimony was just old 
enough to remember seeing soldiers coming back from the 
Civil War, remarked pleasantly as he shuffled along with 
my luggage: "Mus' a' been 'bout two years ago that you 
was here the last time, ain't it Doctah?" 



SOMETHING had happened to this little Oklahoma 
city since my last visit there a year and a half before. 
At that time it was a serenely active community of a 
few thousand people, with wide streets, plenty of small 
shade-trees, a young college, and brand-new churches all 
on low rolling hills where thirty years or so before there 
had been no town at alL But this morning I knew before I 
arrived at the hotel that a change had taken place some 
fundamental change in the community's thought. It was 

Discovery 2 1 

in the air. The people moved along the street as if life had 
at last straightened away toward a definite purpose that 
made the going worth-while. 

Always the hotel had seemed so new and shining that it 
gave the impression of being little used. A man could loaf 
around in the lobby and talk to the manager, and to the 
girl at the cigar counter or switchboard, or to a traveling 
salesman or two who came there regularly, and feel that 
he was more or less of the family. I had expected to find 
the same kind of quiet this time. But when the bell-boy 
who shuffled my luggage kicked the door around so that I 
could enter, a babel of voices caught me full in the face. 
The lobby was crowdedwith short men and tall men in 
khaki breeches, flannel shirts, broad-brimmed hats, and 
high laced boots, puttees, or smart riding boots, I could 
scarcely push my way through to the desk. 

'Tour telegram came all right yesterday/' the room clerk 
explained as if he were not doing anything unusual, "but 
there wasn't a room in the house at the time and there isn't 
one now. But if you'll just have the boy check your bags, 
and 11 stick around for a while, I think maybe well be 
able to fix you up/' 

"What has happened?" I asked a bit sourly. I had hoped 
to supplement a short night on the train by stretching out 
for an hour or two. 

"Oh! Haven't you heard? Oil. About twelve or fourteen 
miles down south here. It may turn out to be the richest 
field in the mid-continent area/' 

In the coffee shop I had to stand for fifteen minutes be- 
fore I could get a stool at the counter. Others waited. The 
man close against my elbow was a trim fellow of thirty- 
eight or forty who would have made the perfect smashing 
lieutenant-colonel in a movie. 

22 / Travel by Train 

I saw him looking me over. Then he asked: "Did you 
have anything down there where they found it?" He had 
decided that I had just arrived from New York to cash in 
on my holdings. 

"No, nothing at all." 

"Neither did I. I got in wrong right at the beginning. 
When they got to talking about oil down this way, every- 
body I knew thought it would be out eastor northeast. 
I went to a geologistone of the highest-priced rock hounds 
I knowand paid him real money and said, 'Now I want 
the low-down on this Ada field. Is there anything down 
there? And if there is, where is it?* 

"He told me that there ought to be something down 
here, all right. Then he said, 'As for where it is, just do a 
little thinking. Did you ever hear of these big shots in the 
game looking for chances to throw their money at birds? 
Of course not. They're in the game for what they are going 
to get out of it. Well, where are they sticking theirs?' 

"Well, that's where I stuck mine not so much, but 
around sixty thousand. And now, by God, they go and find 
the oil somewhere else. Oh, well! I didn't lose half as much 
as some people I know." 

Two stools side by side were vacated at the same time, 
and we sat together. After he had picked up his first great 
sweet roll and taken a huge bite or two out of the edge of 
it, and had swallowed his first cup of coffee, he seemed calm 
again. He laughed a faint little laugh at himself a little 
sadly, but with a bit of "What difference does it make?" in 
his manner more than his voice. "The hell of it is, this fel- 
low who got somebody to sink a well down south here tried 
to interest me once. He believed the formation of the old 
mountains farther south was just right to make a pool where 
they found it. He had a nice theory. But I figured that the 

Discovery 23 

fellow was half-cracked. And so did a lot of other people, 
so far as that goes. God!" 

He talked on. To me, what he said seemed to have come 
from a storybook. He spoke casually of such and such wells 
that flowed nine thousand barrels a day or would if they 
were not choked down; and no less casually of a man at 
Tulsa who had made three millions in a deal that he put 
through in two days. 

He observed the difficulty with which I believed. "Why, 
there's a fellow here in this town/' he said in an effort to 
provide cool evidence right at hand, and mentioned a name, 
"who cashed in for about five million just last month/' * 

After breakfast I pushed in among the men in the lobby. 
They were cheerful. They were awakened and warmed by 
a sense of common enterprise. They were human beings 
together. I wanted to go into the oil business myself or to 
join them in anything else that they might propose. 

But all the figures they mentioned were too high. I had 
to get out into thinner air where somebody talked in sums 
that were within my range of comprehension. Since the 
clerk at the desk had no railroad time-tables on hand he 
said he had been unable to keep any for three months now 
I thought I might walk to the station a few blocks away 
and get my own supply. 

Before I came within sight of the station I ran into a 
thin crowd strung along the sidewalk. "Now ladies and 
gentlemen/' a man on an improvised platform on a vacant 
lot was saying, as he arranged a diversity of paraphernalia 
on a box that he had made into a table, "I am not only 
going to show you magic, but I'm going to show you how 
you can do something magical yourselves/' 

He noticed that nobody seemed to be inclined to draw 
nearer. "See here," he said, and cast his eye over the line 

24 I Travel by Train 

of men in overalls, in khaki, in trim October suits, "I 
promised your police force when I talked with him last 
night" he waited for them to laugh "I promised that I 
would not let the crowds that gathered around to see my 
show block the sidewalks. So won't you please step in just 
a little?" 

A few moved off the sidewalk onto the autumn grass. 
He waited. Then he repeated his announcement; waited 
until others moved forward; repeated it to the new ar- 
rivals; waited againuntil he had a good-sized crowd close 
around him. 

He held a magic chain aloft. "See this chain? See that 
small link at the top? Now anybody can tell that that link 
is not large enough to slide down over the other links, 
can't they? All right, now watch. See it slide all the way 
right down to the bottom- like that?" 

While they were intent and mystified he talked on as 
he put the chain down. "Now before I let you in on that 
one, I want to start you on my second piece of magic." 

I glanced about. I expected to see O. Henry in the edge" 
of the crowd somewhere making notes. 

"See that?" 

He exhibited a hot-dog. They laughed, "Do you know 
what's in them? I'll tell you. "Whatever is not fit to be sold 
as a piece of meat is made into hot-dogs. It's all ground up 
so fine that you can't tell what's in it by the looks, and they 
put so much mustard on it for you that you can't tell by the 
taste. These big millionaire packing houses go around over 
the country and buy up every old bull and every old boar 
and maybe an old mule once in a while, for all I know- 
and grind them up, gristle and all, into these hot-dogs. 
That's the way some people in this world make their 

Discovery 35 

As he talked he cut the hot-dog up into bits and dropped 
them one by one into a good-sized ewer half filled with 
water. Then he put some bits o white bread in. "The 
bread is really not fit to eat, either. But we eat it, just the 
same. Now watch!" 

Some of the crowd revealed signs of restlessness. He 
plunged ahead, still breaking up bread all the while. "Once 
when I was down on the Mexican border down along the 
old Rio GrandeI had been eating so many of these hot- 
dogs and so much stale baker's bread that I thought I 
would die of stomach trouble. It was miles to a doctor. A 
pretty Mexican girl you know, guitar and all that that 
I had been trying to make myself solid with said she 
thought she could help me to a way. Well, sir, the first 
thing I knowed, I had hold of one end of a halter strap that 
had a horse on the other/' Great laughter and better sus- 
pense, "Of course, I had not thought of keeping the horse 
just borrowed it." Greater laughter still. "Well, they 
caught up with me, and somebody said he knew of just the 
right-sized tree. Another fellow who was in love with the 
same girl said, 'Let's not string him up just yet. Let's let 
him taste it awhile in advance/ So they bound me up tight 
like this" and he began to string some rope over his shoul- 
ders. "They put the noose around my neck and stretched 
me up a little, with my toes just touching the ground, so 
that I could have something to think about while they went 
and had a drink. It was a long drink, too. But I knowed 
how to get loose!" 

He played with the rope that hung over his shoulders 
and around his neck. "Now I want you to see what hap- 
pens to that hot-dog and white bread when they've had a 
chance to become acquainted/' He held the water bottle 
up. "You can see that something is happening, all right, all 

26 / Travel by Train 

right. Now lots of people will tell you when things fight in 
your stomach like that, to take bicarbonate of soda baking- 
soda. But you watch and decide for yourselves." 

He put bicarbonate of soda in the ewer, and then care- 
fully stretched the neck of a deflated toy balloona diri- 
gibleover the top of it. "Now watch her!" 

The balloon began to expand. "See her fill up with gas? 
Now watch her when I shake her a little." The balloon ex- 
panded until it began to assume the shape of a slender 
watermelon. "See the state you are in when you take bi- 
carbonate of soda? 

"I used to take it for my stomach trouble. And I got so 
bad that the doctors thought I was going to die of cancer 
of the stomach and plenty of people do. They said I might 
live a year. Well, I thought if that was all there was going 
to be to it I'd see a bit of this world before I left it. I had a 
little money, so I started out. That's how I happened to 
get hold of this magic chain from a Hindu wonder-worker 
one of these dark-skinned guys in a yellow and black tur- 
ban hat and a skirt, who can walk across a bed of live red- 
hot coals without getting burnt. I paid him to show me how 
to do this magic chain trick. But he couldn't do anything 
for my stomach, with all his wonder-working. Nobody 
could! Nobody could! 

"Did you ever stop to think how a man feels when he 
knows that he has less than a year to live? Nothing ahead 
to be interested in, because it won't make any difference. 
I just drifted. I found myself in China. 

"One day I talked with an old Chinaman I had learned 
a little Chinese, like this" (and he rattled off something 
that sounded like the front room in a laundry) "and could 
make out. He was the oldest-looking man I ever saw on 
legs honest to God, he was. He would have made old John 

Discovery 27 

D. Rockefeller look like a pink little girl in primary 
school. But he was healthy. He said to me he had never 
been what you would call sick a day in his life. I begged 
him to tell me the secret. And gentlemen, believe it or not, 
he did. And I have never had stomach trouble from that 
day to this. 

"And I am going to tell you the great secret the master 
magic! Watch me!" 

He poured some dark fluid in with the hot dog and white 
bread and slipped the neck of the balloon over the top of 
the water bottle again. Now where is all that gas?" 

"You're not shaking her this time!" some man in the 
crowd called out. But the magician ignored him. 

"Here you have the reason why the Chinese are a hardy 
race. And here you have the reason why I haven't had in- 
digestion now for years. And you needn't, gentlemen. Here 
is a greater discovery than the one they've made down in 
the Fittstown oil field. For what is anything else worth to 
you if you have lost your precious health? Use ginseng, 
gentlemen! That's what the Chinese have done as long as 
anybody can remember. That's where we sold most of our 
ginseng for years. But now we are getting wise. We are 
taking it ourselves. One dollar a bottle, gentlemen, today 
as long as it lasts, before I move on to the next town! Face 
the future hopefully, gentlemen!" 

He was busy passing out bottles and accepting dollars 
from men who now had dollars in their pockets. 

"How about that magic chain?" somebody called. 

He disregarded the question until he believed he had 
made his last sale. Then he picked up the chain. "The link 
really don't slide down. If you do that," and he gave the 
top end o the chain a slight fillip, "it just seems to slide 
down. That is what us scientists call optical eelusion." 

28 / Travel by Train 

I caught a little of the pleasant fever. Men had money 
in their pockets. They wanted to feel more secure still. 
They would pay out their money for any promise of good 
health that anybody who came along made to them. They 
wanted every possibility ahead to be a good one. 

I found myself walking faster when I went back up the 
street from the station. I remembered a young poet whom 
I had once met in this town. By making a slight detour I 
was able to stop at the drug-store where he worked from 
morning until eleven at night. When business was not too 
good and it was not too goodhe could devote himself to 
poetry. This morning, he had just been composing a poem 
thus far held only in his mind and would I accept a copy 
if he sat down and wrote it out? 

While he wrote on some ruled paper at a white-topped 
round table where customarily bright, chaffing young 
ladies and gentlemen tried to encompass romance by not 
being too serious about anything, I wandered back and 
forth in a store that looked easy-going, read advertisements, 
studied shelves, noted a prayer above the desk that read, 
"O Lord, help me to keep my damned nose out of other 
people's business," and watched the automobiles and mule 
teams and pedestrians in the street. He finally handed me 
five stanzas genuinely poetic ones, that have since been 

We talked for an hour, ate luncheon together, talked for 
another hour. Yes, this discovery of oil was something. But 
he was more interested in the romantic discovery that had 
been going on in the region better than a half-century ago. 
He pictured it as it must have been. Man was worth some- 
thing, life was worth something, when everybody was do- 
ing a little discovering. That was it to discover. 

I caught more of the pleasant fever. The next day when 

Discovery 29 

a friend offered to take me out to the new field, I was eager 
to go. While we sped along over a road that was showing 
signs of extraordinary use, I learned that the region we 
were in was so rich in geologic variety that geologists came 
there for first-hand study from every corner of the earth. I 
learned something, too, of this "half-cracked" more or less 
self-educated geologist who had had to do with the develop- 
ment of the field. Some of the "big shots" in oil said they 
had not given more attention to what he said because he 
wasted so much of his time dabbling around with such 
trivialities as finding suitable camp sites for Boy Scouts, 
showing students and visiting geologists over the geologic 
wonderland of the Arbuckle mountain region, or making 
his backyard well produce liquid asphalt. What could such 
a man know about the hard, practical business of oil lands? 
They wanted to stake their money on somebody who was 
accredited. And most of them did. 

We came within sight of a few steel derricks in what 
seemed to be a creek valley, and then others, very far apart 
on the hills, where exploratory wells were being put down 
to discover the field's limits. But there was something else 
worth seeing right at hand a town that was not yet old 
enough to have any age. Nothing was yet finished. Stakes 
in meadowland marked proposed streets. Stakes along the 
roadside marked proposed buildings. Carpenters were us- 
ing lumber as fast as it came. One grocer had a counter and 
shelves up and was doing business while the carpenters 
were putting the weather-boarding on the other side of his 
store. But there was already an abundance of one thing- 
oil casing. It was piled up everywhereneat ricks of long 
dark tubes of two or three different sizes miles of it. 

I wanted to see a well that was about to be drilled in, but 
the first ones we went to were all quite new ones. Some 

30 / Travel by Train 

of them were down twelve hundred feet, some two thou- 
sand, some three thousandand they had to go from forty- 
two hundred to forty-four or forty-five hundred to reach the 
sand that produced the "real oil." Eventually we came to 
one that was down four thousand feet. 

"If you had come a day or two later," the great, burly, 
red-faced good-natured boy of a man of thirty-eight or so 
shouted close against my ear so that I could hear him above 
the grinding roar of the chain-driven rotary drill, "you 
might have seen some thing. " 

The older methodwhich I still see used in many oil 
fieldsconsisted of lifting and letting fall a heavy slowly 
rotated drill with a thick, somewhat sharpened bit that 
hammered its way down through the layers of the earth's 
surface. From time to time the drill was drawn up and a 
bailer let down to bring up the result of the drill's work 
in the form of sandy, muddy water. The first well I ever 
watched drilled by this earlier method required an entire 
spring and part of the summer for its completion, and it 
was only nine hundred and fifty feet deep and dry. On 
many days and they were twenty-four-hour days the prog- 
ress downward was as little as five feet. The crews re- 
joiced when they made fifteen. 

But putting down a well with rotary tools is quite an- 
other matter. A drill that has sharp, hard-tempered teeth 
or whatever other style of bit a particular formation re- 
quiresis attached to the end of strong steel piping, and 
this is spun round at a good rate of speed by a powerful 
engine, and rapidly bites its way down through anything it 
may encounter. As it makes its way down, piping is added, 
section by section, so that when the well in this region is 
nearly completed, the column of spinning steel pipe that 
drives the hard bit still on downward is the better part of 

Discovery 31 

a mile long. There are perforations in the drill near its 
head, and water is constantly forced down into the well 
and back up, so that it carries to the surface a stream of 
the drill's leavings. These are all held in a slushy pool until 
the well is completed, so that if it should be dry and the 
well should be filled up to protect water supplies and the 
like, I was told the layers would go back exactly in their 

The driller on duty showed me his log for this well. On 
one day he had made two hundred and eighty-six feet. 
That was his best day. His poorest had been fifteen feet 
"just like going through solid iron/' he commented as he 
followed the days down the pages of his book. But good 
days had been numerous enough to send the well down 
four thousand feet in little more than a month. 

Driving downward at that rate, though, is hard on the 
teeth of a rotating drill, even if the steel is as hard and as 
tough as it can be made. After a certain number of hours 
the number dependent on the resistance offered by the 
formation, of course a fresh drill has to be substituted. 
This means that the entire length of the pipe must be 
lifted from the well by means of a crane attachment in the 
derrick, and, as it emerges above the derrick floor, un- 
jointed in long sections by a jerk and a spin of a power- 
wrench, and leaned over slightly so that the upper part 
of a section touches the inner balcony of the derrick about 
eighty feet above the floor. Somebody has to be up there to 
see that the tops of these sections are steadied into place. 

Often enough this man wears a safety-belt attached to 
the derrick up there, so that if he should be swung out of 
balance by the long, virtually perpendicular piece of heavy 
pipe or by any other hazard he would only be suspended 
in mid air, and could scramble back. But one man liked to 

gg. I Travel by Train 

work up there without the annoyance of any safety-belt. "I 
warned him/' the driller shouted into my ear. " 'You'll be 
coming down some day/ And sure enough, one day he did. 
I just happened to be looking right at him when he started, 
and I knew it was instant death if ever he hit this solid 
plank floor. When he came into my arms we bounced clear 
off outside there. But I did save him/' 

He received a medal and, I was told, a sum of money, 

"I can't see why it didn't kill you both," I shouted close 
against the side of his red face. 

"I can't either," he shouted back. "It just happened that 
his head didn't strike mine, or anything like that/' 

"No ill effects?" 

"No nothing much. Oh, sometimes I wake up in the 
night with my shoulders hurting through here and he 
showed me where ''but that is about as much as I ever 
notice now. Sometimes I can't go back to sleep. I guess it 
strained the nerves." 

He let me see the log book but a little reluctantly, as 
if it were not the practice to do such a thing. I spoke of the 
excitement of going down through all those many diverse 
layers of the earth's crust. 

"Go over here where they're all turned up edgeways in 
the mountains and you can see them spread out right on 
the surface as you go along." 

But to me that was not half so interesting as going down 
through them just as they were put there by some incon- 
ceivably long cosmic sequence. 

"I'll show you other wonders/' my friend said smilingly. 
And he took me to the house of a man past eighty who 
had settled in the region more than fifty years ago. When 
the oil was discovered he leased some of his land, but re- 
served ten acres around his log house because he did not 

Discovery 33 

want the noise of the drilling close to where he lived. 
Stories of the huge amounts of money he had already re- 
ceived from the wells on his land were in easy circulation. 
But he would not lease the ten acres on which his log house 
stood. Just a short while before I was there he had received 
an offer of a hundred thousand dollars for the lease of the 
tract. But he steadfastly refused. "I don't want to be 
bothered by the noise." 

"But," the prospective buyers urged, "with that much 
money you can build a new house somewhere else wher- 
ever you want to, and any kind you like." 

"I've got money," he told them; "and I like this one. 
There's nowhere else I want to go." 

His house was of two joined sections of hewn logs and 
white mortar. There were plenty of trees, and the ones 
nearest the house were neatly whitewashed from the 
ground up three or four feet. Yes, he thought oil was in- 
teresting, but he didn't care to have it too close. 

For days, and especially for nights, I saw Oklahoma oil 
fields. One night I saw a well that had caught fire before it 
could be brought under control. The light from it could 
be seen across an entire county. 

I rode for miles quite out in the country through what 
seemed to be entire townships of great tanks that stood 
thick on the earth like gigantic silvered puffballs. I saw 
Tulsa for the twentieth time the wonder city of oil that 
had started out years before with the discoverer's quick- 
ened mind to have the best of everything, including edu- 
cation and architecture, and was for a period so successful 
that she became the myth city of the nation, and a national 
symbol. But despite the good architecture I was never quite 
so much interested in what the Tulsans built as in their 
clarified state of mind now already somewhat muddled by 

34 / Travel by Train 

the belief that perhaps all the discovering has been done 
and that they might as well settle down. 

And then one night, after I had made a long trip in the 
form of a reversed letter S down through oil fields in 
northern and eastern Texas, I sat on a train till long after 
midnight with a member of the Metropolitan Opera Com- 
pany whose engagements were taking him from one coast 
to the other, and talked about a day I had spent in a Negro 
college town. In the morning I had gone for a walk and had 
come to a modest campus. A distinguished-looking tall 
Negro stopped me and asked me if I were not the man who 
was to lecture at the college in the evening; he thought he 
recognized me by pictures he had seen. He was, he told 
me, the head of the conservatory of music, and he offered 
to show me about. 

We saw recitation halls, laboratories, a library, and the 
auditorium in which I was to speak. Then he said quite 
humbly, yet with the utmost self-respect, "Should you care 
to see my building? It is an old plantation house. We have 
put partitions in the large parlors and bedchambers and 
made plenty of practice rooms for the girls," 

We went through the building and heard the pande- 
monium that one may hear in any conservatory. But this 
one had an interest for me that few have, For, two genera- 
tions after Negroes were in slavery, the grandchildren of 
those slaves were using somebody's plantation house as 
their own center of artistic activity. 

Before I lectured in the evening to an attentive, intel- 
ligently responsive audience in which there was not one 
white face, a slender dusky girl whose features were as 
sensitive as those of Chopin came out and played two 
numbers from his works, Then a sturdier young woman, 
with lung power so suggestive of Caruso's that she could fill 

Discovery 35 

an ordinary auditorium without any noticeable effort, sang 
two short songs. She sang with some great simple ele- 
mental new hope, with something of the sureness of the 
men who knew that the oil was there in the earth beneath 



WELL, I notice you like our Texas grapefruits/' 
said the swarthy stout man across the dining- 
car table. 

"Yes, but how about seeing carloads of them on sale 
along the street at fifty cents a bushel and then getting on 
this train and paying fifty cents for the two halves of one 

"Sayl By Georgel That is tough! He had to laugh. "The 
railroad company must be finding out how good they 

They were good. I went so far as to express the wish that 
we could have a more regular abundance of them up where 
I lived, 


Sustenance 37 

And where did I live? 

When I told him his eyes came wide open and he smiled 
as if he had thought of something that perhaps he had bet- 
ter not mention. He took another look at me and decided 
to go ahead. "Then maybe you know the woman up there 
in Boston whose niece married a young fellow down here 
in the cattle country. The niece wanted her to come down 
for a visit. After being coaxed long enough, she agreed. 
When she went to the station to make her reservation she 
said to the agent, 'I'm going way down to Texas next week, 
and I thought I'd better come over and arrange for my 
ticket/ 'By Buffalo?' the agent asked. 'By buffalo?' she said. 
'Why, I want to go by train as far as I can!' " 

He laughed as if he were the originator of the story. 
"Gad, can't you see the old gal snorting into Dallas from 
the north? I'll bet you ten bucks that she rode side-saddle, 

He did not hesitate to declare openly that Texas was 
quite a state. "Ever take a map and cut Texas out of it with 
the point of a knife and then stick a pin in one corner of 
it after another and swing it around to see how far it 
reaches? Stick the pin in at El Paso and swing her around 
to the west and she reaches clear out into the Pacific Ocean; 
stick the pin in over east of Beaumont and then swing her 
the other way and she reaches into the Atlantic; swing 
her north and she just misses the Canadian border; swing 
her south and she reaches clear across Mexico past Guate- 
mala into Honduras, so that if you were up high enough 
you could almost jump off into the Panama Canal/' 

He was fearful that he had not impressed me. 

"Or take my own case. My job is to make several cities 
that happen to be out along the edges of the state every 
so often I make the trip and from the time I leave Dallas 

38 / Travel by Train 

till I get back at the end o the grand swing-around, I 
travel twenty-nine hundred miles." 

I gave my imagination a push. "Texas is larger than 
France, isn't it?" 

"Can't say about that, for I don't know just how big 
France is. I saw only about ten acres of it along the edge of 
some woods when I was over. But I remember figuring it 
all up for the Chamber of Commerce once, and Texas is 
just a little bigger than all of New England and New York 
and New Jersey and Maryland and Virginia and Pennsyl- 
vania and Ohio. 

"But remember it's not just our size. It's what we've 
got. Name anything you like pretty nearly anything and 
we've got more of it than any other state in the Union. 
Take oil. A little piddlin' state like Oklahoma up here 
thinks she's got a lot of it. But what has she got compared 
with Texas? And sulphur don't we produce about three- 
quarters of all the sulphur in the country? And just about 
all the carbon black what everybody used to call lamp- 
black? And beef; and goats; and sheep; and cotton; and 
melons; and turkeys. We ship turkeys up to Boston and 
they sell them as choice Vermont turkeys, and nobody can 
tell the difference; to New York and they are special spoon- 
fed Upstate turkeys; to Washington, D.C. and they're 
Virginia turkeys. They stand the test." 

As if he had almost forgotten something that he always 
included, he hurried on: "And of course you know that 
Texas has the largest spinach farm in the world/' 

"Isn't that where some little town voted bonds and 
erected a monument to Popeye the Sailor?" 

"Sure! But haven't you heard of towns voting bonds for 
worse things than that?" 

Of course I had. 

Sustenance 39 

Texas could boast of plenty of other things, too: the big- 
gest rose farms ever heard of; more mountains than all of 
New England and higher ones; and bluebonnets; and lots 
of good universities and colleges and museums and artists 
and writers O. Henry, for instance. 

"We think we have a pretty strong state spirit down here, 
too. You know we still believe in local self-government." 

"Then why don't you divide Texas up into about a 
half-dozen good-sized states so that the people can have it?" 

He glanced at me in consternation, but when he saw 
that my face was not so serious as my words had sounded, 
he shook his head and smiled. "Say, blowing the big bazoo 
almost took me too far, didn't it?" 

Then he explained just how it was. If I had not for- 
gotten my school history, I would recall that Texas had 
once been an independent nation not for long, to be sure, 
but long enough to instil a great spirit of solidarity and in- 
dependence in the people. They had never lost it. Texas 
was now a part of the United States, of course, and com- 
pared with Rhode Island, for instance, it was pretty large 
for administrative purposes. But he was afraid it would 
never be divided up. Anyhow, in that case, just who would 
run things for the rest of the country over at Washington? 

When he noticed that the train was pulling into a sta- 
tion, he threw some money at the waiter, got off hastily, and 
left me alone to answer the question, and to look out at 
the window and know that he had not exaggerated about 
Texas. Texas was producing what people who knew noth- 
ing of the state could not get along without. And Texas 
was only the southernmost extra-large unit in a vast area 
devoted to the kind of production that enables all the rest 
of us to live. 

The man's expansiveness awakened my own imagina- 

4O / Travel by Train 

tion. Two hours ago I had seen the long journey ahead of 
me up across the plains to the Canadian border as only a 
somewhat monotonous trip through the cattle belt, the 
wheat belt, the hog belt, the dairy belt. But with his ef- 
fusive aid I began to see the region as it is: a great, bulging 
cornucopia with the southern extremity of Texas as its 
point, reaching up, spreading out northward, and tilting 
over eastward in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio as it pours its 
plenitude out into the world. Where is there a more vital 
silent drama than this of millions of men plowing the 
ancient earth, watching the sky, deciding to plant, planting 
too early, planting too late, making the most of whatever 
results, having something to sell, selling by tiny family 
units all over the area until the grand total feeds Chicago, 
feeds New York, helps London to feel easier, helps Paris 
to feel easier, enables marching millions in a half-dozen 
foreign armies to feel surer that now they will be strong 
enough to face each other in battle, to kill each other off 
for a principle? 

Eventually the steward seated a woman a well-made-up 
gray-haired woman who still looked young where the man 
had sat. She seemed interested in my intent watching of the 
landscape, asked me if I would be good enough to pass 
the salt, and continued by remarking: * 'Pretty desolate, 
isn't it?" 

"Why, I had not thought of it as desolate. Perhaps it's 
a bit grim but it's a fascinating drama/' 

"Drama! Goodness! And here I was wondering if some- 
thing could not be done to get all these people out of these 
little coops of houses and away to where they could have 
some of the comforts of life. Why, don't they have to wade 
around in mud and dust the year round, with nothing else 
much to do?" 

Sustenance 41 

"And I was wondering if they might not be providing 
the pattern on which we should have to rebuild our entire 
civilization or pretty nearly sooner or later." 

"Really? Why, you startle me. I had never thought of 
this whole flat Middle West as good for much except to 
hold the two coasts together. It is always dismal enough 
when I have to cross it." 

She said it all with so much of the casualness which fre- 
quently accompanies a superior point of view, that I sud- 
denly experienced a slumping of my own sureness. Could it 
be that in the long interval since I had known farms by 
working on them I had idealized them into something bet- 
ter than they were? Or had farms and farmers experienced 
a deterioration that I had not felt? 

I got off in a small town up in the Red River country 
where unshaven men sat round the court-house square in 
the late October sun and talked things over, and let their 
eyes slowly follow with a strange interest any men who had 
shaved. In front of many grocery stores neat ricks of water- 
melons were on display. Where did they come from? A 
friendly business manager who was not too much in a 
hurry took me out a few miles southeast to see. 

A low little house that seemed to hug the earth stood 
close to the side road. The front door was tightly shut, as 
if it were to be used only on momentous occasions, and 
sand had swirled over the front yard and almost completely 
covered it. But the rosebushes had not minded the sand. 
Or somebody had watered them. For they were bending 
with heavy clusters of red. 

The sturdy little gray-haired woman of sixty or so who 
came from the kitchen round the side of the house was 
pleased when I assured her that I was not selling anything. 
I only wanted to get two or three watermelons, cut the 

42 / Travel by Train 

solid hearts out of them and eat them out in the open. 

She would call her husband. 

"I was admiring your roses," I explained when she 
walked back to us as though it were not quite appropriate to 
leave us there unthought about in a strange place. 

Yes, they were blooming now. But they had had a hard 
time o it in the summer. It had been very dry. She had 
been afraid to use much water. Their well had held out 
during the hot weather, but now when it was raining once 
in a while, the level of the water had dropped until there 
was only about a foot left, and that was white with sand. 
She let the bucket down into the well and drew up a little, 
so that I could see. 

Her husband came. Would he sell two or three water- 
melons to be eaten on the premises? Well, he hadn't been 
selling many recently. The season was about over. Some- 
how people stopped eating watermelons at about a cer- 
tain time, no matter how many melons were left, and began 
to eat something else. But there were plenty of them out 
there. They had grown and ripened on vines that the 
September rains had revived. They were scarcely worth 
money, though. 

We went back into the depths of his farm a little, and 
there, surrounded by rows of corn so that boys along the 
roads would not think of anything to eat, was his patch. He 
parted the high leaves of the vines in a few places so that I 
could see. The melons were so thick on the ground that 
they almost covered it. We carried four or five heavy ones 
back to the barn, and with a couple of butcher knives that 
he brought from the kitchen we cut them on the back end 
of one of the farm wagons. They were so ripe and so crisp 
that at the first touch of the point of the knife, they split 
from end to end. 

Sustenance 43 

"That's why \ve never have any like these as fax away as 
where I live/' I suggested. 

"You can't have anything good if you have to ship it 
far/' he answered calmly. "No taste to it." 

We talked about farming. "We can live/' he assured me, 
"as long as we don't have too many hot winds. Not much 
more than that, though." 

He thought he might have overstated the case. "Oh, we 
do manage to scrape together a few things to sell." 

We walked about. His barn was a ragged little stable of 
a building; his implements and machines were modest. Yet 
with these he was making a living. And he was helping to 
feed New York. 

I felt the magic of the productive earth. No, I had not 
idealized farms. To be in possession of a microscopic cor- 
ner of something that had seen millions of years pass, and 
with the aid of sun and rain transform part of this corner 
of the earth into wheat and corn and melons and what- 
ever else man required for sustenance was not that the 
greatest of all wonder-working? 

When I was on the train again I was more content than 
ever just to look out at the soil. One day it was the bright 
violet-red soil of Oklahoma. Nobody who has missed see- 
ing it can believe there is soil like that. No more brilliant 
mere earth is to be found. 

I had to speak to somebody to the pleasantly calm man 
in gray double-breasted coat on the other side of the aisle. 

He was but mildly interested. Yes, he saw that it was 
pretty red. 

Immediately I wished I had not spoken to him. He 
seemed to belong to the group of conventionally appro- 
priate but colorless human beings who have no enthusiasm 
for anything, and who frown upon anybody who has. 

44 I Travel by Train 

But while I was nurturing my regret, he came to life. We 
passed a Civilian Conservation Camp where the boys were 
combating soil erosion. 

"If you're looking for something to see, there it is!" he 
said in disgust. 

"They are doing great work in reclaiming the soil." 

"Yes, I know; but just the idea of the damned thing." 

"Why, I think the idea is almost better than what they 
actually do. For two or three years I saw thousands of these 
young fellows sometimes girls, too hoboing along the 
railroad tracks in gangs of a half-dozen or dozen. But since 
the camps were put in operation I have not seen one gang." 

"But I don't go in for any of this political stuff." 

"Well, I'm not in politics, I never expect to be, and I 
don't care three hoots for any political label that was ever 
invented. So I am at liberty to be interested in anything 
that appears to possess merit." 

I tried to neutralize his prejudice. "While Governor 
Landon was still in office, he proposed sending me on a 
two days' trip up through Kansas just to see what the 
boys were doing with zigzagged water-holes, diversion 
ditches, and the like to slow down the run-off of water 
after heavy rains." 

He smiled pityingly for Governor Landon as well as 
for me and shook his head in despair. "Why, you can't 
do anything about the weather. Trying to control rain! 
My God!" 

"They don't try to control the rain. They only try to 
keep the rain, when it does come down, from washing all 
the plowed soil away." 

He smiled more pityingly than ever, and dismissed the 
matter a trifle impatiently as if I or Governor Landon or 
some other unauthorized person had proposed command- 

Sustenance 45 

ing the sun and the moon to stand still-or the thunder- 
clouds: "Why, man, weather is weather, and that's all there 
is to it. When it's wet, it's wet; and when it's dry, it's dry. 
Nobody can change it. These farmers give me the belly- 
ache. Always squawking about something wanting some- 
body to make it wetter or dryer or hotter or cooler. Why 
don't they show a little management themselves? You can 
see for yourself how they live." 

I thought of him a day or two later when I sat for an 
hour on a cold, rainy afternoon with a farmer and his wife 
in their front room. He had come down from Kansas. She 
had once long ago attended a normal school for a term or 
two, and pursued me with questions about Washington 
and Boston and Lexington and Concord. And had I ac- 
tually visited the spots where Longfellow and Emerson 
lived? It was only after many answers and long waiting 
that I was able to squeeze in a question about their peach 
orchard, and the size of the crop this year. 

They had, they explained, gone in heavily for late 
peaches. If it were not raining, we still might find a few 
sticking around. 

We went out to see despite the cold rain. We surveyed 
the rows of well-pruned, healthy peach trees; we found 
peaches; we talked about how rain could rip red soil to 
pieces when it once got started. 

On the way back to the house, I overheard the wife say, 
'Tm going to show him my cold-packed canned things," 
and the husband answer, "Oh, he wouldn't be interested 
in them, would he?" and the wife reply, "Yes, he would; 
I can tell; so you run ahead and get the key." 

"Cyclone cellar, too," the man explained while he ap- 
plied the key to the lock. "I guess you know we need some- 
thing of the sort down this way sometimes." 

46 / Travel by Train 

We descended into a cement cellar out in the back 
yard so solid that it seemed to be hewn from a block of 

"I did my own cement work," the man said when he 
saw me observing. "It's a little rough, but there's plenty 
of it. She's tight, as you can see. No place for anything to 
creep in/' 

The woman's eyes were bright as she quite needlessly 
directed my attention to rows of shelves that were loaded 
with glass fruit-jars of berries, of vegetables, of peaches, 
of tasty-looking chicken. 

"This is why we'll not be on relief before next year, 
anyhow," she said, smiling "if we keep the cellar locked." 

"But why do you can your chickens when you could 
let them run around on their feet until you are ready for 
them and then have them fresh?" 

"Oh, that's easy," she answered, as if it were good to 
discover that people who traveled did not know every- 
thing. "The canned ones are almost as good sometimes 
I think, the way I can them, just as good and you save all 
the feed they'd eat. Besides you'd have to count on some 
of them being killed by automobiles out in front of the 
house if you didn't kill them first." 

She put up a shoe-box of peaches for me to take along, 
but exacted in return a book of views or some post-cards 
from parts of the country where history had already been 

Somewhere in western Kansas I was awake just after 
sunrise. The land was as flat as a table-top, and there was 
scarcely a tree in sight just immense fields, some showing 
the palest green rows of young wheat in the dew, some 
stocked with young cattle; and at infrequent intervals, 
houses and bams. At a house not far from the railroad a 

Sustenance 47 

young-looking shepherd dog played in the sun with a 
piece of old strap, tossing it lightly into the air over his 
shoulder and then whirling to see if he could catch it; 
dropping low with paws outstretched to seize it, as though 
he were having great sport, and then, with some variation, 
doing it all over again. At another, a farmer was hitching 
his team to the low-wheeled wagon out by the barn. At 
another a farmer was driving into the field. And at a dozen 
others, a hundred others now, the farmers were already at 
work for the forenoon. There was something steadying 
about their undisturbed attitude as they rode behind their 
teams. The big city chatters, it pronounces, it jeers, it 
acclaims, it professes to find itself interesting and often 
is and because it controls the means of communication, 
its case is always heard; yet it is jittery, it is fickle, and it 
is troubled with moments when it wonders about the im- 
portance of what it does. But these west Kansas farmers 
go right on without any doubts about what they are at- 
tempting to do working early, working late, making the 
best of droughts and poor crops, making the best of poor 
prices and hoping for better ones, making the best of soli- 
tude in the fields, making the best of whatever comes their 
way. There is no tinge of any high-and-mighty hocus-pocus 
in what they do. Their wheat, their beef are guaranteed 
to sustain life. 

I was in a state of mind to reexplore fanning. I ate with 
farmers, I slept in farmers' houses, I talked with farmers 
about the state of the world: with a man and his wife who 
had been married a year and had a baby and a new barn, 
and meant to have a new house as soon as they could get 
the barn paid for; with the old man and his rheumatic wife 
who had said to the three children, "All right, we'll divide it 
up now, since there's plenty of it, and see what you can 

48 / Travel by Train 

make of it while we rest a little"; with the farmer whose 
outbuildings had burned when the barn was struck by 
lightning, and whose cattle and horses and pigs were now 
sheltered under some strips of corrugated iron supported 
by cottonwood stakes; with a keen-eyed, restless farmer and 
his quiet-mannered wife who had sent eight children to 
college; with a woman whose husband had died and left 
her a thirty-thousand-dollar farm with a ten-thousand- 
dollar mortgage on it just before the bottom dropped out 
of land prices and left the mortgage bigger than the farm; 
with a farmer and his wife who had been school-teachers 
and had made their farm an attractive retreat against a 
low mountainside where there were springs, and a pond 
with bass in it, and trees and unnumbered song-birds; 
with a hillbilly farmer who said, "When it rains and I 
can sell everything we don't have to eat ourselves, we can 
just make ends meet, so you can see what it's like when it 
don't rain"; with a farmer who had been a stock-broker 
and was hugging the soil in an effort to restore his frayed 
nerves; with a farmer who preached on Sunday and ad- 
vised boys and girls to go to college if they could; with 
farmers in western Nebraska where crops are thin and a 
pitchfork fight or two at threshing time helps to relieve 
the tension of long days; with farmers in eastern Nebraska 
who made pilgrimages to Lincoln to see the new state- 
house tower with the gigantic figure of the Sower aloft in 
the heavens commanding the plains in sweeping rhythm; 
with farmers in Iowa where the tall corn grows* 

Here are people who are more than mere cogs in an 
economic machine. A farmer and his family who own the 
land upon which they live constitute a complete microcos- 
mic civilization. Their farm is a device for living through 
which they exercise initiative, maintain the great funda- 

Sustenance 49 

mental sanity that comes to man by possessing and using 
his tools, experience the self-respect that grows from pro- 
ducing something essential, enjoy the sense of growth that 
comes from extending their self-feeling into their little 
world, and acquire a certain margin of spiritual freedom 
by meeting in the give-and-take of equals all such persons 
as buyers, salesmen, clergymen, office holders, teachers, 
agricultural crusaders, and the body of farm neighbors 
with whom they must cooperate in making the locality as 
livable as possible. In summer when crops are ready for 
harvesting, and money for hired help is not at hand, and 
the weather is treacherous, and the markets are shaky, a 
farm requires the agility of mind of a major general in the 
thick of battle. 

I could not escape seeing the importance that the 
farmer attaches to his spiritual freedom. He dreams of a 
house that will be more than just a shelter, and of a farm 
that is more than a center of unrelieved production. He 
dreams of a hospitable world in which he and his wife and 
their children especially their children may live advanta- 
geously among other self-respecting men and women. It 
is but logical that the cornucopia, despite the fact that 
rural communities still have less adequate facilities for 
public education than the cities, pour forth into the lap 
of the rest of the country not only an abundance of food, 
but an abundance of mental drive. One finds it in all sorts 
of places in the World Court, in the diplomatic service, in 
the Federal government, in the faculties of the oldest sea- 
board universities, in enterprises designed to rehabilitate 
country life, in art, in letters, in science. In one large 
Middle Western university that was having a series of 
lectures by three distinguished - men in three fields of 
science, all three of the visiting scientists that year, I was 

50 / Travel by Train 

told, had come from one rural county west of the Missis- 
sippi River. So much has this energetic mind come to be 
prized in some parts of the country where boys of genteel 
background are dominant in college populations, that in- 
stitutions go out in search of it as a means of invigorating 
their own intellectual life. 

At one of the characteristic "cow colleges" at Ames, 
Iowa I saw in a week something of the facilities provided 
by a farm state for the creation of a more hospitable world 
on the farms themselves. On an immense campus of good- 
sized buildings and a campanile from which late each 
afternoon floated cheerful music four or five thousand 
students were busy, under the direction of a faculty that 
would do credit to any institution of higher learning, with 
courses that for the most part would elicit only expressions 
of disgust in an old-line college of arts. For they were 
busy not only with the usual courses for engineers, but 
with butter-making, poultry breeding, stock judging, soil 
conservation, the rotation of crops, the chemistry of soils, 
landscape architecture, farm housing, the sociology of rural 
life. A thousand of the students were girls occupied with 
all sorts of courses in household art and household manage- 

I was permitted to visit several of the "practice houses" 
where girls who are pursuing such courses must take 
turns in. managing each part of the household. When they 
enter the house for a period of weeksthey must make 
the interior from the loose furniture and decorations at 
their disposal. Each house, too, is provided with a baby 
borrowed from an orphanage, and every girl must take 
her turn, under expert direction, in living with the baby 
and looking out for him. The babies are so well cared 
for and so responsive to their environment that they are 

Sustenance 5 1 

usually adopted, I was told, by somebody who happens 
along before they arrive at the age limit of two years. 

But these students were interested also in poetry and 
the ways of the novelist, and in what a biographer looks 
for in a subject, and in city planning, city housing, labor 
relations, and international affairs. An Oxford University 
debating team that was in the United States came for a 
debate. Seventeen hundred students were out to hear the 
discussion, and more would have been there if the audi- 
torium had been larger. The occasion was a happy one 
for everybody and resulted in many new understandings 
and in much new good-will. The next day one of the 
Oxford debaters an attractive tall young Englishman 
whose bearing, whose urbane wit, whose inclination never 
to grow too serious bespoke a settled civilization not to be 
found in the Mississippi valley told me that the incident 
in their visit which had impressed him more profoundly 
than anything else was at the late evening reception held 
for the debaters. Just before midnight one of the members 
of the Ames team for whom he had at once developed a 
great liking and a great respect said: "I am afraid I'll have 
to be running along. I tend some furnaces for my keep, 
and I must be up at five in the morning." 

I saw, too, the entire college at a football game an amaz- 
ingly decent crowd to one who has seen athletic contests 
at most of the more sophisticated universities and I un- 
derstood quite well enough when the stands forgot the 
game, right in the heat of it, and watched a rabbit closely 
pursued by a small dog in a desperate zigzag, round-and- 
round life-and-death struggle across the gridiron. Here was 
the greater genuineness of a contest not arranged by 

Of course I saw the fringe of young sophisticates that 

52 / Travel by Train 

develops wherever youths assemble the much-made-up 
young ladies who came into the Memorial Union dining- 
room and started the hard day off with a long after- 
breakfast smoke and a little game of bridge. But I saw 
another fringe, and one that seemed more characteristic. A 
retired member of the faculty took me out into the edge 
of the country one evening when a light snow made the 
world very white to see a student who had published a 
poem on Robert Frost. He lived in a trailer that he him- 
self had built on the wheels of an abandoned automobile. 

When we arrived he was finishing his supper a large 
dish of prunes. He had found, he said, without trying to 
advertise anything, that prunes were good inexpensive food. 
He was a student of electrical engineering from up in one 
of the Dakotas, and went into detail in showing us his con- 
venient arrangement of electric lights and the best methods 
of wiring under three-ply. Yes, he liked Robert Frost. He 
had himself already faced the world a world in depres- 
sionand knew what life could feel like, 

There was a little community of these trailers it was 
dark, but I seem to remember them among some trees not 
far from a little cemetery all parked for the college year. 
In some of them, with study lamps showing through freshly 
laundered curtains, young married people held forth and 
attended college, when living in any less mobile fashion 
would have made college impossible. 

And then I saw just how the more hospitable world 
was being established in farm areas. A teacher in a com- 
munity high school introduced me to "ideal farms/' Farm- 
ers and their wives, he explained, had not had the right 
ikind of opportunity to see what a farm would look like if 
they could have it just as they wanted it. So, in the warmth 
and light of the school basement he and the children were 

Sustenance 53 

building "ideal" miniature farms. They planned every- 
thing-the fields, the crops, the outbuildings, the house, 
the yard, the driveways, the interior decorations. "Well, 
sir, after the kids have had a year of that and then have 
spent a summer or two on the old home farm, you'd never 
know the place. Paint gets on the barn, hinges get on the 
gates, gravel or stone drives and cement walks get them- 
selves made-and flower beds and better-looking window 
curtains, and all sorts of things." And yes, to be sure, there 
were others, hundreds of them now, who were doing the 
same thing-preaching the gospel of appropriateness and 
beauty more effectively, he thought, than Vachel Lindsay 
was ever able to do, for they were helping people to dis- 
cover that there could be beauty in the things they lived 
with every day. He thought this might be the way to a 
healthier conception of beauty, too. 

As I made my way northward toward the region of 
dairy farms, we ran into more snow. It came down with 
business-like steadiness as if it might be meaning to stay 
all winter. But the life of the farms went on. Fat pigs were 
at work rooting down through the snow into earth that 
was not yet deeply frozen; beefy-looking cattle stood with 
their heads low and their rumps toward the wind while 
they waited to be let in to shelters; and men in fields of 
standing corn husked with few lost motions and rhythmi- 
cally tossed the ears into slowly moving wagons drawn by 
horses snug under blankets. 

In the night the train pulled onto a siding along the 
single-track main line. Soon a milk train thundered by 
in the snow. Then a live-stock train rattled along more de- 
liberately, leaving an odor in its wake. That was how it was! 
Trains everywhere were hurrying from small farms, large 
farms, with meat and bread and vegetables and fruit and 

54 I Travel by Train 

butter and milk. They were rushing to cities that could not 
last without them to cities quite near, to cities so remote 
that boards of education there have to import cows and 
their calves from time to time and take them around to ward 
schools to assure the children for a certainty that the ulti- 
mate source of milk is not a bottle; so remote that men who 
must learn about farms say while they pour cream over their 
cereal at breakfast, "I see by the Times that corn stayed up 
two points/' 

Who can say that the drama is not a great one? 



IN Minnesota it snows in late February or early March 
just as if that were the opening of the snow season. For 
hours I had sat on a southbound train from Fargo and 
watched snow flying through the air. Down along the Missis- 
sippi toward Minneapolis the blizzard increased its fury. 
The wind drove the fine snow everywhere in gusts, in 
sweeps, in vast moving areas of blinding, solid-looking 
white. Despite the special fittings of the double windows, 
the sub-zero cold squeezed in and made it more comfortable 
to sit over a little toward the aisle. Sometimes I was diverted 
by fellow passengers who were talking about Calgary, Banff, 
Medicine Hat, and Saskatoon as casually as if they had been 
speaking of Atlantic City or Binghamton. But I spent most 
of my time watching the snow. If you have spent weeks in 
the northern edge of the United States where only the sight 
of a farm-house and barn here and there prevents the calm 
whiteness of a snow -covered, earth from driving you mad, 
you will understand how welcome a raging blizzard can be. 


56 I Travel by Train 

I was in the Twin Cities in time to catch one of the day- 
time limited trains for Chicago. From a car that was toast- 
ing and snug it was pleasanter than ever to look out into 
the storm. The high-level bridge across the Mississippi in 
St. Paul seemed like nothing more than an unreal shadowy 
projection of a bridge save where it emerged somewhat 
from the flying snow on our side of the river and was sub- 
stantially attached to the earth. 

Within the city limits the train crept along a bit cau- 
tiously. But as soon as we were away from the innumerable 
switches and signals of the yard districts, it plowed into the 
storm as if it meant to keep to schedule. The deepening 
snow muffled all noises, so that we seemed to be dashing out 
of Minnesota and across Wisconsin on hard rubber. 

It was not quite so cold in Chicago. Always somewhere 
between the Twin Cities and Chicago you pass out of a cold 
that stings like fire, that seems to have come untempered 
from the arctic circle, into a cold that still hurts, yet is tem- 
pered enough to be tolerable. And in Chicago there was 
little snow only a gust of a squall now and then that showed 
distinctly around the street lights for a brief minute or two 
and then was gone. 

After I had claimed my reservation on a train that was to 
leave for the Carolinas and Florida a little before midnight, 
I went out for a walk in the chill air. I wanted another look 
at Chicago. 

I always want another look at Chicago. To me, it is the 
one city that speaks for America. Milwaukee is a city that its 
residents may well be proud of I thought of that as we 
came through this evening but there is a cool, slightly 
corpulent well-being in Milwaukee that suggests a heavy 
influence from the Rhine, But Chicago is all Middle West. 
It has a direct attachment to the soil that makes New York 

Southbound 5*7 

seem foreign, and a gusto that makes such cities as Phila- 
delphia and Baltimore and Boston seem inert. Always when 
I walk over to Michigan Avenue and see how such a gigantic 
enterprise as Grant Park has been made from some un- 
sightly lake shore and some lake bottom, I see Chicago as a 
great floundering spirit that is struggling to shake loose and 
rise up and get the mastery of something gross and piggish 
that prevents it from being quite what it wants to be. 

And I never miss walking overover to the colossal Michi- 
gan Avenue approach to the Park. For without exception 
I see something interesting there. Once when I walked over 
between trains 1 saw fourteen thousand school-teachers of 
Chicago assembled in this plaza which they were calling 
Liberty Square all in readiness to march through the Loop 
to the music of numerous high-school bands, and insist that 
they receive their paywhich they had not received for 
many months. They revealed a polite indignation, an ex- 
pression of the independent spirit, that was more creditable 
to Chicago than all the commercialized ballyhoo of the 
Century of Progress. They carried floats: "If our schools are 
the hope of the country, what about Chicago?" "A Century 
of Progress for the world, but what in the world for us?" 
"Merry Christmas (a wreath of holly)! We have just received 
our December pay!" They paid sharp respects to the bank- 
ers who were not working very hard to help make school 
pay-days possible. I was refreshed. But whether or not there 
is activity, I can always gaze upon Mestrovic's two Indian 
figures that flank the approach. If the country must some 
day be blown to scrap-iron and dust by demons in the sky, 
here are two equestrian pieces in bronze that I hope they 

I walked over to them this evening. But what was this? 
Something rendered them and the entire park grotesque 

58 / Travel by Train 

and inconsequential. To the north was an illuminated bill- 
board a hundred and twenty feet high I was told pro- 
claiming some make of automobile, and at the south end 
two others almost as large flashing the virtues of whiskies or 
cigarettes or breakfast foods I have forgotten just what. In 
the intermittent snow squalls of the night they looked like 
monstrous contraptions designed to amuse idiots. 

How was this? After the people of Chicago have dreamed 
out what may well be the most stupendous system of parks 
in the world, and have spent millions of their dollars in 
beautifying something that had been ugly, they must now 
stand by perhaps because of some legal hocus-pocus and 
see all that they have done nullified and debased by some- 
body who has said: "This is pretty soft. Now that they have 
it all fixed up into a place where they are sure to want to be, 
well just cash in on it. To hell with Mestrovic!" 

I was ready to fight. Chicago was not my town; yet I felt 
as if some low-grade person had slipped in and tacked adver- 
tisements on the front of my house or on the gravestones 
of some of my relatives. I stopped four or five different men 
who looked as if they might take issue with me. But they 
did not. They concurred. One of them was an architect. He 
almost hated to walk along there now at night. While we 
talked, I remembered that I was over there between trains. 
I jumped. I glanced at my watch. He walked along with me 
all the way to the station. 

There was time. I was in bed before I felt the lurch which 
announced that we were on our way. 

It was late the next morning when I pushed up the blind 
and looked out. We were traveling in a different world. 
There was no blizzard. There was no frost. The hills were 
clothed in a half-green, living frowsiness that promised 
spring. Water-cress grew in field streams that meandered 

Southbound 59 

among walnut trees. A rangy man in an ancient-looking 
broad-brimmed felt hat plowed across a low ridge with a 
team of dark mules. I must get up and bask in the sun. 

Before noon we were in Nashville. The sun was warmer 
still where it could get down through the city's smoke. 
There stood the old state-house on the ledge of a hill like 
a Greek temple. Somewhere out in the country, too, stood 
Old Hickory's Hermitage. The last time I was there it was 
still holding out magnificently, with the aid of devoted 
Southerners, against the inroads of an industrial civiliza- 
tion. But it was strictly a museum piece in a region where 
mills were springing up every day, and where entire cities 
were being thrown together to house populations of work- 

Unmistakably we were coming into the South: the time- 
table said "Murfreesboro" next. That was where my school 
history with the green cover and red backstrip said the little 
. river ran red with the blood of the Northerners and South- 
erners who met there. When we came to it, it was just the 
kind of stream to invite such a battle narrow enough and 
rocky enough to enable the men to get at each other. 

Murfreesboro was enough to keep rne occupied for hours 
until the contour of Lookout Mountain was distinct 
against a hazy sky. More school history was returning to life. 
Off yonder was where Hooker's army was encamped. Up 
ahead was where his men clambered through the thick 
forest and over the rocks of the shoulder of the mountain in 
the mist. And just beyond was where they and the enemy 
fought "the battle above the clouds." There was the record 
of the struggle a group of monuments white in the sun. 

History was everywhere. While we paused in Chattanooga 
for a fresh start on toward Atlanta, there was time to stroll 
about in the station and have a good look at the General, 

6o I Travel by Train 

the primitive old locomotive that had figured so promi- 
nently in the campaigns of the region. And then almost 
before we were fully on our way, we were passing Missionary 

And there was Chickamaugal That was a battle. I can 
hear the roar of the batteries and the yells of the advancing 
men, and then the night-long moans of the dying in the 
woods as if it were but yesterdayfrom the same book. As 
we whirled by a road up from the battle-ground, a dozen 
or more children were coming out of the woods with fists 
full of new violets. That was better. 

We were entering the heart of the South. Yonder against 
a worn-out red hillside that had been half washed away by 
years of rains stood an unpainted, run-down plantation 
house, with broken clumps of boxwood out in front. On 
every curve we swept past tumble-down shacks where picka- 
ninnies by the half-dozen poured out to see the last cars of 
the train go by. At unimportant-looking stations, enough 
porters appeared on the platform to have carried all the 
luggage on the train. But they did not seem too much dis- 
appointed when nobody got off. In the doorway of a stable 
not far from a chimney where a house had burned, a white- 
haired old Negro sat patiently churning in a stoneware 
churn. These gaunt telltale chimneys stood everywhere. In* 
two hours I counted twenty-seven. 

Two men beside me talked. One of them called himself 
a realist. He said the South was sick, and was going to be 
for fifty more years, at least. Since he would never see it 
when it would be much better than now, why not get as 
much out of it for himself and his family as the law would 
allow? 'Tor/ 1 he declared, "if you don't, the other fellow 
willyou can count on that." The other admitted that his 
colleagues in business thought he was "plumb crazy," but 

Southbound 61 

he contended, he said, that they were the crazy ones them- 
selves, The South ought to find ways of paying wages. "Just 
think," he urged, "what a body of consumers would be cre- 
ated if all these niggers we've been seeing along the way had 
money in their pockets. Wouldn't they spend it?" 

I was but mildly interested; I was too busy seeing the 
South in history a region that had come into the greatest 
inheritance of tragedy yet bequeathed to anybody in the 
New World. The only approach to a parallel is in New 
England where the aliens have wrested control from the 
Puritans. But even this parallel is far-fetched and imperfect. 
Boston may be only a handful of Puritans trying to hold off 
the Irish, but the Irish are assimilable. They came to 
America full of dreams of the very thing that America is 
supposed to symbolize, and in a generation or two they are 
sailing away to other countries to act as ambassadors of the 
American ideal. But in the South, the alien race did not 
come voluntarily; they came with no such acquaintance 
with the fundamentals of the American dream, and from the 
first they were destined to be menials for people who 
could make them do whatever seemed desirable. So when 
the Civil War was over the South had on its hands enough 
unattached people of an alien race to constitute a small 
nation; a firm tradition that these aliens should render only 
the less important services of civilized life; and a wrecked 
economic system that greatly reduced the menial jobs to 
which these aliens were supposed to confine themselves. 

Held off at arm's length and looked at, it is a nicer prob- 
lem in sociology than most persons wish to think about. 
The imported people are multiplying. If they are held in 
semi-subjection, they will keep everybody in the South in a 
state of relative impoverishment. If they are fitted to render 
high educational and technological services they have the 

6s / Travel by Train 

capacity they are certain, with their increase in numbers, 
to endanger the dominance of the white race. It is a dilemma 
of this character that the people of this generation in the 
South have inherited. And they are no more responsible for 
what has come down to them simply because they were born, 
than any other generation in any other place. And all this 
has come to pass where there is still to be found among men 
a genuine cordiality of spirit. 

"You keep looking around as if you didn't live down this 
way/' one of the two men said to me. 

I told him that I grew up in Ohio and lived in Massa- 

"But I didn't think you quite looked like 'an honest-to- 
God damned Yank/ " 

I assured him that I grew up in a part of Ohio where 
there was a good southern exposure. In addition, I was half 

"So am I and the other half, too. And I am glad you told 
me. You know, we say around where I live that you should 
never ask a man if he's a Virginian. If he is, he'll say so of 
his own accord; and if he isn't, you shouldn't humiliate 

He laughed as if I had not heard it all before, and as if 
the joke were quite undeniably on somebody other than 

"But just what part of Ohio did you say?" 

"Ten miles from where General Philip Sheridan grew 
up, and twenty or so from where General William T. Sher- 
man was born/' 

"For God's sake! Say, I don't know but what I'd keep that 
to myself if I were youat least till we get past Atlanta." 

We talked about Sherman and his March to the Sea. He 
reminded me of what Henry W. Grady said in referring to 

Southbound 63 

Sherman twenty years later :' 'General Sherman . . . is con- 
sidered an able man in our parts, though some people think 
he is a kind of careless man about fire." 

Before I changed to the train that would carry me to 
Savannah, we talked long and pleasantly about the needs 
of the South. He told me I had heard this before, too, in 
Virginia of a white-haired friend of his who said that the 
greatest need of the South was "a strictly impartial history of 
the War between the States written from the Southern point 
of view." 

The next morning, in deep marshy woodland that sug- 
gested alligators, deciduous trees veiled in the softest of 
hanging mosses were revealing signs of buds and leaves. 
And when I drove through Savannah to Chippewah Square, 
the air was balmy and the azaleas were blooming as if there 
had been no winter. 

For two hours in the afternoon I walked through the city. 
Old ironwork made doorways inviting. The sun shone 
down with more warmth than was required. And many peo- 
ple of two races were on every hand to do whatever one 
wished done. In a little parkway along the river I sat on a 
sagging bench and listened to the conversation and laughter 
of the many Negroes who lounged in the warmth. One of 
them, an elderly man who was a bit stout, thought he would 
just take a nap. If the boat should come in, somebody was to 
shake him good and hard. 

At dinner that evening I was the only person present who 
was not Southern-born. And of course I myself was not "an 
honest-to-God damned Yank." But I was enough of one to 
make the others self-conscious. They discussed the situation. 
They agreed to do something they were sure they had never 
done before. They would confess to me what they honestly 
thought about the South. But nothing was to be reported, 

64 / Travel by Train 

nothing recorded. I was to hold their confessions sacred. 
The hostess, who was the daughter of a man who had 
possessed the pencil draft of the Confederate Constitution, 
agreed to make it easy for the others by confessing her 
heterodoxy, her radicalism, first. The dinner was delight- 
fully long. The confessions were unlike any that priest ever 

Something in the total of all that was said kept me from 
wishing to sleep that night. I had heard something very 
honest, very intelligent, very dispassionate, very unselfish. 
It was good to know that there were people like that in the 
South in any region on the face of the earth. I sat in a great, 
quiet bedchamber and read from one of the books that 
somebody had placed on the bedside table. Then I lay in 
comfortable darkness and tried to see more discerningly the 
fusion of tragedy and warmth of life that is the South, 

At dawn I dozed off for a time, and dreamed that the train 
was standing immovable in a snow-bank in Minnesota. But 
when I awoke I was still in Savannah, and a mocking-bird 
was warming up with muted ventriloquial notes just out- 
side my window, and two Negro women down below in the 
quiet street were talking about when they might expect 
enough strawberries on the market for everybody to have 



1 HEARD voices, as if out of some half-forgotten past, 
and sat up, fully awakened to the life outside the window 
of the standing train. Nobody who had himself lived 
his youth in the hills could ever mistake those voices for any 
others. In their high pitch there was the true hill blend of 
plaintiveness and faint hopefulness. And in the rhythmic 
swing of the men along the dusty street, there was something 
of the humility of motion that comes from being always 
beneath a heavy load. They were wiry, stooped men in blue 
overalls and rough brogan shoes, and under coarse unseason- 
able broad-brimmed straw hats or sweaty black felt ones 

66 / Travel by Train 

that had been keeping the hot sun out of their eyes all 
summer and autumn, their lank tanned faces bristled with 
a growth of beard. They had driven to town, to a row of 
slender iron posts supporting a continuous porch roof which 
reached out over the sidewalk in front of a grocery store, a 
feed store, and a post-office. Or they were starting home,, 
after they had traded a few eggs for a pound or two of sugar, 
or some apples and black walnuts for a few yards of calico 
or muslin. Or perhaps one of them had slipped a gallon or 
two of moonshine to somebody who couldn't live without it. 
They rode in clattering remnants of automobiles, or much 
more frequently in scrawny-looking wagons that had 1 
higher wheels than surfaced roads required, behind mules 
that jogged along with ears sagging as though life were grim 
business. All passing neighbors they hailed with a flourish- 
ing gesture and a firm voice which implied that moral sup- 
port is an important commodity. 

I was in the region where Abraham Lincoln was born. 
These were Lincoln's kinfolk. But their great-grandparents* 
members of a generation that in some instances went as far 
as Illinois, as the Lincolns did, never quite squeezed all the 
way through the devious sieve made by the mountains be- 
tween the Atlantic seaboard and the plains. So here they 
were, covering the hills, clinging to steep, barren-looking 
slopes far up the mountainsides, hanging on by the eyebrows, 
wherever they could. Why? Because they were born there 
the reason most people have for being where they are. 
They were little aware of any other world and had not 
enough money to take them to it, even if they were sure it 
existed. They have never known what it is like to have 
enough of anything except fresh air, and maybe time for 
thinking things over while working in solitude. For most 
things they are hungry, but especially for something which 

Hunger 67 

they believe the more fortunate of the earth must know. 
One of them startled me one day by quoting to me a sen- 
tence that I recognized as belonging in Maeterlinck's The 
Treasure of the Humble: "For the soul of man is a guest 
that has gone hungry these centuries back/' Where had he 
come upon it? He had heard a preacher repeat it so many 
times that he had learned it by heart. He thought it was 
good. "For that's just the way it is." In southern and eastern 
Kentucky, northern and eastern Tennessee, northeast Geor- 
gia, western North Carolina, southwest Virginia and much 
of West Virginia, there are enough millions somewhat like 
him to constitute a small nation. 

I got off the train at Elizabethtown. Flood waters so I 
was told had taken out a bridge right in the town between 
the station and the court-house square, and what seemed to 
be the Public Works Administration was putting in a new 
one. The lean men from the hills were everywherenot 
only at work, but asking for work, waiting for work, and 
when work was not forthcoming, standing in clumps, stand- 
ing in rows along the clean new board fence around the 
excavation, watching those who had been luckier. 

After I had satisfied myself that there was one quiet room 
in the little hotel, I struck out to enjoy the warm autumn 
afternoon, and to explore the town. Soon I was out where 
I could see the streets ending in the open country. As I 
walked along under shade-trees that suggested the quiet of 
an old South, a man in overalls and work cap hurried across 
the street to me. 

"Mister, you wouldn't like to buy some nice butter-beans, 
would you?" 

He displayed some samples in one hand. 

"I'm afraid I'm too far from home/* 

"Where is your home?" He asked the question very cheer- 

68 / Travel by Train 

fully, very honestly, as if it were always appropriate for one 
human being to be interested in another. 

"In Boston/' 

His eyes came wide open. "Why, say!" And he looked 
me up and down. "I didn't know people like you lived over 

A moment later, I learned from a chance remark that 
there was a hill town called Boston about ten miles over 
east somewhere; and that he had referred to it. 

"Oh, I meant Boston, Massachusetts/' I explained. 

"Boston, Massachusetts 1 Why say, you're a long ways from 
home, aren't you? Just about how far is it from here any- 
howclose onto a thousand miles?" 

"Just about that." 

"Well, welll What do you know about that? I studied 
about Boston once when I was in country school the Boston 
Tea Party. But I never expected to talk with a man who had 
come from there. Whatever brought you way out here?" 

I told him that I was to lecture in the evening at the 
Temple before a meeting of all the teachers of central 

"Well, what do you know about that? Why, I've got a 
boy on that program. But he's on this afternoon. He's a 
sophomore in our community high school out at" and 
he mentioned a name that I remember as something like 
Happy Valley. "The school is providing the educators with 
a musical number at three o'clock just about now, my guess 
is. But what are you going to lecture about?" 

I told him. 

"Why, say, I'd like to hear that. Any chance for a fellow 
that don't belong to get in?" 

"Should you like to go?" 

"I'd say I would." 

Hunger 6g 

"All right, then; here, you are to come as my guest. Just 
explain to the secretary that the speaker invited you." 

He professed delight. But he would have to scoot along 
back home and do the feeding and all the other chores, and 
clean up a little, and grab a snack of supper, and get back 
to town. It would keep him humping. 

Yet he walked on with me. He confessed that while he 
spent all his time trying to grow something and sell it, he 
was much interested in schools. "You see, I've got five of my 
own in school right nowsprinkled all the way along from 
the high school down to the first grade. And boy, maybe you 
think I don't have to sell a lot of butter-beans!" 

He made a flinching gesture of apology. "As a matter of 
fact, I'm tickled to death to do it. If they have a little edu- 
cationthat's the way my wife and I figure it maybe they'll 
stand a little better chance than we did. Anyhow, it's worth 
doing. There are so many things you can have around just 
to remember and think about if you know something." 

The tempo of his speech made walking easy. On and on 
we went, out into the edge of the country and back, and 
then along one shaded street after another. He was marshal- 
ing all that he could remember from the wisdom of two or 
three famous teachers he had had in the little country school 
of his day. In great detail he showed me just why these 
teachers were famous. They had not given him so much, he 
supposed, compared with what great teachers in the big 
places must be able to give, but just the same, it had been 
something. It had kept him going. 

In trips that almost completely circumscribed the moun- 
tain area, I was never without reminder that I was among 
people who hungered desperately for some assurance that 
they were not always to be as inconsequential as now. 

Over at Mayfield, in the western tip of the state known as 

70 / Travel by Train 

Beyond the Rivers the region isolated by the Mississippi, 
the Ohio, and the Tennessee and CumberlandI found the 
record of one man, H. G. Wooldridge, who took more than 
ordinary precautions against permanent oblivion. He pro- 
vided for such an array of monuments to himself as no one 
else would ever outdo in any cemetery eighteen separate 
statues and shafts in all. The figures, most of them in lime- 
stone, face in the same direction, and at a distance their 
gray outlines in one compact group give the impression that 
the resurrection has at last begun. There are women and 
girls sweethearts and relatives men relatives, two repre- 
sentations of himself, one horse, two dogs, a fox, and a deer 
as well as a tomb and a shaft. Everything has been done with 
more than lifelike literalness. The men's cutaway coats are 
perfectly draped, the women's high collars and bows and 
mutton-leg sleeves have been done with all of a tombstone- 
maker's care for detail, and the horse and the dogs bear their 
own names as ineffaceably as stone can be made to bear 
them. He may not have achieved the kind of earthly im- 
mortality he craved, but he is not forgotten. 

Just back east a few miles at Murray, where a well- 
equipped college in the outskirts of the town is slowly 
changing the spirit of the entire region, I heard the story 
of a mightier hill dreamer who was not quite so successful 
in creating his own personal recordnot immediately. He, 
Nathan Stubblefield, who according to the story told to 
me had preceded any other known person with a speaking 
radio by at least a half-dozen years, had lived and died just 
across from what is now the college campus. He was known 
chiefly to his neighbors as a "queer bird," and when he in- 
vited some of them to come and place themselves in a magic 
square of a contraption that he had rigged up and hear 
voices, they thought he was crazy. And when some of them 

Hunger 71 

participated in the experiment and heard voices, they could 
not help believing that there were underground wires, or 
some other connections besides the air, that brought the 
voices from the sending station. He gave demonstrations 
elsewhere one between a boat on the Potomac River and 
land. He had the real thing. Somebody offered him money 
for it. He knew he ought to have more. He waited. Some- 
body in another part of the world came along with the same 
idea plus the advantage of a name. Stubblefield was em- 
bitteredand forgotten. He spent more and more time in a 
seclusion that was broken only when he had to drive a mile 
to town for provisions. He rode in a rattling antiquated 
vehicle, very upright, with the lines clutched in one hand, 
and in the other, close in front of his eyes, a book which he 
read in supersensitive disregard of the world about him. 
Then he quit coming to town. Finally somebody chanced to 
investigate and found him dead. He had died without food, 
and rats had gnawed his face, Now the college was trying to 
make up a little for the great irony by purchasing the site 
the college had already erected a marker and establishing 
a Stubblefield broadcasting station. 

I went less than a mile from the college campus and 
saw lank men working doggedly in the fields, and women 
with an attitude of "Well, I am trying to do something 
honest, anyway," carrying apples or pumpkins or firewood 
along narrow rutty roads to their stark kitchens, and chil- 
dren helping their fathers or mothers or playing together 
the least bit uncertainly children who suddenly became 
young gods and goddesses when one talked to them with 

I saw them on Sunday morning, too. Everywhere through 
miles of hills that were sometimes fertile, sometimes deso- 
late, men and women with brightened-up faces, and chil- 

72 / Travel by Train 

dren in clothes a little better than the ones they wore 
customarily, were going into white churches in very rural- 
looking groves of hickory trees, coming out of churches, or 
lingering for a few cheerful words with neighbors who like 
themselves had been hard at it every day since last Sunday. 
For those who are troubled by the phenomenon, here is the 
explanation of the "Bible Belt." The church in these hills 
stands for something besides the grim work of plowing corn 
or cotton or tobacco and watching the sun burn the crop 
up. What difference to them does it make if often enough 
the church is dogmatic and "Fundamentalist"? It provides 
them with a rallying ground. It enables them to feel the 
warmth of being united under one banner. The liberal 
church that is self-consciously busy with its own liberality 
may appeal to sheer, undisturbed intelligence; but it is a 
cool affair compared with the church which these hungry 
ones require. 

It is only by chance that their church is restricted and* 
Fundamentalist. If chance had made it what the rest of the 
world calls liberal, these Kentuckians, Tennesseeans, and 
Virginians would cling to it just the same. They have so 
little of anything that they are frightened at the thought of 
letting the least thing go. They stand upon hilltop and 
mountaintop and call valiantly to their very orthodox 
heaven to send them more of something. And when their 
orthodox heaven does not send them more of anything, 
some of them turn moonshiners, or bootleggers, or feudists 
or all three but most of them go right on hungering, and 
calling upon heaven, and hoping a little. 

All the way over to Clarksville, Tennessee over past Fort 
Donelson in its false impregnability on the high hills be- 
tween the Tennessee and the Cumberland Rivers-the hill 
people sat in clumps together in front of little stores closed 

Hunger 73 

for the day, and on the steps of their houses, or trudged 
along quiet roads without seeming to be too intent on get- 
ting anywhere. There was nothing much in the hills for 
them to stir up. They were trying to be patient. 

I have spent much time "lingering about" in Clarksville, 
high above the yellow river, and listening to the knots of 
men, black and white, who hang around the spreading to- 
bacco warehouses and agree, not too dolefully, that "I guess 
they jes* ain't no work around any more/' But this time the 
sunny sections of downtown, and the river with the high 
slender railroad bridge and trestle across water and wide 
sandy bottoms, were much obscured for me by the students 
in the little Austin Peay Normal School which had been 
established in the buildings of an abandoned denomi- 
national college by a former national Commissioner of Edu- 
cation. For these students were from the hills. They had the 
' awkward but irresistible enthusiasm of the provincial. They 
were ready to try anything anything that promised some- 
thing better than what they had had. What did it matter if 
this boy had to grow ninety bushels of sweet potatoesand 
sell them merely to pay for one month's board and lodging 
in the little normal school? What did it matter if another 
boy had to work as a cook on a sand boat on the river so 
much of the time that it took him five years to finish two 
years of study? Or what did it matter if a frail girl who had 
spinal trouble could find nothing to do that would pay 
money except scour pots and pans in a cafeteria kitchen? 
What was the objection to doing that for two or three years 
when it enabled one to study? If anybody thought such 
things difficult or humiliating, then that person knew noth- 
ing about everyday life in the hills. 

Then I pursued a journey across the mountainous north- 
ern regions of Tennessee two or three hours on the train; a 

74 I Travel by Train 

stop; a side trip; then to the train again. At the moment I 
seemed to be accumulating only isolated impressions. But 
swiftly the passing of time gave them a certain homogeneity. 

I remember: Close to the railroad a low unpainted but 
weather-boarded house with a porch extending out from the 
slope of the house roof, and with slender rickety-looking 
posts reaching down to flat foundation stones. The dirt floor 
of the porch was two or three feet lower than the uncarpeted 
floor of the house. As the train whirled by, an elderly Negro 
in shirt sleeves had stooped over the tin wash-pan on the 
front step, and a little stiffly but with dignity and with a 
smile of content, was lifting the water to begin washing his 

And this: To the northward as I traveled east, in front of 
a notched ridge of dark mountains, some steep foothills rose 
sharply, and far up the side of them, high above log houses, 
slender men were plowing the soil with wraith-like mules, 
or, still farther up, were dragging logs down for firewood. 
Children were everywhere high against the dark of the 
woods, in the pale plowed field, down near the railroad- 
wistful, fearful, wondering children in clothes of overalling 
or shirting or calico, and invariably accompanied by an 
undersized dog or two. While we waited at a switch two little 
girls of nine or ten, in fresh new dresses, played tag in and 
out among rows of corn fodder that had been left standing 
in a small field sown to timothy. For miles as we went on, 
there were the men working on the sunny hillsides, and the 
children, and the dogs, and the log houses. 

And I saw the coming of evening and night in the hills. 
A gnarled and crooked body of a man, with a loose white 
beard like Walt Whitman's, and with a heavy cane for a 
support, stood in the side yard of his weather-beaten little 
house and twisted his stiff neck slowly to follow the train as 

Hunger 75 

it crept past in the late afternoon sun. Boys and girls from 
a community high school a few miles back stopped their 
boisterousness for several seconds when one of them saw 
him and nudged some of the others. When they all got off 
at the next two stops I had the old-style red plush coach al- 
most to myself. As the train creaked and rattled along, 
shadows filled the deep valleys and began to cover the hill- 
sides. Women gathered their washings from the paling 
fence, or, occasionally at some better-looking house, from a 
clothes-line. Chickens were going to roost in the trees 
sometimes not thirty feet from my window where the rail- 
road hugged the hillside. High up where it was still bright, 
the men worked on. Then I saw some of them bringing their 
thin horses or mules down to clapboard-covered log stables. 
And then night was upon us and enveloped us. 

The hills cried out. The hills would express themselves. 
Once when I had spent two or three days in this region 
four students at Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, 
dropped in to see me one after another. The first one 
wished to produce plays; another wished to go to a liberal 
school of theology and then come back and liberalize the 
native mind; another wished to enter politics; and the 
fourth was an avowed poet. "Any more of this?" I asked. "I 
know the college brand wh,en I see it, and this is not it. This 
is goodor at least it is about to be." 'Tve got a whole load 
of it," he replied. "I'll bring some more down. But I'm go- 
ing to keep on writing it, no matter what you think of it." 
His name was Jesse Stuart, 

At Johnson City a college president took me to spend an 
afternoon among the mountain people his own people. 
"You know what the magazines and newspapers say about 
us, especially since the trial over at Dayton. All right, see 
for yourself/' 

76 / Travel by Train 

We drove for hours through narrow valleys, along moun- 
tainsides, through villages in hill fastnesses, over ridges that 
gave us sweeping views. "Look at those houses. Don't they 
look about as well as anybody could expect? And they're 
just like that inside, too. The people haven't much, but they 
use what they have and they wish they had more. They are 
a first-rate lot really they are if you don't try to be high- 
hat with them. Why, I come here and speak all over this 
region on Sunday evenings in their country school-houses 
and little churches, and I enjoy the experience just about 
as much as anything I do. And you would, too." 

"But what I should like to know," I said, still thinking o 
his reference to Dayton, "is whether you ever discuss Evo- 

"As a matter of fact, I rarely discuss anything else. And 
they eat it up." Then he smiled off through the wind-shield. 
"But I call it Growth." 

Over beyond the Smoky Mountains and nobody has yet 
said enough about the beauty of these ranges veiled in soft 
blues I spent a week-end with a small Quaker family. The 
husband is the head of the community school; the wife is a 
poet; and the young son is an inventor. Belatedly the wife's 
poems are beginning to appear in print. She writes with a 
subtlety as great as that of Emily Dickinson though it is 
her own and lives a life only less isolated. When she and 
her husband took me across the country to catch a train, 
we discussed the enforced seclusion of hill life. She told me 
how Robert Frost had come to a neighboring city to lecture; 
how they had gone to hear him; how she had had oppor- 
tunity to speak a few words with him; and how on the way 
home as she and her husband talked about the unusual ex- 
perience and savored it bit by bit, the thought that there 
were such people with such interests living in the world, 

Hunger fjy 

and that she was shut away from seeing them and knowing 
them, filled her with such heartbreaking that she wept 
"bitterly and copiously the first time my husband had ever 
seen me do it." And he confirmed her confession. 

Up in southwestern Virginia as I walked along in the 
quiet that evening, I heard what seemed to be Negro spirit- 
uals in an old abandoned store or saloon. But when I peeped 
in I saw that whites were doing the singing. Listeners who 
looked as if they were hoping for something filled the hard 
benches that had been crowded in not only crosswise but 
along the walls of the room. There were fewer than a dozen 
women present, and not a white-headed man. One man was 
bald and growing gray, but the body of the congregation was 
made up of boys and men between seventeen and thirty, and 
they were of the working classes. They wore overalls and 
leather jackets and heavy shoes with rivets on the sides. 
Three or four of the young women helped the pianist with 
guitars and a banjo as the spirit moved them they kept 
turning to some pegs on the wall and taking down fresh 
instruments and the preacher, who was dressed like an 
Episcopalian but acted like a Methodist, stood and played 
a trap-drum that was half concealed behind the desk of the 

When two "brethren" passed the collection baskets for 
the evening offering, one of them paused a little unduly, a 
little deferentially, in front of where I sat on the end of a 
bench close against the rear wall by the door. I put in a 
quarter. When the two returned to the pulpit the preacher 
said, "Well, now, you know I always believe in finding out 
what we've got." He counted. "Eighty-three centsl Too bad 
it couldn't have been even money." Whereupon a big genial 
ruffian of a fellow up front arose and passed him two cents. 
The minister laughed. "I only wish it could have been a 

7 8 / Travel by Train 

dollar. We always seem to be getting somewhere when it 
amounts to a dollar." I held up a quarter, and he sent one 
of the two "brethren" to get it. A man in overalls close be- 
side me saw what I was offering, fumbled through the very 
meager supply of change in his pocket, and contributed an- 
other quarter. The preacher offered a special prayer for us. 
"We do get somewhere, I tell you, when it begins to come in 
in halves!" 

He did not attempt to do much preaching. It was not 
necessary. It was easy enough to catch the drift of his inten- 
tions just by looking around. On the walls above the level 
of the seats the free space was covered with all sorts of 
Biblical pictures and such motto-posters as: 

HELLBOUND EXCURSION. (A train was rushing headlong down a 
steep grade to a very black tunnel, and a bright red devil with 
arrow-head tail was ushering it in.) 

These people of the hills know what hell is. It is not neces- 
sary to get all the way into such widely advertised hells as 
the Harlan district. The endless steel trains of coal that 
come roaring, screeching from every thin notch suggest that 
they have come from inhuman regions. The experiences of 
my youth in one of the dirtiest of the soft-coal areas left me 
with impressions that still hurt. I like to believe, when I 
hear people talking lightly, that I appreciate the plight of 
the miner. But whenever I am about to enter such a region 
as the one stretching roughly from Cumberland Gap north- 
ward to the Upper Ohio Valley, I am terrified at how much 
of suffering I have forgotten. The natural hazards alone of 
the industry are as great as those of some battle-fronts. The 
work is heavy, and in low coal you must do it all, day after 
day, without ever being able to stand up straight. It obliges 

Hunger jg 

you to waive all claim to sunlight, and work In a dust-laden 
atmosphere that sooner or later covers the bottoms of the 
lungs with fine coal. And it calls upon you to risk explosions 
that burn men's lives out in a breath, and cave-ins that bury 
whole communities while they toil. As if these things were 
not sufficient to keep men humble, the coal operators with 
the least humanity in them have devised additional cruel- 
ties in the form of uncertain employment, disgraceful hous- 
ing, racketeering company stores, and professional manipu- 
lators who keep different groups of workers arrayed against 
one another to their detriment. 

If all the miners were to say on some zero morning in 
January, "Now we are not going to strike and picket the 
mines so that women and children will be left to freeze 
without coal, but we are going to insist that every able- 
bodied man in the country come and mine his own," and the 
male population of the country had to do it in conditions 
that now exist, we would be in the throes of an exhilarating 
economic revolution within a month. This entire coal 
region has become a social cauldron in which a million or 
two of fundamentally first-rate human beings fly in every 
direction, fly at one another's throats, in the despair of ever 
having anything better than they have now. 

Nor did I find the western fringe of the region much 
better. Across two or three tiers of counties I saw petulant or 
resigned housewives scrubbing coal-begrimed houses, or 
gathering firewood, gathering runty apples, black walnuts, 
and persimmons, milking bony cows and carrying milk to 
hillside houses of deal-boards or logs oftentimes papered 
with newspapers or sitting on a rickety front porch caring 
for a baby that had to be content with a corrugated carton 
from the grocer's for a crib, until it seemed that the entire 
earth must be peopled with this unfortunate kind. I was 

8o / Travel by Train 

ready to laugh the most raucous horse-laugh at those who 
speak with awesome solemnity about preserving the Ameri- 
can high standard of living. Here was what could be done 
to life when the heartless conspired to induce human beings 
to be their worst. 

And then one morning I stood before the children of 
these people eighteen hundred of them in a college audi- 
torium. Even a believing mind found the fact difficult to 
accept. They were becomingly dressed; they were cheerful; 
they were confident. And they were alert. They looked up 
at me as if to say, "All right, now what are you going to 
tell us?" They saw the point before the speaker was quite 
all the way to it. They caught up the slightest trace of 
humor. They were ready to doubt. They were ready to in- 
quire. They were ready to be in earnest. Where had I ever 
spoken to an audience more immediately and intelligently 
responsive? Could it be that these eighteen hundred were 
the offspring of those others who battled so desperately 
against total degradation? 

I had been trying to hold off a cold that threatened me, 
and went immediately to the hotel and stayed there until 
toward the end of the day. Then in the twilight I ventured 
out. In the window of a fruit store I saw some extra large 
pears. I went in and bought one, crossed over to the quiet 
side of the street along the college campus where I supposed 
I should be unobserved, and walked leisurely in the growing 
darkness and ate at my pear. A college girl who was going 
briskly in the same direction paused as she passed, took 
a second look, and then as if she were much surprised, 
asked a bit breathlessly, "Why, aren't you the assembly lec- 

I confessed that I was and that I was eating a pear. 

Hunger . 81 

"Why, I never dreamed that I was going to have a chance 
to talk to you. We were so thrilled" 

"I'd better walk along with you a few steps," I suggested, 
"and catch the full effect of all this." 

As we walked on she was going to supper in one of the 
college halls she wished to know what I thought of the 
campus. I explained that I had been shut in all afternoon, 
but that I was to be there for three or four days, 

"Then tomorrow, shouldn't you like to have me show 
you around? You know we do that here at Berea." 

Such a pilgrimage over the campus, I assured her, would 
be pleasant. 

"The main part of my day is taken," she explained. "You 
know, I guess, that we all work. But I'm free in the morn- 
ing from seven-thirty to eight-thirty, and in the afternoon 
from four-forty to five-forty/* 

I preferred four-forty. She came to the little hotel the 
Daniel Boone Tavern, operated by the college and we saw 
the new music building and the fine auditorium in it, and 
the organ; the new building devoted to the fine arts; the 
newly enlarged library; the well-equipped new hospital- 
many of the mountain people are in poor physical condition 
when they come; numerous fireside industries; two lit- 
tle dwelling-houses on the same lot that bore the interest- 
ing name of "contrast houses"; and everywhere, students, 

"And now," she said, when the hour was almost up, "111 
walk you back to the hotel, and then you'll be there.'* 

She was an interesting, thoughtful college freshman 
whose manner and voice bespoke gentility. 

"Should you mind telling me what region you are from?" 
I asked, before we came to the hotel steps. 

82 / Travel by Train 

"Oh I am from down in the mining district. I expect 
you've heard enough of what that must be like." 

I assured her that I had grown up in a mining district my- 

"Then I needn't trouble you with details." 

"No. But your father, was he" 

"Yes, my father was a miner. He taught once for a time, 
but went back into the mines. But my father is no longer 

Then while we stood on the steps of the hotel, with Greek 
columns rising high above our heads, and with the bells in 
the college tower playing a familiar romantic melody just 
as if we were in some over-contrived movie, she said with 
but a trembling hesitancy at one or two words: "What you 
said this morning about cleaning up politics struck right 
home to me. My father wanted to do a little of that down in 
our county. But last year two men walked up behind him 
one day and shot him to death." 

So there could be no doubt. They were the children of 
the hills. Yet who would ever dream at the sight of them 
that they were? They had come into an atmosphere that was 
benevolent. With youth's bravura to support them, they 
had been able to put aside most of the old agonies. There 
was something to live for, after all. Blithely they were mak- 
ing furniture, weaving carpets, weaving tapestries, weaving 
women's suiting, making candies, decorating tea sugar, mak- 
ing brooms, reading proof, setting type, making beds in the 
college hospital, serving as waiters and waitresses in the col- 
lege hotel, caring for lawns and gardens, washing windows, 
hanging paper, selling groceries, serving as firemen in 
order that they might have something better than what they 
had grown up with. They set aside days for the celebration 
of education; they set aside days for the celebration of labor. 

Hunger 83 

They were coming into possession. They were discover- 
ing that a man need have no sense of dependence, of humili- 
ation, if only he has a half-chance. 

They were contributing, too. They were glad to contrib- 
ute. Young men at the hotel desk gave me the latest word 
on railroad trains, or on cabs that would render cross- 
country service. Waitresses remembered that I wished no 
toast at breakfast, but cared for two servings of cereal. A 
bell-boy wondered if I would be good enough to read some 
of his verse. He hoped he had not been influenced too much 
by Walter de la Mare. A group of students some of them 
waiters one evening gave a dining-room concert of rem- 
nants of English and Scottish popular ballads and other 
folk-songs that had been lodged in the hills for two or three 

It was pouring down rain when I boarded an evening 
train for Cincinnati. While we rushed through the night 
with such speed that the trails of water on the outside of the 
wide window ran back almost horizontally across the pane, 
I sat in the seclusion of perfect incognito and saw these 
youngsters swarming out of the hills, taking possession of 
college, of hotel, of town, of farm, to find what they require 
joyful, philandering, yet in desperate earnest. I saw them 
going back to their native hills to show their neighbors how 
to take the same number of square feet of lumber that had 
been used in an ugly, inconvenient, and uncomfortable 
house, and make an attractive one that any human being 
could live in with self-respect. Many of these who carried 
all this report of a somewhat good life back to the fastnesses 
would succumb to old habit; some would live a little more 
interestingly themselves without noticeably touching their 
environment; and some would change their entire little 
world into something incomparably better. Some, too, 

84 / Travel by Train 

would content themselves with nothing short of an invasion 
of the most glittering centers. Imagination is in the depths 
of man, and is not to be awakened very completely in the 
first generation free of bondage. But I thought I saw how 
the hills, if they are not too completely debased by those 
who come from the outside, might be a source of supply for 
all of us after the more sophisticated parts of the country 
have settled into a mushy and sterile decadence, and the 
smoky industrial area in the heart of the continent has 
annihilated itself in perpetual warring. 



PERHAPS I had received a special preparation for 
what I was to see during the next three or four days. 
I had attended the funeral of a very honest craftsman 
who had struggled through almost ninety years without sur- 
rendering to anything cheap. On my way afoot down to the 
little town from which I was to drive forty miles across the 
Ohio hills in the January bleakness to catch a train for 
Washington, I was alive with a great new admiration for 
the heroism with which a little man will go on facing all 
sorts of odds in order to produce something that at once 
satisfies his creative spirit and provides his fellow beings 
with handiwork essential to their comfort, 

As I made a sharp turn in the road, a coal miner so black 
from his day's labor in a wet mine that he was only a limp- 
ing unrecognizable smudge of a man appeared suddenly 
before me. As he came nearer he stared at me with eyes that 
seemed all whites, and then began to slip off his heavy cloth 


86 / Travel by Train 

glove. "Why, hello, here ..." and as he extended his 
bared hand, he called me by a name that I had not heard 
since country-school days. "Party dirty," he said of the 
hand without shrinking in the least from the fact, "but I 
guess you've seen coal-black before." He was shriveled and 
stooped, like a man of seventy or seventy-five, and the day's 
accumulations of dust and moisture and grime in the depths 
of the hill were not enough to conceal the white of his hair 
below the line of his stiff canvas cap. But in the contour of 
his blackened face there was the faintest remnant of some- 
thing I long ago saw every day. 

We talked. He thought I looked wellnot a day older 
than the last time he saw me, and that was not recently. He 
was feeling pretty well himself, as a matter of fact. Some- 
times his back bothered him a little toward the end of the 
day he had been pretty badly pinched, he explained, be- 
tween a loaded car of coal and the rib of a side entry a dozen 
years ago now and one of his feet had never quite recovered 
from the damage that a heavy lump of coal did to it the 
winter before last. But he was still equal to "three squares" 
a day when his wife could dig up the necessary beans and 
sow-belly. They were getting out a lot of coal over at the 
new mine where he worked now. And then abruptly there 
was nothing else much to be said on such short notice, save 
that I was mighty glad to see him and that he was pleased 
to see me looking so well. 

Down in the little town a dozen other men of my own 
age who were coming home from work reminded me by 
cheerful salutation from across the street that I was in a 
region where I was known and where it was understood 
that I knew how men lived. 

As I was whirled away in the late afternoon when the 
winter shadows were long, I saw several scores of people 

Parasite 87 

pouring out of a china factory that an old friend of mine 
and his son and associates had developed and worked at 
for thirty years. Two or three miles down the road we 
passed a great stoneware pottery built by brothers whose 
father had been a potter and had passed on to them the 
tradition of honest craftsmanship. A few miles farther on, 
we passed another pottery that sends its artistic product to 
every part of the world. The man who had developed that 
enterprise and its good name had likewise once been a 
worker in the early log pot-shops of the region. We passed, 
in all, a dozen potteries that I had seen rise up in a few 
decades most of them in one. Then as the hills flattened 
out, there were farms. In the growing darkness men were 
busy putting cattle up in half-slushy, half-frozen barnyards, 
women were going from barns to houses with big buckets 
of milk, and children were closing up chicken houses for 
the night or chasing turkeys to cover when they persisted 
in putting too great a strain on motorists* high motives by 
roosting openly in trees that were within easy reach of 
traveled highways. 

When I arrived at the station the ticket agent offered to 
put the bags inside his office, if I wished to feel free of 
them. He would see that they were up on the platform 
when the train arrived. "If they're not in sight the minute 
you get up there yourself, don't worry. They always wait, 
you see, till I tell 'em to go." 

I walked out into the raw cold. The air promised snow. 
Two or three blocks away the tower of a court-house built 
in the President Grant era of architecture was trying to 
express the newer spirit through twinkling lines of incan- 
descent lights that ran in every direction over it as if it 
were advertising a carnival. It provided something to walk 
to and I struck off in that direction. 

88 / Travel by Train 

A scarecrow of a man shaped much like a hastily made 
question-mark hobbled desperately up alongside. "Haven't 
a dime for a fella that needs one, have you?" he asked 
without preliminaries. 

I slowed down and sized him up a bit as we walked 
along. "You really need it, do you?" 

"Honest to God, Mister, if there ever was anybody that 
needed it, I'm the man. I was on relief for a good while, 
and then I got a job down here in this glass factory when 
it opened up. I thought I was all set for good. God, maybe 
I wasn't tickled to death. Then the third day I was there 
some mug walked in and told me I wasn't up to it. I s'pose 
maybe I'm not quite as good as I used to be, with this 
shoulder and this knee and all, but, Christ, I'm only fifty- 
four years old. That's not so old, is it? And now I can't get 
back on relief. They want to know why I didn't keep my 
job when I had one.'" 

The earlier part of the day had awakened my memory. 
In his voice there was something that reminded me of an- 
other boy I had known in school-days a lop-eared slender 
young devil who was something of a comedian. 

"Were you born in this town?" I asked him. 

"No." And he brightened up at the th'ought that he had 
ever had an experience common to other and better-dressed 
men. "No" and in a sudden rush of returning self-respect 
he assumed the manner of the reminiscent raconteur--"! 
was born, as a matter of fact, in the county down south 
here down among the coal mines. That's where I got this 
shoulder and this knee. You know lots of fellas down there 
'get it' in one way or another. Well, I got mine one day when 
some roof decided to come down. They never could get all 
my ribs and the joints of my backbone quite put back where 
they had been. But hell, I was lucky; I oughtn't to com- 

Parasite 89 

plain. I was just under the edge of it. What if you had 
six tons corne down on you ka-plop the way my boss had? 

We turned, as I indicated that I must be getting back to 
the station. He sized me up scrutinizingly, as if I might be 
wanting to get away from him. "But I guess people like 
you don't see much of such things as that." 

He added convincing ghastly details. He mentioned the 
boss's name. It had all occurred beneath the very hill on 
which I had grown up. I was on the point of telling him, of 
saying, "I believe we know each other. Don't you remember 
the time?" But I caught myself. It would hurt too much. 
So I wished him well, slipped a bit of money into his hand, 
told him I was sorry I could not do better, and while he 
stood amazed and almost tearful at receiving more than he 
had asked for, I hurried away to the station. 

Almost as soon as I had climbed the stairs to the long 
covered platform, a piercing beam of light shot athwart a 
slight curve to the westward in the edge of the town; and 
before there was time for the agent to do more than rush 
up and say, "Here they are; he usually opens her up about 
here," the towering dark hump of a locomotive that sug- 
gested unlimited power by its ease of motion shuddered by, 
and a brightly lighted train of fifteen cars or more came 
to a stop. 

"Right on here,'* the Pullman conductor suggested, "if 
you don't mind, and walk back through, so we can hustle 
along. Ill have your porter come up and get the bags." 

I had to walk almost the entire length of the train. After 
the dull light of the street and the station platform, the 
brightness was dazzling. There were sleeping-cars in which 
the berths had not yet been made down for the night filled 
with cheerful people who seemed not to have a care in the 

go / Travel by Train 

world; a lounge-car filled with other cheerful people- 
mostly women who were the least bit boisterous in their 
drinking; a dining-car filled with yet others who dined well; 
and then other and other standard sleeping-cars and bed- 
room-cars with affluent-looking luggage and passengers in 
every berth and open bedroom. 

"These must have some superior philosophy/' I wanted 
to admit, as the contrast between what I had been seeing 
and what I now saw clamored for an explanation. "These 
have managed the facts of life better/' Then suddenly all 
that was there before me seemed as utterly unreal as some- 
thing specially extravagant created for a picture-theater. 

I cleaned up a bit, dug a book from one of the bags, and 
started at once toward the dining-car. "Yes, went up two 
points," a man was saying as I passed his space. He had lop- 
ears, like the school comedian's. 

The steward squeezed me over to an unoccupied chair 
next to the window and next to a sizzling hot steam-pipe. 
The other three at the table were two women and a man 
who were returning from California. After I had ordered, 
I picked the book up from the window ledge and began 
to turn to the place where I had left off. There was a mo- 
ment of silence as if the three had discovered a strange 
breed right at the table with them; then one of the women 
asked, "Oh, what was that book I meant to read on my 
way back? I had forgotten all about it. I wonder where it 
is/' Otherwise, nothing much was said. The women ex- 
changed a few words of disappointment over Hollywood, 
and the man grunted once or twice. When he grunted the 
second time, one of the women admonished him: "Well, 
what did you read the newspapers for if you didn't want 
to know whether stock had gone up or down?" 

After they left, the three new ones who took their places 

Parasite 91 

had not yet decided what they would have beyond their 
cocktails when I was ready to go. 

Already our porter was making down the berths. I walked 
on to the smoking-room at the other end of the car. It was 
deserted. I dropped down into the corner of the long leather 
seat and went on with my reading. But something that the 
Englishman who had written the book said about China 
made me think of the school comedian, and see a whole 
region active in mining coal and making pottery and pro- 
ducing bread. 

I heard voices approaching. "The trouble with this God- 
damned country/' the chief voice was saying just as some- 
body pushed the green portiere aside, and men five of 
them eventually began to file in, "is that everybody who 
has anything left is being taxed to death for these re- 

I slid over close against the wall, and soon the five of 
them were in complete possession, with cigars slightly ele- 
vated, as if there could be no possible doubt about anything 
that anybody in the group chose to declare. 

"My God!" the chief speaker went on. Then he smoked 
avidly as if an idea were just beyond the end of his cigar. 
"We've got to stop paying relief, that's all." 

"All right 1" I said, and slapped my book shut with 
enough decision to make a bit of a report and startle them 
into seeing that somebody else was present: "Let's begin 
next Monday morning. I've just been down in a coal region 
that I know pretty well where a thousand miners have 
been squeezed out of work by the installation of improved 
mechanical equipment in the mines. Now what are you 
going to do with them next Monday morning?" 

"Next Monday morning? Oh, my God! Give us a little 
time. Give us six months." 

g 2 / Travel by Train 

"But you can't have six months. These men and their 
families must have something to eat next week/ 1 

The other four smoked and looked toward the floor out 
in the center of the room, but their spokesman squinted at 
me, turned his cigar over in his mouth a time or two, and 
then demanded: "Say, are you a socialist?" 

"Why? Does a man who believes that people ought not 
to starve have to be a socialist?" 

"Well," and he squinted his eyes and the whole of his 
big face into deeper lines as if he were trying to think and 
to be amiable at the same time, "it always looks a little 
suspicious, doesn't it?" 

Two of the others laughed at this superior reply. 

"But what would you do next Monday morning?" 

One of the others in the group began to squirm as if he 
were already impatient of alien ideas. "I'll tell you what 
I'd do; by God, I'd chloroform about half of them for all 
they are worth to anybody. They're a shiftless, low-grade 
lotthe whole damned caboodle of them if you want to 
know what I think of them." 

I smiled in his direction. "Maybe you're the man I'm 
looking for. I'm trying to pick up some specially bright new 
miners. How much experience can you offer?" 

"Not much, by God." 


All the while, one man had sat well back on the rounded 
leather seat by the door and smoked with extreme delibera- 
tion as if he were of the judicial mind. "Do you know," he 
began, and looked about calmingly, as if there might in fact 
be a question at issue, "I suppose this may sound cold- 
blooded, but I sometimes wonder if a first-class war would 
be such a bad thing for the country. It would speed things 
up for quite a while, and of course it would relieve the over- 

Parasite 93 

crowding if you want to face facts. But I half suspect" 
this to me " that you are one of these theorists who never 
want to face the facts/' 

"I suspect that you are right those facts!" 

When I saw that he had not caught my meaning, I re- 
opened my book. After a moment, the thick-set, good- 
natured, red-faced man who had thus far done nothing but 
maintain an unvarying smile said, as if he hoped I were 
not yet too far in the book to hear his conciliatory words: 
"I suppose, after all, there is nothing to do but feed them. 
But it does seem as if we ought to begin pretty soon to have 
a gradual tapering off/' 

Soon they were talking in slightly lower voice about their 
errand in Washington. If Charley whoever Charley was 
had been able to see the right people, and the right people 
did not get too wise, their scheme ought to turn out to be 
a pretty good thing. 

My berth was toward the other end of the car, and when 
I went to it with the thought of reading in bed, the porter 
and the Pullman conductor were having an argument with 
a man of thirty or thirty-two about his ticket. He sat on the 
edge of the freshly made-down berth with a good-sized flask 
beside him, and drank away a bit unsteadily from a paper 
water-cup as if he were trying to ignore everybody about 
him. Two young women sat on the edge of their berths 
across the aisle and drank with slightly more self-command 
from the same kind of cups. A stately gray-haired woman 
stood by the Pullman conductor. 

"Well, let me see your ticket, then," the conductor was 
demanding. "This lady says this is her berth that you are 

'Tm not in her berth wouldn't think of such a thing. 
It's my berth No. 12. That's what my ticket said, and 

94 / Travel by Train 

and that's all there is to it. These young ladies here were 
right across the aisle from me in No. 1 1 and No. 9 have 
been ever since we started. Right there, No. 1 1 and No. 9. 
That's what it says, if I'm any good at reading. I asked them 
to go forward with me and have a drink or two and we did. 
When we came back we decided to have another, and I 
got this of my own here out of the bag, and so we've been 
having it. Now what's wrong with that?" 

"I'm sorry, sir," said the conductor, trying to be impres- 
sive, "but I must see your ticket stub." 

"I'm sorry, sir," the drunk replied, very successfully 
mimicking him, "but I can't let you. Why, I paid for this 
berth No. 12 and I'm on my way over to New York to 
relax a little, and that's all there is to it." 

"But this car doesn't go to New York; it goes to Wash- 

The drunk fished in his pockets and found the stub of 
his Pullman ticket. "There you are, sir!" he said trium- 
phantly. "Doesn't that say No. 12?" 

"Yes, but No. 12 in the second car up ahead." 

He made a pass or two before his eyes, as if he were 
puzzled. Then all became clear: "How could that be? These 
two young ladies were right across the aisle from me when 
I got on, and here they are right across the aisle from me 
now. So who's right? Tell me! Who's right?" 

"Let me see your ticket stubs," the conductor asked of 
the two girls. 

They found them. 

"Sure!" the conductor assented. "They are up in the 
other car, too." 

Suddenly his face revealed greater bewilderment than 
ever. He picked up the flask, looked at it as if he now for 
the first time noticed something alien about it, looked at 

Parasite 95 

the bag that stood open on the white sheets of the berth, 
put the flask back in, stood up with all the formality he 
could command, bowed deeply as deeply as was safe to 
the stately old lady, and said like a man of the world, "I 
am very sorry; I beg your pardon." Then as if he had thought 
of something bright, he added, "But it was very good!" and 
followed the young ladies forward. 

Some time late in the night I awoke without being aware 
of any special reason. I tried to picture the train somewhere 
in the middle of Pennsylvania. How comfortable I was! I 
tried to think only of that. I listened to the steady purring 
buzz of the air-conditioner in my berth. I listened to the 
deep roar of the train. Sometimes it is pleasant to do that 
while the serpentine miniature world to which one has 
entrusted one's self for the night sweeps like some dim 
earth-fettered comet through dark hills, over mountain- 
ranges, and down into broad valleys. But a train roaring 
along through the night is no place for a man who has been 
taking final leave of anybody. 

I thought the roar seemed muffled. I pushed the shade up 
without snapping on the light, so that I could see into the 
darkness outside. We were gliding along the Susquehanna 
River, and snow was descending without bluster in great 
substantial flakes. I let my forehead and nose rest against 
the cold glass of the window and watched. There is some- 
thing very decent about snow. 

A moment or two and we were taking the sharp curve 
onto the picturesque many-arched stone bridge above 
Harrisburg. Five minutes later we were creeping through 
the snowy maze of tracks just outside the station. Men 
worked a small army of them with shovels and brooms 
and picks and torches and oil, trying to keep ahead of the 
snow, trying to have every switch in working order so that 

g 6 / Travel by Train 

it could be thrown. As I saw them out there from my berth, 
they appeared to work in absolute silence. All over the 
eastern United States men like these were out at three or 
four in the morning, had been out all night, keeping tracks 
cleared and switches working so that people could have a 
good sleep while they were getting to Washington or New 
York or Philadelphia or Boston. What if some of them 
should grow careless and some switch the one ahead of us, 
for instance should not close? It was good to see them 
working so painstakingly out there, drawn together in co- 
operation by a mighty need. 

I was in Washington in time for breakfast. Congressmen 
and Senators moved jauntily or with dignity toward the 
hotel dining-room as if they wished to be seen but not 
stopped. Men in smarter clothes called to them in slightly 
doubtful hail-fellow-well-met voices, and said with an ac- 
companying wave of the arm that they would come round 
for a minute before they left town. 

I hoped to see two or three friends who lived in other 
hotels. The lobbies in these were alive with the same kind 
of men. They were very deeply in earnest. They were much 
concerned. They were hoping to get something. I went to 
the Senate office building to make a five-minute personal 
call on a friend who had recently been elected to the Senate. 
The same kind of men filled every chair in the outer offices 
of his suite. It would take all day, all week, for him to see 
them and hear them. 

"Tell him," I said to the administrative woman who was 
his secretary, "that if he cares to be interrupted for five 
minutes by a man who is not looking for anything, there is 
one such out here/' 

"He will fall on your neck!" she assured me. 

I did not mean to take more than my five minutes. But 

Parasite 97 

he insisted. "Let them wait. Ifs the first time I've had a 
chance to draw a free breath for two months.'* 

We talked about some old friends. He showed me how 
as a freshman Senator he was getting into things into the 
real work of carrying on a democracy. He was working till 
midnight or two or three o'clock every night. 

He put an idea into my head. I would drop in on some 
other Senators and Congressmen whom I knew. I was not 
unused to the political atmosphere; I had grown up in it. 
Until recently two of my college teachers had represented 
my native state in the Senate. Seven of my college friends 
had come to the Lower House. I was well enough acquainted 
with the ways of lobbyists casually acquainted with them. 
But it would be interesting to go into the matter a bit more 

I spent the day in making calls. Between calls I wandered 
along corridors and glanced in at other offices. 

"I am seeing them in the lump for once," I told a fellow 
native of the hills. 

"My Godl" was his only commentary. 

I begged him to answer a question: "How many of them 
are asking for anything that it is the legitimate function 
of a government devoted to the general welfare to give?" 

"Well," he replied, and leaned back in his chair while a 
hesitant smile played over his mobile face, "you know I 
am optimistic. After you have left out the tourists and the 
high-school youngsters from your home state who just want 
to be able to say when they go back home that they dropped 
in to see their Senator while they were in Washington and 
usually they don't ask for anything more important than 
your autograph I should say about one in fiftyl I only hope 
I haven't made the percentage outrageously high/' 

The next morning I went to see a Cabinet member whom 

g 8 / Travel by Train 

I knew. Could I come back in an hour and a half? He was 
very busy. Sitting all about in his outer offices were the 
reasons why. Some of them seemed to be good reasons, but 
most of them carried the unconcealable expression of the 
man who knows he is going to ask for something that he 
may not get, and perhaps ought not to have. 

I enjoyed a profitable hour and a half. I wandered through 
the corridors of the great building where the work of the 
department was developed in detail. Thousands of men 
and women were working quietly, conscientiously, effi- 
ciently. They were bringing into form the information 
necessary to the intelligent passing of legislative measures. 
They were doing important scientific and economic re- 
search that would affect the lives of many millions of people 
directly, and the entire population of the country indirectly. 
They were educating the people in the ways of using this 
new knowledge to advantage. No one could see this work 
carried on without experiencing a new respect for the 
democratic ideal. 

As I was leaving the building after I had spent fifteen or 
twenty minutes with the Cabinet member, a vigorous man 
of forty asked with genial abruptness: "Do you know him 
the Secretary?" 


"Like him?" 

"Yes, he's a great fellow." 

He, too, was going to take a taxi and to the same hotel. 
Yes, he thought it was a very nice hotel homey, and all 

Before the end of the day it was known that I knew Thus- 
and-so; that I got about over the country. Men who said 
they had seen me more or less in the hotel dropped down 
in some comfortable chair near mine in the lobby and 

Parasite 99 

wanted to know how I found things out in the open spaces. 
For no sufficient reason I was invited to several dinners; I 
was made to know how easy it is to organize a man's reputa- 
tionespecially when he is a writer and put him out in 
front, if only he stands for the right things. I was apprised 
of the niceties of a new age definitely, but in the casual 
manner that would not offend my intelligence if I already 
knew, or my self-respect if I were still ignorant. I had seen 
pressure groups at work for many a year, but I was assured 
that their technique had been refined refined to the point 
where it was very difficult for anybody to see the difference 
between what they were after and the general welfare 
if there were really any difference to be seen. 

The day I went on homeward I sat for an hour in the 
hotel and read. Two men came and sat just behind me, 
oblivious of my presence. One of them was the promoter 
of some gadget that he had hoped to have the United States 
Army adopt. 

"Well, so far as you can make out/* his friend asked in 
great sympathy, "just where is the trouble?** 

"Oh, as a matter of fact, I think it trickles all the way 
down from the Secretary." 

"How much could you afford to sell it for I mean a 
single one?" 

"Oh, we could sell it at a fair profit for around ninety 
cents. So I figured that if we could get it adopted for say 
something like a dollar forty, we could make a pretty nice 
thing of it/' 

Upstairs there was an unused connecting door in my 
room a disgusted tearful man in the room adjoining was 
telling a friend that if he couldn't get some action on his 
scheme pretty soon, he would have to go back home and 
go to work. He had been waiting around for more than 

ioo I Travel by Train 

three months and hadn't been able to see anybody yet 
anybody that counted. 

I took the Friday afternoon "Lobby Limited" to New 
York. The two men and the woman who sat at the luncheon 
table with me in the dining-car were returning from a brief 
holiday in Florida, but they had just spent a couple of days 
in Washington, where the men had to see somebody about 
something. "You know I think it's an awfully clever idea," 
the man in the sky-blue shirt and double-breasted coat de- 
clared. "He says that all he needs now is the taste. You see, 
it's an established fact that dogs like scraps from the table 
better than any dog food that has ever been invented. Well, 
he has a marvelous food simply marvelous but the dogs 
still prefer the scraps because of the taste. He has more 
than twenty think of it, more than twenty research men at 
work on the problem of the taste Ph.D. 's from Harvard 
and Cornell and everywhere. If they can find the taste to 
put in the food that will make the dogs prefer it to the 
scraps, why his fortune is made. You see how it will be: 
every woman in the country will chuck everything from 
the table into the garbage-can and buy food for her doggie. 
It would help business, too." 

I could have contributed a word to the conversation, for 
I had visited a laboratory possibly the one they had in mind 
where the best brains of the country were at work on the 
same problem. But when I glanced up as if I might speak, 
nobody's look included me, and I remained content to 

Florida, it seemed, was enjoying a return to prosperity. 
Miami alone was doing wonders. Monte Carlo? Why, Monte 
Carlo was nothing more than a Scotch Presbyterian bazaar 
compared with Miami. They were betting a half-million a 
day on the ponies and dogs alone. "The state racing com- 

Parasite 101 

mission thinks it will be a million next year. It would be 
fine if this spirit could spread to other states." 

I learned something more about government, too. "Why 
do taxpayers have to plank down their money for somebody 
to pay to these Indians? Why shouldn't Indians have to 
take their chances, just the same as the rest of us?" 

"Yes, and why not apply that to farmers?'* the man who 
sat beside me wanted to know. "Paying them for plowing 
under their pigs! Plain stealing!" 

The woman half-believed that I was listening a male* 
She wanted to launch out and show her acquaintance with 
current affairs. "Don't you think farmers are a stupid lot, 
anyway? Joe, Hildegarde's head gardener, fertilizes his soil. 
If the farmers would all do that, there wouldn't be any 
need of all this A.A.A., or whatever they are calling it by 
this time, would there?" 

When it seemed that nothing more was to be gleaned, I 
walked back through the train to the observation-car. Every 
chair was taken even the one at the writing-desk. Men 
with wide-open eyes and relaxed cheeks inclined toward 
each other, made sweeping gestures with hands that held 
half-empty tall glasses, and spoke with great positiveness 
as if no word they might utter should be missed. In the 
singing roar of a train that was making seventy or eighty 
miles an hour, and the incessant sharp lurches of the rear 
car as the rest of the train made a whipcracker of it, I caught 
only occasional words "General Motors" "If we could 
only get him"-"New England Power"-"Tel and Tel" 
"Nickel Plate." The man who sat right at my knees in a 
low-slung chair where I stood by the door was almost in 
tears. "God, think of that! If it had gone through, he would 
have cleaned up two million dollars!" 

I walked forward through the train till I came to a smok- 

/ Travel by Train 

ing-room in one of the older-style parlor-cars. A man of early 
middle age who looked as if he lived much of the time out 
of doors sat smoking a pipe and reading a journal on archi- 

"You're the first man I've seen on this train," I began 
without fearing the consequences of interrupting him, "who 
seems to be interested in anything essential." 

He took his pipe from his mouth and looked up as if 
he had not been at all taken unawares. "I thought I was the 
only one till just now/' 

He moved over in suggestion that I sit down. 

We talked. What I wanted to know was this: Suppose 
you could devise some giant perforated flapjack turner that 
would let all the solid productive people go down through 
and hold the soft parasites on top, and were to heave the 
fluff into the Atlantic Ocean, how many people would be 

"In the region of New York, not enough to start the sub- 
way tomorrow morning!" 

He laughed. "Oh, it wouldn't be quite so bad as that. As 
a matter of fact, we have more mills and legitimate com- 
mercial agencies in New York than we get credit for having. 
But I'm afraid if you carry your experiment through there'll 
be a lot of empty offices downtown and up around Murray 

We talked all the way into New York. "Come and have 
a bite to eat with me, and we'll finish," he suggested. "I'm a 
bach. We can drop your luggage at your hotel, and go right 
on over to mine." 

We still had much to talk about at ten o'clock. But I 
needed a quiet hour of reading in some book that possessed 
great realityif I had one of that kind and then a long 

Parasite 103 

night of sleep. I was coming down to the New York area 
some of these times almost any time now and find out 
what percentage were workers and what percentage para- 
sites. Then I would go to some other cities, and eventually 
I would prepare a map showing the relative density of para- 
sites to the square mile in the different parts of the country. 
That would constitute pleasant occupation for a long time. 

Up in my room on the thirty-second floor, after I was all 
through with a hot tub and was ready for the quiet reading, 
I discovered that one of my bags a small Irish kit bag was 
not there. In its place was another, of the same size and 

I called the porter and told him that one of the boys had 
been careless. He was very positive. There had been no 
carelessness. He did not permit any. The bags were the ones 
put out of the cab. 

I called the Pullman Company's Lost and Found office. 
Some realist in this office answered the telephone. He sug- 
gested that it might have been a three-cornered trade that 
the owner of the bag I had might not be the man who had 
mine at all. Anyhow, the chances were that he was on his 
way to Montreal or California by this time. 

The hotel's house officer came up an ex-Marine whom 
I at once liked. 

"Well go through it," he said simply. "We might find 
a clue." 

We found it. By midnight I was on my way out to an 
address in the region of 204th Street. 

They were kind Jewish people of sixty or sixty-five, very 
certain that the fault must have been theirs, very sorry that 
I had to make the long trip out at midnight. We chatted. 
Yes, he was in business, a nice little business of his own 

104 / Travel by Train 

in music. There was one worker to be credited to the New 
York area. I had gone a long way out to find him, but there 
he was. 

My enthusiasm was reduced a little on the way back. Our 
taxicab was stopped by a cordon of policemen and a vast 
throng. Some gangsters had insisted that they have a rake- 
off from a man's restaurant income, and he was resentful. 
He made trouble for himself and the police. And we had 
to wait a while. 

The next morning my mind was restless and sketchy. I 
made a little schedule of some appointments that I had to 
keep, but my thought kept running back to what the archi- 
tect and I had talked about. Some day I meant to carry out 
that experiment perhaps not so extensively as I had at first 
planned, but extensively enough. 

In the afternoon as I walked along Fifth Avenue near 
Forty-second before I crossed over to the station, I decided, 
just as the slenderest sort of little preliminary to a real test, 
to ask fifty people as I met them what their occupations were. 
In the interest of personal safety, I thought I had better 
accost only men. 

"Pardon me/' I said to the first one, "I am required to 
make a little study in personnel. Would you be good enough 
to cooperate by telling me your occupation?" 

"Counselor on public relations," he answered, scarcely 
stopping. The next was a stock-broker; the next a real- 
estate broker; another was a perfumer; another kept ken- 
nels; another was a liquor rectifier; another dealt in balloon 
advertising; another was interested in utilities holding 
companies; another was an expert on tomorrow's market; an- 
other was a Protestant minister; another was an estate econo- 
mist "tell 'em where to put their money so their kids will 
inherit the highest possible percentage of it"; another said 

Parasite 1 05 

he wasn't much of anything anymore; another was a dog 

"Oh/* I said to this last man, "perhaps you are just the 
person I am looking for/' His eyes opened at the prospect 
of business. "How much do you charge for the delivery 
daily of the diet of a Great Dane?" 

"Oh! Oh! A Great Dane! He eats more than a man! He 
eats more than two men! He is a terrible eater!" 

Then he got down to business. "He weighs a hundred 
fifty maybe a hundred seventy-five?" 

"Something like that," I assented. 

"Well, maybe I could do it for thirteen-fifty a week. After 
the first week I could know." 

When I told him I was only thinking of some coal miners 
out in Ohio, he shrugged his shoulders and looked puzzled. 

As I came up to the station, two swarthy men stood talk- 
ing together in front of Thompson's restaurant. Perhaps I 
would have time for one more answer. I had not tried any 
of their kind. 

"What we do?" one of them said in broken English as the 
other turned and walked away a few steps. "Why? You want 
to go into business with us?" 

I said I was not thinking of that, and started on. He 
jerked his head in my direction while I was still in hear- 
ing, and said to his pal, with a smile that was more pity 
than contempt: "He is funny; he must be from somewhere 

In the observation-car on the way home, two men who 
held tickets for Providence and talked about the easy money 
they believed could be made pretty soon now, drank so 
many times to the health of two women who had chanced 
to sit at the luncheon table with them, that they almost 
changed their plans for the entire week-end. But when the 

io6 / Travel by Train 

women got off at Westerly, the two men insisted that I come 
over and join them. Couldn't they see that I was up to 
some nice little game, myself? It was written all over me. 
And what especially did I think of the state of the nation? 
So much depended on that. When I told themperhaps 
with too much guile that we seemed to be in need of some 
thinking a little thinking one of them said the one who 
was in the rubbery state: "But the trouble with the G G 
God-damned country is that we people who use our heads 
are so hopelessly in the minority the submerged five per 
cent, you might say. Isn't that so?" 



kUT couldn't you have that other train stop at Emporia 
and let me off?" I asked the General Passenger Agent 
in Chicago. "That would allow me to start several 
hours later." 

He gave his head the slightest little twitch of a doubtful 
shake. "There are only two people in the world that that 
train ever stops in Emporia for: William Allen White 
you know, the authoi^rand" 

'"I'll be glad to be the third one/* I argued, as amiably as 
I knew how. 

He looked up into my face. He considered. 

"I travel several thousand miles every year on your line.*' 

I thought I felt him wavering. Then he made a little 

movement as if he had decided. "All right, I'll take a 

chance." And with a firm hand he wrote out the authoriza- 


io8 I Travel by Train 

tion for the conductor. "I can't say that I'd exactly like to 
get down there ahead of time myself right now." 

"Hot, eh?" 

"According to the evening paper, 104 and still going up. 
Of course, that report may have been inaccurate you know, 
cooked up and sent out by the Chamber of Commerce in 
some other town. There's been a lot of dirt done Emporia 
in that way. Take this saying, for instance, that it's always 
hot in Emporia. It simply is not true. There's nearly always 
a long stretch of about a week around Christmas or New 
Year's Day when the thermometer hardly ever gets above 

Two nights later, Emporia was living up to its high re- 
pute. The stocky little fan in my room was all that it was 
advertised to be. But what could a fan do when the air out- 
doors was just as hot as anywhere else, and the walls of the 
building were an oven, and the mattress on my bed was an 
electric pad? In the end, I abandoned all thought of sleep- 
ing and tried to amuse myself by listening to the two o'clock 
conversation of the men employed in the filling stations 
and garages that hemmed the hotel in on three sides, while 
they sat out front to rest for a time and to imagine that 
they were cooling off. 

The next forenoon before I left town I spent an hour 
with William Allen White. When I saw a new sign, Gazette 
Building, Air Conditioned, or something to that effect just 
ahead down the street, I was cheered at the thought of one 
cool hour. But the new building, I discovered, was only 
for tender-skinned doctors and the like. William Allen 
White was in the old uncooled building next door. He 
sat at his typewriter back in the depths of the place ham- 
mering out an editorial with beads of sweat all over his 
cherubic face and in the edges of his whitening hair. In 

Heat 1 09 

the intervening second or two before he looked up and 
noticed me as I approached him, I thought I must now be 
seeing him very much as he had worked when he had 
pounded out his famous editorial on "What's the Matter 
with Kansas?" or that other editorial, which should bring 
him an even ampler immortality, on his daughter Mary 
after she had been killed by the low-hanging branch of a 
tree while she was out horseback riding. 

When I came down from his office a thermometer in a 
shaded doorway registered 106. Over at the railroad station, 
when I walked out on the long platform that is surrounded 
by so much open space that it always seems to say, "Now 
you are to have room; now you are on the prairie,' ' a breeze 
as hot as if it were right off the top of a stove caught me full 
in the face. As soon as the train stretched its dark length 
before us in the burning sun, I fled to the cool interior of a 
sleeping-car. The great quiet that chanced to prevail for 
a moment somehow also suggested vast distances in a region 
where everything is done on a grand scale. 

At Newton I walked on the shaded side of the platform 
while the train changed engines. A man who had just 
covered the western half of the state was in a talkative mood, 
"Everything is burning up!" he declared, "I don't see how 
anything can be saved now and in another week or so, 
nothing can/' 

When we were once again on our way southward, it was 
easy to see what he had meant. Women as well as men were 
working desperately in wheat-fields that stretched away to 
the horizon in every direction. Wheat had escaped the worst 
effects of the drought. And most of it had been harvested. 
But some of it had not. The women and men were hauling 
grain from threshing-machines that piled the bleached straw 
high in great shapeless mountains of pale buff, or collecting 

no / Travel by Train 

the heaps of filled bags dropped by combines whose sputter- 
ing tractors spouted short jets of blue smoke and flame as 
they crept swiftly over parching fields of yellow. Where 
there was pasture land, cattle already beginning to look a 
bit underconditioned wandered from one "tank" to another 
in the low corners of fields, snortingly shook their heads in 
disgust and bewilderment at finding no water, and then 
with the most hopeful steer of the herd leading the file, 
started in to do it all over again. In a great corn-field that 
we passed, many of the blades had already "fired" until 
they were as colorless as wrapping paper. In an area planted 
to alfalfa, a train just ahead of us had started a fire which 
was sweeping across the fields with dull flames and hot- 
looking smoke like a fire in prairie grass. 

At a stop just before we crossed over into Oklahoma I 
swung off to walk the platform while the train loaded mail 
and express. The heat from the pavement caught me round 
the ankles as if I were on top of a kiln. 

"Pretty hot!" I said, still interested in heat as something 
to be observed and talked about, to a man who smiled when 
he saw me wilting. 

"Ill say it's hotl" He mopped his face and fat neck. "Soon 
be too hot to sweat; then well just sizzle, just fry. I've lost 
five pounds already this week." 

"And I have to go on down into Oklahoma." 

Immediately he became fraternal. "Now see here, brother, 
I wouldn't worry one minute about that. I come from down 
there, and as a matter of fact our state is usually cooler. 
May seem a funny thing to you, since we're down nearer 
the equator. But my guess is that you'll find it quite a little 
more comfortable down there. And you know we always 
have cool nights." 

He was right. When I arrived in Oklahoma City that 

Heat 1 1 1 

afternoon at five the thermometer at the north entrance of 
the hotel registered only 104. 

Oklahoma City is always surprising. You are never quite 
prepared to see what you find there, no matter how many 
times you have been there before. The hotel that I prefer 
is in itself a surprise. It does not belong there. It belongs 
in New Yorknot only because it seems to have been built 
in New York, but because it affords a roominess and a com- 
posure that hotel guests in New York are always praying 
for and never finding. When I went up to my favorite room 
on the twenty-third floor and the bell-boy threw the door 
open, the room too was somehow not just as I had remem- 
bered it. It was better. Somebody who knew how to make 
a room restful had supervised the decoration and furnish- 
ing more in detail than I had noticed on other visits. And 
when the boy threw open the heavy steel-sash windows 
with a mighty heave that let a hot gale sweep into the room 
and through it, and I walked over to have a look, first to 
the east and then to the south, I was surprised again, for 
the whole city seemed unlike its former self. In fact, it was. 
It always is. 

Tulsa, its rival for state supremacy, is incomparably more 
attractive. But Tulsa gives an impression of stability, of 
a certain Fifth Avenue sense of well-being. Hasn't Tulsa 
two thousand or is it three thousand? offices devoted to 

Well, Oklahoma City has the oil itself. Off to the south 
are thousands of new houses where workers live; close to 
the hotel and on to the north for a few blocks are skyscrapers 
including a slightly reduced Empire State Building that 
seem to have been whisked away from some Atlantic Sea- 
board congested area where space was an acute problem 
and transplanted by some blindfolded god or goddess in a 

112 / Travel by Train 

region where space is the last thing on earth that anybody 
should need to think about; and on to the northwest are 
areas of spacious residences that exude abundance. But oil 
bespatters all these diversified parts into a unity. The count- 
less steel derricks that stretch away to the high horizon on 
the southeast reach also right through the southern resi- 
dential section to the heart of the city in such bewildering 
numbers that one cannot help wondering how the surface 
of the earth provides room for them all. And if the derricks 
themselves thin out before they get north across the city, the 
profits from them only increase. Oil is flowingstill; the city 
must be made bigger especially bigger than Tulsa. What 
if all sorts of incongruous juxtapositions of things do re- 
sult? What if I do stand at the window of this metropolitan 
tower on a hot afternoon and hear roosters that crow lazily 
somewhere as if I were at the window of a farm-house? 
Changes are rapid. Much is to be done. And every time I 
look from my high hotel window, somebody seems to have 
done some of it. If it is not a handsome new railroad station 
or two, it is at least a few hundred more oil derricks. 

Up there where I was, far above hot pavements, the air 
actually became cooler by midnight. With a large reversible 
fan purring directly above my bed, and with a tempestuous 
breeze whipping through my room and rattling anything 
that was loose, I found it possible to sleep. But I was awake 
at daybreak. High temperature was stimulating, especially 
when the east was directly in front of my eyes. While thou- 
sands of blinking lights in the interminable forest of oil 
wells paled slowly, I could see the light of an approaching 
sun grow clearer. The coloring was framed in my window: 
from the top down, very deep blue, blue green, dull glow- 
ing, a strip of lead, a sliver of brightness, and then, just at 
the bottom close over the window-sill, the distant dark high 

Heat 113 

rim of the earth far beyond the glimmering oil field. A 
moment later a ray of sun caught me full in the face and 
in the one eye that was not buried in the pillow. It was a 
terrifying red sun that suggested pure heat. 

For days I made Oklahoma City my headquarters. Regu- 
larly I went out into other parts of the state in the morning 
when odorous asphalt was bubbling and melting, and came 
back in the evening in time to spend at least the second 
half of the night in my somewhat cool tower. At Edmond I 
stood in the sick garden of a friend and ate undersized 
peaches as sweet as honey attested by the bees that were 
falling prematurely from a tree withering in the drought. 
At Bartlesville the thermometer registered 108. It was at 
Bartlesville, while I waited in the railroad station one eve- 
ning for a train which was late, that a stout Osage squaw and 
her daughter, each sporting some gorgeous, filmy-looking 
covering indicative of their nation, walked in and coolly 
reserved two drawing-rooms for a trip to Washington, D.C. 
As they went out, the daughter, who was graceful and beauti- 
ful in her tribal covering, caught her high-heeled shoe on 
the door-sill. No damage was done, and they climbed into 
their long-wheel-base automobile and drove away. 

Then one hot day I had to break camp for a longer jour- 
ney through the western end of the state. I traveled over 
rolling plains that were burning up, past range after range 
of unforgettable, mountain-like sand dunes that looked 
even hotter than the prairie, over low red mesas and around 
smaller, truncated cones which reproduced in miniature all 
the variegated coloring of the Grand Canyon, through 
ravine-like hollows with trees in them that looked cool from 
a distance, but hot and dried-up when one came close to 
them, and in the evening stopped in the melting little city 
of Clinton an interesting combination of railroad center 

ii4 ^ Travel by Train 

and wild-west street scene in a movie. It is better than that. 
For the crowds of self -respecting people who fill the streets 
after supper give the impression of a very solid reality. They 
have faced something. And they glance at you casually 
without undue self-consciousness as if they had sturdiness 
of will and honest sensibility in the right balance to face 
something again. 

I fell in with them, went everywhere they went, lost my- 
self among them. I went to the street carnival that was in 
town where I soon wearied; to the chief movie theater 
where it was too hot to stay; to pop-corn stands and soda- 
fountains and candy shops, and, finally, to one cafe specially 
advertised with paper icebergs as being air-conditioned. The 
refrigerating plant did not seem to be working. 

"What's the matter with your cooling system?" I asked 
the cowboy-looking girl in New York clothes who stood be- 
hind the desk. 

"Gone haywire/' she replied a bit languidly as if she had 
answered the question several times already. "Too much 
of a strain." 

She looked me over. "Say, I can't quite figure you out. 
Do you mind telling me what your line is?" 

"Oh," I replied, trying to find some easy explanation, 
"notions, I suppose you might say." 

"Gee, boy, the next time you make this town I wish you'd 
bring me a nice little air-conditioner that you can carry 
around with you you know, in your handbag, or maybe 
in your hat, so as you can just go cool anywhere." 

"A kind of filmy bridal-veil of frosty cloud around you" 

"Sure! And a little of the frost sticking to you. When so 
many people still need work, why hasn't somebody thought 
of that?" 

I passed a gaming joint, and dropped in. A little wild- 

Heat 115 

west shooting might take my mind off the heat. But the 
place was filled with honest-teoking, humorous men, most 
of them in work-clothes, who played with a cordial, chaffing 
respectfulness not to be encountered at a bridge party. The 
policy of the house was set forth on a large placard: 

Positively no swearing. 
No drunks allowed. 
If you can't pay, don't play. 
Dealer gets last hand. 

Over an adjoining lunch-counter I saw a placard that I had 
seen in a little restaurant in Kansas: 

Don't use too much sugar, and stir like hell. We don't mind 
the noise. 

The mere name of the town's chief hotel the Calmez 
had somehow suggested heat. There were some cool-look- 
ing, romantic murals in the lobby, but they only aroused my 
suspicion. And when I had unlocked the one room left in 
the house that evening on the leeward side of the building, 
close over some spreading hot roof I knew that my sus- 
picions had not been groundless. It was hotter than any 
farm kitchen and there was only one window. I went back 
to test it out a little at half-past eleven, but it was unbearable. 
To put in time, I walked westward along a tinsel-looking 
street that was bedecked with pennants and streamers an- 
nouncing the carnival, the special sale of this or that, the 
candidacy of politicians. When I came to quiet, I sat for 
an hour on some church steps that rose high above the level 
of the sidewalk. Along the horizon in the southwest there 
was lightning. But it was infrequent and feeble. 

I went back to my room a^little before one. The heavy, 

n6 / Travel by Train 

loose-jointed fan filled the room with its rumbling and 
squeaking, but it was not getting much fresh air in from 
the outside. I lay sleepless and sweating throughout the 
night, and listened to the fan. The next morning I was as 
limp as if I had spent the time in a tub of hot water. 

At noon the temperature was higher than ever. I looked 
forward hungrily to the trip back to Oklahoma City in an 
air-conditioned train. But the thermostat in our car was 
up to 81. 

"Can't you get her any cooler?" I asked the conductor 
when he came through. 

"Sure!" he answered, ready to defend his road. "We can 
make her as cool as you like. But the passengers have been 
complaining. It's so hot outside that 70 or 72 is too much 
of a shock when they get on and get off, both." 

Despite my need of sleep I was awake with a strange, 
throbbing wakefulness as if I were dosing myself with 
quinine in the early stages of a fever. I heard every word 
that passengers uttered in their conversation about the dan- 
ger of high prices. I looked out at the window and saw every 
detail of a landscape that was burning up. 

The train swung into the edge of the wide valley of the 
Canadian River, which makes its way southeastward across 
this part of the state without troubling too much about 
keeping in the same channel from year to year or getting all 
of itself under bridges that have been built out of special 
deference to it. The dry soil of the valley as far ahead as 
the eye could see was so vibrant with heat waves that it 
seemed on the point of bursting into flame. Whirlwinds- 
miniature tornadoes that sometimes carried their funnel or 
spout of dust aloft fifty or a hundred feet were continually 
originating, moving slowly with intermittent spurts of new 
motion across baked fields of shriveling corn or stunted 

Heat 117 

young cotton, and then with a puff or two, dying out as 
abruptly as they had begun. Once the train was held at a 
crossing tower for a few minutes. Right alongside in the 
field came an army of black men, women, and children, with 
enormous straw hats drawn down close over their shoulders, 
hoeing the dusty soil round the famishing cotton desper- 
ately as if some irresistible demon of heat had got into 
their sluggish blood. 

I had to go south to Ardmore for the night, down near the 
Texas border. I had never seen Ardmore. It might be the 
most perfect oil town ever built. But it was farther south 
nearer the equator and I could not relish the thought. 
The heat was getting into my own blood. 

As I walked into my room at the hotel at nine-thirty, I 
jumped at the sudden, heavy chiming of a clock somewhere 
near. Why did clocks have to strike at night? 

I went to one of the windows and looked out. Scarcely 
more than two blocks away was a great illuminated dial as 
large as a full moon. It stared at me. 

I called up the desk. I must have another room back 
from things where clocks could not get at me. I had once 
covered Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana when some big court- 
house clock had banged away every night just outside my 
window. Wasn't it easy enough to see that clocks had got 
my goat? Besides, tonight I was half-crazed by heat and 

The clerk sought to comfort me by telling me that the 
clock did not strike. Anyhow, there was not a vacant room 
in the secluded side of the hotel or in any other part o it, 
for that matter. He had reserved this one for me because it 
was a large corner room with wide windows. 

The clock did not strike! Of course it struck. He had be- 
come accustomed to it and immune. Hadn't I heard it at 

1 1 8 / Travel by Train 

nine-thirty just as I came into the room in a little dido of 
a tune just as if it were warming up for something impor- 
tant? A strange clock if it struck the half-hours and omitted 
the hours! It would be pleasanter to sit on the curb out 
somewhere in the night air than to lie there in a sweltering 
room waiting hour after hour for a clock to strike. But I 
knew of something that I could do that would be better than 
that: I could take a late train, ride in a cool berth till half 
the night was gone, and then change somewhere and ride 
back in another in time for the next day. It would be a 
little expensive, but it would put me out of reach of the 
ungodly clock. 

I sat down on the floor by the window to wait. Once when 
I glanced toward the bright dial it suddenly swelled out to 
ten times its normal size. A moment later it was not half 
as large as the face of my watch. A hot shiver swept over me, 
and a flash of something rushed from my chest to my neck 
and cheeks and temples as if my heart had suddenly de- 
cided to hurry. I felt my pulse. Ninety-two! Well, what of it? 
Weren't we having hot weather? 

But I could not dismiss the thought from my mind. I 
am not certain that I wanted to do so. I recalled Rudyard 
Kipling, and pondered what heat did to men in India. I 
remembered the long lists of deaths from heat that I had 
been seeing in the newspapers every day now for a week. I 
had read only that morning in Clinton about a man crazed 
by the heat and the loss of his crops who had seized an axe 
and slain his family and himself. 

It was quarter to ten. 

I would be very calm for fifteen minutes and content my- 
self with watching the long minute-hand creep with im- 
perceptible little jerks right up to the hour. That would 
slow down my circulation. 

Heat 119 

But all I did was to hold the tempo of my burning mind 
in check unnaturally and pile up an irresistible uneasiness. 
By the time the hand was at four minutes to ten, some ter- 
rible doom seemed to hang on the approaching hour, 
whether the clock struck or not. Let it strike! It would re- 
lieve the suspense. I would do what I had thought of do- 
ing: take that late train if there was one and ride until I 
could just take another that would somehow bring me 
round to Durant, only forty or fifty miles from Ardmore, 
by ten o'clock the next morning. 

The hand was at the hour. It would have to get just past 
before it started the whirring that measured the number 
of strokes. It moved past! In silence it just floated along as 
if it were carried by white clouds in a summer sky. 

I felt as if I had no bones in my body. And when at last 
I moved, and then got up to go to the office to ask somebody 
about this hallucination of clocks striking that had taken 
possession of me, I felt as if I had no muscles either, and as 
if I required none. Only when I stepped into the elevator 
and heard a half-dozen high-pressure salesmen God-damn- 
ing the government did I experience a certain return to 

"Say," the clerk began when I walked up to the desk, 
"you must have thought I was lying to you about that clock. 
I just now learned that somebody had been fussing around 
with the bells in this church right out the street here a little 
ways, and I guess that must have been what you heard." 

Durant the next day consisted of two or three impressions. 
The most vivid one was that of a gang of young Federal stu- 
dent relief-workers, stripped to the waist, the sweat stream- 
ing down over their faces and over their sun-browned mus- 
cular bodies, as they waded about in the soft cement which 
they were shaping into an outdoor theater. Next to that in 

12O / Travel by Train 

clearness was the feel of the gust of heat that swept the 
station platform when I walked out on it to take a train 
that was to carry me to Muskogee, and send me from there 
over among the rough northeastern hills to Tahlequah, the 
seat of the Cherokees. 

"Well," I reflected as I slowly ate iced watermelon in the 
cool dining-car, "at least there is nothing new to dread; 
nothing could be hotter than Durant." 

But Tahlequah was. I did not know that human beings 
could carry on the ordinary pursuits of life in a place as hot 
as Tahlequah was late that afternoon. The thermometer 
stood no higher than it had stood in Bartlesville or Emporia. 
But in both these places there had been a breeze. Even a 
hot breeze causes a little evaporation. And here in Tahle- 
quah, tucked so cosily among the rough hills, there was 
not even a hot breeze. I could not see a leaf stirring. 

The chief street hugs the base of the hill on one side of 
a small flat area on which the court-house stands. I assumed 
that it was the court-house; I investigated only far enough 
to receive assurance that there was no clock anywhere about 
it that struck. The little hotel where I was to stay fronted 
this open area on a side street and faced the afternoon sun. 
The woman at the desk when I registered thought the room" 
might be endurable by ten o'clock. But I was skeptical. 

Since no place was cool, I walked along the chief street 
to see the town. Everywhere there were ice-cream parlors, 
soda-fountains, and luncheonettes. All of them were busy, 
and in nearly all of them radios or phonographs barked or 
syncopated. One de luxe establishment proclaimed that it 
was cool. I hurried in. It was not. But since no other place 
seemed to be, I stayed and ate fruit sherbets and drank cold 
limeade. The radio contributed an endless melodic num- 
ber in which there was a frequently recurring refrain in 

H eat 121 

deep bass voice that somehow caused me to see stolid Osage 
Indians that I had talked with over in the northern part o 
the state, and to hear what I thought must have been the 
surly low bellow of buffaloes maddened by heat and thirst. 

I sat for an hour and sweltered, content to do nothing 
more than let my eyes record whatever chanced to come 
before them: lusty, good-natured, bantering students from 
the college out at the edge of town; workingmen heavy with 
the odor of sweat who glanced about half-timidly, half- 
defiantly, as if they were not in such places every day; and 
bevies of short, attractive Cherokee girls who said in their 
bright looks, "Yes, to be sure, we know the world is burn- 
ing up; but life is interesting and must not be missed." 

When I went out, whole families of Indians lounged at 
full length on the fading grass under the young trees on the 
court-house lawn. I remembered that I had seen some of 
them there when I first arrived. There were stalwart, over- 
sized men, short women, and many sizes and shapes o 
swarthy children all as immobile as logs. They knew how 
to keep cool. 

The Cherokees seem to have mastered many of the arts 
of living. They settled in this region after they had been 
driven from every other habitation farther east by whites 
who were zealous in having everybody become like them- 
selves or perish. Here the Cherokees asked only that they 
be left in peace to live from the soil and bring up their 
children according to the great traditions of their nation. 

And now, ironically, it is their racial strength of character 
that threatens their racial existence. White men have dis- 
covered that Cherokee women are most acceptable wives. 
Many of the women are beautiful with a subtle beauty that 
springs not so much from shapeliness of body or aesthetic 
features of face as from qualities of spirit accumulated in 

122 I Travel by Train 

ten thousand yearsor fifty thousand that shine through in 
the face. At the dinner table that evening, where I went 
more to watch and to forget the heat than to partake of food, 
an old Cherokee woman of eighty or so sat opposite me. She 
was one of the most civilized persons I have ever seen. She 
was unobtrusively cheerful. She was self-possessed in every- 
thing she said and did. She expressed her ideas and it was 
clear enough that they were her own with an intelligence 
that lighted up the whole of her wrinkled, closely checked 
face. And she listened as if she were quite certain that noth- 
ing which anybody was going to say would catch her un- 
awares and disturb her unnecessarily. 

In the evening I sat out in front of the little hotel for two 
hours. Something slightly cooler than the day temperature 
drifted in from the oak-covered hills. I decided to try my 
room. There was no fan to stir the motionless hot air. I 
threw myself on the bed to see if it were possible to live 
through a night of such heat. 

In ten minutes I knew in some vague, terrifying way 
that I was confronting an issue: heat and my life had be- 
come wholly incompatible. 

I lifted my hand and let my thumb ,and forefinger rest 
on the sides of my throat. My blood seemed not to be cir- 
culating, but boiling churning wildly through my veins at 
two beats to the second. 

I felt dizzy when I went to the telephone to call up the 
college president for whom I was to speak the next morning 
and tell him that it would be impossible for me to fill the 
engagement. He was surprised that I was already in town. 
I must come right out to his house on the campus. The 
temperature out there would be several degrees lower. A 
guest-room awaited me. He would be down for me in five 


When he came he took a second look at me and offered 
the simple admonition: "You had better go easy/* 

In the guest-room there was at least a faint circulation 
of cooler air, and spaciousness, and books in the bright 
circle of light on the bedside table-books placed there by 
somebody who knew books. And outside my window among 
the trees there was perfect quiet. By one o'clock I felt a 
growing calm. By two o'clock I slept. 

But it seemed that I had just gone to sleep when I was 
awakened by a startling image of the hills I had grown up 
in a thousand miles away the better part of a half-century 
before. I was aware of a strangely unreal but very familiar 
music of birds singing. And the room seemed full of light. 

I turned my head a little toward the window. Day had al- 
ready come and a dozen Kentucky cardinals in tree-tops and 
high shrubbery were taking advantage of the slight morn- 
ing drop in temperature. Soon they were reinforced by two 
mocking-birds, I did not sleep again. The friendly, con- 
fident voices of the cardinals filled my memory with so 
many interesting matters that I had no desire to waste 
time by drifting back to unconsciousness. It was pleasant 
not to sleep, yet not to move, not to make effortto do as 
the Indians had done. 

Three hours later students were hustling in every direc- 
tion along campus paths. In yet another hour I was up and 
standing before hundreds of them in an auditorium that 
the night had not cooled. But they were so successful in 
disregarding the heat that for an hour I was almost success- 
ful in disregarding it myself. 

Later I stood before one of the two Indian murals in 
the hallway of the "old" building of the college. Buffaloes 
strained every muscle and every nerve in their desperate 
efforts to escape from Indians who were riding up along- 

124 ^ Travel by Train 

side, gaining inch by inch, with spears already uplifted, 
or who were close enough to drive spears home with 
mighty thrusts as the confusion of flying hoofs became ever 
the least bit more intense. There it was the desperation 
of the hunted that I had come to feel in the heat. In my 
great effort to be free of something that was everywhere and 
enveloped me, I felt an undeniable ebbing away of all the 
energy of mind and body that I had taken for granted since 
I could remember. Students moved up and down the stair- 
way, ceased their philandering and became a little silent 
when they saw me looking at the painting, or spoke with 
great friendliness as if they had discovered in me some 
special ally of theirs. They were hopeful with a solid energy 
that I had lost. 

That afternoon a young professor took me out to a sum- 
mer camp on a rocky cliff a few hundred feet sheer above a 
good-sized river the Illinois, strangely. We sat in an open 
lookout where an occasional breeze fanned us warmly, and 
watched hot cattle deep in the valley directly beneath us 
trying to keep cool by wading back and forth through the 
river where the water was not quite deep enough to make 
them swim, and listened from time to time to the shouts 
and hoots of boys enjoying the river where some dry-looking 
trees leaned far out above the water, while we talked about 
the poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson. Directly in front 
of me, a little farther up the valley in the burning corn- 
fields, the .same impotent miniature dust tornadoes that I 
had seen in unending procession two days before whirled 
into being one after the other, and then died away. 

In the evening I rode back to Muskogee in a shuddering 
gasoline train of two cars that had been standing out in the 
sun all day. As we made our way through deep hollows and 
around rough hills toward the more open country, farmers 

Heat 125 

stood with their wives before their houses in brief after- 
supper respite and surveyed the destruction that the 
drought was bringing inescapably. In twenty-four hours 
there had been a change in the looks of the corn. 

Both the atmosphere and my mind seemed to be ab- 
normally clear. For I not only saw everything, but every- 
thing made a sharp impression. I could still today sketch 
accurately a half-breed in his best clothes who walked along 
a mere wagon track of a road through scrub oak and under- 
growth by the railroad right-of-way, and the sour look he 
gave me when he saw that I watched him from the little 
train as it slowly climbed a grade; and, a few hundred yards 
farther along, a dark-skinned girl of sixteen or seventeen, 
with her shiny face half concealed by some overhanging 
branches, who watched down the road expectantly. As we 
rounded a high hill an old man talked to his daughter and 
wife and pointed off toward the southwest at something 
higher than the horizon. I followed the direction of his 
extended arm, and far beyond the flattening hills I saw 
clouds standing high with their tips still lighted by the 
setting sun. Since we were moving toward them, I watched 
them as they swiftly changed their contour and their color. 
Once I thought I saw a quiver of light deep in the dark 
recesses of one of them. A few minutes later when the sun 
had gone completely, the lightning was clearly visible. It 
was fascinating, as the hot train and the refreshing clouds 
pressed on toward each other, to watch the swift changes 
that were everywhere taking place. Moment by moment the 
thunder-heads stood higher in the sky. Soon in the growing 
darkness the whole southwest was aquiver with light. 

By the time the train was in Muskogee and I had checked 
some luggage, a storm was imminent. I wondered if I might 
have time to walk uptown and back. 

126 / Travel by Train 

"How long do you think it will be before it breaks?" I in- 
quired of a seasoned old man on the station platform. 

"Well, you can be sure of one thing, it'll be long enough/' 
he answered a bit hopelessly. 

"But there's plenty of lightning and thunder, and 

"Don't mean nothin' at all." He looked me over as if I 
must be pretty soft. "They just come along once in a while 
to hector people." 

Then he became scientific. "You see, this is how it is: the 
sun has been borin' into the face of the earth until it's so 
God-damned hot that when the clouds do bring some real 
water along, it all goes back up in the form of steam before 
it can get all the way down. You just watch and see for 

We sat together on a bench in the open. Some enormous 
drops began to plump down all about us and on us. He 
caught me glancing at him. 

"You mustn't pay any attention to that. 'Tain't nothin'. 
Them's just a few big ones that got all the way down 
through because of their weight. But it won't rain. It can't." 

In fifteen minutes the thunder had become a little less 
business-like, and the lightning had degenerated into occa- 
sional pale shiverings in the sky. The old man was tri- 
umphant. "Didn't I tell you? Why, God, it can't rainl" 

For a week I zigzagged in long swings up through the 
Mississippi Valley toward Minnesota. Kansas was burn- 
ing hopelessly. So was Missouri. When I got off the train 
one morning in St. Louis a red-veined thermometer in 
the Union Station already stood at 98. Iowa, too, seemed 
beyond hope. And so finally did Illinois. I moved in a 
ghastly, suffocating nightmare in which the things that 
ordinarily constitute the texture of my life had not the 

Heat 127 

slightest feeling of substance in them. Why should I try 
to think about next year's work, or familiar places, or fam- 
ily and acquaintances? Why should I engage in deliberate 
thought about anything? It was enough to manage some- 
what automatically the passing hour, the passing minute. 

Then one evening I took a train for Minneapolis. Min- 
neapolis was reported as "somewhat cooler/' Perhaps I 
could hold out for another twelve hours. 

Our sleeping-car was not air-conditioned. So I sweltered 
in a berth where a sheet stretched across wide open windows 
kept out the cinders and most of the air, but let in all the 
noises as we crashed through small towns past jangling 
crossing-bells, and all the odors of stock-pens as we swept 
alongside miles of freight trains that carried protesting 
live stock of every description out of the drought area. But 
at some indefinite hour in the night, I felt a refreshing 
breeze struggling with the sheet, and despite the noises 
and sickening smells, I dozed. 

In Minneapolis at eight-thirty the next morning the 
thermometer outside the hotel stood at 68. I knew what 
I meant to do with the day of free time just ahead. The food 
displayed in the coffee shop looked tasteless. The theater 
across the street that proclaimed with much glitter "a drama 
that unleashes a thousand emotions" promised nothing. I 
meant to sleep. I meant to cool off. 



\ A 7~ HENEVER * travel out 0]E Boston to the north, 
\/\/ * a * wa ys find myself wishing that the Puritan 
V V stock had prevailed throughout New England. 
Not that I have prejudice against the disconcerting newer 
peoples who have come into the region, or against the 
Boston which they have created, Boston is still one of the 
two most interesting cities in the United States* Nor have 
I any syjmpathy with the foolishly restrictive habits of life 
that rightly or wrongly have come to be associated with 
Puritans. But it would be enlightening to have the Puritans 
in possession of the region as they once were, so that we 
could have a specimen, an unmistakable demonstration, of 
what a people of one blood and speech, and of more or less 


Evergreen 129 

the same notion of a satisfying life, could do when left to 

Of course, I know that such a New England could be 
only a dream. For one element in the Puritan philosophy 
rendered suicide inevitable. The Puritan was top-heavy in 
his beliefthe evidence is strong that God's sons in New 
England should make the most of their opportunity to ac- 
quire earthly possessions. When the magic of the industrial 
idea held the imagination of the world, and the mill-owners 
of New England saw how their profits could be made yet 
greater by utilizing the Italians and Irish and other needy 
Europeans who would come over and work for lower wages 
than the mill-owners' thrifty Yankee neighbors demanded, 
the region as a Puritan stronghold was doomed. For not only 
did the prolific new peoples operate the mills, and take over 
many of the farms abandoned by men and women who had 
moved on into the new West, and establish themselves in all 
sorts of small businesses with the renewed energy of a trans- 
planted people; they discovered that they were rapidly 
coming into possession of enough votes to overthrow the 
political supremacy of the class that had welcomed them as 
employees. They could substitute for the Puritan's hard- 
looking way of life a way that they knew more about and 
that to them seemed easier. 

I was busy with some such cycle of reflection one day as 
I watched out at the train window when I was leaving Bos- 
ton for Portland and beyond. I had just been seeing parts 
of Boston that reflected little of the Puritan's notion of the 
good life; and now along the tracks were stocky, cheerful 
laborers who worked with swift un-Anglo-Saxon motions. 
Farther on in a suburban town other alien-looking men 
were enlarging the area of a cemetery. They were filling in 
low land with frowsy waste earth, tin cans, glass bottles, 

130 / Travel by Train 

boxes and crates, and covering all this with a layer of soil 
that would grow grass. What fun people must think it 
would be, what a sweeping acknowledgment of man's god- 
like stature, to be carted off and buried in a dump-heap! 

And then, before I had recovered from a sickening in- 
dignation, we were in the open country, and a white house 
with an attached barn as trim as the house itself stood 
above a sloping walled-in meadow that was as clean to 
the edges as a lawn; and back of the house was a hill pasture 
dotted with granite boulders that were too huge to be 
moved; and along the sides of the meadow and pasture, 
and rising high on the hill beyond was woodland of pine 
that was lustrous dark green in the wind and sun. 

We circled a hill on which a white church-tower rose so 
high above the trees that it made the sky seem nearer the 
earth than it was. Then we were among the clean meadows 
and white houses and barns again, and always in sight of 
stone walls stone walls that separated meadow from wood- 
land, pasture from orchard, roadway and lane from pad- 
dock. Houses built on granite foundations, where they 
belonged, and boulder walls everywhere gave a tonic look 
of permanency to the landscape. That one's race ever should 
have had the toughness of fiber to establish themselves in 
these hills in any fashion is a heavy entry to their credit. 
But that they should have had the endurance to do it so. 
permanently is little short of miraculous. Once I computed 
what the stone walls on three New Hampshire farms would 
cost at prevailing prices for wall building to say nothing 
of the cost of digging and prying the boulders out of the 
fields and getting them to where they were needed and 
the walls would have cost from two to three times what the 
farms with all late improvements added were worth at the 
highest market prices. 

Evergreen 131 

Could anything be better designed to rehabilitate the 
spirit than to visualize this region as it was in the latter 
eighteenth century? The hills were alive with men and 
women who were rolling bouldersliving on simple fare 
that was hard to get, yet rolling boulders, building walls, 
through long days, through long seasons, through long 
lives. In one village where everywhere the walls still stand 
solidly, down hillsides, across hollows, up through new 
woodland once an apple orchard, I saw in a churchyard the 
gravestones of two of these of the boulder-rolling period 
who had lived to be (the man) an even hundred and (the 
wife) an even ninety. And he had taken time out to help 
fight the Revolutionary War. 

But one does not travel far to the northward without 
being aware that the Puritan possessed something besides 
toughness of fiber. For only in certain parts of the South 
is there a comparable expression of the proportioned and 
the beautiful. 

After two or three decades of piecemeal trips over New 
England I have dreamed often of a continuous pilgrimage 
along a wide U-shaped line of beautiful old houses that I 
have seen from somewhere in Maine down through lower 
New Hampshire into Massachusetts, and then up through 
the Connecticut valley past the region of Walpole into 
Vermont and on toward Lake Champlain. One might well 
start at Wiscasset. For where is there another small com- 
munity that has a higher percentage of wholly acceptable 
houses proportioned exteriors, inviting doorways, and in- 
teriors designed to give one a new respect for life? The 
trouble, though, is that other communities do have a share 
of such houses. I am never able to make the long trip as 
I have planned it, because I am constantly tempted aside. 
Sooner or later I cease to be on a journey and am dwelling 

132 / Travel by Train 

in an atmosphere. Everywhere in these communities were 
builders who knew what to build and how to build it. And 
the persons who engaged them had the intelligence to un- 
derstand builders and allow them to use their knowledge 
and their skills. 

Their meeting-houses, too, were just as rightly built. 
These likewise pull one aside from a direct journey. The 
white spires rising miles away above the dark green of the 
landscape are irresistible in their invitation to come nearer. 
The Puritan's God, according to account, was terrifying 
enough to frighten anybody, but the Puritan made Him 
as acceptable as possible by housing Him in a beautiful 

The journey, or rather the atmosphere in which one 
travels, becomes a kind of complete spiritual record of the 
Puritan at his best. Here on the southern rim of Maine is 
the college that Hawthorne and Longfellow attended more 
than a century ago. Here is Longfellow's land of "My Lost 
Youth." Here farther south still is the region of secondary 
schools of durable name that were founded by discerning 
Puritans before the country had come to see that institu- 
tions of much the same kind must be provided universally. 
Here, too, is the land of Whittier a better poet than he 
usually gets credit for being and of his "Snowbound," 
which youths in an age sputtering with snow-plow$ find dif- 
ficult of comprehension. Here all the way over into the re- 
gion of Mount Monadnock, about which Thoreau wrote, 
though not so well as Edwin Arlington Robinson, is evi- 
dence on every hand that the provincial New Englander did 
not give the whole of his time to the rolling of boulders, or 
even to the building of good-looking houses, 

Here is a record of work performed that affects one in the 
profoundest, the subtlest of ways. Where can the listener 

Evergreen 133 

hear so much that the sea has to tell as when he hears the 
waves pounding along a chill Maine coast that men have 
persistently clung to while they have believed in something 
important? Or where in America or in any other country 
can one have just the fantastically real experience that one 
can have by standing on the highest hilltop in the Mac- 
Dowell Colony in New Hampshire? Just off to the west 
there, as a kind of fixed point in both time and geography, 
Mount Monadnock; to the northward forty or fifty miles 
past the bulk of the low-lying Crotched Mountain, in a 
haze of blue untouched by the smoke of factory chimney, 
foot-hills and modest sun-lit peaks; to the eastward, close in 
front of one, Pack Monadnock and Temple Mountain in 
an intimate ruggedness of green much like Scotland yet un- 
like Scotland; deep in the narrow valley of the Contoocook 
at one's feet, and closely surrounded by high wooded areas 
dotted with white houses and barns, the village of Peter- 
borough, well-kept, self-respecting; and floating up out of 
the valley the music of the chimes of All Saints' Church. Yet 
everywhere about one, and merging with this idyllic repose 
sought out each year by artistic-minded men and women in 
pursuit of evanescent shadowings, is a solid life. Men work 
in hay-fields, gather early apples in a hundred orchards, care 
for Guernsey cows that range over the granite hills, haul in 
wood that later is to be sawed in lengths for the long winter. 
Nothing has yet come into the region to deaden the spirit 
with an overlaying of sophistication. The severe man on 
the hillside farm along the back road may have an infor- 
mally managed dark mustache that makes him look like 
some benevolent character in one of Conrad's tales of the 
sea, and he may waste few words that the day requires, but 
he takes time to tell you that his barn had forty-six active 
swallows* nests in it this year. For he likes swallows, and he 

134 I Travel by Train 

thinks that perhaps his barn holds the championship. The 
clerk in the post-office, when business lulls and nobody is 
waiting, does not mind saying that in his humble opinion 
the reason why so many of the supposed ideas from Cali- 
fornia are only crackpot schemes of somebody's is that Hol- 
lywood is out there. "They get them from the movies/' The 
deaf old man who grows good roasting-ears and pretends that 
there is a secret about how he does it sees no reason why he 
should not say "Howdy-do" to the bright young office-girl 
fresh from the city who walks alone in all the quiet roads 
she can find just for the thrill of it. "Ain't we all humans to- 

It is not surprising that there should have been poets in 
this New England. It is not surprising that Edward Mac- 
Dowell should have found here an atmosphere where his 
restlessly sensitive genius could feel at home; or that over 
across the way a little, St. Gaudens should have worked; or 
that over still a little farther westward, Kipling should have 
managed to make out for a time. Nor should it be surprising 
that poets and playwrights and novelists and painters and 
composers in such numbers that it would be unfair to men- 
tion only a few, still filter into every part of the region from 
the Maine coast to Vermont and give themselves to work. 
Even the arts requiring an audience immediately present 
have found here a world in which to survive. If you use the 
Stearns Barn Theater of the Peterborough Players as a cen- 
ter, there are enough other theaters of more or less like kind 
within traveling distance in New Hampshire to enable you 
to go to plays night by night all summer long without du- 
plication. Is it not appropriate that those who strive for a 
living simplicity in the theater should produce plays in a 
barn where the marks of somebody's honest ax are on every 
beam and rafter? 


It is not just the view. It is not just the quiet. It is not the 
temperature. These in some combination may be found in 
other regions. It is the sum of all things taken together, in- 
cluding the record left by human beings who struggled with 
high persistence. Never was life here a soft experience for 
anybody. Never was it filled with the great leisure that is 
sometimes imagined necessary to develop the arts among 
men. It was a hard life, but one in which the people were 
free were obliged to create their own better world right 
out of the one they were working in if they were to have 
any. Through a series of almanacs that reaches from the be- 
ginning of the twentieth century back to 1729 I have often 
leafed slowly to read the marginal jottings amounts in 
pounds, shillings, and pence borrowed or paid back or made 
a matter of record for some other reason in the period of the 
Revolutionary War; the seasons' chief events as recently as 
the latter part of the nineteenth century. Nothing in the 
entries suggests a skittish metropolitan activity. "Twenty 
below zero/' "Nellie came." "Haircut" (November, Janu- 
ary, April). "Rebecca died." "Sun set on Monadnock." "Ida 
married." "Visited Ida." "Mother died." "Snow storm- 
with a big lot of snow on the gro.und." "To Greenville." 
"House sold." "Auction." 

There was time; there was much snow; there ^was soli- 
tude. People could take their choice: they could subside into 
pettiness and go mad and some of them did or they could 
occupy their minds with transcendent things, and enjoy 
the profoundest of all sanities by making something useful. 
Men who never thought of pretending that they were 
cabinet-makers nevertheless did know how to make twisted- 
leg tables, high-boys, upstanding chairs, and clocks that 
have more than an antique value. They and their wives 
were the original "creators" in America the designers of 

136 / Travel by Train 

what life required. There is a certain great Tightness today 
in coming upon automobiles bearing license plates from 
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and the District of 
Columbia parked solidly for a half-mile on both sides of a 
New Hampshire road, and a crowd of two hundred sub- 
stantial people with eager faces uplifted as if they were now 
at last to learn the way to some great salvation, hanging on 
the words of an auctioneer who stands high in an old sleigh 
and offers for sale the home-made candlestick used by some 
unknown country woman in the making of her hooked 

All the way over into lower Vermont and up toward the 
Canadian boundary this atmosphere that is stimulating to 
honest effort persists. As one crosses the valley o the Con- 
necticut out of New Hampshire certain elements, it is true, 
are lost, and certain others added. In some respects the Ver- 
monter is less like his Puritan neighbors to the south who 
turned industrialists than like the farmers of the Middle 
West. In some respects he is not like his neighbors over in 
New Hampshire who remained farmers. He wonders if they 
do not put on airs, and they accuse him of being behind the 
times very far. And in some respects he is not like any- 
body else in the country. A New Hampshire wag evidently 
felt this when he erected a sign by the railroad and public 
highway just at the boundary: "You are now leaving the 
United States. Entering Vermont." 

Yet in Vermont the active-minded do not feel any loss of 
an invigorating air. In a state where the citizens decline 
outside aid in the beautifying of their region, where, in 
order to receive a fair share of the price of milk, the farmers 
organize with a refreshing militancy suggestive of the days 
of 1776, and where both women and men make war on 
the billboards that disfigure the landscape, there are cer- 


tain to be other interesting sincerities and rebellions well 
suited to help a living mind retain hope. 

But northern New England in summer is not enough. It 
is necessary to see it in winter also if you are to understand 
what the Puritan spirit has been able to do for itself when 
going it alone. Of course you should see it also in the first 
approaches of autumn when the meadows are white in the 
early morning, and the swamp maples are deep scarlet, and 
chilly-looking great blue herons fly southward over marshes 
of bronze, and the morning noise of the crows across the 
meadow comes to one's ears with a crisp new ease, and the 
buzz-saw up the road shrieks and sings in ascending and de- 
scending pitch as it nips off one stick of wood after another. 
But whether you see it in autumn or not, you must see it in 
the dead of winter. 

I saw it thus in its full winter occupation when I once 
made a swinging trip all the way down from Bangor, Maine, 
to Amherst, Massachusetts, and then up again into the north' 
of Vermont. In central Maine the wind had come after the 
last snow and taken much of the gray from the pine wood- 
lands. Along the Maine coast the sea bumped and thun- 
dered against unshakable rocky points just below white 
houses from which the palest of blue wood smoke rose 

A friend took me across from Bowdoin College to Gar- 
diner in the biting cold. Something in the looks of Gardiner 
in winter says: "Well, you see we are holding out." I saw 
the cluster of small Christmas-tree pines that had been stuck 
down in the earth round the new memorial to Edwin Ar- 
lington Robinson to keep it from looking quite so stark 
until some young trees should grow. I saw some of the mem- 
bers of his family, who cherish his memory while they work 
and study and live. I sat in the warmth of a house that was 

138 I Travel by Train 

bulging with literary reminiscence and talked for an hour 
through a long speaking-tube with Laura E. Richards, who 
in her middle eighties assured me that she was right in the 
midst of things. And I walked the streets of the city and felt 
anew the debt of gratitude that somebody owes to John 
Hays Gardiner for his austere friendliness to all sorts of 
faltering young persons and to at least one disheartened 
middle-aged poet who hailed from the same town. 

All the way across into central Massachusetts a nice bal- 
ance between white and dark green, between the solitude of 
the fields and the presence of fellow beings guaranteed by 
smoke rising from the chimneys of houses, prevented the 
scene from being desolate. In the Northwest the threat of 
madness to the sensitive which the sight of the unending 
snow induces springs largely from the fact that there appear 
to be no people so far are the houses apart. But here there 
were plenty of houses. Here the people themselves were to be 
seen dodging into the village store, piling new snow onto 
the mountainous ridges of snow already along every path, 
feeding hungry-looking chickens on protected areas that the 
sun, aided by shovels, had cleared of snow somewhat. 

Amherst was white, too, but the students who filled the 
town created the impression that they were not quite so 
much at home in snow as the ones I had seen in New Hamp- 
shire and Maine. In the frostiness I wandered out along the 
street past the house where Emily Dickinson had lived. 
Everything was so quiet that she might at the moment have 
risked slipping back across under the trees to Sister Sue's 
house with a new poem. But perhaps the snow was too deep. 

Before we had long been on the way northward, signs of 
new snow appeared. The first intimation came when a train 
from Montreal shuddered in close alongside us at a station, 
with all the cool parts of the front of the engine plastered 


with snow and ice. While both trains stood there side by 
side, and we could see a car filled with people within arm's 
length of us but could hear nothing, some flakes drifted 
down between my window and the French-looking man and 
his squirming young daughter at the window opposite. By 
the time the train was fully away, the flakes were larger and 
more numerous. Mountains in the distance were obscured; 
then the nearer foot-hills; then the hills just across the fields. 

Soon the evergreens were gray. Soon they were white. 
Soon they were bending under the weight of the white until 
their branches sloped steeply downward like the sides of 
close-standing tepees. In the luxury of a comfortable chair 
in a warm train I sat all afternoon and looked at an unend- 
ing fairyland. Vermont was being buriedanew. 

Children on skis going home from school had to stop and 
wave at us with mild disdain. Who wanted to bother rid- 
ing a train on such a day as this? Old men in comforters and 
big durable-looking mittens came out of houses and took 
an exploratory look at the snow as if they expected much 
more to come before the end. At one farm-house Robert 
Frost's Runaway stood comfortably in the barn with his in- 
quiring face thrust out where the upper half of a door stood 

The train fought valiantly, but the snow was beginning 
to tell. And the mail to be unloaded and loaded seemed to 
increase in volume as we went farther into the snow. Oh, 
well, we could swing off at the stations and know how the 
snow felt. In one college town just before twilight the 
chimes in a tower high on a hill were filling the muted air 
with Scotch and English and American folk-tunes. 

Once when the train crept along at a snail's pace and then 
came to a full stop to let a laboring freight train get out of 
the way, we were within a few feet of the front of a neigh- 

140 / Travel by Train 

borhood general store. Somebody who looked as if he might 
be the proprietor came to the door. Already he had lighted 
the one big suspended lamp that the front of the store re- 
quired. Four or five men who sat around the stove paused 
in whatever they were discussing and peered out at us just 
as the train lurched into a start and obscured the view. 
Once, an hour later, when the engine was finding the go- 
ing heavy through snow that was now drifting, and I tried 
to look out into the darkness to see just what the world was 
like, I looked right into the bright living-room of a farm- 
house that evidently had stood there, almost on the right- 
of-way, when the railroad was built, and saw a family sit- 
ting in after-supper comfort before a great fireplace. There 
they were, the Puritans of northern New England undis- 



IT is the smoke of battle. It hangs close to the earth in a 
great dark semicircle up through western Pennsylvania, 
northeastern Ohio, southern Michigan, and northeast- 
ern Illinois. Ail sorts of supplementary lints extend over 
into eastern Pennsylvania, down into Nonh Carolina, au<! 
from the region o Chicago by way of St. Louis dcwn to 
Nashville and Birmingham. But this half-moon between 
western Pennsylvania and the southern tip of Lake Michi- 
gan is where the epic battle is most persistent and most in- 


142 / Travel by Train 

You may not see what it means when you are on a first 
trip through the region or on a second or a tenth. You 
may still see things as individual incidents: a fight between 
laborers to control some industry in Johnstown, Pennsyl- 
vania; a fighta more genteel-looking fight, though more 
savage between capitalists to control some other industry 
in Youngstown, Ohio, or Cleveland; a closed eight-acre 
building for sale in Akron; some very business-like picket 
lines in front of a factory in Detroit; some policemen charg- 
ing into a crowd of workers in Chicago. Or if you can look 
with enough detachment, you may see a certain monstrous 
poetry in it all in the dark, serpentine trains a mile long 
creeping into vast areas of aluminum-looking stacks that 
sometimes shine like silver when the sun occasionally 
gets down through the smoke; and automobiles, steel rails, 
power shovels, and tractors pouring forth out into the 
brighter parts of the world by the hundreds, the thousands, 
the millions. But if you make enough trips, you will some 
day make one that will suddenly fuse with all the others 
you have made, so that you see what the region means when 
it is put together, and where it belongs among contempo- 
rary influences. 

Some such moment of illumination came to me on a trip 
that brought me into Pittsburgh early one wet smoky morn- 
ing when I was on my way over south toward the West Vir- 
ginia boundary. Only a few of the great mills showed signs 
of life. In the murky, acid-laden twilight although it was 
eight-thirty o'clock it was difficult to feel sure which of 
the mills seemed the more infernal, the ones that spouted 
unearthly looking flame into the heavy skies, or the ones 
that stood idle and rusty and coldly impersonal behind their 
securely locked barbed-wire barricades. Just how did the 
human beings crowded into cramped houses that rose like 

Smoke 143 

the stairsteps of a rookery on the steep hillsides look upon 
the great American dream? 

A kindly, middle-aged, executive-looking man sat beside 
me in the little red-plush accommodation train and read the 
morning paper. He noticed that I was intent on what I saw 

"Pretty gloomy, isn't it?" I said. 

He was resentful. His kindliness vanished as if it had 
never been. "Just why do you want to run down the town?" 

I assured him that I was doing nothing of the kind; that 
I was only wondering what the effect was on people who 
were obliged to live like that. 

"They're getting just what's coming to them trying to 
bring in these God-damned unions and all that sort of non- 

"But I thought it was the depression/* 

He did not deign to answer. 

Later in the day after I had been heartened by the sight 
of several hundred college students whose faces still ex- 
pressed very little of life's hatreds, I took a long walk in the 
rain on the railroad tracks that followed the Monongahela 
up southward. Ahead I saw a coal tipple, and stopped a 
miner who was coming from work to ask him about it and 
about the height of the seam of coal. He looked me over in 
a flash, took his pipe from his mouth, answered my ques- 
tions, and abruptly walked on. Soon after, I decided that I 
had gone far enough in the rain and turned back. He was 
saying a word to a half-dozen men whom he had met. As 
they came on and I was about to meet them I could see that 
they were all eyes. I stopped and tried to ask them a ques- 
tion, "We're not talking," one of them said, and they all 
walked on in silence. I hurried a little. I caught up with the 
lone miner. He did not try to shake me, but he did try not 

144 ^ Travel by Train 

to talk. As we walked along, he between the rails and I in the 
path along the ends of the ties, a very brilliant Kentucky 
cardinal alighted on a young black locust close by the right- 
of-way and sang as if the day were bright. "My favorite 
bird/* I said. He took another glance at me, but one that I 
thought expressed less resistance. "You ought to see the two 
weVe got in our side yard the old man and the old woman 
both. Godl how he can sing and fight, too. They've been 
there all winter. I stick a nail in the end of an ear of corn 
and hang it up in a cherry tree for them to work at. And my 
wife puts out suet for them/' 

"Live in your own house?" 

Yes, he did. He did not know just how long he'd be able 
to hold on to it, but he still had it. He went into the matter. 
He went into family history. All the way back to town he 
talked willingly, almost furiously. 

When I left him he smiled as though some joke were on 
him. "When you stopped me up there awhile ago I thought 
you might be some stooge from the company/' 

I saw I There it was the whole of the smoky semicircle 
to Gary and South Chicago. It was a battle zone, with 
wire fences, and search-lights, and private policemen, and 
machine-guns, and spies nosing around in what should be 
people's most private affairs, and employers who declare 
that they are ready to trust their employees just as far as 
they would trust a rattlesnake, and workingmen who have 
the same kind of hatred for the company they must work 
for. When business shows an upturn, and for a time more 
men are employed, there is brave talk about some new 
spirit of cooperation. But with a falling-off of work, the old 
spirit begins to show through again. In the heart of the 
country in peace time, it is war. 

Every outrage to the human spirit that any war is sure to 


bring, this one has already brought. But the greatest of them 
all is an enforced blindness. It has sealed men's eyes to the 
fundamental matter at issue. For the issue is not wages, or 
an open or a closed shop, or the details of working condi- 
tionsthough the contestants profess to believe that it is 
some of these things but the rightful ends of human life. 
Unless this fact is recognized and somebody goes to work to 
solve the problem on this basis, the war will go on until one 
side or the other is annihilated or both and the social 
structure of the entire country is strained dangerously or 

Here something has infringed upon the instinctive as- 
pirations of a normal human being. Like a great parasitic 
growth it has superimposed itself upon the diverse and com- 
mendable life that was there, paralyzed much of it, and in- 
sisted that henceforth concentration of effort was not to 
be in behalf of any idealistic dream of friendliness among 
men who were neither masters nor servants but only con- 
cerned with the general welfare; it was to be in behalf of an 
industrial production that would bring all the legitimate 
joys of life with it as by-products. Here man has ceased to be 
a being with a variety of interests that attach him in useful 
ways to his fellows of every sort, and to the earth. He is an 
operative (bearing a numeral), a striker, a strike-breaker, a 
name on a black-list, a reliefer, a non-employable, a flop. 
What is a man compared with acres or square miles of 
machinery that has cost money? Who is thinking about even 
the details of the rightful ends of human existence when a 
factory to take a minor instance will be idle three days of 
each week and then run on a twenty-four-hour basis for the 
other three so that a housewife who has three or four work- 
ers to cook for must be up at all hours of the day and night 
for those three busy days, when the entire family might 

146 / Travel by Train 

contribute its same share to production by working in the 
daytime, sleeping at night as most animals prefer to do, and 
otherwise enjoying a somewhat normal existence? 

On one trip through this regionmore than three weeks 
in all as I listened and talked with men in dining-cars, 
lounge-cars, or hotel lobbies when they discussed the indus- 
trial war, I did not hear one person speak of the ordinary 
aspirations of human beings as though these might have 
anything to do with the case. When I raised the question 
with one agreeable white-haired man in the dining-car who 
talked in calm tones, he said quite casually: "Oh, well, 
you've got to remember that in the industrial world a hu- 
man being is only so many energy units, and they can be 

Here is the issue. There is something hellish in any 
scheme of life that treats a human being as only so many 
standardized energy units that are to be used or allowed to 
go to waste according to whether somebody announces that 
twenty thousand will work that morning or that twenty 
thousand will not. What has become of all our declarations 
about the right to labor and to live in self-respect, when a 
vast population of hundreds of thousands of able-bodied 
men may be told that on Wednesday it will be beautiful 
for everybody to engage in productive enterprise, but that 
on Thursday it will be forbidden to anybody to do so, no 
matter how much he might enjoy the experience, no matter 
how essential the experience is to him if he and his family 
are not to face starvation? 

The simple truth is that these hundreds of thousands are 
no longer free menfree in the sense that a farmer on his 
own land is free, or a small shopkeeper, or a man who works 
for his neighbor or in a small factory that he has grown up 
with in a town of diverse interests where he has a chance to 


bargain with the men who require his services. "Just what 
the hell are you free to do if you live here?" a dark-haired, 
ambitious-looking worker begged me to tell him. "Just how 
free to do what? Are you free to go into the telephone busi- 
ness in this town? Are you free to go on the air if you want 
to say something? Are you free to run a daily newspaper? 
Are you free to own a police department the way the com- 
pany does? Are you free to hire anybody to do what? Are 
you free to live where you want to live and send your kids 
to school in the town where you want to send them or 
where the company tells you? Are you free to have a job 
and work at it? Well, maybe next year. I haven't had any 
yet this year." 

But most of them that I encountered are not even so free 
as this man. For they, like their employers, are so much con- 
cerned with the immediate necessities of the battle that, 
even if they are better philosophers than people who have 
been touched by life less tragically, they are in no state of 
mind to consider all the subtler dislocations that result 
when human energy is utilized in wholesale fashion in a 
highly depersonalized system of profits. Who has time to 
reflect on why the war is being fought when everybody from 
the industrial president to the humblest industrial worker 
is fearful that the stupendous battle, already quite out of 
hand, may go against him before the next rising of the sun? 

But the smoke of battle obscures not merely the cause of 
the war; it obscures the logic of what is taking place at the 
moment. This is not just an accidental war between two 
groups who somehow fell into a disagreement about wages 
and hours. It has a historya history that should be clear 
enough to anybody with eyes who has been circulating 
through the region during the past twenty or thirty years. 
The rapid development of so many new industrial estab- 

148 / Travel by Train 

lishments called for more man-power than could be found 
locally. In order to have the vast armies of men required by 
mass production, it was necessary to lure men away from 
what they had been doing. Anybody with a memory recalls 
the crowded trains that brought workers by thousands from 
over wide areas of the country; anybody with a memory re- 
calls the clamoring of men who sought the high wages of- 
fered by factories already manned. Unbelievable numbers 
of people from throughout the Middle West were sucked 
into these centers. "Let villages become cities/' it was de- 
creed; "let wasteland become cities." And it was done. Men 
who had become multimillionaires overnight proclaimed 
that at last we had discovered a road to prosperity that was 
endless. And so it seemed. Then there came a time when the 
number of men required to supply all reasonable demands 
did not grow; relatively at least, it slumped. The magic half- 
moon did not seem quite so magical. And in the course 
of the years that made the industrial region itself look a lit- 
tle unstable, the very means of mass production that it had 
perfected and exemplified until it had been held up to the 
world as a model of the efficient way of life, was enabling the 
regions that these men had come from to get along without 
their labor. So if vast populations in all these industrial 
cities that had grown like hothouse plants now had nothing 
to do where they were, they could get nothing to do where 
they came from, either. 

If the general sequence is kept in mind, nothing that is 
now taking place in the region seems illogical. Here is the 
final word in a concentrated industrial civilization. Indus- 
trialists had at last perfected a technique they boasted of 
the fact, or declared it with oracular warning to anybody 
who got in their way that rendered men helpless by render- 
ing many of them unnecessary. No longer were the or- 


dinary means of bargaining for a livelihood applicable. 
Just how much of a chance has a lone workingman, when he 
goes to the offices of a billion-dollar corporation conse- 
crated to the production of profits for stockholders, to bar- 
gain on even terms when the corporation can have more 
men than it knows what to do with without so much as ask- 
ing for them? 

Nobody ever heard of a sit-down strike in the factory of a 
personal employer who himself was devoted to the craft 
that his business utilized, and who knew his men personally 
and himself heard their grievances. A sit-down strike in a 
community that has evolved according to normal individ- 
ual needs is unthinkable. But in this great industrial war- 
zone, where life has been so completely depersonalized, the 
methods of mastering production during the past two or 
three decades have made such a monstrosity as the sit-down 
strike not only imaginable, not only logical, but inevitable. 

Most men cannot live without some attachment to some- 
thing that they can feel is their own. There ought, in truth, 
in any man's life to be many such attachments. His roots in 
life ought to be so diverse that no one unfavorable wind 
could completely wreck him. Yet in these great concentra- 
tions of population devoted to one industry or one branch 
or one process of one industry a man cannot feel sure that 
he has even one attachment. But here is his one chance. He 
is led into an inescapable partnership. Yet how great can his 
assurance for the future be when his only attachment to 
food, clothing, and all the other barest necessities of ex- 
istence for himself and his family is through an impersonal 
organization that does not know him, that cannot feel the 
slightest personal interest in his aspirations because it is 
not a person and that has the power to sever arbitrarily 
even this one attachment to existence when he goes round 

150 / Travel by Train 

to work tomorrow morning? He is going to have something 
at least a job that nobody can take away from him or 
render profitless. 

"Why, say, don't we have anything at stake?" a quiet, ex- 
perienced machinist with a high-pitched little voice asked 
one Friday evening in a city of less than a hundred thou- 
sand that I chanced to be in when the report was circulat- 
ing that three thousand were to be dropped the next week. 
"Why, I've been working for them for twenty-one years so 
long I wouldn't know how to do anything else even if I 
could find it." 

He reflected. "So they have to protect their investment, 
do they? Well, say, suppose they'd just give all their time to 
that. Suppose we'd say, 'All right, if your capital is so much 
more useful to you than we are, why don't you spend all 
your time with it? Just don't bother with workers at all/ 
Wouldn't dividends go up?" 

But worse still worst of all the smoke of the battle 
blinds too many eyes to certain possible outcomes of the 
struggle. I have heard this blindness expressed a thousand 
times, but never better than by a frank representative of the 
employers with whom I spent a pleasant two or three hours 
on the train. He asked me if I favored a sales tax. I told him 
that I did. He said that he did, too. In fact, that was the only 
kind of tax he did favor. When I protested that his plan 
would be rather hard on the consumers, he shrugged his 
heavy shoulders, smiled, and said, "Oh, well, why not be 
honest about it? They have to pay in the end anyhow." He 
expressed his theory. He was a realist. "We have only so 
much wealth in the world. It evidently was the way God 
Almighty intended it. And we have some people who can 
enjoy art and literature and religion and all those finer 
things. So we have to choose between having a relatively 


small number enjoy a high standard of living while there 
are a good many others in poverty, and having the living 
standard of all of us pulled downward-maybe almost to 
European levels. Personally, I prefer to keep the first." 

"But how are you going to keep it?" 

He glanced at me as if he had suddenly discovered that I 
was a pest, and then looked out at the window for a mo- 
ment before he answered. We were approaching Toledo. 
Then he faced me as if he wished to be very impressive. 
"We are going to sit on the lid so tight that she can never 
blow offthat's how!'* 

It ought to be easy enough to see that it was never done in 
the history of the world. It ought to be easy enough to see 
that if the high standard of living is going to be maintained 
for the 'relatively few" at the expense of all the others, 
these others who have had little or nothing will sooner or 
later rise up and say, "All right, you've had it awhile; now 
it's our turn." It ought to be easy enough to see that where 
men have been made into masses, the side with the greater 
number of votes and in extremity, with the greater num- 
ber of fists will come out on top. But the hatreds of battle 
have become so acute that not even such an inevitable se- 
quence as this can be seen with any clarity, if at all. 

And when total blindness has not resulted, a pronounced 
or a subtle distortion has. This industrial phenomenon, it 
must be remembered, is not a natural development of any- 
thing peculiar to the inhabitants of this region. It is some- 
thing that the distribution of raw materials and markets 
over the United States made it easy to develop just here. 
The people of Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and 
Indiana and Illinois are among the most substantial in the 
United States. From the earliest days they have been busy 
with all sorts of enterprises that have contributed to the in- 

152 / Travel by Train 

terest of life. But the industrial battle-front inescapably 
pulls thought away from what they have done and from 
what many of them persist in doing. It pulls thought away 
from everything except itself. 

I sat one morning by the water-front in Toledo and let 
my eyes enjoy what was before them. Bridges were opening 
for long, low freighters that were coming in from the lake 
just yonder, or going out. Other craft were chugging about 
in the broad river. I saw Toledo as I had never seen it be- 
fore. Toledo was a port! Toledo was poetic! A lake, a broad 
river, high bridges, the deep voice of steamers in the quiet 
of the morning. How far, I wondered, was it down to where 
the river broadened out into the lake? I wished I had a map. 
Could I get hold of one without going back uptown? A man 
came along who looked as if he lived there, as if he might 
own a part of the town, 

"No place near here where I could get hold of a map of 
Toledo, is there?" 

He looked me over calmly, coolly. "You're not one of 
these damned college professors or newspaper reporters try- 
ing to horn in where it's none of your business, are you?'* 
He was half serious. 

The magic of the morning was gone. I wandered aim- 
lessly about and saw everything with great literalness for an 
hour through a region where streets were frowsy and 
weather-boarding was falling off houses that were alive with 
Negro children and Negro women and Negro men. How 
did they all happen to be just here in this part of the coun- 
try and this part of the town? And why weren't the men 
working? And why were the houses falling to pieces? I tried 
going back to the river the next morning, but it was now 
just a part of the battle-front. 

It is so all through the war zone. Detroit has many attrac- 

Smoke 153 

donsthough it is not so interesting a city to the visitor as it 
was when it pointed out Belle Isle rather than an automo- 
bile plant as a proof of its attractiveness. But who gives its 
attractions so much as a first thought when the conversa- 
tion in the dining-car, the lounge-car, and the hotel lobby 
is on how to break up the C.I.O., how to handle relief now 
with so many thousands more dropped from this or that 
plant; when the conversation in the coach-smoker and in 
the drug-store next door to union headquarters is how to 
keep the lines unbroken, how to have the dues coming in 
so that there will be something to work with; when the 
impression left by downtown is not downtown itself, but 
fringes of pawnshops and second-hand stores with all sorts 
of cheap men's suits hanging on wires out in front and of- 
fered at bargains? Flint engaged a distinguished city planner 
to think ahead for the municipality, and he did. Flint has 
had the services of educators likewise competent. But what 
the world reads about Flint is a crisp report that somebody 
there has said that so many thousand families will have to 
be moved out of the city, just as if they were live stock that 
had to be got out of a drought-stricken area. Such a city as 
Kalamazoo has enough admirable civic institutions and 
community enterprises to put to shame a suburban city of 
two or three times its size. But whoever hears of all this edu- 
cational and artistic and dramatic and musical activity in a 
single city when the overshadowing activity of the region in 
general is war? 

Not an institution established to promote human wel- 
fare has escaped. Political government is but a fixed center 
about which the forces can concentrate for intensified bat- 
tle. The church is disorganized and confused and hesitant 
and subservient. From the general warping, education has 
suffered less than any of the other institutions, perhaps be- 

154 I Travel by Train 

cause until recently, at least, teachers have been recruited 
from diversified groups and for that reason and others- 
have resisted the sharp alignment. But in many of the chief 
cities of the region teachers in the publicly controlled in- 
stitutions have confessed to me in greater and greater num- 
bers that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain 
an honest attitude and feel safe. In the privately controlled 
institutions, where contributions from the well-to-do are 
depended on for support, the outlook for spiritual inde- 
pendence and a courageous catholicity of view cannot be 
bright when the well-to-do are rapidly coming to belong to 
a single class the industrial-financial class. A president in a 
privately endowed college summed the matter up when he 
said to me, "You know, when I engage a commencement 
speaker I have to remember that he is going to speak to my 
board of trustees as well as to the graduating class.** 

The press, too, has suffered. If you have been in other 
parts of the country where struggle is not quite so intense, 
and where hatreds are somewhat distributed among many 
differing groups, you need only to read the head-lines in 
most of the newspapers in this region in order to know that 
you are in a war zone. Plenty of newspapers are open enough 
in their partisanship. Plenty of others induce in you the 
feeling that you are reading somebody's strong effort to keep 
away from the partisanship he feels to keep away from any- 
thing that possesses the hardness of reality. One newspaper 
man of much experience declared that there was an ac- 
cepted formula. "I'm not saying that we're all exactly alike, 
any more than the papers in any other section of the coun- 
try. But if you carry a lot of scare heads about unimportant 
matters that have emotional appeal like Wally and the 
Duke, for instance churn up a hell of a lot of indignation 
against something in China or somewhere else so far away 

Smoke 155 

that it's never going to come back on you, get in plenty of 
prize-fights, plenty of Hollywood, plenty of Emily Post, 
plenty of funnies, and then frost it all over with some nicely 
flavored patriotic hokum, you've about as near a sure thing 
as you're going to find where you've got to be careful." 

But the most tragic distortion has come to art to the con- 
ception of art. The highly concentrated machine civiliza- 
tion inescapably deprives all men except a few at the top 
of the pyramid of any important expression of their per- 
sonal selves in what they do. It kills off art at its source 
as rapidly as it can be done. Then it clutters up the 
landscape with monotonous, unlivable-looking streets, ugly 
houses, endless rows of hideous billboards in pleasant mead- 
owland and in front of wooded hilltop, so that nobody can 
see anything near at hand that is satisfying to any sense of 
fitness. And then, unable to get away from the terrifying 
fact that the beauty of life has been destroyed, it proclaims 
crusades in behalf of the aesthetic, and spends millions of 
dollars on art museums and art collections so that the peo- 
ple may go and see and remember sadly that the spirits of 
men were once so free that they expressed themselves in 
these poetic ways. And Mr. Henry Ford receives credit for 
being a great benefactor to his age by saving a few things in 
their somewhat natural environment from the irresistible 
uglification that he has spent a lifetime helping to create. 
After taking all the beauty out of the texture of life, the 
promoters of the ugliness of industrialization try to make up 
for the deficiency by pasting some artificial beauty on the 
outside. "It is," Eric Gill once said, "as though we had 
contrived to turn out fodder for cattle which had no quali- 
ties but that of nourishment, and then, feeling the need for 
the sensation of greenness, we trained a special kind of work- 
man to produce green for our delight." 

156 / Travel by Train 

Thus the region of smoke has come to be the greatest 
irony that the mighty of the earth have ever seen grow out 
of one of their creations. For after proclaiming and per- 
fecting techniques that would in truth enable men to live 
together in abundance, they discover that what they have 
done prevents men from living together at allsave in a 
state of war. Men have been driven to feel not only insig- 
nificant but superfluous. They have been brought to suffer 
the great torture of not knowing whether their own best 
ability, conscientiously offered, will enable them to exist. 
They have been forced, when they do have opportunity to 
work, to surrender personal ways of doing things and the 
personal tools of life so essential to emotional balance, and 
have been made to work in nerve-breaking mental strait- 
jackets. They have been detached from ordinary individual 
responsibility for their conduct and obliged by circum- 
stances to act in masses- where man is never at his best and 
is usually at his worst. They have been incited to a blinding 
hate when they ought to be moved by good-will. Here is a 
more terrifying demoralization than any that has ever be- 
fore enslaved intelligent men. 

It is not a question of who started the war, or whether he 
did it intentionally or not. It is not a question of who wins 
the war. It is a question of becoming intellectually honest 
and doing some elemental thinking that will render the 
continuance of the war impossible. For only a madman 
could believe that a region alive with strikers and strike- 
breakers and pickets and hunger-marchers and armed pri- 
vate policemen and legions of spies, and menaced by a 
hundred thousand men out of work today and a half 
million tomorrow, and tens of thousands of families left 
to be fed at public expense or starve, is the ultimate of 
man's ability to think. 


DEALERS in novelties say that dust-storms are no 
longer news. But if ever you are in one for days and 
try to make your way around in it among the peo- 
ple who are struggling on with the business of living, you 
will remember it and especially the people as if you had 
witnessed some silent dramatic event in the heavens that 
occurs but once in a thousand years. 

I had received no warning of the one I have in mind. I 
was to drive thirty miles across north Texas country to catch 


158 / Travel by Train 

a Sunday-noon train. Two college girls who were going 
home for the day and who knew that I had to make the trip 
offered to take me along. One of them had been in a basket- 
ball tournament the night before, and as soon as we were 
on the way she curled up in the back seat and slept. The 
driver confessed that she herself had been awake all night, 
but for a different reason. Her fianc had been rushed to 
the hospital for an emergency operation. She had been un- 
able to sleep at all. And now that she knew he was going 
to live, she did not want to sleep. It was so good to be alive 
that she had to stay awake and enjoy the experience. She 
had invented the necessity of this trip just to participate in 
the great brightness of the day and the easy rhythm of glid- 
ing over low rolling hills that afforded long vistas. In a 
world where so many people give the wrong reasons for 
everything they do, her profound joy and unaffected frank- 
ness were so startling and so beautiful that I sat in a kind of 
enraptured amazement and listened all the way. 

When the dark, long train, bound from Ft. Worth to 
Denver, appeared in the distance, it looked like some Val- 
kyrie of the industrial age winding among the tops of the 
rocky low hills before it descended to the end of the town 
and the station. 

The conductor gave me a seat in a sleeping-car. For a 
time I was content to sit and reflect and look out upon a 
gray landscape that was already showing signs of spring. 
Automobiles like shiny beetles scooted in all directions 
over distant flat hills and down through long sweeping dips 
where there were trees and countless specks of grazing cattle. 

Then I put in much time eating little and reading in 
an old-fashioned dining-car that was in a constant state of 
tension as the train followed curves and counter-curves in 
its effort to keep on the ridges or between them. After 

Dust 159 

luncheon I walked a few station platforms while the train 
loaded much mail and baggage. 

An hour later when I looked up from the book I was 
reading, a thin haze paled the sun. Soon after, the pages be- 
fore my eyes were suddenly darkened. When I glanced up 
this time the sun had disappeared. In its stead, there not far 
ahead of us, a heavy bank of cloud stood up in the sky. Al- 
ready a stiff wind was blowing. 

"Rain!" I said quite declaratively to the porter after he 
had snapped on the lights for me. 

He smiled as if I had been trying to work off some stale 
joke on him. "No, not rain." 

Suddenly we were in it. Tens of thousands of acres of dry 
red soil had been plowed for cotton, and the wind was 
sweeping it up, driving it, whirling it in every direction. 
There were waves of it like the waves of a heavy rain-storm 
but much darker. There were areas of quiescence, where 
the waves were thin; there were other areas where you could 
not see three hundred feet from the train. Once I watched 
a clump of trees some distance ahead through a "thin" 
area. Swiftly we were coming nearer. Their bare tops were 
spotted with heavy, dark-looking bunches of mistletoe. As 
the train took the curve toward them, they began to grow 
indistinct, and when we passed where they should have been 
they were not to be seen at all. Gusts of fresh dust, originat- 
ing in the plowed land on every side of us, whipped and 
swirled about the train as if the train were the cause of 
them. How long the storm had been busy before we ran 
into it I do not know; but already along depressions in the 
highway that paralleled the railroad, it had piled drifts of 
dust a foot and a half or two feet deep. 

We swept into an area of at least a few thousand acres 
where the fields were in pasture. There was but a thin veil 

i6o / Travel by Train 

of dust above it. The dust had not yet become general. Then 
we ran into a greater area than the original one where the 
wind was sucking the red soil from the fields and whirling 
it every where whirling it so high that the individual clouds 
of it lost all identity in the impenetrable darkness that was 
filling the skies. 

I left the train within an hour at the little town of Ver- 
non. The car in which I had been riding was doubly tight 
and air-conditioned. Yet when I was ready to close the bag 
that had stood open on the seat beside me since I began my 
reading, I could write my name on the sides of the bag or on 
any article in sight within it. 

After I had arranged at the hotel for a few comfortable 
hours of rest if I should desire them, I walked to the limits 
of the town to watch the storm in its growing full force. For 
in the early phase of a storm, even so small an area as a city 
of some thousands that does not originate dust itself pro- 
vides the haven of a slightly thinner area. It was possible to 
see a half-mile. Stark warehouses, and box-cars on sid- 
ings, and bare telephone poles stood in so many different 
degrees of obscurity that I seemed to walk in a world created 
by an impressionistic artist who had a strong preference for 
the matter-of-fact. 

But the people were sharply, abnormally real. They 
called across from one front yard to another in quickened 
neighborliness. They stood at front gates where they had 
come out to say good-bye to relatives who had driven in 
from the country, and looked about and made sweeping 
gestures with long arms and shook their heads dubiously. 
They shared some great awareness. They spoke with the 
emotional directness that one hears in the early days of 
a war. 

While I ate supper I could see clouds of dust steadily 

Dust 161 

drifting through the streets. "Seems to be coming/' I re- 
marked to the waitress who brought me my dessert and saw 
me watching something outside. 

"Lord, this is nothingyet. Last year you couldn't see 
that building across there a part of the time. And we had 
forty days of it, I've still got about a half-acre in the bottom 
of my lungs. If it comes like that again I'm just going to curl 
up in a corner and croak at the beginning of it and save 
hospital bills." 

By eight o'clock something that was not the darkness of 
night clothed everything in a gray obscurity. Street lights, 
if they were not too far away, seemed bright enough in them- 
selves, but no rays of light extended from them out into the 
darkness. And I had to take a bus for thirty or forty miles 
across into southwestern Oklahoma. 

"Will you be able to see?" I asked the driver before I 
climbed in. 

"Ill try to. But heck, she's getting everything churned 
up good and proper." 

The headlights of the bus penetrated only a short dis- 
tance, so that we seemed constantly to be driving into a gray, 
intangible wall. Pairs of pale spots came out of the wall and 
grew bright as they passed us. Once a car shot like a bul- 
let from the gray directly in front of us. But there was 

"Good thing there are not too many aviators like that 
coming along," the driver remarked. "Oh, well, I've got 
good brakes." 

He needed them several times. But eventually we ar- 
rived in Altus. 

When I went up to the room that the hotel had reserved 
for me, I found that the windows were not only closed but 
carefully locked. Yet little paths of red dust a half-inch deep 

162 / Travel by Train 

curved gracefully from the corner of each sash across the 
inside sill. 

I opened one of the windows a little to see what would 
happen. I could see no dust coining in. The worst, I de- 
cided, must be over. I opened the other. I still could see no 
dust. But the fresher air was agreeable. I would sleep. 

After what seemed hours I was awakened by a prolonged 
ringing of the telephone in the next room. A man whose 
business was oil was receiving a long-distance call at five in 
the morning. The deal seemed important. Yes, he would 
dress and get out and away at once. But for a half-hour he 
coughed and sneezed and cleared his throat. When at last I 
heard him going, I went back to sleep. Much later I thought 
I must have slept a long time, and I had a vague impression 
that I had heard windows rattling most of the time. But it 
was still dark. 

When I reached over to turn on the light I had a sudden 
taste of earth that was not unlike the taste of clay I had 
known since youth. I sneezed. Then I noticed a strange 
furry feeling in my ears. 

It was eight-thirty. 

I walked in bare feet to the southeast window and looked 
out. In the east there was not so much as a place for the sun. 
The reddish-gray wall was everywhere, though apparently 
thinner, more nearly translucent, when one looked straight 
up toward a sky that might be clear. Off to the south there 
seemed to be a stream of water in a mist, with reddish flat- 
land just beyond. In the stiff wind, the clouds of thick dust 
and thinner dust followed one another slowly. At a moment 
when visibility was fairly high I saw that my stream was a 
low, white stucco building, and that the flatland was the 
long red roof of another just beyond. 

I happened to put my hand to my head. My hair was as 

Dust 163 

gritty as if I had been turning somersaults in a sandpile. I 
lifted a bare foot. The bottom of it was covered with clean- 
looking dust. I touched a protected window-sill. It was so 
thick with dust that I could have made a topographical map 
on it. I walked over to the dresser where a bell-boy had put 
a pitcher of ice-water when I arrived. Red dust had been 
sliding down the inner sides of the pitcher until there was 
a stretch of land entirely around the body of water. 

Downstairs when I had finished my breakfast I said to the 
stout woman who gave me my change, "I see you have a 
little dust/* 

"A little?" And she gave a subdued snort, as if I had done 
her town an injustice. "I guess you had better walk out and 
see what it's like." 

I walked several miles out to the edge of town and then 
on into the country. The same impressionist who preferred 
matterof-fact subjects had been at work here. And the fas- 
cination of the indefinite was increased by the suggestion 
of something luminous in the dust. It made me feel that a 
little farther ahead I must inevitably walk out into clear 
day. The dust must be flowing away. As I walked on, I 
thought that the farm-houses were becoming the least bit 
more distinct than they had been; that the bodies of the 
trees were more substantial; that the roads went farther be- 
fore they were swallowed up. But when I turned to walk 
back town ward, I was aware of the same illusion. 

Toward noon the dust overhead seemed thinner. Once 
when I looked up I thought it must be like this to live at the 
bottom of the sea. It seemed lighter somewhere up there. 
Once I saw the sun. But it was blue as blue as the sky. Soon 
after, it was a much deeper blue. 

"Just how does your red dust make the sun blue?" I asked 
a man who looked as if he ought to know. 

164 / Travel by Train 

"It acts as a screen/ 1 he replied simply, "and cuts the red 
rays out." 

Despite the physical unpleasantness, I enjoyed wander- 
ing about. More and more I was aware of the people who 
were everywhere at the bottom of this dark semi-opaque 
sea. Something in their manner showed that they were in- 
creasingly conscious of a presence. They seemed to move 
along with little resistance and no friction. They were stick- 
ing closer together. Over in the court-house where men 
seeking relief employment filled the corridors and the base- 
ment, the men in charge seemed to be making an unusual 
effort not to be abrupt. And up at a junior college two or 
three hundred boys and girls revealed a determined cheer- 
ful concentration that was exceptional even for the youth- 
ful and the earnest. 

In the afternoon I had to go fifty or sixty miles across the 
country. The face of the earth was somber with a substan- 
tial darkness that was unlike night. The friends who were 
taking me entertained me with fascinating Indian lore of 
the region. Suddenly, while they spoke, something unbeliev- 
ably gigantic right over us loomed black and more sub- 
stantial than the dark dust. Then we could see the details, 
We were close against a ridge of the Wichita Mountains. In 
themselves these mountains are strange enough, rising as 
they do like monster rock piles on level green plains. But in 
the dust when one comes upon them without forewarning^ 
they are unforgettably grotesque. Yes, I thought when I 
had recovered a little, it must be like this at the bottom of 
the sea with mountains stretching up in dark water toward 
pale light. 

The next morning after I had spent much time shaking 
the dust from towels and clearing my eyes and ears and 
throat, I slipped down to the little coffee shop for breakfast. 

Dust 1 65 

Across the U of the counter a red-faced young truck driver 
was smiling wide as he ate his fried eggs. His face invited 

"What makes you so blue this morning?" the sole waitress 
asked him. 

He smiled all the more as he tried to look serious. "Well, 
you know I went to sleep with my mouth open last night, 
and when I waked up this morning I found I had swallered 
my farm," 

The man next to me saw that I was interested, and leaned 
over as if he possessed inside information. "Hear about that 
fellow out west of town yesterday?" 

I admitted that I had not. 

"Why, he was driving along, not going very fast because 
of the dust, and saw a big ten-gallon hat just at the edge of 
the road and thought he had better climb out and get it. 
But when he picked it up there was a man under it just his 
head still above the dust. 

" "Why, say/ he said to him, 'is there anything I can do 
for you? I never saw anybody drifted in quite as deep as you 
are, just a-walking along/ 

" 'Just a-walking along?* the fellow says. 'God, I'm on a 
horse/ " 

Up on the hill at the college for teachers that morning, 
some girl students put on a musical skit entitled The Dust 
Storm King, written by a versatile woman who knew her 
subject. The setting for the performance was perfect, for 
dust pressed in close everywhere, and left only such pro- 
tected caverns as college auditoriums, or houses window- 
stripped with adhesive tape, free that is, relatively free 
for breathing purposes. 

Something in the way young life refused to be smothered 
by the dust attracted me. Late in the afternoon I tramped 

166 / Travel by Train 

back toward the college. Half-way between downtown and 
the campus were some public-school buildings on a hill 
that made it easy for me to keep my direction. 

As I approached the main college building, I heard musi- 
cal instruments. They seemed to be on the top floor. I 
climbed up and up until I came to a room close against the 
roof. A competent-looking young member of the faculty 
was busy with a student orchestra of thirty-five or forty 
pieces. I dropped into a chair near the door and listened and 
watched. The building commanded a great expanse of 
western Oklahoma. But this afternoon all visibility was 
lost a little beyond the college campus. In this strangely un- 
natural shadowland, energetic boys and girls from ranches 
and small towns gave themselves to music. 

The conductor asked them to turn to a sequence of selec- 
tions from Gilbert and Sullivan. When they were all in 
readiness when the most deliberate violinist had at last got 
her chin adjusted he said, "Just a minute. I wonder how 
many of you ever saw a Gilbert and Sullivan opera/* 

One girl with a sense of humor spoke up: "Why don't you 
ask us how many of us ever saw an opera of any kind?" 

This question was not put, but the first one was. There 
was just one person in the orchestra who had ever seen any- 
thing of Gilbert and Sullivan's produced. Yet they caught 
the spirit of what they were undertaking, and played as if 
they might have been brought up on The Mikado and The 
Pirates of Penzance. It was a sight to be remembered: an 
orchestra of youths who had grown up in greater intimacy 
with farm machinery than with musical instruments lean- 
ing into Gilbert and Sullivan with a gusto. 

Down on the first floor I talked with a woman who de- 
clared that she herself had found the people of the region 
so perpetually interesting that she would not think of living 

Dust 167 

anywhere else. I sketched the orchestra as I had seen it in a 
brightly lighted room completely encompassed by dust 
the students playing as if they found a certain novelty in 
violins, cellos, percussion and wind instruments, the alert 
lithe girl at the piano ready always to run a little ahead for 
the benefit of everybody and show how it was all to sound 
when put together. 

"It must have been . . ." and she mentioned a name that 
I have forgotten. "If it was, she is probably the best pianist 
we have in college. Comes from out here fifteen miles or so 
on a ranch. For a time she came every day an hour or so be- 
fore classes in the morning and practised; then she stayed 
for another hour after the college day was over and prac- 
tised again. Some time ago she quit coming. I was troubled. 
I wondered if she had had to give up college, as so many o 
them have had to do. Then one morning she reappeared. 
I expressed my misgivings and my delight. 'Oh/ she said, 
'my father sold his wheat, and I stayed out to help him 
load it.' " 

She had to tell me how interesting it was to watch the 
transformation of these youngsters who came in out of the 
dust. One day a girl in worn dress and old tennis-shoes ap- 
peared at the college and wished to enroll for a part of a 
term. She had boiled cotton gleaned the cotton that opens 
out after the regular picking season and saved the five dol- 
lars required for registration. And here she was, ready to 
enter college but with no money to live on. Sometimes she 
had only a nickel a day for food a pint of milk or a ham- 
burger. For three years she worked in the cotton-fields and 
came each February for nine weeks in college. 

This teacher created a secretaryship for her and an op- 
portunity for her to break down her feeling of inferiority. 
When she had a little money, the teacher went with her to 

168 / Travel by Train 

buy her first coat a twenty-four-dollar coat at half-price. 
She began to speak to people, to accept invitations to go 
to the college auditorium for concerts. Life ceased to hurt 
and became exciting. And today the position she holds 
makes her biography seem like a Horatio Alger story but 

Yes, this teacher liked the people who came in out of the 
dust. She would hesitate to say what percentage of the boys 
who had come to college in her time had walked on carpets 
before they came; she might have the percentage too high. 
But they did come. In the old days they drove in behind 
mule teams; then they came on trains; now they arrive in 
automobiles, new, old, or borrowed. They are country boys 
with long-distance eyes and healthy wills. They help her to 
live some of the poetry essential to her temperament. 

In one of the other Dust Bowl colleges the dust was so 
heavy that all activities were suspended. In another, when I 
spoke to a student about the drama of dust if one could only 
forget the staggering cattle, the pneumonia, and the general 
destruction when it stayed too long, he said with something 
of the provincial's sense of the tall story, "But you know 
we've decided to discontinue them." 

He spoke for his region. He told me about the "chisels" 
that cut narrow trenches scarcely as wide as a hand eight- 
een or twenty inches deep, two or three feet apart across 
fields for the water to collect in when the weather is wet, 
and for the dust to roll into before it gets started when the 
weather is dry; about the increasing number of deep wells 
from which Dust Bowl farmers were now irrigating their 
wheat; about the success of concerted effort to put more of 
the dry land back into grass; about all sorts of refinements 
of this or that method designed to make life a little less pre- 
carious. No, they were not going to move out any more 

Dust 169 

than the people of any other region. Did anybody believe 
they were going to let a mere occasional assault of nature 
deprive them of the prerogatives that are supposed to be- 
long to human beings in general? 


~\ A THAT I am thinking about is something I saw 
\ /A / while I traveled in 1937, but the germ of the 

V V idea was planted in my mind while I was on a 
trip in the early spring of 1932 right in the trough of the 
depression that we all are now so anxious to forget, but 
must not. I had come into St. Louis on a night train, and 
since I am longer than a sleeping-car berth, I felt the need 
of a walk that would enable me to extend myself. 

I struck off northward from the region of the Statler and 
Lennox Hotels into the vast area that is inhabited by whites 
and blacks and all shades of browns. For days I had been 
going from one intellectual center to another in which 
charming women, young and old, had talked brightly about 
books and authors and themselves, and men with many 
academic degrees had delivered learned theses on the eco- 


Waste 171 

nomic situation with all the foot-notes includedat so 
many dinner tables that I was more than ready to get out 
and see human beings in the raw. 

Everywhere there were men. They sat close together on 
the outside steps of their frowsy tenement houses; they were 
lined up on the curb with their knees high, their feet rest- 
ing in the shallow gutter the Negroes like crows on a limb; 
they were standing in quiet, friendly groups on street cor- 
ners where they could get the full effect of a warmth from 
the skies that cost nothing. Whites and blacks seemed not 
to avoid each other, yet I was sometimes aware that I passed 
from one racial zone to another. 

I began to count as I walked along. In two hours I had 
gone all the way to the river up at the northeast corner of 
the city not by the most direct route and I had seen more 
than a thousand men sitting around, waiting for a chance to 
work, for a chance to earn something to eat. And hun- 
dreds of these buildings it seemed to be half of them as I 
walked along, though it was probably not were tenantless, 
and boys had already begun to smash the windows. The 
former occupants had not gone to any other city, but they 
were not here. 

When I could see that the river was just there ahead, I 
walked over a block or two to a towering grain-elevator 
where the railroad tracks followed the river bank. I wanted 
to spend some time with the riverI always do. Then I no- 
ticed the grain-elevator a little more in detail. Over the 
entrance it said, "Capacity 1,500,000 bushels/' or some- 
thing like that, 

I started back toward the downtown region. Before I had 
gone three blocks, I saw a queue of men a little ahead on 
the other side of the street. I stopped a man who wandered 
along as if he had no very clear destination in mind, and 

172 / Travel by Train 

asked him what all those men were doing in a queue in such 
an outlying region as this. 

"There's a little woman over there who gives them free 
soup once a day. She and her husband conduct a mission 
you can see a cross and a red heart right over their heads 
on the window and she's trying to keep some of them 
from starving." 

The whole matter seemed to be distasteful to him. "Why, 
are you interested in such things as that?" 

When he decided that I was, he confessed to me that he 
had been walking along there trying to decide whether to 
go over and get in the queue himself. 

He was an upholsterer, he told me. He and his wife had 
saved money and bought a house. They had managed and 
skimped until they had paid for it "every red cent." Then 
the depression came. He had now had nothing to do for two 
years. People were just letting their furniture wear out. 
The only way he and his wife could live was by mortgag- 
ing their house. Then they had to take a second mortgage 
on it. And now they were going to lose it next week prob- 
ablyand little enough good had it all done them, for now 
they might starve anyhow. 

I crossed over and got in the queue myself. The men were 
cheerful at the prospect of food. They chaffed; they de- 
clared that they were going to have to tighten up their belts 
another hole if she didn't "open her up" pretty soon. Then 
a man came along the queue begging the men to accept what 
looked like subversive propaganda of some kind. Some of 
the men refused to take any or said they already had some. 
I accepted the slender pamphlet. It declared on the front 
page that Jesus saves. It invited everybody to come to the 
meetings in the evening and learn how great tribulations 
can be made endurable. 

Waste 173 

At last somebody came to the door which really stood 
openand gave a signal. The men poured into the little 
room, filled the benches at the long oilcloth-covered table, 
and instantly were busy with their cabbage soup and slices 
of bread without butter. 

I asked one of the young converts who was acting as a 
waiter if I might see the woman in charge. She came from a 
kitchen that smelled not of cabbage soup but of frying 
beef a spare little woman who kept pressing her palm 
against her forehead while she told me how she managed 
to carry on. "Lots of people," she said, "send me a little 
check every now and then. Several of the professors out at 
Washington University send me something regularly out 
of their salaries. And think of it it's just wonderful I have 
had three big gifts of twenty-five dollars each this month." 

She noticed that I watched her pressing her forehead. 
"I have a frightful headache this morning. We have meet- 
ings every night" she called my attention to the little audi- 
torium next door "and then, of course, I have to keep 
everything going in the kitchen. And there are so many 
special cases. A man came here this morning and asked: 
* Would you keep me and my family from starving to death?* 
'I certainly would/ I told him. My husband went with him 
just over here on the next street and found the whole 
family of them, husband, wife, five children and another 
on the way huddled together in a little abandoned store- 
room. They are all so badly gone that they've got to have 
something more than cabbage soup which is just the best 
we can do for the three hundred or so who come here off 
and on. So I sent my husband out for enough beefsteak for 
the mother, at least. I've got a whole big bucket of things 
ready to send over to them as soon as the meat is done." 

She pressed her forehead. "Why don't you try a little 

174 I Travel by Train 

aspirin/' I suggested, "until you can catch up with your 

"Oh," she asked apologetically, "was I pressing my fore- 
head again? Well, maybe you won't quite understand, but 
we trust in the Lord to cure our headaches." 

"You'd better help Him out a little with some aspirin/' 
I urged. 

She laughed at my skepticism as if she had not minded 
in the least. "I may have to but not just yet." 

How did I happen to come in? I assured her that I was 
just a wandering author who found most human beings 
interesting. I put a very modest bit of money in her hand 
and told her that it was great that she was able to keep so 
many of them alive. 

"Now see there!" she exclaimed, as she looked at the 
money before she found a pocket for it. "The Lord does 
provide. That will just pay for the beefsteak!" 

Then she went on in an effort not to express pride in 
what she was doing: "But if you want to see a lot of them, 
go down to Father Dempsey's place." She told me where. 
"He feeds thousands of them in one way or another. Some 
of mine go down there for supper after they have been here 
at noon, and manage in that way to make out. Of course, 
it's not much; they don't get any variety at all. But it will 
keep them from starving." 

I went down to Father Dempsey's. It was a kind of down- 
and-outers* hotel established by a priest who had insisted 
that Jesus meant what he said. An old building it looked 
like an abandoned high school had been converted into 
this haven where men could stay even if they had little or 
no money. 

The man at the desk was generous enough to show me all 
ova: the place. "Well begin at the beginning," he said in a 


rather matter-of-fact voice, "down in the basement where 
they come in. You see, many of the fellows have had tough 
lines so long they've become nothing much more than or- 
dinary bums so far as their physical habits are concerned; 
so in order to protect everybody else we begin by putting 
them through this delouser you know, just the same as 
in the war. While they are going through, we put their 
clothes through-if they are any good. If they are not, we 
try to get them some that are. 1 ' Then we went on up through 
the building. Great areas had been cut up by means of thin 
partitions so that every man might have a little privacy. 
At several doors he knocked and then showed me what the 
rooms were like, and how the men often tried to make them 
appear livable. 

With time for deliberate observation we looked into the 
lounge lobby and reading quarters. Men in all stages of 
nervous breakdown filled every available chair and seat 
in sight. The ones still somewhat in command of them- 
selves were reading or trying to read. Some listened to the 
phonograph or radio and stared off into the distance wildly, 
intently, as if they were not far from insanity. A slender, 
nervous-looking light-haired young fellow and a stoutish 
ruddy-faced man whose hair was completely white sat in 
strange contrast side by side and let the tears trickle down 
over their cheeks from weary bloodshot eyes without any 
effort to check them or to conceal them. 

"Pretty tough!" I said when we finally walked back 
toward his desk. 

He glanced at me as if he had discovered that I was very 
inexperienced. "Have you been down along the river to 
any of the Hoovervilles?" 

I told him that I had not; that I already had some notion 
of what one of them must be like. 

176 / Travel by Train 

But the next day I went down to see one of them with 
a friend. "This one/' he said, "ought to do as well as any." 

Sixteen hundred people had taken possession of the bank 
of the Mississippi between the fluctuating water-level and 
the railroad tracks close above, and had built for them- 
selves tiny boxlike huts out of scraps of boards, corrugated 
packing cases, the tin of large containers, tarred paper, and 
plastering laths. Down over the water's edge they had slen- 
der little privies that they had to keep moving up and down 
the bank as the water rose and fell. They had established 
for themselves a post-office and information desk that was 
presided over by a swarthy young architect who had had 
nothing to do for two years. 

I spoke of the evidence of good behavior everywhere. 

"Oh, yes/' he assured me. "They are really a very decent 
lot. We are right out in the edge of things here, where you 
might expect we'd need plenty of patroling, but as a matter 
of fact, about the only time we ever call a policeman is 
when somebody jumps off the high bridge up there/* 

"They jump off, do they?" 

"You bet they do. They get tired of waiting for the de- 
pression to be over. One jumped off last night. And one 
jumped off just a little while ago. That's what they're doing 
up there now trying to recover the body." 

There was a great silent amplitude in the Mississippi. 

But most of the inhabitants were trying to hold on, were 
trying to remain decent and save a little of the best of them- 
selves. Women had put up clean remnants of white cur- 
tains, had arched bits of drapery neatly, had found ways 
of using this or that blue tassel or other oddment of finery 
that they had salvaged when they were evicted from more 
respectable quarters. One man who had been a house painter 
had painted his shack a pleasant pale green, and had put 


up a sign of his own making which announced to the world 
that he was prepared to do all kinds of high-grade work. But 
neither he nor anyone else along the street of clay seemed 
to be able to find any more paint. One family of children 
had come upon a depression puppy, and they insisted that 
he eat as long as they did. But it required only one look to 
see that nobody in the household was eating overmuch. A 
very intelligent gentlemanly old man-whose face bore the 
puzzled expression of a terrier that has been whipped when 
in fact he has not chased the cat a sensitive, poetic man, 
had fenced his ten-foot yard neatly with pointed old plas- 
tering laths and was spading the ground and pulverizing it 
preparatory to the planting of lily bulbs. When he had sized 
me up slyly and had evidently decided that I was not regard- 
ing him with ridicule, he told me all about his project. The 
summer before he had carried water up from the river every 
day and watered every foot of his yard, so that he had flowers 
nearly all summer. "But/* he added with pride in his work, 
"I've got to begin all over again this year. So many people 
along here wanted starts, that I've given away most of the 
bulbs I meant to plant myself." 

Three young Negroes had made for themselves musical 
instruments, and were going about playing for all parts of 
the street. They had a wooden whistle, an old washboard 
which one of them played with improvised thimbles on 
his fingers and thumb, and a kind of xylophone made by 
nailing tomato cans tightly on the top of a box that served 
as a sounding board and then bending the edges of the 
open ends of the cans until a musical scale resulted. The 
man who performed on this with drumsticks of his own 
make also performed on a cymbal made from the bell-like 
bronze shade of a lamp. 

Somebody had devised a church, too, that was large 

178 / Travel by Train 

enough to seat eighteen. I asked a ^ark-eyed, pleasantly 
impish young lady of eleven who had joined us somewhere 
along the way, and seemed much concerned with having us 
receive a good impression of her town, what denomination 
the church was. She shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly, 
looked away as if she did not know the answer, and then 
with her head as much as her hand directed our attention 
to the evangelical-looking pulpit that bore the simple deco- 
ration of the cross. 

These two days were the beginning of my better under- 
standing of poverty. I had felt poverty's pinch as a child 
and after. I had grown up in a mining community where 
all about me were undernourished children and mothers 
whose clothing was so scant and so tattered that they were 
ashamed to venture away from their own door-stepsall 
because nobody who worked in the mines had more than 
a total of half-time employment, and no guarantee of that. 
Poverty was painful; poverty was humiliating. But between 
1932 and the period in 1937 that I have in mind now, I 
came to know how infinitely more than this poverty is. In 
the beginning of those evil years, men and women could 
attach all their misfortunes to the depression and then find 
hope in assuming that when the depression came to an 
end their misfortunes likewise would. But by 1937 they 
were seeing that for them the depression was to have no end. 
No matter how great an effort they might now make, they 
were to belong to the impoverished class as long as they 
lived. At first they had been fearful fearful about tomor- 
row. The immediate future was something too difficult to 
face. Then they had experienced a great hatred. Who had 
been responsible for this, anyhow? Certainly they had not. 
And then, in the end, they were overwhelmed and numbed 
by a terrifying futility. 

Waste 179 

So by 1937, 1 had come to complete sight: Poverty, despite 
all the sugary words of comfortable people about the bless- 
ings hidden in adversity, is the most devastating evil that 
an intelligent, sensitive mind can suffer. Those who do not 
like to think about anything unpleasant would dissent from 
this view. They would excuse themselves by insisting that 
poverty develops strength of character. But have you ever 
heard anyone suggest that poverty be made universal so that 
everybody become strong? 

The truth, quite on the contrary, is that poverty stultifies 
a human being as inevitably as a continued injection of 
poison into the blood. By a slow numbing it renders men 
and women incapable of any sharp awareness of their own 
best qualities of character; it robs them of their sense of high 
enterprise; it undermines their confidence and prevents 
them from extending the essential part of themselves, their 
self-feeling, into the life of the world about them. It un- 
balances them in the wrong direction, by crowding their 
lives full of inescapable considerations of the scant, the 
petty, the under-dog point of view. 

That is what poverty does. In ninety-nine cases out of 
a hundred some such spiritual deterioration follows any 
sharp, extended poverty. But when the poverty begins to 
look as if it had become permanent the deterioration is 
hastened. The possibility of yet some eleventh-hour way 
out, which will keep a man from despair for a long time, has 
vanished. A man who feels that his riches stultify him can 
get rid of them in a day. A man who is caught by a poverty 
that to him looks permanent must keep his cause of stulti- 
fication, for nobody is ready to take it over. He walks abroad 
in the morning and offers to sell his way out. It may be that 
his only possible contribution is physical strength; but 
whatever it is, nobody chooses to buy. On his way he sees 

180 / Travel by Train 

grocery stores bulging with every good thing to eat, cloth- 
ing stores bulging with every good thing to wear. Yet he 
must content himself and his family with food that the well- 
to-do would not think of letting their dogs eat, and he must 
walk among his fellow mortals in coat and trousers picked 
up at a second-hand shop or pawnshop, and shoes bought at 
a church bazaar or dug from an ash-can. Something like 
that is all that he sees ahead for himself. Doesn't he feel that 
the world is a fine place filled with thoughtful people, and 
that he himself is a miraculous being only a little below 
the stature of a god? 

And those who are not so poor as that, yet who know that 
something too formidable for them to grapple with unaided 
will in like manner enslave them as long as they live are 
they much better off? 

"1*11 tell you 111 tell you exactly what it is/* said a 
woman of high intelligence and discriminating speech who 
had been reduced from a modest, earned subsistence to 
this upper level of poverty by the knavery of some shrewd 
investment brokers; "it is getting up every morning and 
feeling that somebody you know is dying at the moment. 
I suppose it must be because you are conscious of your own 
slow death. You declare you'll outface it. I've done that a 
thousand times. But no matter what you do, nothing in 
the world can look the same. I must be careful not to use 
quite so much of anything for breakfast as I really need. 
And what is the very cheapest thing I can get for dinner? 
I spend time trying to figure that out. And then I never 
buy one thing without wondering if I ought not to have 
spent a little more time and tried to find something cheaper. 
I buy the cheapest dresses; and when they are out of style 
I make them over as long as the material will hold together. 
I like books current books but I can't even rent the ones 

Waste 181 

I'd like to own. I like flowers. But I tell you, the colors of 
the dahlias and phlox fade when you can't get out of your 
head the fear that next week you may not have enough to 
hold soul and body together. I walk in the woods and try 
to feel some of the life all about me that I used to feel, and 
it only makes me sad. Nothing, I tell you, can be the same 
not even myself. I try to be, but I know all the while that 
nearly all my neighbors even the ones who do not mean 
to attach so much importance to economic status, as though 
it were an index of intelligence, that they discover through 
my threadbare state a deficiency in me that they had not 
until just now ever dreamed was there. And they are right. 
For something has passed from me. I am no longer myself. 
I cannot 'even want to be myself as much as I used to." 

On a long swinging trip up the Ohio valley and back 
again to the Mississippi, I became poverty-conscious. In 
the edges of the South I saw share-croppers and other tenant 
farmers by hundreds, by thousands, whose families looked 
like nothing so much as weather-tattered scarecrows and 
they were living a life that was productive for everybody 
but themselves and their class. I stood in a station while 
a toothless old woman who looked as if she had never had a 
square meal in her life was saying to an old man of the same 
sort: "But I says, 'The Lord gives,' so I s'pose the Lord takes 
away, too." And when I got on the train I sat for an hour 
with a business man from New York a most engaging and 
friendly person and heard him tell with great satisfaction 
how he was able to make good profits in a venture in the 
Piedmont district of South Carolina because he had to pay 
only a dollar a day to his workers for a ten-hour day so 
great was the oversupply of workers. And in a number of 
cities, restaurant managers told me that so many children 
and grown-ups fed daily from restaurant garbage-cans, that 

182 / Travel by Train 

they required "the boys" to sort the garbage when they 
put it out in the alley, so that the hungry would not have 
to dig through all the potato peelings and other wet stuff 
in order to get at the breadcrusts and halves of bananas. 

As I traveled through the southern half of Ohio and on 
into West Virginia I saw deserted mining towns where the 
coal had been worked out, or where strip-mining with power 
shovels had supplanted men altogether; steep hillsides where 
the abandoned were trying to produce corn, beans, and 
potatoes in soil that was largely sandstone or flintstone; river 
and creek bottoms lined with people who had got possession 
of a hovel or an abandoned box-car and were living in 
it and growing as much as they could make a half-acre pro- 
duce. I saw children who had started out with the eagerness 
of all new life, and with the best of biological equipment, 
gradually fading through undernourishment and general 
want until they were taking on the character of their harum- 
scarum surroundings, and proving incontrovertibly that 
most people are not poor because they are "like that/' but 
"like that" because they are poor. There seemed to be no 
increase in life anywhere, but everywhere a decline. I ex- 
perienced a strange enervation, as if the total of human 
energy had been so diminished that I was running short 
myself. When the train swung sharply round a hill where 
a dilapidated old brick house of much dignity stood among 
some leaning cedars, I wanted to rush up the hill through 
the dying orchard and past the cedars, throw the door open 
and cry: "In God's name, is there any life here, or is the 
last of it going?" 

And West Virginia was more disheartening stilL For gen- 
erations the West Virginian has lived a life of the greatest 
heroism in his effort to realize for his children the vast 
dream that he brought with him from beyond the moun- 

Waste i8s 


tains. But he has been too successfully robbed of everything 
that should be his natural heritage. Somebody from some- 
where else has come in and got possession of his coal, and 
has hauled it to other regions for the production of profits 
there. Somebody has come in and taken his timber. Some- 
body has come in and taken his oil and gas. He has been 
forced to be content with a daily wage paid to him by one 
of these somebodies from somewhere else. Often enough 
the wage has been inhumanly low, and the mining-town 
life in which he has been compelled to bring up his family 
has been disgraceful beyond description. He harbors a well- 
grounded feeling that, through somebody's trick, life has 
irreparably defrauded him. Is it surprising that he is in a 
state of mind that the inflammatory might touch off? 

Not one word of fundamental blame can be attached to 
such people. They start out in childhood as bravely as any 
other new biological and mental life. But they are not many 
years old before the pressure begins to show. Between Par- 
kersburg and Clarksburg, as the train climbed a steep grade 
so slowly that it was going but little faster than a man could 
walk, we were about to overtake a young woman who was 
carrying a two-year-old child briskly along a path in the 
meadow just above the railroad tracks. The child, a light- 
haired, blue-eyed girl that might well enough have been 
the original of one of Sir Joshua Reynolds's studies, looked 
back over her mother's shoulder and watched the train so 
that we saw her full in the face all the while we were com- 
ing up. She was filled with wonder and delight and con- 
fidence. But as we passed, and the mother's face came into 
view she could not have been more than eighteen or nine- 
teen, and, with shoulders back the least bit to balance the 
weight of the child, moved with the litheness of a school- 
girlit revealed the hardness, the suspicious glance, the 

184 / Travel by Train 

shadow, which told that she already felt the contest going 
against her. The next day I watched a girl out of the same 
hill region while she played the violinbrilliantly. The 
straight, sandstone-colored hair, the face that bore the marks 
of some uphill fight, the nervous body, and keen mind, 
somehow constituted a person who seemed ready in a mo- 
ment, because of her sense of inferior opportunity, to fly 
into battle. 

I caught something of poverty's sweep. I saw poverty with 
a certain wholeness. I saw it like a section of a map in sec- 
ond color spreading a smothering blanket over millions of 
people and chloroforming their thought and wills. During 
workdays they labored at something that as things are now 
organized was guaranteed to be insufficient. And then on 
idle days and Sundays they could do nothing but wait, 
wait, and hopelessly try to put in the time until somebody 
who owned the land they tilled, or the mills they operated, 
and the rattletrap houses they lived in should find it finan- 
cially profitable to give them the least bit of a better 

Yet all the way back from the Alleghenies to the Missis- 
sippi I encountered people who baited me into seeing how 
far the impoverished are from being justified in hope. 

"It wouldn't hurt to have a little new housing down 
there, would it?" I asked of the agreeable man across the 
aisle in the Pullman who had traded newspapers with me 
a few minutes before. 

"Ah-h," he said, with something that was more like dis- 
pleasure than disbelief in his voice, "they like it. They 
wouldn't feel at home if they had anything better." 

"Possibly not, now that they are inured to this. But how 
about their children?** 

He looked at me strangely as if he had suddenly dis~ 

Waste 185 

covered a bearded Russian commissar sitting there across 
from him. "Do you mean to say that you think things like 
that can be changed?'* 

I must have bristled up ever so slightly, for I echoed his 
language: "Do you mean to tell me that with farms already 
overproducing, and with limitless supplies of bricks and 
cement in the earth to be had for the making, there should 
be any decent family in the United States without abun- 
dant food and comfortable shelter?" 

He laughed. He looked at me pityingly. "In my town 
we have an up-and-coming club of four hundred and fifty 
men practical men, if you know what a practical man is" 

"Usually a man who never sees anything until at least 
ten years after it has happened. But go ahead/* 

"Well, I was just going to say that if you were to come 
and tell them all this that you've been telling me, they 
would simply laugh at you/' 

"I am sure they would/' 

He was puzzled. "Why, man, you can't change such 
things as that. Don't you know that some things have 
money in them and others don't? Why, that ought to be 
as simple as a, b, c. They just happen to be doing the 
things that don't have money in them. There's no money 
in coal mining or not much, anyway. It simply isn't there. 
There's no money in this tenant farming and a hell of 
a lot of other things. My God, Isn't that plain enough? It 
simply isn't there/' 

"But why isn't it there? If a man works twice the usual 
number of hours a day producing food that the rest of 
us have to have, or risks his life in a coal mine where the 
casualties are about as great as on a fairly quiet sector of 
a battle-front, why shouldn't he be paid in proportion to 
what he contributes contributes to the rest of us? I noticed 

i86 / Travel by Train 

that you had bacon and eggs and toast and honey for break- 
fast this morning. Did they come out of the top of some 
pleasant skyscraper somewhere?" 

He shook his head as if I were a small boy who couldn't 
understand long division. "Why, all this goes along with 
our development. Aren't you in favor of progress or are 
you? These people are the least fit so they don't survive, 
that's all. They've had their chance/' 

"Who decides that they are the least fit? And what sort 
of chance do their children have? Here here's what I tore 
from the newspaper I traded to you. One of the members 
of the Rockefeller family left his estate to be held in trust 
till 1950 and then distributed among his great-grand- 
children. There are more than two dozen of them now, 
according to the newspaper, and there may be twice that 
many by 1950. Even if there should be, every one of them 
will automatically become a millionaire. Now when some 
children are started off in that fashion, and others from 
the first day of their lives are undernourished, physically 
and otherwise, in hovels like those we saw back there, isn't 
it a bit dogmatic to assume without further experimenta- 
tion that those in the hovels are inferior by nature?" 

He was outraged. He threw up his hands in an impatient 
expression of disgust. "Oh, my God! My God! Well feed 
'em. We'll pay the taxes and feed 'em. What more can 
you ask?" 

"At least a little," I answered." Then for an hour each 
one of us looked very steadfastly out at the landscape on 
his own side of the car. 

And no sooner had I arrived at my destination than I 
had a related point of view thrust upon me. I was to spend 
a week-end in a college where the guest-rooms were in the 
main building. I busied myself on Saturday evening with 

Waste 187 

the page proofs of a little book on Edwin Arlington Robin- 
son. In the middle of the evening as I wandered through 
long corridors to rest my eyes for a few minutes I came 
upon the president of the college and his wife and two 
other guests. One of these was a physician in his sixties, 
and a patron, I believe, of the college. We all sat together 
for a time in one of the parlors. The physician professed 
to know something about me at least he knew that I was 
a writing man of some sort and immediately asked what 
I was working on at the moment. I told him something 
of the little book on Robinson. 

"Don't know the first thing about him/* he confessed, 
as if he were not too much ashamed. 

I had stopped my proof-reading just where Robinson 
was in despair because of his long struggle with poverty, 
and then unexpectedly found himself saved by the bequest 
of Professor John Hays Gardiner. I thought the quietly 
dramatic incident might be impressive, and related it. 

"He suffered from some weakness," the physician de- 
clared diagnostically, "or he never would have let himself 
get into such a predicament. Why didn't he get out and 

"As a matter of fact, he did. But if he used up his 
energy at something else, what was to become of the poetry 
he wanted to write?" 

"No matter what He should have worked and saved 
money, and made himself the leisure in which to write at 
anything as a. garage man, if necessary. I worked my way 
through college, and it was good for me/* 

"But afterward, you did not work as a garage man in 
order that you might practise medicine for nothing." 

He looked at me as if I were beginning to hit below the 
belt. "It's a question of demand natural demand. There's 

i88 / Travel by Train 

a demand for medicine. People are ready to pay for it." 
I had visions of miles of medical propaganda that I had 
seen, and of countless cards issued by local medical associa- 
tions which announced that beginning next month if you 
didn't care to pay the following scale of fees you could send 
for the undertaker or words to that effect. But I only re- 
marked: "We are just in a cave-man stage of democracy un- 
less we give every human being opportunity to kick free 
and be the most of himself possible, and compensate him 
for whatever of general usefulness he can best contribute." 
"Utopian I" he declared with a finality that both of us 
were ready to accept* 



THIS is a confession of something 1 meant to do, 
and of why I failed to do it. 1 meant to write about 
the deep South the old South that was left when 
human slavery was gone. It had always fascinated me* \ 
was constantly trying to find ways of routing journeys so 
that they would take me through the region and give me 
new glimpses of something already familiar or something 
still to be explored. 

And now after alternations of summer sunshine and soft, 
slushy snow in north Texas, I was to have days of free time 
in New Orleans. I would have something better than hur- 
ried trips through the Vieux Carr. I would make my way 
upstate and see ante-bellum plantation houses. I would go 
all the way up the river to Natchez and wander about 


igo / Travel by Train 

among old houses of such beauty that they seem to have 
sprung from some poetic existence no longer possible to 
the American mind. But especially would I explore New 
Orleans to my heart's content. I would breathe the Creole 

It was a wet, heavy morning when I arrived. Yes, the 
hotelkeeper could let me have a room, provided I did not 
want to keep it on into the week-end, for everything in his 
house had long been reserved for Mardi Gras. 

This was as it should be; this had the true New Orleans 
note. And when I went up to my room, it also was in the 
right tradition, for it was as large as all four of the rooms 
I had most recently occupied in succession, the ceiling 
was far away like the sky, and instead of crashing metro- 
politan roars bursting in at the windows, there only trick- 
led in some friendly clattering noises from the narrow 
street just below. 

But down in the lobby after breakfast, I did not seem 
to be in New Orleans. The great briskness of life seemed 
somehow inappropriate. Quickly I was comforted, though, 
when I saw a book-shop right in the lobby that sold books 
on "old New Orleans." I was comforted still more when the 
young woman in charge told me that she was a relative 
of George W. Cable's. Though I doubted as did she 
whether he could find a publisher for Old Creole Days if 
he were seeking one today, it was good to have his mate- 
rial on record. Then just as quickly I oscillated back 
to a troubled feeling when I encountered the overbrisk 
guide by the door who wished to show me about. I could 
see New Orleans in three hoursif only I entrusted myself 
to him. No, I did not want any guide. I was ready to pay 
him to keep away. Didn't I know well enough what I 
wanted to see? 

Creole 191 

The skies cleared a little, and in the dripping sunshine 
I walked over to Canal Street. All the people in the city 
seemed to be on the sidewalks. Yet I did not see a single 
face out of the old New Orleans. They were cheerful, ener- 
getic faces, looking ahead. At once I liked them. They 
were not what I had been expecting to see; they were more 

I crossed Canal Street, and wandered contentedly into 
Royal. Two men just ahead of me were talking about 
Kingfish Huey Long. In the part of the United States 
where I live, I am sure I never heard one word about 
Huey Long that was to his credit. And here were two men 
in broad daylight who spoke deliberately, earnestly about 
him as if he had been one of the saviors of mankind. For 
me there was a great stimulating liveliness in their con- 
sidered speech. I kept within hearing of them for a min- 
ute or two until they turned in at a shop. 

Then I loafed along other streets along Bienville, 
where, I remembered, E. H. Sothern once told me he 
was born; along Chartres; along Toulouse; along Bour- 
bon; along St. Louis. But nothing in the entire quarter 
interested me as I had thought it would. I felt no magic 
in such names as the Old Absinthe House, the Calaboza, 
the Spanish Arsenal, the Gate of the Lions, the Old Davis 
Dance Hall. The "old" houses seemed dreadfully second- 
hand. The antiques were self-conscious. How could there 
be so much unemployment everywhere in the United 
States when all these shops had to be supplied with 

Nor did any restaurant advertise the kind of luncheon 
I wanted. Why should I go into a dark, cavernous-looking 
place decorated with swords and other too-ancient-looking 
souvenirs and eat a meal of foods suited to a starving pirate, 

192 / Travel by Train 

when I wished only a lettuce salad and some corn-sticks 
and coffee. So I tramped all the way back to the hotel 
and then crossed the street and ate in a busy, cheerful cafe- 

For a time I was by myself at the table. Then a blue- 
eyed waitress who might have been from East Boston un- 
loaded a man's tray for him opposite me. 

He nodded quite cordially. Was I a stranger? He thought 
I must be. Yes, he himself had always lived in New Or- 
leans. He hoped I was finding the city an interesting place. 

Yes, I was. "But tell me about this man Huey Long. 
Up where I live, you never hear anything to his credit. Is 
there anything?" 

"Plenty!" he said, drawing the word out for emphasis. 
"More to be said for him than against him. At least I've 
about decided so/* x 

"All right, go ahead and present his case for him. You 
see, I've never heard what the defense had to say." 

He was not hesitant. "Well, we've got about as fine a 
system of surfaced roads as you'll find in the South and 
you've got to give the credit to Huey. Until he came along 
nobody knew just what we had here in the state, for there 
were no roads so that you could get around to see. Maybe 
he did build the ones in front of his friends' houses first 
I don't know. But he built the others, too. And all these 
free bridges they were Huey's idea, too. And instead of 
a crumbling old fortress for a state-house weVe now got 
about as fine a one as anybody. And didn't he put our state 
university on the map?" 

"But don't all those things cost money?" 

"Surel But we've got it. We're paying off the bonds. 
We can. And we've got the roads and the bridges, and all 
the rest. Why, the tourists who are swarming in here to 

Creole 193 

see what we've got will pay for everything if they keep on 
coming at the rate of the past two or three years." 

He grew enthusiastic. There were other things to be 
said in Huey's favor. "Didn't Huey wage war on the tele- 
phone company when it was soaking us, and save us a lot 
of money? And didn't he make the oil interests come across 
with a little of their share of the taxes? Got free textbooks 
for the kids of the state, too, so that a lot of the ones that'd 
been too poor to go to school could go. Why, that's what 
I call a damned good record for one lifetime especially 
when it's a short one." 

We talked for an hour. Then he thought he had better 
get back to the office before they found out that they could 
get along without him. 

I strolled back to the Vieux Carr. The cathedral any- 
how would be worth time. I had always liked the etching 
of it that hung above the bookcases at home. 

But by the time I arrived, the cathedral, too, was the 
least bit less impressive than I had thought it was going 
to be. I believed I liked the etching better. Maybe, after 
all, art was an improvement on other art. 

I stepped inside. The sudden great quiet brought me 
strange assurance. I stood motionless. I wanted to stand 
thus for a long time. 

Then some hard-eyed beadle of a person drew near and 
said in a raucous voice, "Right this way to see all the points 
of interest 1" He brought a dozen sight-seers together over 
on the other side and then walked back toward me. "All 
the points of interestl All the points of interest! All the 
points of interest!" 

I wanted to tell him to go to hell with his points of in- 
terest. Was there nothing else to be found in a church? But 
instead I turned on my heel without a word and walked out 

194 I Travel by Train 

into the intermittent sunshine and across to Jackson Square. 
The grass was green and the flowers were in full bloom, 
just as if there were no antiques in the world. 

Beyond the long shed of the wharves almost directly 
in front of me, the spars of some kind of ship rose just to 

"What is it?" I asked a policeman, and nodded. 

"Warship the new ' Brooklyn/ You can go aboard if you 
want to." 

I went aboard; I chatted with some sailors, and from one 
boyish new recruit received special attentions when he 
learned that I was from his home town; I enjoyed the 
hospitality of some courteous officers. 

When I came ashore I walked forward on the wharf to 
study the thin bow of the ship. A half-dozen loafers sat on 
some crates near where I stopped. While I watched a gull 
with a broken wing swimming about in the heavy-looking 
water of the Mississippi trying to get food that did not re- 
quire flying, they discussed international affairs. 

"This Mauslini, he's a purty big shot, all right." 

"Yes, but Hitler's goin* to lick hell out of him some of 
these days unless all the papers are giving us bull." 

The destiny of nations was a game. They laughed. "J ust 
like bein* any other kind of champeen. Mauslini thinks 
he's 'good. Then Hitler comes along and shows him just 
how good. Then some of these days somebody will come 
along and show Hitler, too. And maybe not so many God- 
damned days, either!" They guessed that the Kingfish if he 
had come along a little further would have been the one to 
turn the trick. The Kingfish was bright. 

At dinner that evening in the house of an old friend, my 
hostess regretted that she could not help me to a surer esti- 
mate of the Kingfish's qualities. "You know, there's a dif- 

Creole 195 

ference of opinion about even the monument or tomb that 
they say they're going to build for him up at Baton Rouge. 
Some say it's to commemorate him, and some say it's just to 
hold him down." 

But two guests at dinner offered to help. They were driv- 
ing back to Natchez the next afternoon. Didn't I wish to go 
along and see the beautiful old houses? 

Yes, I still did. 

The next morning, though, the rain was pouring. For 
two hours after breakfast I tramped restlessly about in the 
hotel. A man who looked as if he might be from somewhere 
else sat in a deep chair in the lobby and read Every Man a 
King. I amused myself by watching his face as I marched 
back and forth, and tried to imagine just what he was read- 
ing about when I saw the expression on his face under- 
going changes. He did not notice my watching. He was so 
dead in earnest that he was oblivious of everything around 

While I marched I decided not to go to Natchez. Instead 
I climbed into a taxi, went to a newspaper building and 
asked to be directed to the editorial rooms. After I had 
waited a moment a man came from somewhere into the 
quiet of the office and asked me what he could do for me. 
I told him that I was looking for somebody who was ready 
to loaf for a half-hour, at least. I wanted to get the low-down 
on Huey Long. 

"I know the very man you are looking for," he said 
cheerfully. "This way!" 

And soon I was sitting face to face with an energetic 
gray-haired man who had been in the newspaper game all 
his life just because he liked it. 

In a room noisy with typewriters he sat back in his desk 
chair and answered questions and talked. No, the paper 

196 / Travel by Train 

had not gone along with Huey in his career exactly; but 
Huey was an amazing person. He helped me to see the 
struggling, eloquent young advocate, the dapper young 
governor, the vindictive, cruel fighter of the later years. He 
pictured and half-impersonated Huey in his hotel room 
when his enemies were so hot in the battle against him that 
an emergency had to be met lying in bed with a telephone 
on either side, calling his friends in every part of the state, 
calling them by the dozens without the use of a note-book 
or telephone directory. Huey knew all the tricks of warfare 
and he had the brilliant ability to carry them off success- 
fully more times than not. 

"But the total effect of his life, now that he has been dead 
a few years ?" 

"Well, he speeded us up. You can't say less than that 
for him. We are doing all sorts of things in the state now 
that we probably wouldn't have thought of trying if he 
hadn't happened along." 

Hadn't I seen some of their roads and bridges? Huey 
probably paid too much for them, but they were worth 
seeing. He thought I had better spend a day or two at 
Baton Rouge. I ought not to miss the new state university 
and the new state-house. 

The next morning I was on the way. I did not waste even 
the time I spent on the train. While the long aisle of the 
coaches was curving and straightening and counter-curving 
as we sped through wet country, I startled approachable- 
looking people by asking them point-blank to tell me what 
they thought of Huey Long. Nobody declined to answer. 
Nobody was neutral. Huey was the most dangerous man 
the state perhaps the nation ever produced. Huey was the 
greatest governor the state ever had. Huey was just an 

Creole 197 

ordinary thug. Huey would have been the next president 
of the United Statesand a good one. 

One man confessed that he was a prejudiced witness. "I 
work for the Standard Oil Company." He laughed. "But 
you've got to hand it to him." 

Another man was an artist in his outlook. Huey had the 
great redeeming quality of interest. He was no worse than 
his enemies, and not half so stupid. 

He smiled reflectively as he talked, and half of the time 
looked out at the window or up along the rows of heads 
above the seats of the coach. He liked to remember Huey's 
earlier life. It made what he called a hell of a good story. 
Huey was alive. Huey was ready to look out for himself 
and did. Wasn't it something for a man to get out and hoe 
his own row through law school, through years of thin 
practice, and later through the heavy barrage laid down by 
financial interests who suspected and rightly that he was 
their enemy? Wasn't it natural for him to champion the 
underdog? Hadn't he been one long enough to appreciate 
how it feels? And were his ideas so crazy? Did I know of 
any instances where Huey backed the wrong side when the 
future welfare of the people was at stake? Weren't we all 
going to have to come to something like Huey's notion of 
spreading the wealth "You know 'spreading the wealth' is 
what he called it originally" if the machine were to go 
on running, if the wealth were to remain wealth for any- 
body? Weren't the rich themselves beginning to talk about 
the need of prosperity for the wide base of the social pyra- 
mid? Just who, then, had been so crazy? 

All the while he talked we were skimming along through 
flat wet country thick with bare-looking little houses not 
much larger than chicken houses. They were very much in 

ig8 / Travel by Train 

one style a story-and-a-half front with a set-In porch taking 
a good large notch out of the first floor, and a tiny, one- 
story shed of a kitchen behind. I had said little, because I 
was interested in listening and looking. 

"This is the Huey he wanted to be/' he said as he fished 
in his pocket and found a worn clipping from one of 
Huey's speeches in the United States Senate: 

"Nonetheless my voice will be the same as it has been. 
Patronage will not change it. Fear will not change it. Per- 
secution will not change it. It cannot be changed while 
people suffer. The only way it can be changed is to make 
the lives of these people decent and respectable. No one 
will ever hear political opposition out of me when that is 

"So," he said as he watched me finish the words, "you 
must be beginning to see that I'm for him." 

Baton Rouge was alive and inviting. The new state 
university was as great a delight to the eye as I had been told 
it would be even if the football stadium did bulk rather 
too large. 

But it was the new State-house that I was most anxious 
to see. Everybody spoke of it as if it were Huey Long's chief 
work and monument. I had been prepared to expect 
something impressive and appropriate. I had seen the 
tower of the Nebraska state-house at Lincoln, and knew 
how effective a tower in the open can be. Nebraska, though, 
has not given enough thought to its state-house approaches. 
Out there I was disappointed in the close view. But in 
Baton Rouge somebody had given the approaches much 
thought. I came suddenly to the end of the street, and there 
diagonally across immensely large formal gardens of great 
beauty, through Spanish moss clinging to a few trees in the 
corner of the gardens close in front of me, the gray tower 

Creole iqq 

rose four or five hundred feet toward a blue sky that was 
flecked with white clouds. It was a strangely useful-looking 
tower, too, with columnar lines of windows that added to 
the effect of height and lightness. 

With a certain hesitation I walked toward it through 
blooming azaleas and roses and camellias that were alive 
with mocking-birds. I was out of the world of ordinary 
realities. But eventually it seemed a very long, very agree- 
able time I was aware of the slamming of automobile 
doors, and the ordinary conversations of men, and the 
presence, directly in front of me, not of the white tower, 
but of the broad, slowly rising steps of the entrance, the two 
gigantic groups symbolizing the Patriots and the Pioneers 
upon the buttresses of the steps, and the entrance doorway 
rising so high that it seemed almost presumption for any- 
thing so small as a man to enter through it. 

Did I wish to have some one take me about and explain 
all the marbles and bronzes and panels and plaques and 
murals? No, I did not, though I felt that the somewhat 
heavy opulence of decoration would require time from 
anyone who would have his impressions clear. But, yes, I 
did wish to go to the top of the tower. 

It was like being suspended in a very steady plane not 
too far above the earth. The Mississippi off to the right 
stretched away southward in such lazy-looking calm and 
sense of dominance that one saw it first. But there was the 
city spreading in the sunlight before us, and beyond it the 
new state university, and directly beneath us the formal 
state-house grounds. 

"He's buried right there," some woman over on my 
right was explaining to another who stood beside her, 
"where you see that small area in the very middle of the 

soo / Travel by Train 

There was a more or less continuous procession from 
automobiles across to the little area. Some of the men un- 
covered as they came up to it, as if they were entering the 
tomb of Napoleon. 

When I went back down, I spent an hour or two among 
the bronzes and murals before I took the train back to New 
Orleans. On the way out in the morning I had been im- 
pressed by everything I saw rows of palmettos just out- 
side New Orleans, hundreds of men at work on some 
Federal project, plantation workers busy in wet fields, cab- 
bage in rows, berry bushes white with bloom, houses on 
stilts above ground that was marshy from recent rains, 
children of various shades playing along wet roads. But I 
have only one memory of the trip back two strapping 
Negro men walking along a track that paralleled ours, each 
carrying a heavy railroad tie with an ax sunk deep into it, 
the handle sticking down close along the tie, and behind 
them a short distance a Negro girl of fourteen or fifteen, 
lithe as a young tigress, carrying a tie that was just as large 
as the others. 

On the evening train when I started northward, the man 
across the table in the dining-car looked up pleasantly 
when the steward seated me. After a few preliminaries he 
asked: "Seeing a little of old New Orleans?" 

"I meant to, but I got side-tracked to Huey Long, and 
have spent most of my time chasing around to find out 
what he was really up to." 

His face grew tense. "He didn't get away with any of that 
body-guard dictator stuff when he came up to New York. 
When he insulted those two girls at that night-club or 
whatever it was, didn't he get the beating-up of his life?" 

"Just what did he say to them that could insult them?" 

Creole 201 

the man beside me wanted to know. "Anyhow, the whole 
thing was a frame-up. 7 ' 

They were still arguing when I left the table an hour 
and a half later to enjoy the lounge-car. 

Toward midnight, when I was on my way back to bed, 
as I passed the dressing-room of one Pullman I overheard 
somebody in full voice mention Huey Long. Could it be 
that these two were still arguing? I pushed the green cur- 
tain aside and glanced in. No, they were another two. 

"Come in and join us," a stocky man whose face was 
ruddy commanded me. "This is almost gone, but I've got 
another pint." 

I told him I had heard somebody mention Huey Long's 
name and was only interested in what was being said. 

He jumped up. "You won't drink awhile? Why, whiskies 
don't hurt you at least they don't hurt me. I have ten a 
day, three hundred a month that's about my average and 
just feel that right arm. Hard as nails, isn't it?** 

"Maybe it's just pickled/' 

He took a quick glance at me, decided in my favor, 
slapped me on the shoulder, and begged me to sit down. 
"Hell, it's only midnight. My friend here that I fell in with 
is not as good a drinker as I am, and he's almost past talk- 
ing. So I'll talk to you." He laughed. 

Yes! Sure! He had known Huey. That was what they had 
just been talking about. He had sold construction materials 
to the state of Louisiana while Huey was governor. And he 
had just been saying that he had more than once placed 
a little something here and there that he thought would 
lubricate the way to sales, but that he had no reason to 
believe that Huey had even profited from it personally. 
Of course, some of his friends might have. And Huey built 

2O2 / Travel by Train 

the best roads in the South. "They'll stand up. They've got 
plenty of cement and steel in them. I know/* 

He turned to the other man. "But I didn't mean to hold 
the floor. You were just about to say something/' 

"Oh, I don't know whether I can make myself clear/' 

He shivered a little, like a boy who is chilled through, 
but has a strong will. "All I was trying to say was that Huey 
was an idealist who came upon evil days. If I can make 
myself clear don't you think most people treat their ideal- 
ism as an avocation? They just keep it to play around with 
when they're not obliged to be busy with something else. 
They like to have it to fall back on. There it is safe! But 
Huey thought he could weave his into the texture of things. 
He thought it could be done. And he was soon so far from 
contact with most of his fellow Louisianians that he got 
lost." Whose fault, then, was it? Who could say? But most 
of Huey's crimes would be forgotten, some day, he was sure, 
and the eventual Huey Long myth would be that of a 
bright young man who had honestly wanted to be useful to 
his kind and who had had some success. 

The next morning as we sped through areas of re- 
habilitated red fields in upper Georgia, I was farther away 
than ever from thought of the antiques of New Orleans. 
What if the entire South should be awakened to new con- 
sciousness of itself and its resources? And is the human race 
so drugged with its own lassitude that it cannot become 
aware of its capacities except when jolted by some one who 
employs strong-arm methods? 


IT is always exciting to return from newer regions of the 
United States to Cambridge, Massachusetts. If I chance 
to come in from the west along the Charles River I be- 
gin while we are still in Newton to strain my eyes for a first 
glimpse of the commanding familiar bulk of Memorial 
Hall, with its steadily growing family of white towers and 
spires spreading out in every direction. As soon as I am at 
home I must walk some streets that I have known and see 
some faces that I have seen before and hear speech that I 
have come to like more than any other. 

"Well, you see I didn't have to go back across after that 
job of being King," remarked the stooped, blue-eyed old 
Irishman who has swept our street for a dozen years, when 
he noticed me and thought I must be just back from some- 
where. "But it does beat hell how one American woman 
can march right in over there and change the whole drift 
of everything/' 


2O4 / Travel by Train 

The surgeons had first carved a piece out of one side of 
his face, and then down the side of his neck, but he de- 
clared that he was still going strong and that it was a fine 

Something like that I encounter almost before I am out 
of the house. Then I wander, relaxed and at ease with the 
world, over miles of brick sidewalks unquestionably the 
worst ones in existence and reacquaint myself with the 
familiar. I must get to feeling at home once more so that I 
may settle down to chapter-the-next. 

I walk along Kirkland Street, where I used sometimes 
to meet William James as I hurried to class, and recall the 
friendly steadiness of his eyes as I risked glancing at his 
face; I wander on through the Harvard Yard and Harvard 
Square with their high percentage of live, intelligent-look- 
ing people, and on down to the Charles, where the flashing 
oars of a half-dozen speeding shells ripple and rib clear 
water that is full of the reflection of white towers; I walk 
along the river and enjoy one of the Cambridge skies cele- 
brated by a Cambridge poet; I pass a grocery store where 
Dean Le Baron R. Briggs one day stood backed against the 
rough-faced brick wall, with the front of one shoe heel 
lifted and hooked on the upper edge of the cement founda- 
tion and with a green bookbag full of groceries over his 
shoulder, and told me a story that he relished. 

Cambridge is full of such memories. Cambridge is full of 
much else that is pleasant. Cambridge seems not to impose 
upon me a single disagreeable fact. I am in a haven of 
safety. Yet I do not long feel altogether safe. After a few 
days I am aware of an irritation, as if nettles were growing 
up here and there through the wide cracks between the 
bricks of the sidewalks and attaining my own height. 

I always have this experience when I remain in Cam- 

Home 205 

bridge long enough. It recurs, I have to admit, because of 
my attitude toward human beings as I have known them. 
This attitude is nothing that I boast of; but because it 
seems to me such a reasonable one for anybody to hold, I 
sometimes reveal it when I am not trying to do so. In the 
abstract, it is simply this: I should like to see any person 
who possesses responsive native equipment possess also 
the livable surroundings and the freedom from inner con- 
flict and emotional insecurity that would permit him to 
enjoy an enriched consciousness of life. For to me it is 
through enrichment of consciousness that a man comes if 
at allto the sense of harmony and fair prospect that saves 
him from being a lunatic or a beast. 

This means more than it seems to say. For I have come to 
believe that the number of human bfeings who possess re- 
sponsive equipment who are moved to think about their 
own lives and to aspire to a better one of some kind, and 
who do aspire, perhaps up to some breaking-point along 
the way is much greater than it is fashionable to admit. I 
know railroad engineers, oil drillers, coal miners, Pullman 
porters, shoe cobblers, elevator operators, potters, brick- 
layers, farm owners, farm wives, and farm hands whose 
essential gentility, humor, consideration for neighbors next 
door or on the other side of the earth, capacity to look at 
new facts and grasp their meaning, and hungerings for 
some unachieved satisfying life could be matched with the 
qualities of any group of business men, public officials, or 
college teachers that might be assembled for the test. I 
should like to see all such people, regardless of their eco- 
nomic rating or race or special beliefs, come into possession 
o whatever is required to afford them some of life's com- 

Now anybody who lets it be known that he believes great 

2o6 / Travel by Train 

numbers of human beings in the United States deserve a 
better opportunity than they enjoy, and that he favors 
seeing that they get it, inevitably begets special trouble for 
himself in Cambridge. I ought to remember this and 
develop some safer technique of precaution. But each time 
I come back I find Cambridge at once so friendly to me as 
a person, and on the surface so friendly toward the world 
in general, that I am habitually beguiled into the necessity 
of learning everything all over again. 

It was just so when I came back the last time. One morn- 
ing when I went down to the bank to see whether I had 
any balance I chanced to meet an acquaintance. I had two 
or three etchings or lithographs from the Southwest under 
my arm. 

"Something interesting?" he asked as he tried to peer 
through the thin paper. 

I showed them to him. One was an artist's idealization of 
Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

He studied it for a moment. "Now, what business have 
they with such buildings as those way down there?" 

The next day I received a sharper, heavier impression. 
A friend had asked me to have a bite of lunch with him at 
the Faculty Club. As soon as we were seated he confessed 
that he had asked me because he hoped to get something 
out of me. I traveled, I saw the country. Now what did I 
think of the looks of things? Before he gave me any op- 
portunity to tell him he told me between great choleric 
swallows of soup what he himself thought. The country 
was going to hell. Just consider his own case. He was 
actually worse off than he had been in the evil days of the 
depression. His Harvard salary, it was true, had not been 
reduced. But it had not been reduced in the depression 
either. That was just the trouble. Prices had now gone up 

Home 207 

and he could not save as much to invest as in 1931 or 1932. 

I sought to comfort him. I told him that I had just 
returned from the Dust Bowl in northwestern Oklahoma 
and that, with somewhat better prices, farmers who had 
faced starvation only three or four years ago were now 
quite heroically managing to get along. 

Well, yes, he supposed there might be a little something 
in that. But the taxes a man had to pay! 

I sought to ease him along a little farther. I had seen, in 
the same region, how usefully some of the money collected 
by the government is spent. The farmers in the region had 
been suffering heavy losses from a certain disease among 
their cattle, and a government agency was the only one 
that could direct the war against the disease in so wide an 
area, I had found it reassuring to see scientific knowledge 
thus made a regular part of the farmer's resources. 

He took larger and larger bites of cold tongue at in- 
creased speed. Then he let go: "There you are! It wasn't 
enough for us to feed all those Middle Westerners in the 
depression. We've got to be taxed so that somebody from 
one of their cow colleges can have the job of telling them 
what to do for their sick cattle. That's how much indi- 
vidual initiative there is left! The whole damned country 
is going socialistic." 

He wanted resistance. So I tried not to seem merely 
amused. "Now, just wait a minute. Let's get the whole 
thing straight. On the way up from New York I sat for an 
hour and watched the lighthouses on every ledge and point 
along the Connecticut shore. Arn I to understand that they 
are all maintained by private capital?" 

"My God! You mean to say that there's no difference be- 
tween the two cases?" 

"Why, yes. Protecting shipping after it is in boats is 

208 / Travel by Train 

democracy, and protecting it while it is still walking round 
on four feet is socialism." 

Since I denied him the impetus of showing any temper, 
he let a hot smile flash over his face while he declared that 
I ought to have my bachelor's degree taken away from me. 
How a man who seemed as sane as I did in many matters 
could be so absolutely crazy in economics was more than he 
could figure out. 

As I walked homeward I stopped before a book-shop on 
lower Brattle Street to look at the titles in the window. A 
man of my years whom I have long known stopped beside 
me. "Just the expert I'm needing. Recommend a couple of 
good books to me not tripe, but real meat." 

"There they are," I said, "both by the same author/' 
Thurman W. Arnold's The Symbols of Government and 
The Folklore of Capitalism were displayed together. 

"Must be some God-damned Communist if titles mean 

It did no good to assure him that the author held a 
somewhat respectable professorship in the Yale Law 
School. The colleges were all going to hell Yale especially. 

I kept to my work for several days and ate my lunch at 
Sears Roebuck's counter, a half-mile from Harvard Square. 

But one afternoon I had to go down to the post-office. It 
was raining, and just as I entered the lobby a man turned 
on his heel from the stamp window with such abruptness, 
and brushed past two or three of us and out into a waiting 
cab with such an air of contempt for everybody in sight 
that I took a second look. As he settled back into the cab I 
thought I had never seen a more perfect representative of 
the body of New Englanders who subscribe to the Sym- 
phony, contribute to charities, entertain their friends with 

Home 209 

genuine cordiality, and drive their mill employees hard, 

"Saw you noticing that fellow/' the man at the wicket 
said. "You looked at him as if you had about the same 
opinion of him that I have. Somebody left some steamship 
reservations there on the desk in the lobby a while ago. 
They were for space on a boat that is sailing tonight. I tele- 
phoned to the steamship offices and gave them the numbers 
of the state-rooms, and they managed to get in touch with 
the owner. He was the bird you saw. When I passed the 
tickets through to him he took them as if they were money 
I owed him and never even grunted in thanks/ 1 

Every day I came upon some new or half-repeated varia- 
tion of this strange partnership of cordiality and contempt, 
or cordiality and choleric rage, or cordiality and fear. One 
evening the wife of Albert Schweitzer lectured in behalf of 
his hospital in Africa. Since the evening when a waitress 
who is also a poet and a sensitive philosopher had first 
brought one of his books to me I had always regarded him 
as one of the great men of our time. But now, as his wife 
presented his case for him talking on in broken English 
and showing colored slides of the suffering natives who 
were ready to endure any hardship for weeks or months in 
order to reach the hospital he seemed not only great, but 
infinitely gentle in his unsentimentalized love for his kind. 
I understood better now how he was willing to subordinate 
his interest in Bach, and the building and playing of or- 
gans, and his quest of the historical Jesus, and his work on 
the stumbling march of civilization, to this one great enter- 
prise of expressing in a specific way his reverence for all 
life. I thought I understood a little better too why he felt 
out of sympathy with the unthinking age in which he lived, 
and in consequence experienced a great isolation. Some 

2io / Travel by Train 

women near us wept, and at the end of the lecture the au- 
dience contributed generously toward the hospital's con- 

A day or two later a woman in our neighborhood re- 
marked to me that she had seen us there and wasn't it a 
wonderful thing Albert Schweitzer was doing? I spoke of 
having recently been down among the mountaineers of 
Tennessee and Kentucky, and of the need down there not 
only for hospitals but for something much more difficult to 

A shadow swept her face as though I had announced the 
threat of invasion by a foreign enemy. But she recovered 
quickly and said she supposed that I was right. But didn't 
I think that giving money to people pauperized them? She 
had once known of an instance. She sketched it. She had 
actually known that instance herself. Then she wandered 
away into the safely vague and universal, and ended by 
obliging me to hear for the millionth time the story of the 
poor family that had been moved into a comfortable little 
house only to use the new bathtub to keep the coal in. I had 
heard some version of it in every city in the country. 

I doubled my vigilance in keeping away from people who 
might want to know what I thought about anything except 
the weather. When I one day met a man just at lunch time 
who said that he understood I had been away and that he'd 
like to ask me some questions, I hastened to reply that I 
had to be over in the city in fifteen minutes and then in 
order to make my words true, I went over. I could eat just 
as well over there and maybe do an errand or two after- 

I sought out a quiet restaurant off Charles Street where 
one may eat upstairs. As I was about to sit down I heard 
somebody calling my name my first name. Two men with 

Home 211 

whom I had had a casual Harvard Square acquaintance for 
years were at a table for three. 

"We're giving hell to the New Deal; come over and 
join us/' 

While I waited for my order I listened in silence. But 
silence was not what they wanted; they wanted approval. 

When they finally smoked me out I tried to make myself 
clear by saying that since I believed the aspirations of indi- 
vidual human beings were more important than anything 
else, I clung to no partisanships or organized antipathies, 
but accepted or rejected measures on the basis of whether 
they afforded more people an opportunity for growth. 

They looked at me and at each other in consternation. 
"Do you mean to say then that you can find some things to 
accept in what this God-damned Russian dictator is doing 
down at Washington?" 

I did not have to answer. Nor did I have opportunity to 
insist that my interests are not politically partisan, but only 
those of a man who is aware that human beings have a com- 
mon destiny. For they took all the time to tell me what 
they thought of the President of the United States. I should 
like to make a record of what they called him, of what the 
vast majority of my pleasant friends call him when some- 
body's chance remark frees them of all inhibitions. Once 
when I was writing something on Abraham Lincoln I did 
print a paragraph of names that his opponents had applied 
to him. But the ones my neighbors apply to the President of 
the United States in these newer days of freedom are not 
printable even in these newer days. It is only possible to 
record something of the point of view that friends of mine 
hold. One of these two the more moderate of them had 
hoped the train would run off the track when the President 
was on his way to the Harvard Tercentenary, but there had 

212 / Travel by Train 

been no such good luck. He had been obliged to content 
himself with hearing one of his classmates who had had a 
houseful of the old crowd in for a little cheer tell one of 
their number who had defended the President that he was 
never to darken his door again. 

I squirmed in protest. A man ought to be allowed to 
speak respectfully of the President of the United States 
without being accused of low motives. 

Then their true state of mind began to reveal itself. "But 
what else could you expect? He was elected by the riffraff! 
Twenty millions of them bought outright 1" 

I suggested that the poetic spirit seemed about to flower 
again in New England. 

"Just what the hell am I to make of that remark anyhow? 
Are you turning rabble-rouser yourself?" 

Then I tried to grow formal. I quoted two lines of Carl 
Sandburg's that I had just been reading about 

the distinction between a demagogue squawking 
and the presentation of tragic plainspoken fact. 

But he found no comfort in them. Instead, he sought the 
harder to think of something that would express his con- 
tempt for what he called "the great unwashed" American 
people. "We might as well have Hitler over here. He would 
at least get rid of a few Jews." 

I was completing the inevitable cycle. I was coming anew 
to see what Cambridge is like not East Cambridge or 
North Cambridge, but the Harvard Square Cambridge that 
gives the city its name. Despite all that has been written 
about New England aloofness, the people in Cambridge are 
cordial. And they are perhaps as ready as any to tolerate the 
mere physical presence of a variant among them. But Cam- 
bridge is too complete in itself. This Cambridge the Cam- 


bridge known in books is made up largely of people who 
are at once endowed financially either through private in- 
come or through salaries from an endowed institution and 
blessed with the spiritual advantages of all that has been 
done by human beings in a long descent of years. They 
circulate chiefly among themselves. The people whom they 
know are not facing any such unthinkable disaster as starva- 
tion in a dust-storm, or civil war in an industrial city, or 
freezing in a blizzard, or suffocation in a mine. They there- 
fore find it easy to believe that people who live in the world 
of such abject terrors and continue to suffer from them do 
so because of some defect of character. I have been told 
times without number in Cambridge that the unemployed 
could find employment if they were made of the right stuff. 
I have been told the same thing in other places but only 
occasionally. In Cambridge the idea is a concentrate. It does 
little good to suggest that there must have been a strange 
relapse to laziness all at once in 1929 or 1930. The ques- 
tions keep right on coming: "Why don't they stop trying 
to grow wheat out there?*' "If they don't want to work in an 
automobile factory, why don't they do something else?" 
"Why do people want to live in North Dakota anyhow?" 
"I can't imagine anybody's wanting to work in a dirty coal 
mine. They must be pretty shiftless or they wouldn't do it/ 7 
Cambridge does not mean to be either provincial or 
heartless. The people who count pride themselves on being 
open-minded. But you have to find the side of their minds 
that is open. They declare they are liberals "true liberals." 
And they prove their point by turning out in large num- 
bers to hear such men as Mr. Walter Lippmann. While he 
employs easy-looking processes of reasoning to reduce the 
disquieting, shapeless facts of life to neat intellectual pack- 
ages, their sense of liberality is glowing. They carry his 

214 I Travel by Train 

packages away, and at dinner tables where everybody feels 
as they do if he doesn't he keeps still they have the great 
excitement of discovering that if you are a true liberal no 
action of any kind has to be taken. 

This is the Cambridge that I must expect to see as long 
as I go away and come back. For this Cambridge derives its 
way of looking at human beings largely from the Harvard 
round which it has grown up. Not that Harvard is without 
excellencies. She has them, almost beyond comparison. The 
library is now the largest university library in the world; 
Fogg Museum is almost unique among the smaller mu- 
seums of art; the Harvard University Press is an author's 
ideal publisher; the persons of distinction from other coun- 
tries who are lecturing at Harvard each year are numerous 
enough to constitute a kind of circulating university them- 
selves; and among the many persons in the various faculties 
who rank high in the world of learning there are occasional 
men whose feeling toward mankind in the concrete is gen- 
uinely liberal. "We keep some around/* said a man who 
was formerly an official part of Harvard, and who does not 
like liberals, "just to show to people when they ask if we've 
got any." Whether or not this is the true explanation, these 
men are present, and they comfort anyone who is aware 
that the contemporary world exists and that some of the 
people in it require a better chance. 

But no one who lives next door to Harvard, no matter 
how much he esteems the institution or how much affec- 
tion he may have for the men who taught him there, can 
believe that the official drift of Harvard is in the direction 
taken by these occasional men. It is not toward any sym- 
pathetic rapid extension of democracy in the specific. The 
institution is too intricately enmeshed in its source of finan- 
cial supply. Ralph Waldo Emerson perceived what was hap- 

Home 215 

pening. He protested in 1861 that whereas the institution 
ought to be a "fountain of novelties out of heaven, a Del- 
phos uttering warning and ravishing oracles to lift and lead 
mankind," it was nothing of the sort because it was dom- 
inated by State Street. In seventy-five years little seems to 
have changed unless it is the name of the street that may 
most appropriately be singled out as symbolic. Although 
something actually new and untrammeled seems to appear 
from time to time, it somehow always shapes itself to fit 
into a frame of reference made by somebody who was think- 
ing of something else. 

Inescapably such an environment fosters sterility in any- 
thing important to men and women who through social 
maladjustments are unable to enjoy an enriched conscious- 
ness of life. Investigators, instead of risking clues to what 
seem to be new social facts and expressions of new kinds of 
human need, keep to the safer practice of applying learning 
to compiled statistics. Instead of immersing themselves in 
the experience of suffering fellow-mortals until they know 
the feel of life as these others live it, they talk about cycles 
and recessions and subsistence levels and permanent relief 
rolls and sociological projects as if people were but matters 
of research to be compiled and recorded by graduate stu- 
dents for easier consideration and disposition. Harvard 
will engage in vast and pretentious researches, make val- 
uable contributions in such socially neutral fields as astron- 
omy, chemistry, archaeology, and cancer, and occasionally 
yield minor concessions to the newer democratic spirit. But 
it is no more to be expected that Harvard will kick free of 
her restraints and lead off boldly in behalf of any economic 
democracy that would elevate large numbers of submerged 
individual men to opportunities of growth than that Duke 
University will launch a crusade against the use of tobacco. 

216 / Travel by Train 

Cambridge, then, comes naturally into an unshakable 
non-understanding of the dreams and the sufferings of di- 
versified men and women. It comes just as naturally into its 
, state of mistrust and fear. It sees people not as individuals 
craving the best they can get out of life, but as categories, 
organizations, masses. And masses of people have made 
trouble. Just look at Russia and Germany and Spain. Cam- 
bridge seems unable to know how harmless and gentle 
human beings are when they are treated considerately as 
individuals and made to feel that they are a valid and an 
appreciated part of the scheme of things. 

And Cambridge is so engrossed with all sorts of pleasant 
and creditable matters that it acts as a hypnotic. I like 
Cambridge. Cambridge is busy with a hundred concerns 
that interest me. And Cambridge is home. But in this nicely 
conditioned atmosphere how can a man experience the chill 
and the heat that keep in him a vital reverence for all life? 
For a time I must get away. 

It is not enough to walk up into North Cambridge or 
over into Somerville. There is still in full sight the Cam- 
bridge of towers and spires to beguile me with its bulging 
but unattached logic, its brightness so devoid of warmth 
that it almost has one believing that warmth is not nec- 
essary. I must get farther away out among some textile 
workers in New Hampshire, some share-croppers' children 
in Arkansas, some women and grandfathers waiting in 
silence at the mouth of a smouldering mine in Ohio, some 
unemployed automobile workers in Michigan who are try- 
ing to understand the difference between a depression and 
a recession, some west Kansas farmers who have had three 
wheat crops in succession burned up by the sun but are 
grimly planting another. I feel the need of them. 



VERY late I entered the dressing-room of the Pull- 
man, and found it wholly unoccupied. The train, 
I noticed, was scarcely moving, and when I 
stepped over to the window and glanced out to see where 
we were, I saw nothing but water muddy water in a limit- 
less smooth sheet with a serpentine double row of dark 
green trees stretching far down across it and out of sight. 
A moment later we came to where dozens of stout men 
were working with heavy timbers and sl^g and sand-bags 
to save a bridge the bridge that we were to cross. When 
rain came down on enough successive days, a little Middle 
Western river scarcely larger than a creek could make 
much trouble. 


2i8 I Travel by Train 

The men worked speedily, grimly, yet with a great cor- 
diality. They had been there since yesterday all afternoon, 
all evening, all night, all morning, with only a little time 
out now and then for a swig of coffee and a slice of bread 
and butter and a hunk of cold meat. They were not quarrel- 
ing about working conditions, or union hours, or overtime; 
they were saving a bridge. 

The engine crept along very cautiously. The curved high 
grade that was only just wide enough for a double-track 
road seemed thin and insecure when completely beset by 
evil-looking muddy water. With shovel or pick or crow- 
bar in their hands, the men clung to the side of the em- 
bankment above the water's edge to watch us try crossing. 

Very gently we came to a full stop. Then quite as gently 
we moved again at a snail's pace. The engine was ap- 
proaching the bridge. The engine was on the bridge. A 
swift, eddying current that swept across the quiet yellow 
sea was boiling and churning through the girders only 
four or five feet below the slowly turning drive-wheels. 
The engine was out over the middle of the stream; and 
then two-thirds of the way across. And now we ourselves 
were passing the sand-bags and slag and heavy timbers and 
coming onto the bridge. 

But why did the engineer not hurry a little instead of 
going all the more cautiously, now that he was safely across 
himself? Did he mean to dangle us there until the abut- 
ments caved completely in? I could look directly down into 
the muddy waters that piled themselves with an angry 
swish against the steelwork supporting us, and could see in 
them no inviting doom. Then with a slight jerk we moved 
faster again. And then we were across- 

With a sudden excess of good feeling for my kind, I 
turned to go on with my shaving. A man in clerical collar 

Rain 219 

sat down beside my Irish kit-bag to enjoy a full pipe of 
extra-fragrant tobacco. As I fumbled in the bag for my 
shaving set, I saw in the flap a long, painfully written letter 
that had come to me the night before from a workingman, 
a silversmith, in New England, who had had no work for 
two years. He had not written about his unemployment he 
had been able to livebut the time on his hands had 
enabled him to read and to think. He had been struggling 
with all sorts of books that would do credit to the reading- 
list of a philosopher. Just why he wrote to me he could 
not say. He was not writing to bother me. He was not ex- 
pecting an answer. He had only seen my name in the news- 
paper in connection with something or other, and since 
there was no one else to write to, he decided to write to 
me. Something that had happened to him had given a 
tragic wrench to his understanding of all that he saw of 
life about him. 

I ventured as I usually do not to begin a conversation: 
"Are you interested in human beings?" 

"I certainly am," the priest replied as soon as he could 
get his pipe in hand. "That's my business." 

"What do you make of this, then?" 

I handed him the awkwardly written large pages. 

When I was well through with my shaving, I could see in 
the mirror that he had put the letter down and was again 
smoking amiably off into space. 

When I had finished I asked: "Interesting?" 

"Yes s/' he replied, as if it were all in the day's work. 
"But what horrible English!" 

Could any man who professed to be concerned with 
human beings thus put unimportant things first? To be 
sure, the letter was illiterate. But it expressed a man's state 
of mindwith eloquence. I suddenly felt ruffled and ill at 

22O / Travel by Train 

ease in the same room with such a man. He had not been in 
the rain long enough. I had better get into the diner where 
I could sit alone and look out at the sopping earth. 

The clouds did not act as if they meant to leave the sky 
permanently; yet the sun was breaking through now and 
then and giving to the hills a steamy brightness. In a pasture 
field alongside the railroad, a young housewife in bright 
beach attire was out having a swim in a little run so narrow 
that she could stretch her arms out and touch the willows 
that drooped low on either side. Two small children were 
speeding gaily down the hill from the house to join her. 

"Seems rather inappropriate, somehow, doesn't it?" re- 
marked the very upright, important-looking white-haired 
woman who sat across the table from me finishing an after- 
breakfast smoke. 

Swimming did seem, in truth, more appropriate in 
languid afternoon streams than in these raging torrents that 
hurried onward to join forces and sweep bridges and towns 
away. If the farmer's young wife had been gamboling nude 
under the maple trees she could scarcely have been more 
surprising than she was among the willows in a swimming 
costume. Yet I argued that I could see no inappropriateness 
in every farmwife's taking time out from work that often 
is drudgery, attiring herself in bright colors, and going 
for a swim if she wanted to whenever there was water 

"You men are all alike/' she declared, and laughed a 
little laugh of reproof, as she arose to go. "You saw her out 
there and enjoyed the sight. So you argue that it is all right 
for her to leave the breakfast dishes unwashed, and go 
traipsing down across the meadow in Miami Beach style 
to swim in a muddy brook/* 

Rain 221 

I protested that it had not seemed so muddy there in 
green pasture fields, 

"I hope there are water-snakes in it," she said in an effort 
at triumph, and smiled a bright, malicious smile as she 
turned to go, and left me to myself to reflect upon the 
general inappropriateness of floods in June. Floods ought 
to come in February or March or April, not in the full 
swing of summer. What chance had young corn in fields 
covered with two or tl^ree feet of water? And just how long 
could ripening wheat be expected to last when not even 
the tallest heads could be seen in low-lying fields? 

All these overflowing streams seemed to be converging 
on Cincinnati. Would Cincinnati still be there when I ar- 

Since I could not get out of doors to see, I spent an hour 
between trains walking in the vast Union Station, enjoying 
the brightness that architects and artists had been able to 
create when they had a fair chance, and listening to men 
who were wondering if the water were going to get up into 
the city again. Then I took an afternoon train for Indian- 

Where the railroad follows the river valley for a distance 
just to the west of Cincinnati, the Ohio bulged toward the 
top of its banks. It was pressing on, irresistibly. The only 
thing to do was to keep out of its way. 

And still the rain came down. Once, after a bright ten or 
fifteen minutes, there were soft white clouds in the west, 
then leaden ones, and then an oncoming wall of black, 
and lightning and thunder. 

"Showers of blessing," said the white-headed old Negro 
porter, who saw me looking. He spoke very reverently. 

"Whose blessing?" 

222 / Travel by Train 

I suppose I looked more austere than I felt. For he 
flinched a little, as if he had been reprimanded for telling 
the truth. "Oh, I don't know'* and he smiled off humbly. 
"But maybe somebody's." 

After the first onslaught of the storm, the rain came In 
solid silvery sheets, and then in a steady pouring. In towns 
that we swept through without pausing, shade-trees sagged 
low as if covered with ice. Flower gardens were beaten 
down into unrecognizability. Cattle had abandoned pas- 
tures, and waded about in muddy barnyards as in early 
spring. Red roosters with their harems trailing along be- 
hind them waded over steaming manure piles with wings 
dressed high in disgust, or stood with heads up and tails low 
to let the water run off their backs since the rain had to 
come down. 

All Indiana was dripping. Indianapolis was only a 
smudgy layer of houses between streets that were rivers 
and skies that threatened to fall. Except for the half-hour 
that I spent in the barber shop, where the Hoosier barber 
told me who his favorite poets were, and how soon he 
hoped to publish a volume of verse himself, I was only so 
much oversensitive flesh trying to keep dry. And the next 
morning stiff winds had added themselves to the rain and 
swirled it into all sorts of protected places where it had not 
been before. Men did not take a cab; they dashed for one- 
and caved their hats in against the top of the low doorway. 
I darted into one, darted out again into a dry station, hur- 
ried upstairs to a waiting train for St. Louis, and then sat 
for fifteen minutes savoring the prospect of hours of look- 
ing calmly at a drowning world from the security of a dry 

At Terre Haute the Wabash River had spread over un- 
numbered acres of fertile bottom land. "On the Banks of 


the Wabash!" Theodore Dreiser wasn't thinking of such 
days as this when he wrote that first stanza for his brother 
Paul. The banks were not much in evidence this morning. 
At any rate there was nothing romantically melancholy in 
the sight of them. The river was too business-like. 

When I got off to change trains in Mattoon, Illinois, it 
was not raining. Everything still dripped, but the clouds 
looked as if it were only a short distance through them up 
to sunlight. I had an hour and a half. I would spend fifty 
minutes in walking, thirty in eating, and ten in pacing the 
station platform since this was the last train I could take, 
and I did not, care to miss it. 

I walked eastward for twenty-five minutes along streets 
where low-hanging maple branches spilled water down 
one's neck, and where pools stood in every slightest depres- 
sion in the cement sidewalk. 

When I turned back I had not gone very far before I 
came upon a man who was down on his knees at the edge 
of his lawn with a pair of shears, snipping off blades of grass 
that the lawn-mower had not caught. 

"Pretty wet/* he said, as if that fact bound men together 
in some extraordinary way. 

"Yes," I answered, and meant to pause only long enough 
not to seem abrupt. But he at once sat back on his heels as 
if he had something further to say. 

"Wet where you're from, too?" 

"At least all the way to the Alleghenies." 

"I just figured that you must be out for a walk between 
trains or something of the sort. I saw you going in the other 
direction a while ago." 

We talked. In ten minutes I was carefully watching my 
time and without seeming to be giving me life history, he 
let me know the following about himself: He is a freight 

224 1 Travel by Train 

conductor on the Big Four railroad and works at night- 
till midnight and has, therefore, plenty of time to fuss 
around with his lawn and hedge after he gets up in the 
middle of the morning. He likes to keep things slicked up 
and trim; has built a pleasant sun-parlor on the front of 
his house a well-designed bungalow type with the end 
toward the street and preferred an archway to doors 
through from the rest of the house; is troubled by six or 
eight neighborhood children who thoughtlessly break down 
his hedge in their play, but instead of scolding them, calls 
them into the house, gives each of them a piece of choco- 
late, and then shows them how they ought to remember to 
be careful themselves when other people have taken pains; 
has an Irish terrier that stays up every night to greet him 
when he comes from work, and then immediately goes off 
and curls up for the night; has a son who is a radio an- 
nouncerhe dropped out of college because of the depres- 
sionbut who wishes eventually to be a writer; does not 
see how the slack in unemployment is to be taken up very 
soon, since his freight train, with a regular crew of men, 
used to carry from twenty to thirty-five cars, and now car- 
ries as many as a hundred and fifteen; has measured enough 
cars to know that they average forty-five feet plus a few 
inches, so that a train of one hundred and fifteen cars is 
just under or just over a mile in length according to the 
number of extra-length automobile-cars and the like that 
it chances to carry; went to a little college in Effingham for 
a short while and taught school a little before he took to 
railroading, and has now been with the railroad for more 
than thirty years; is sixty; regretted the burning of the little 
college, which had been founded by two brothers and a 
sister who each had inherited two hundred thousand dol- 
lars, and despite the impress they left on the region, "vir- 

Rain 225 

tually died paupers, you might say**; took his wife to Colo- 
rado for tuberculosis, but her case was hopeless and he 
brought her back home, where she died; was able to pay 
all the funeral charges in cash to one of the boys in the 
family that had founded the little college; feared that his 
Irish terrier would be run over by an automobile, since he 
liked nothing so much as to chase them; and he couldn't 
shake hands with me when I had to hurry along, because he 
was all covered with oil from the lawn-mower. 

I saved time on my period for lunch by going into a caf 
that invited guests to try some of its "doubt-dispelling 
salad served at the psychological moment." 

On the train, as it rushed through the green hills of 
southern Illinois, I watched a steady moist breeze from the 
southwest lift the leaves in thousands of acres of peach or- 
chards and reveal loads of fruit already touched with red. 

At Jonesboro I had to drive across to the Mississippi 
I wished to see the spot where Lincoln and Douglas had de- 
bated. For this was "down in Egypt" where Douglas was 
going to trot Lincoln out and force him to say before an 
audience unsympathetic to "radical" abolition of slavery 
what he had already said before sympathetic audiences 
farther north in the state. We stopped in the middle of the 
village by a filling-station in many blatant colors and asked 
an old man where the debate had been held. He was deaf, 
and came close to my face above the lowered glass of the 
automobile door. 

"Oh," he said when he heard. "Why, right there." 

"But that is only a marker which says that the debate was 
held in a grove about a quarter of a mile or so north." 

"Then I don't know," he answered. 

We drove out to find the spot. We saw some old build- 
ingsand a house near by and some trees, but it was only 

226 I Travel by Train 

a cow pasture. Farther on we turned in at a damp grove 
in front of a house. Three women sat waiting in an au- 
tomobile and a young fellow of eighteen or twenty was 
changing from muddy shoes to clean ones in the garage. 
Magnificent Plymouth Rock hens and a rooster looked on 
inquiringly, as if they were accustomed to being pampered. 

"You passed it," said the young fellow, and squeezed his 
other wet foot into a dry shoe. "I'll show you. See through 
the trees yonder on this side of the road that briary field? 
There is a stone, but you'll have to watch for it, for the 
weeds and the briars are pretty rank this year." 

We found the spot, climbed out, let ourselves through 
a dilapidated farm gate into a field that was once a fair- 
ground, and while a great spotted cow breathed heavily as 
if she were very full of grass, and testily stripped the leaves 
from a young apple shoot that had sprung up among the 
briars, we read on a low stone it could not have been 
much more than a yard high that on this spot, September 
15, 1858, Lincoln and Douglas debated. 

When we were on our way again, I referred to the floods 
I had seen. 

"Better wait till you see the Mississippi before you talk 
about floods," the friend who had come for me admonished 
me. "Then youll be able to see what a real, life-sized stream 
can do when it's at itself." 

And two or three days later, as I came up along the Mis- 
sissippi on the train from Memphis to St. Louis, I saw. 
An ocean is a steady, harmless-looking thing compared with 
this hurrying, boiling, devastating monster when it is on 
a rampage. If one looks far enough, it seems only a bound- 
less lake of muddy water. But near at hand, just there within 
a hundred yards of the tracks, it is whirling, seething, pour- 
ing itself into every foot of space where there is room for 


backwater, carrying full-grown trees along as if they were 
matches, and houses and barns as if they were such small 
toys that they were scarcely worth bothering with. 

At one station the river had climbed to the road-bed, to 
the ties, to the rails; and then as the water had mounted, 
section men had put ties across the tops of the rails, 
other ties across these first ones, and then a third tier on 
which they had spiked temporary rails, so that the train 
"went upstairs" as it approached the station, in order to let 
the passengers walk dry-shod along a narrow, elevated gang- 
way from high ground back of the station into the vesti- 
bules of the cars. Then we descended again, and the engine 
slithered along through backwater until the tracks slowly 
rose to a slightly higher elevation a half-mile up the valley. 

Once, not two hundred yards from the train, I saw an en- 
tire line of trees go. They had been on the mainland, but 
through some wild caprice the river had started a current 
back of them. The current had grown. The river seemed 
to find some special joy in crowding over to this side of its 
bed and trying to go through this narrow causeway that it 
had cut for itself. And all the while the water had been 
piling against the other side of the slender island and wear- 
ing it away until the trees were toppling on a thin ledge of 
soft mud. Then in a flash, two dozen of them went over, 
and the river was at once busy tearing the last of their roots 
free and whirling the entire mass off southward. 

Then we had miles of quiet lake on our side. Fields of 
ripening wheat were covered except on some well-elevated 
knoll. As far as one could see toward the normal river bed 
yonder on the other side of the wide valley, houses and 
barns stood in water up to the tops of doors and windows. 
Off there toward the river, too, were towns. Where were 
the people? Why, wherever people go when they are sud- 

228 / Travel by Train 

denly chased away from everything they possess by a river 
that has gone mad. Not even families can be kept intact. 
Families often do not so much as know where their own 
members are, or whether they are alive. I have known of 
little villages evacuated by the Red Cross or the Govern- 
ment whose residents were traced within a few weeks to a 
half-dozen states. 

A man across the aisle said he did not like to look at it. 
He had just had the experience of going back in a rowboat 
with a friend who had been away from home and wanted 
to feel sure that his wife, who was a semi-invalid, had been 
taken to safety. They paddled for a long time in the dark- 
ness. Streets did not look the same when the water was ten 
feet deep in them. But at last they found the house. Worst 
of all, they found her, too. 

Farther up the valley, the world seemed more secure. 
We could look across from the Missouri side to Illinois 
bluffs that had been assailed by the river for thousands of 
years, yet still stood up firmly like palisades. The people in 
the region were in a more casual state of mind. They were 
always within reach of higher land. Moving out every two 
or three years to let the river have its way for a time was 
more or less a part of community routine, as it is along the 
Ohio. A Red Cross worker told me that when she once 
asked an old lady how many times she had been driven out 
by floods, she replied: "Fourteen times by floods, not 
countin' high waters." 

At one stop I knew that we were now out of all danger. 
The river was not touching anybody there too seriously. 
Some wag had written on the time-table blackboard on the 
side of the station: "This overabundance of water has re- 
sulted from the activity of the national commission ap- 
pointed to combat drought." 

Rain 229 

When we reached St. Louis in the evening the rain was 
pouring again, and I chose to eat and loaf away two or 
three hours in the security of the station. When only the 
last hour was left, and I had watched the people milling 
about until I was a little weary of them, I sat and consid- 
ered a situation in a story that I had in mind. Two nuns 
came and sat just opposite me. Soon some friends arrived 
to take one of them for a drive. The other quite contrary 
to custom, I thought remained alone. I arose, told her that 
I needed expert assistance in a story I was working on, and 
asked her a question about certain religious societies. She 
seemed to welcome the opportunity to explain. Would I 
not sit down until her companion sister returned? She 
herself had not cared to brave the rain. 

She could not have been more than forty. Yet she spoke 
not merely with intellectual curiosity, but with the kind of 
wisdom that springs only from unceasing great thoughtful- 

She had some questions to ask me, too. What did I write? 
Did I by chance write poetry ever? Did I know many 
poets? Did I not think that Edwin Arlington Robinson was 
in truth a religious man, rather than the hardened unbe- 
liever he is so often made out to be? I sought to explain 
that he was a very reverent agnostic who would have been 
frightened if anyone had told him that he was religious, yet 
who was in fact more profoundly religious, according to my 
unorthodox conception, than most people in any church. 

"Isn't it true!" she exclaimed, somewhat to my surprise. 
"The world is alive with such. It is foolish to pretend that 
only people in the Church have found salvation. The 
Church does not teach that, though many Catholics in- 
dividually believe it." 

She confessed that there was something very sad in re- 

230 / Travel by Train 

ligion for her. "When I see the different sects hating each 
other worse than they hate anything else in the world, when 
they ought to love each other, I am very sad. There ought 
to be much happiness, and there is so very little. How do 
you explain all the suffering you see everywhere? I'd have 
to think that God was unspeakably cruel, if there were to 
be no continuation of ourselves into a happier life beyond 
this one/' 

I professed surprise at her saying so. 

"I know what you mean/' she said. "The Church has its 
beliefs and I adhere to them. I prefer the Church's way. 
But I have to interpret the Church's beliefs for myself. 
We come to complete peace only when the interpretation 
is right out of our own searching and thought." 

A man, broken and tearful and frightened, brushed my 
feet as he stumbled by. She looked at him with quick un- 
derstanding. "Poor man! How fearful he is! But then, we 
all have our fears." 

"Do you, Sister?" I asked. 

"Yes," she replied. "My grandmother and my mother 
and my aunt have all died of a terrible disease, and my 
great fear is that I may die of it, too. I do not mind death; 
that is nothing. But when I think of the months of agony, 
maybe, that might precede death, not even my religion can 
quite keep me unafraid." 

She had just been home, she told me, to visit her family 
the first time in six years. 

The next morning I was awakened somewhere in south- 
western Missouri by a cloud-burst. I turned to the window, 
and, reclining on one elbow with my nose against the pane, 
watched the deluge. The wall of water was so dense that 
the engineer had slowed down to a few miles an hour lest 
he run past a signal or into a washout, A bolt of lightning 

Rain 231 

leaped down and shattered an oak at the edge of the right- 
of-way, scarcely fifty feet from my nose. The steel train on 
a wet track must have absorbed the excess of the bolt, for 
I felt nothing beyond the surprise of being blinded for a 
brief second by fiery blue. 

College girls in smart costumes were getting home from 
commencement, and the train had to make stops at flag- 
stations right in the downpour. I enjoyed a sense of luxury 
as I watched from the comfort of my berth while these 
young ladies in footwear that was nothing much but heels, 
and under umbrellas that were nothing much but color, 
dashed beside proud fathers in overalls through two or 
three inches of water on the station platform, and deeper 
mud beyond, to waiting automobiles. 

When I was up and had eaten breakfast, and we were 
under bright skies, I saw boys in the woods fishing with 
clubs. The higher waters of preceding days had subsided 
somewhat, though the streams were still overflowing, and 
fish that had adventured into all sorts of new lagoons when 
the floods were at their highest were now left stranded in 
leafy depressions from which the last of the water was 
steadily sinking into the soft earth. Some of them already 
were gasping and floundering, and these the boys were 

Then we abruptly ran into another downpour and the 
college girls had to wade through deep water and mud 
again. Across the aisle, in a section piled high with Dobbs 
hat-boxes and other luggage, a young woman who herself 
looked little older than some of the college girls won- 
deredto me where so many students could come from. 
I confessed that a greater mystery was where all the Dobbs 
hat-boxes came from, since I saw women and girls with 
them in every part of the country. Some major industrial 

2 32 / Travel by Train 

establishment must be producing them for mass display. 
Hers, she assured me, were bona fide, direct from New 
York. She was a Virginian who lived in Texas, and when 
life in her home town became too flat, she packed up and vis- 
ited the Atlantic seaboard. Some of these girls, she thought, 
seemed excessively happy. She believed a person had to be 
intelligent to be unhappy. 

It was still raining when I took a local train from Fort 
Scott down to Pittsburg. The iron-gray farmer in the seat 
behind me in the snack-car made a remark about the 
weather: "Will Rogers would say that the Roosevelt Ad- 
ministration ought to be blamed for this/' He laughed. 

He and Will Rogers had lived on neighboring farms in 
the earlier Oklahoma days. They might have been brothers, 
so solid and honest did this man seem in character and 
speech. He drawled a little, too. 

"He was al-1-ways just the sam-m-e as long as he liv-v-ed, 
whenever he cam-m-e back." He spoke as if he were record- 
ing an epitaph. 

"But do you think he exhibited as high a percentage of 
funniness during the last years of his life?" 

"No-o, he didn'tfor a fact. My wife and I used to talk 
about that. I figured it out this way: he was at his best when 
he was taking cracks at nice, well-off people who play golf 
and all that. Well, you begin to live around with people 
like that yourself, out in California, and you get so you 
can't see what's funny about them. And even when you can 
once in a while, you're not quite so apt to say anything 
about it. 

"But what I wanted to say was that he was just the same 
to his old farm neighbors. He said to me the last time I 
saw him, 'Now, I want you just to pack up the family and 
come out to California and stay a week with us. And re- 


member you are not to pay out a penny of your own. It is 
to be my treat from the time you start till you get back/ 

"Naturally it pleased us. But my wife and I talked it 
over and decided not to accept. Going on that basis, even 
when he did have more money than he knew what to do 
with well, we didn't quite take to the idea." 

I wondered how much Will had made per week in his 
palmiest days. 

"He told me once, when I wondered about it myself and 
asked him, that he was raking in just about an even seventy- 
five hundred a week. 

" 'Seventy-five hundred a week/ I asked him, 'for acting 
a fool?' 

" 'Sure/ he told me. 'A man oughtn't to act a fool unless 
it's for some good purpose/ " 

"Weren't you getting off at Pittsburg?" the conductor 
called to me. "We're right there/' And I hurried from the 

An hour later, while thunder crashed and the rain 
poured, I wanted to make some jottings, and discovered 
that in my haste I had left a note-book and some loose 
sheets of paper in my seat in the snack-car. I was troubled. 
The note-book was strictly private. The jottings in it were 
my honest opinions of people, I had nothing to retract, but 
I could see no advantage in giving some of the opinions 
to the world at large. 

I called a cab, waded from the hotel door to the curb in 
water that covered the sidewalk, and hurried to the sta- 
tion. Could the agent telegraph ahead with any assurance 
of success and ask the train conductor to rush the book 
to me at my next address? 

He could do better than that. He was the kind of man 
who ought to be made president of the company of all 

234 ^ Travel by Train 

railroad companies. He knew where the train would be 
stopping in ten minutes, and he would find out directly 
from the conductor himself when he went from the train 
into this next station to report. 

Was the material safe? It was. It would be delivered into 
my hands that afternoon at four-forty. 

The book was not much, but I experienced a great sense 
of relaxation and aliveness at the thought of having it re- 
turned. As I rode back to the hotel in a sudden burst of 
steamy sunshine, I began once again to see the world about 
me, to remember the state I was in, and the town. On the 
side of a feed-store just where the driver had to wait for 
traffic, a sign read: "If Kelso's egg mash won't make 'em 
lay, they're roosters." I was in Kansas, undoubtedly. 

But the rain did not seem to belong in Kansas. It be- 
longed in the Lake District of England. Balmy winds 
brought the same wet-looking clouds that one could see any 
day across the dark water at Bowness. The afternoon was 
crowded with heavy showers. In the night I was startled 
from my bed by a crashing bolt of lightning just outside 
my window in the tower-like hotel. 

Could anybody tell me where I might go to escape the 

I had hopes when I took a night train for northwest Ok- 
lahomathe Dust Bowl. But when I got up to leave the 
train at Alva the next morning Sunday morning the sky 
was overcast, and a river-bed that ordinarily was dry had 
water in it just as if it were as faithful a river as could be 
found anywhere. And countless thousands of acres of wheat 
covered rolling prairie, covered flat prairie, with golden 

Would they be able to get into the fields to cut the wheat 
before it had stood too long? A strange question to ask in 

Rain 235 

northwestern Oklahoma. Yet that was what I heard farmers 
asking one another that morning as they talked in the 
court-house grove, or lingered truantly outside church en- 
trances. While four of them discussed the matter by one 
white little church, and bit at timothy-straws and scanned 
the clouded sky, a mocking-bird braced himself on the 
smooth knob at the top of the low steeple to keep the wind 
from blowing him away, and sang obliviously. 

The next morning was clear, and the rolling endless 
fields of yellow were flashing with the steel of horse coin- 
bines, of power combines, of reapers of anything that 
would cut wheat. There seemed to be enough wheat in 
view to feed the world. 

I stopped at the side of one modest field of three hundred 
and twenty acres. The farmer had just parked a worn- 
looking automobile by the fence. "I thought you had a 
dust-storm out here last spring," I remarked. 

He smiled. "Funny thing"- and he stopped to watch the 
combine that sputtered to the top of slightly higher land 
a quarter-mile away, and then down toward us, taking a 
swath twelve or fourteen feet wide, and dropping bags of 
grain frequently "but last April I thought everything was 
gone. After three or four years that were dry enough them- 
selves, the wind began to blow the dust first one way and 
then another until it just sandpapered the wheat right 
off into the ground, you might say. Then after we had 
breathed dust for a month or two, it commenced to rain. 
And it never stopped till yesterday! The wheat stooled out, 
though it didn't get up very high. Some of that out yonder 
is not more than ten or twelve inches. But the heads are all 

He smiled as if words were not very adequate, stooped 
and pulled up some straws where the combine had left a 

236 / Travel by Train 

strip along the fence, rubbed the grains out of the heads 
in the palm of his hand, and extended his hand for me to 

The grains were full and round and ripe. 

He smiled as if to say: "There you are/' and tossed the 
grains out into the air as if he knew how to sow wheat by 
hand. Then he smiled out over the field again. He was see- 
ing something almost beyond belief. 

"Gad! What do you know about that? It rained!" 



A TRUCK that had stalled on a grade crossing just 
ahead of a refrigerator freight-train a half-mile long 
JL JLand scattered cars of California fruit and vegetables 
all over the right-of-way, sent our train round in a sweep- 
ing detour across two or three adjacent counties. From the 
conductor I learned that we were to pass through the small 
town in which I had first attended college, 

I knew what I was going to do: I was going to get off and 
see the place and learn whether all the mellow stories told 
by old college grads at alumni meetings were based on 
honest feeling or mere sentimentality. For days I had been 
facing audiences, answering questions, meeting people at 
receptions, meeting people at dinner, saying for the thou- 
sandth time what I thought of the President of the United 
States, his wife, the Supreme Court, Russia, the current 


238 / Travel by Train 

best-sellers, Bernard Shaw, and proletarian art. It would be 
as pleasant as settling gently into warm water or winter 
sunshine just to subside into the wistful oblivion of the 
past. I would get off as unknown as the day I entered col- 
legemore so, for on that day a man met me wander along 
streets that had been familiar for four years, look as much 
as I liked at the townspeople and at the students hurrying 
late to class, and never have to bother stiffening up to say 
"How do you do/' or to autograph books, or to express 
useless opinions on such and such aspects of the contempo- 
rary hurly-burly. It was to be an afternoon of complete re- 

I wondered if this or that old professor continued to 
teach. I wondered especially if "Mother," who had once 
been my instructor in Latin, were still alive. When I knew 
her, she was the kind of fluttering dry leaf of a woman of 
fifty or sixty who might well live on forever. But that was 
a good long while ago. 

She had never liked me any too well. She was always 
slipping in little preachments on my papers about not 
living up to possibilities. She had something of that kind 
on the last one she ever returned to me. It had been raining 
all morning, and when we assembled for the examination, 
most of the class were wearing rain-coats. We were not 
numerous perhaps fifteen in alland the room in the old 
bare building that somebody had christened the Sheep-pen 
was large enough to seat a hundred. So we were scattered 
about over the room in the long seats that had solid backs, 
and arm-rests every two or three feet for writing. The 
course was called Special Problems in Latin Grammar, and 
we had been aware for weeks that Mother had found them 
all. The reading of Horace the term before under a man 
who liked poetry and dwelt with the understanding of a 

Detour 239 

great lover on the shyness of Chloe, seemed after a month 
or two of Mother's course to have been but facile dream- 

Only one other person was in the long seat that I was in. 
She was a lusty co-ed who tried to be at the head of every 
organization in college, and yet seemed always able to make 
good grades. She sat only two places from me, and did not 
bother to remove her light-weight rain-coat, which had a 
shoulder cape. After she had read the questions through a 
time or two and was ready to settle down to work, she un- 
buttoned her coat and pushed her cape out from her el- 
bows in the freedom of readiness. 

While I reflected hopelessly on one problem that Mother 
or I had not covered well in class, I saw that Miss X had 
a textbook in calculus lying open under her cape and the 
arm of the seat to her left, and toward me. The fly-leaves 
were covered with fine writing which she allowed her eyes 
to scan every time she dropped her head to struggle in 
thought over the examination. She did not know that I 
could see through a crumple in her cape what she was 
doing. And I was the only person in the room who pos- 
sibly could. 

I found the going hard. Soon I was wondering if I could 
so much as pass. This was scheduled to be my last course in 
Latin, and I did not wish to repeat it or take another in its 

A week later when I went over to get my examination 
paper back and know my fortune, I found that I had passed 
by a hair. I was pleased. But Mother was not. She held the 
paper in her hand as she sat at the desk, discussed its many 
deficiencies, and added one of her distasteful little lectures 
on living up to one's possibilities. "I expected so much 
more of you," she said. 

240 / Travel by Train 

Just why, I do not know, unless it was because Mother 
had been impressed by some appearance of importance in 
me when as a drum-major who enjoyed twirling a baton in 
keeping with extra height, I marched ahead of the military 
band on all state occasions. I had never regarded my pos- 
sibilities in Latin with any feeling but pain. 

"Now, here," she said. "Of course I know that Miss X is 
a very exceptional girl and came from a school where they 
had a good elementary teacher of Latin" I had learned 
most of the rudiments in the shade at the ends of corn 
rows on hot summer days "so perhaps I shouldn't single 
her out; but look at this/' 

She ran through the paper carefully for my benefit. Nor 
did she conceal the mark she had given it. It was the high- 
est mark I had ever seen on any examination paper in for- 
eign language. 

I felt my pulse bumping in my neck. I knew that I had 
done poorly enough. But I wanted to say, "See here, 
Mother, this is too perfect. In simple justice to all the rest 
of the class, you should know . . ." 

Yet instead, like a self-conscious kindergartener, I ad- 
mitted my many shortcomings, and walked hesitantly 
toward the door as if I were in water already up to my 

"What do you expect to do?" I heard Mother asking, 
with an inflection that meant "after college." 

I turned hopefully. She would be relieved to know that 
I meant to work in a field where Special Problems in Latin 
Grammar would have little bearing. But I received no 
comfort. "I should think you'd want to do well in Latin if 
you ever expect to be a writer." 

These were Mother's words to me. Did I wish to see her, 
even i she should be still living? Would she welcome me as 

Detour 241 

one who had turned out not specially worse than the ones 
who had done well in Latin? I must be deciding, for here 
was the station. 

It did not look quite so new as it did a quarter of a cen- 
tury before. There was the same old cannon on the station 
lawn, though still pointing in the wrong direction, 

It was all just as restful as I had hoped it might be. The 
familiar church spires were not quite so tall as the ones in 
my memory, yet they were recognizable. There was a house, 
too, where I used to spend a little time agreeably un- 
changed. A girl about whom I sometimes had thought al- 
most seriously had grown up there and had lived there. 
But her name I could remember only the first half of it. 
And down the street a little had lived another. They had 
both married somebody else. Oh, well, for that matter, I 
had, too. 

Just ahead a bell began to ring to announce a two-o'clock 
class. It was the same old bell a little the worse for wear* 

Students rose up out of the earth and filled the side- 
walks, as they do in any college town when a bell rings. 
But these ought to reveal distinction. These were my 
fellow-alumni-to-be. Yet they gave no special glance of kin- 
ship, but rushed together in moving clumps that bespoke 
the firmest bond in all human society the bond of the 
generation. A glance was enough to tell them that I was 
not of theirs. I fell in with them, nevertheless, as they 
laughed and hurried and pushed along. They were carrying 
all sorts of ponderous tomes and bulging zipper note-books 
that had never been dreamed of in my day. But they were 
discussing the same matters perhaps with a little less pro- 
tocolthat were weighty two dozen years or more ago. 

I did not care to be swept along into any class. I thought 
I should prefer to look at the chapel. 

242 / Travel by Train 

When I pushed through the quietly swinging inner 
doors, somebody was playing the organ. I dropped into a 
seat to listen. She was practising. But she knew how to 

Once she leaned forward to scrutinize the music. In the 
bright light of the shaded lamp over the pages, her face and 
red hair seemed to be that of some one I knew. 

I walked in the dim aisle down toward the console. 

"You don't mind my listening?'* 

"Not at all. On the contrary, it perks me up to know that 
I am playing for an audience. Only I'm just finishing." 

She inclined a little toward me as she rested one hand 
on the bench. 

"But this is what I really walked down here to ask you: 
would you mind telling me your name?" 

She gave me a swift glance as if she were not an un- 
sophisticated person, then smiled and told me. 

"I knew your father and your mother." 



"But how did you ever happen to know me?" 


"You must have good eyes. But everybody says I look like 
them both. And I don't mind. They're worth having a 
copy left of them." 

She gathered up her music, crowded it into a portfolio, 
and walked with me to the door and all the way down to 
the street. She had the bearing of a thoroughbred. She 
walked as if she were alive and unafraid of the world. And 
she knew how to talk interestingly to a man who was not 
of her generation. If she^were a fair sample, then the old 
college still must be doing pretty welll 

In pleasant solitude I wandered over to a side street 


where for two years I had kept a boarding-house full of 
boarders in order to have board myself. It did not cost 
much, even to those who paid money for it. On the train 
coming out from New England a football player from Dart- 
mouth who sat across the table from me in the diner paid 
as much for one dinner as board at this house used to cost 
for two weeks. 

I wanted to bound across the lawn, leap with a great 
thumping step on to the hollow-sounding front porch, rush 
through to the dining-room or kitchen and shout to one of 
the maids also earning her boardthat I was starving to 
death. But a certain changed appearance in the house and 
the sight of a dignified white-haired matron climbing into 
a long-wheel-base car restrained me. 

Up the street a little I passed the house of one of my two 
favorite professors who later were colleagues in the United 
States Senate. This one was a large handsome man with a 
loud-speaker voice who was obliged by his low salary to live 
in a house so tiny that his students constantly wondered 
how he could turn round in it. He knew how to dress to 
advantage, but regularly he seemed to wear the same suit. 
Then one Monday he appeared in class late in an arrange- 
ment of clothing so unartistic that he was only half recog- 
nizable. Soon everybody learned that he had been helping 
his wife with the washing and that his weight, plus the 
weight of a tub of soap-suds, had sent him crashing through 
the unsteady platform of the cistern into deep water. 

I wandered up to a society assembly hall that I used to 
sweep for a consideration when the need for money was 
exceptional. There were pharmaceutical laboratories on 
the lower floors of this building, and the dust in that hall 
had always had a pungent odor unlike that of any other 
dust When I went up, the wide doors were standing open, 

244 I Travel by Train 

and I sniffed the same odor. When I peeped In, a rangy 
student was at work with a broom. 

He saw me and walked back. "Anything I can do for 
you?" He was warm from the exercise, and mopped his 
face. "I'm just the janitor." 

"I was, once on a time/' I replied. 

He sized me up. "You don't look like a janitor now. 
Better tell me what you are. I could stand having my mo- 
rale stiffened up about now." 

He did not look as if he were in despair. So I told him 
that a free-lance author was not necessarily any better off 
than a janitor. 

He laughedskeptically. "Say, you didn't come up here 
to try to get my job away from me, did you?" 

Down in the street as I walked beneath low-hanging 
maples, I remembered strange instances among fellow stu- 
dents who had lived in this house or that. Especially did I 
recall the man who was a mule driver along the Ohio River 
at two dollars a day when he was twenty-eight, but by 
chance came upon a college catalogue. At thirty-eight he 
had married the most engaging musician in the college town 
and was professor of engineering in one of the chief uni- 
versities of the Pacific Coast. 

"Why, hello here!'* a blonde business-like little man of 
my own age called up into my face as I walked along look- 
ing far ahead. He had collected laundry and worked in a 
drugstore and finished photographs when he was in col- 
lege. He was still in much the same business. It was pleas- 
ant to discover even this slight stability where so little re- 
mained unchanged. 

"No," he had to admit, "not many of the old ones are left. 
But Mother is still alive you must have had work with 

Detour 245 

"Is she really still around?" 

"Just the same as ever. Oh, of course she doesn't teach. 
But she's just the same in looks. You know, she always did 
look as if she had turned a hundred and fifty.** 

"Where does she live?" 

"Right down there. You ought to drop in and see her if 
you have time. She'll be as proud of you as a hen with two 

Perhaps it would not be such a bad idea. It might even 
develop into something that would be quite "thrilling" 
one of those melodramatic stories about the man who never 
did so much in college, but 

I walked on a trifle more briskly. I came up to the 
white house. I rang. While I waited I thought there was 
something unadorned about the house, like Mother. After 
I had waited a long time I heard somebody. Then the door 
opened with a squeak. 

"How do you do, Mother!" I said in my most ebulliently 
cheerful manner. "Ill bet you don't know me" though I 
was sure enough she would* 

She studied my face rather passively. "I know you are an 
old student or you wouldn't have addressed me in that 
fashion. But won't you come in?" 

Only for a moment, I explained. I was off between trains 
just to have a glimpse. In truth, she was the only person I 
was looking up. 

The interior of the house was classically severe. 

"No," she said after she was seated comfortably. "I'm 
afraid I'll have to admit that I don't know you/* 

I told her my name. 

She seemed unmoved. "I don't seem to remember any 
one by that name. I remember" and she mentioned my 
two brothers "but I don't seem to remember you. You 

246 / Travel by Train 

must be in business; you look as if maybe you were/* 

I told her that I was a writer of a kind. 

"What do you write textbooks?" 

"Well, no, not just that." 

She was afraid she had not read anything of mine. 

I went precipitately back to the subject of college. I re- 
minded her that I had once taken a course of hers, though 
I was afraid I had not done brilliantly a course on Special 
Problems in Latin Grammar. 

Her face brightened up. That, she assured me, had been 
her favorite course, though she had given it only a few 

She became reminiscent. Did I ever know Miss X, who 
was in college when she was giving that course? "I think 
she handed in the most perfect paper I ever received from 
an undergraduate." 

I said that I did remember her, yes. Then I thought I 
had better be going. 

She made it easy for me to get to the door without seem- 
ing ungraciously abrupt. If I had ever taught, she went on 
to tell me while I fingered my hat, I would understand how 
a student now and then along the way stays in one's mind. 

I half backed down the two steps at the door. Mother, 
spare and unexcited as ever, stood over me so that her face 
was above the level of mine. 

She still clung to Miss X. "So many students do not live 
up to their possibilities, that when one comes along who 
does, she stays in your memory as a kind of standard." 

Of coursel I understood exactly how that was. And did 
she ever hear from Miss X? 

No; she had never heard. "She always was the kind of per- 
son who is very busy." 

As I stood listening up to her, she suddenly became my 

Detour 247 

teacher again, and I felt myself shrinking into what I had 
been when I was a student into the speechless dolt of the 
morning when she had reported on the examination. What 
could I say now that would alter the case? Did I wish to 
risk stultifying myself further by telling her that she was 
not judging me aright, that her "standard" had cribbed her 
way to glory? Mother probably would not believe me if I 
told her. Or she would minimize the importance of the 
specific offense. Had not Miss X been prominent in the 
Y.W.C.A. in her time and in everything else? Who was I 
to expect the benefit of the doubt? 

I hurried down the street toward the station, though I 
had more than an hour to spare. When I came within sight 
of the tracks, a long train stood there pulled down by a red 
signal and a conductor paced back and forth on the plat- 
form just outside an open vestibule. It was a limited train 
that disregarded this little town, I rushed up and asked the 
conductor if he would let me go aboard if I paid my fare to 
Chicago from the preceding station stop. 

Just as the engine whistled to call in a flagman, the agent 
waddled out with my heavy bags. 

In a few minutes we were rushing along at full speed. It 
was good to hear men talking about business and the Presi- 
dent and the Senate and the League of Nations and Musso- 
lini and Russia; Who wanted to live in the past? It couldn't 
be done, anyhow. One only died in the past. I was glad to be 
in the thick of it again even to facing audiences who asked 
such unanswerable questions as: "Do you think it can be 
maintained that people very often shrink up as a result of 
truth, and that those who are untruthful become glowing 
and resourceful, as in Johan Bojer's The Power of a Lief" 



IF you draw a straight line from upper Wisconsin south- 
west for a thousand miles to where the Red River sep- 
arates Texas and Oklahoma, or a little beyond, and then 
make zigzag journeys back and forth across this axis for the 
full length of it, going out two hundred miles or more on 
either side, you will have traversed the region of the United 
States in which there is more mental ferment of original 
kinds than anywhere else in the country. It gives to all life 
a grim buoyancy, a pungent flavoring. It causes you to for- 
get that you are making specific trips, seeing specific places, 
and drives you inescapably to feel a groping new spirit 
which proclaims with some misgivings, some resentment, 
and much of the bravura of youth that we can have what 
we require. It reminds you that all mental aliveness is one, 
that when a certain relation chances to be struck between 


Ferment 249 

stress and freedom, the fertile mind extends itself not 
merely in a few directions, but in many. For the region in- 
cludes the locale of several political revolts, the generation 
of new trans-Mississippi painters typified in most people's 
minds by such an artist as Grant Wood, the flourishing 
Iowa writers, the Mayo Surgical Clinic, the beginnings of 
big-scale farm production, the cooperative movement, the 
founding of osteopathy, the large and important group of 
lithographers and etchers joined together in the Prairie 
Print Makers, such poets as Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, 
Edgar Lee Masters, John G. Neihardt, and John Gould 
Fletcher, such older novelists as Willa Gather, O. E. Rol- 
vaag, Sinclair Lewis, and Zona Gale not to mention the 
long list of younger ones and much of the most striking 
in the newer American architecture. 

Different elements have helped to make this phenom- 
enon vigorous. Here, roughly, is the area where the pi- 
oneers, sweeping westward, first left the tree-covered land 
that stretched all the way back to the Atlantic Ocean, and 
were obliged to devise the machinery of an entire new civ- 
ilization in order to gain a foothold on the plains and to 
stay there after they were once established. They are still 
in possession or their grandchildren are but they must be 
vigilant in ingenuity lest they be driven out by grasshop- 
pers or weevils or plant diseases or cyclones or dust or 
drought. In the process they not only have developed their 
own ways of doing things, but have become conscious of 
what they have done, and are at once humble and self- 
assuring in their attitude. Then, too, especially in the 
north, they have seen another civilization the civilization 
of smoke crowd up close against them from the eastward, 
they have felt resentfully its impact, and they have exer- 
cised themselves in fighting off its dominance or attempted 

250 / Travel by Train 

dominance of their lives. And then the blood that has 
gone into all the disturbing activity of the region is not 
that of any of the revolutionary, temperamental south Euro- 
peans who are supposed to threaten American orderliness, 
but that of good cool Scandinavians, Germans, and New 
England and South Atlantic Anglo-Saxons. 

At the northern end of the axis the unquiet minds have 
been busiest with economic and social concerns. Irrepres- 
sibly they have changed the atmosphere. It is not neces- 
sary for you to penetrate Wisconsin farther to the north- 
westward than Milwaukee to discover that you are no 
longer in Michigan or Indiana or Ohio. The socialists 
hasten to explain to you that the good management of the 
city and it has been good, compared with that of other 
citieshas resulted from the long service of a socialist 
mayor. The conservatives hasten to explain that the good 
management just chanced to coincide with a socialist re- 
gimethat the true causes were many. But the fact remains 
that there are plenty of socialists in Wisconsin, and that the 
conservatives of the state are themselves so different from 
the conservatives of let us say Massachusetts, that per- 
sons with variant or supposedly alien political philosophies 
may speak freely about them in the open. And by the time 
you have penetrated the state as far on the way to Minne- 
apolis as the Wisconsin Dells, where sheer tree-covered 
survivals of erosion standing in soft-looking lowlands sug- 
gest nothing so much as distant ruins of feudal castles, you 
understand why there is today a Progressive Party there, 
and why there is likely to be one for some time ahead 
under one name or another. 

Nor need you take more than a few trips across Minne- 
sota in order to understand why there has been a Farmer- 

Ferment 25 1 

Labor Party there. As long as fifteen years ago some of the 
reasons were evident enough. One summer in the Detroit 
Lakes region forty or fifty miles east of Fargo, North Da- 
kota, the rains did not come. By midsummer, crops were 
burning up, and farmers knew they would have little or no 
feed for the winter ahead. They killed their cattle and ped- 
dled the beef out to those of us who had a little pocket 
money at seven cents a pound for choice parts. While they 
were doing this I chanced to become acquainted with an 
agreeable man and a good golfer who told me that he 
represented a large milling company. One day he confided 
to me what his business was. It was to scare fanners into 
selling their wheat at the lowest possible prices. Many farm- 
ers in the driest out-of-the-way corners of the Northwest, he 
told me, had no granaries for their threshed wheat. His 
business was to go about, learn where it all was, refrain 
from buying it until it was in danger through the coming 
of bad weather, and then when the farmers were afraid 
they were going to lose it altogether, buy suddenly from all 
of them before the price could start up, and have the grain 
rushed to safety. He was opposed to all such "socialistic" 
schemes as letting the farmers join together and have their 
own elevators, and he was sure I would find that most 
prominent flour men and bankers were. 

The farmers assured me that this case was characteristic. 
And they were not going to be "told" by anybody. They 
were going to fight "monopolistic tendencies." All along 
the way there were fervid political dissenters of the type 
of Charles A. Lindbergh the older, Henrik Shipstead, and 
Floyd B. Olson. So in the course of years, especially when 
the Northwest professed to feel close times long before 
the country in general discovered the depression of 1929, 

252 / Travel by Train 

and people suffered the irritation of all sorts of real or 
imagined grievances which they felt ought to be heard sym- 
pathetically by somebody, a definite "'Minnesota state of 
mind 1 ' developed. It may not always be the state of mind of 
the majoritythough sometimes it is but it is easily recog- 

"I suppose I am just a typical instance myself," said an 
elderly man in the lounge-car as he meditated the matter. 
"I grew up in New England the same as everybody else 
and came out here the better part of a half-century ago. All 
of my family were dyed-in-the-wool Republicans you know, 
put the Republican Party right up there at the top with 
the church. And, it is God's truth, down to this present mo- 
ment I have never scratched a ticket in my life. 

"Well, the other day a friend of mine we both have 
small businesseshanded me a pamphlet and said, 'Here, 
take this home with you, and tell me what you think of it/ 

"I sat down in the evening to see what I had. And I'll 
be damned if it wasn't a pamphlet on socialism by Norman 
Thomas. It was the first time I had ever looked inside one. 
Since nobody was watching, I decided to read it. Before I 
was through, I said to myself, 'Why, hell, if this is what they 
call socialism, then I must be a socialist myself/ 

"I took it back to him. 'Come on, now/ I said, 'when did 
you get to be a socialist?' 

" 'I'm not a socialist/ he said. "You know that as well as 
anybody nothing of the kind. But just between the two of 
us, I thought there was some pretty good solid meat in what 
he said/ 

"Well, there you have the whole thing. We've got our 
own problem out here to solve. It just keeps growing right 
up out of the ground at you like weeds. We've got to keep 

Ferment 253 

on learning how to solve it. And any ideas that will help us 
to learn how, no matter who hatched them up first, or what 
part of the world they hail from, are good grist. I don't 
care and I've changed my mind about this, too whether 
they are from China, or Australia, or Russia, or Sweden, 
or where. If they are anything that we can absorb in Min- 
nesota, we'll make Minnesota ideas out of them. 

"And just one other thing: We don't pay much attention 
anymore to what some stiff-hat highbrow retained by Wall 
Street bankers to write pamphlets on the American way of 
doing things has to say about this or that in finance unless 
such suckers as we are out here can see how it will fit right 
into what we are trying to work out. And that, of course, 
would be an accident. The chances are he knows nothing 
about what we are up against, or what's on our minds. He 
probably couldn't tell spring wheat from alfalfa." 

Not that the coming of this new political force has been 
free of attendant evils! Nor would it be fair to imply that 
the people have given their imagination to political and eco- 
nomic problems exclusively. The University of Minnesota 
as well as the University of Wisconsin has shown an in- 
clination to assume a vigorous leadership in educational 
pioneering; and in such Minnesota colleges as Carleton and 
St. Olaf both in the town of Northfield where a Jesse James 
Caf marks the last stand of the less orderly settlers against 
the more orderly ones the impetus that has been given to 
liberal philosophic inquiry and to music would be difficult 
to parallel. But the lively political awareness which the peo- 
ple have developed through much battling has become char- 
acteristic. They put their energy into their battles as if they 
were giving the best of themselves to what they regarded as 
most important. 

254 I Travel by Train 

Late that same afternoon I asked the farmerish-looking 
man across the table from me in the dining-car what a cer- 
tain unusual building was that we had just passed. 

"Then you don't live in these parts?" he asked, after he 
had answered my question. 

"No I live in New England." 

"In New England?" 


"Hunh!" he said as if he had made a very amusing dis- 
covery. "You're the first one of 'em I ever bumped into that 
spoke first." 

We were still talking an hour later when the train rolled 
close past the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. 

"Now, why haven't more surgeons in other small towns 
developed places like this? But it's funny the way the human 
race doesn't think till something tells it to. I'm making a 
trip tonight that I ought to have made twenty years ago. For 
we've waited just that long out where I live to have the 
power company electrify our rural community. Then one 
day last year somebody said, 'Why don't we do it ourselves?' 
And now it's done. I'm on my way down to Chicago to 
settle up the last detail. Think of the women having to pack 
oil lamps around with them wherever they go while they are 
doing the housework, and grinding away at cream separators 
and all that sort of thing, year in and year out, when they 
might just as well have had electricity!" 

Down in Iowa the activity of mind is not so completely 
concentrated in one direction. Nobody could say that the 
Iowa farmers refrain from the kind of rebellious thought 
that has brought Minnesota the attention of the entire 
country. But the lowans come nearer to having a racial 
solidarity. And they brought a firmer political front from 
Ohio and the other states east of the Mississippi and north 

Ferment 255 

of the Mason and Dixon line. In substantial percentages, 
too, they were the kind of good Methodists, good Presby- 
terians, and good Lutherans who are not supposed to boil 
over very much with unorthodox ideas. So the basic fer- 
ment of the region, seasoned by some total effect of their in- 
herited culture, has brought them to a more diversified ex- 
pression of their unquietude than merely revolting against 
mortgage foreclosures in time of depression, or striking for 
livable farm prices. 

Instances are everywhere. At the University of Iowa John 
T. Frederick thought it affectation for young writers to 
busy themselves with subject-matter foreign to their own 
experience. He established The Midland, which for years 
published stories and poems out of the life of the people 
as the writers had lived it. Critics sometimes referred to 
it as a magazine of barnyard literature. But it had the 
greatest of all artistic qualitieshonesty. And it offered 
encouragement. Either as a result, or as some exceptionally 
well-timed outcropping of the same fundamental unrest 
that produced The Midland, or as a combination of the 
two, sturdy Iowa writers well represented early in most 
minds by Ruth Suckow have appeared. Grant Wood rose 
up to say, in effect, "If we want to imitate the old masters, 
why don't we paint the world in which we live, as they 
painted the one in which they lived?" And Henry A. Wal- 
lace saw as the right basis for the most secure civilization 
of the future a body of free men on the soil, and had to 
kick out of all entanglements that would prevent him from 
going forth and battling for that idea for a strange new 
order in which the Sermon on the Mount was to be sub- 
stituted for the law of the jungle. 

All the while, just over in Nebraska, where William 
Jennings Bryan had too early championed bimetallism, the 

256 / Travel by Train 

abandonment of the imperialistic ideal, the government 
ownership of railroads, and an effective neutrality when 
other nations warred, Senator George W. Norris had been 
growing into a more and more dangerous man to the un- 
ethical and undemocratic. He believed that government 
ought to help make it possible for a people to experience 
the high self-realization about which they persist in dream- 
ing. He has been long on a lonely crusade. 

And just over in the opposite direction in Illinois Vachel 
Lindsay one day set forth on a crusade of a different yet 
related kind. He went forth to proclaim the beauty that is 
in life. Edgar Lee Masters startled a self-satisfied, skeptical 
literary world by proving that there is just as much comedy 
and tragedy in a Spoon River community as anywhere else. 
And Carl Sandburg cried out with an originality which 
could be at home only in the Middle West, and which has 
not lessened, that the new world of the plains was dramatic, 
that greedinesses and uglinesses invaded life, and that the 
people who suffer from these invasions may some day wreak 
vengeance "the people, yes/* 

Within twenty or thirty miles from where Sandburg was 
born and from where Allen Crafton established the Prairie 
Playhouse in an old abandoned saloon to prove that new 
things could yet be done in the theater, I went to see the 
sculptor Ben Cable. I had been interested in two of his 
best-known pieces" Maternity," the mare humped in the 
storm over her new colt, and "Homeward," the old man 
supporting himself by holding to the mane of his old horse 
as they plod along. I found him to be a farmernot a 
dude farmer, but a "dirt" one. When I went up to the 
house where small bronzes of these two pieces adorned 
the posts of the front steps, I was told that he was back 
at the barn somewhere. His studio was back there, too. 

Ferment 257 

"Oh, I don't have much time for my sculpture," he said, 
"with the work to do. And you know how it is when I don't 
see anybody very often who is interested in such things. 
But I fuss around with it a little on material I know 
about." Then he seemed hesitant. Then he decided. 
"Here's something I haven't finished yet. Do you know 
these hawks that sit so much on fence posts? I've seen them 
all my life. So I decided to do one/' 

With these the time is the present and the place is where 
we are now. They are proud of George Washington and 
Thomas Jefferson, but are sure that they themselves know 
much more about the hybridization of corn and the com- 
batting of grasshoppers than either of those heroic ones. 
They suppose Tennyson and Longfellow must have been 
poets of some importance, but of course they never knew 
the feel of life in the reaches of the Mississippi Valley, 
never saw a spring sunrise across the boundless plains. 

John G. Neihardt was stirred in this region to see some- 
thing epic, and thought he had better go at once or at 
least soon to the writing of it. Willa Gather never wrote 
with more power than when she was busy with the Ne- 
braska of her youth. Grant Reynard, after years in the 
sophisticated centers, went back to Nebraska for the 
subject-matter of his best work in black-and-white. Down 
in Missouri where Mark Twain once was accused of using 
unorthodox native material, Josephine Johnson saw the 
possibilities around her before she got away, and Thomas 
H. Benton came back and settled down to work as if he 
now knew that he was at home. And on south still, John 
Gould Fletcher returned from his self-imposed expatriation 
and wrote with a new energy in honor of the pioneer 
spirit. T. S. Eliot has not yet returned. 

"It is a world that leaves men enough alone to develop 

258 / Travel by Train 

an initial self-confidence. "Why is it so good?" I asked the 
director of the Kansas City Art Institute, as he showed me 
through the Midwestern Exhibition. 

"I've tried to figure that out myself/' he replied. "To 
one who has lived chiefly in another part of the world, it 
seems to be about like this: these youngsters do not know 
too much technique. But they can get along. Then they 
see something right before their eyes, right outside their 
own doors, that they want to paint; and they just crack 
into it and paint it." 

Not all the wild ideas have had origins of approved re- 
spectability. A physician named Still who had seen his chil- 
dren die of spinal meningitis, despite the best medical 
attention he could secure for them, and who remembered 
how he used to cure his own headaches by lying on his back 
on the ground with the back of his neck resting on a swing- 
ing pillow made of a suspended rope and a blanket, after 
much experimentation arrived at the unacceptable con- 
clusion that such diseases as typhoid fever, diphtheria, 
rheumatism, sciatica, gout, croup, colic, and the like were 
not things in themselves, but only different expressions of 
a partial or a complete failure of the nerves to conduct 
through the body the sustenance of a full bloodstream. He 
proposed to give the blood a chance to provide all the 
remedy required right out of its own drug-store, and not 
resort to a drug-store of any other kind. 

The Methodist college that he had helped to found he 
was the son of a Methodist preacher refused to let him ex- 
plain his theory in its halls. He had been regarded as an 
able physician and a valuable citizen. But when he pro- 
fessed to be able to use the bones of the body as levers 
and, by twisting the patient up in just the right way, cure 
flux and colds and whooping-cough, the people in the east 

Ferment 259 

Kansas town joined in praying that he be saved from the 
insane asylum and the tortures of hell's fire. After casting 
about long enough without being lodged in an asylum, he 
found a town Kirksville, Missouri that was willing to 
have him stay. Not all conventionally trained physicians are 
yet ready to admit that a lesion at the right point along 
the spinal column will result in sexual sterility, but they 
are ready to admit that osteopathy is here, and might as 
well be tolerated or even looked into. And in Kirksville 
the old man's statue occupies one of the places in the court- 
house square that most towns reserve exclusively for major- 

Other heresies of the thoughtful have gained place. 
When men who had something at stake and their hired 
propagandists tried to tell the farmers that consumers' 
cooperatives were un-American, the farmers said in reply, 
"Well, they won't be if we all adopt them. Maybe they're 
not, anyhow." So the idea has steadily been put into prac- 
tice. It has withstood all effort to make it out communistic 
or Swedish or British. North Kansas City has become the 
headquarters of a retailers' wholesale cooperative that 
reaches out into as many as eight or ten states. 

And there to the westward Kansas has a full complement 
of her own originalities. Kansas is not just a common- 
wealth; Kansas is an institution, a condition of mind a 
condition of split mind. The Puritan spirit is strong in 
Kansas, as it well might be. For that is where the Puritan 
spirit went to make Kansas a free state and to keep it free. 
The New England qualities make themselves known, too 
a firmness that will not be stampeded, persistence, self- 
denial, a hard attitude toward industrial labor, profound 
conviction, traces of flaming intolerance, a settled love for 
the things long known. There are stone walls in east 

260 / Travel by Train 

Kansasflat stones and attractive residential streets lined 
with elm trees girdled against moths that look like nothing 
so much as the tree-arched streets of Cambridge, Massa- 
chusetts, back at the turn of the century. Yet in this seem- 
ingly undisturbed atmosphere, ideas of great force smoul- 
der. Sooner or later they break forth like sun-spots, create 
at least as much local disturbance, and then frequently are 
absorbed by the public mind as a regular part of the state's 
operating energy, until they seem as much at home there as 
William Allen White and the Emporia Gazette, or Senator 
Arthur Capper and the Household Magazine. I have been 
told very privately by more than one Kansan that if all 
uninviting labels could be discarded, Earl Browder would 
come nearer than Alf. M. Landon to standing forth as the 
political representative of the true Kansas spirit. 

"Do you know why all the region between the Mississippi 
and the mountains is radical politicallythat is, according 
to the standards of the older parts of the country?" a Re- 
publican politician in Kansas asked me as we sat together 
in the train. 

I glanced out at the window as I considered into a bulg- 
ing, rapidly changing wall of steamy smoke that a wintry 
wind from the northwest rolled off alongside the track 
from the two heavy engines that were carrying us comfort- 
ably at a mile a minute. The vaporous smoke was as soft in 
the late afternoon sunlight as if it had been a cloud in 
the sky a mile above our heads. A section-hand who had 
stepped back to let the train pass and stood with his mit- 
tened fist on the grip of a shovel that rested on the frozen 
turf looked, in the fraction of a second while he was in 
sight, like a gentle old professor of philosophy I had known 
in college. 

Ferment 261 

"Because," I queried, "the two major parties out this way 
are shrewd enough to carry on a continuous borrowing from 
the 'wild' new parties that spring up?" 

"Exactly. William Jennings Bryan swiped so much from 
the Populists that they all had to vote for him in order to 
keep from voting against their own principles. Republican 
legislatures in Kansas have helped themselves in more or 
less the same way." 

He laughed. "So who needed the Populist Party any 

Kansans have gone in heavily for native art, too. They 
publish their own literary magazine with very exceptional 
illustrations so that people inside and outside the state 
may see what Kansas writerssuch substantial and emo- 
tionally honest writers as Kenneth Porter, for instance are 
doing. And the state is alive with etchers and lithographers, 
and makers of block-prints both in black-and-white and in 
colors. The Atlantic seaboard may hear only of such Kansas 
artists as H. V. Poor and John Steuart Curry when they 
take high place in some international exhibition. But there 
are others many others. 

The artistic mind has been quickened; yet other minds 
have been too completely occupied with the hard facts of 
life to make wide interest in the work of the artist easy* 
So the artists, in addition to doing their own work, have 
sought to lend aid and comfort to their kind. C. A. Seward, 
for instance, not only has made lithographs and block- 
prints and etchings of Kansas plains and hilltops, and the 
Cimarron Canyon, and the pueblos of New Mexico, that 
have gone to all parts of the United States and to Europe, 
but has acted as a godfather in the region of Wichita to a 
group of distinguished younger workers in the same fields. 

2 62 I Travel by Train 

And he has done so without imposing his own style upon 
them. E. L. Davison and his wife, while giving their chief 
time to their own painting with the sure devotion of artists 
of greatest sensitivity, have yet found it possible to en- 
courage contemporaries in the most substantial of ways. Up 
in Lindsborg, Birger Sandzen, known chiefly as a painter, 
has fostered another interesting center. In yet more iso- 
lated places there are such workers of clear originality as 
Arthur W. Hall and Norma Hall. Few people outside the 
state had ever heard of Howard, Kansas, until Norma Bas- 
sett Hall's colored block-prints found favor, and Arthur W. 
Hall's etchings began to find their way into international 
exhibitions. Other artists have likewise been good inciden- 
tal crusaders. 

And right on southward from Kansas the restive mind 
has expressed itself in an art that is quite as much at home 
in the region. Just across in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Doel 
Reed, a native of another state, has caught the feeling of 
the Southwest as if he had always lived there. Young 
natives have contributed distinguished murals to many 
Oklahoma public buildingssuch artists as Mopope, Au- 
chiah, Asah, Hokeah, and Acee Blue Eagle. In other places 
there are artists who ought to be named. Right on south- 
ward, too, those who work in the arts have sought to en- 
courage other workers and promote a better understanding 
of good work. At Norman, Oscar B. Jacobson not only has 
convinced men and women with eyes that the landscape in 
Oklahoma is as sheer and red and purplish as he has 
painted it, but has fostered some of the very men who have 
done the interesting murals in the state institutions. Such 
writers as Stanley Vestal and B. A. Botkin and their col- 
leagues have provided a kind of rallying ground for all 
writers of the state. And the University of Oklahoma Press 

Ferment 263 

has published interesting books in typography and format 
that would invite anyone to read. 

The architecture, too, in this part of the region seems 
less away from home than the architecture in most sections 
of America outside of New England. It is not to be forgotten 
that Frank Lloyd Wright grew up at the northern end of 
this regional axis and that Bruce Goff grew up at the south- 
ern end, and that both have recorded their genius in Okla- 

Down through the whole of the region tooall the way 
down from the homeland of Charles A. Lindbergh the 
younger to that of Will Rogers and on into Texas the peo- 
ple have created institutions of learning based upon their 
needs in their own environment. The state universities in 
some instances have kept nearer to traditional education. 
But in such institutions as the State Colleges at Ames, Iowa, 
Manhattan, Kansas, Stillwater, Oklahoma, and College Sta- 
tion, Texas where heavy percentages of the students are 
from the farms, and where many of them expect to go back 
to farms, the education has been adapted to the very im- 
mediate purpose of making life in the region as livable and 
as interesting as possible. 

"Do you know me?" a towering gray-haired man of forty- 
five or fifty asked me when I was spending two or three days 
in one of these institutions. 

Yes, I knew him. But what was he doing twenty-five 
years after college? 

He told me with honest pride. For not everyone in 
college in his day had expected him to do great things. In 
Oklahoma, he explained, the dry weather is likely to catch 
the corn when anybody grows any just when it is coming 
out in tassel and before the ears have developed. It is risky 
to try to grow it. Yet in a proper diversification of crops on 

264 / Travel by Train 

Oklahoma farms, corn ought to be used. Well, he had de- 
veloped a short-season corn that this year was coming out in 
tassel by Decoration Day instead of the first of July. 

"You may bring about some great social changes in the 
state/' I suggested. 

Well, yes, he thought if enough people worked at the 
job of helping the soil do its best, something yet undreamed 
of might be done. 

Some of these direct-action educational institutions have 
almost outgrown their sister state universities. And down 
in the northern edge of Texas a related institutionthe 
Texas State College for Women has almost outgrown it- 
self. Scarcely forty years ago it began as a woman's indus- 
trial college. Today it is a flourishing institution of twenty- 
six hundred students larger than either Smith or Wellesley 
that makes available both the practical and the liberal 
arts. Students are busy with the economy and the art of 
the household; with painting, and black-and-white, and 
pottery, and wood-carving, and music, and drama, and 
poetry, and economics, and all sorts of problems that must 
be faced in an enlightened society. When they graduate 
many of them go far over a state larger than France to 
supervise art in the schools and to help the wives of second- 
generation settlers plan a better-looking world. 

How swiftly human energy may speed through the en- 
tire cycle to fitness for such activity I saw one lazy after- 
noon in February at this institution. I went to the new 
arts building to look at some pottery. Somebody directed 
me up one flight too far, A sandy-haired girl was down so 
close over a block of wood at which she was working that 
her hair hung loose about her head and completely ob- 
scured her face to me. For five minutes I stood unobserved 
and watched her work with great deftness at the face that 

Ferment 265 

was slowly emerging from the block. Finally, to rest her 
back she straightened up and saw me. 

"Hello, there!" she said as if she had been calling to 
some neighbor along the road. "I didn't see you standing 

"Don't stop!" I begged of her. "Go right ahead. I like to 
watch you." 

"Oh, it can wait. I just came up here to put in a few 
hours extra on it this afternoon when there weren't many 
others around." 

I studied the face in the block. It was rather stunning. 

"How long have you been working in this course?" I 

"Oh, just since September." 

"But didn't you have practice at this sort of thing before 
you came here?" 

Her smile broke into a little laugh, as if I did not know 

"No, never tried it before." 

"And never saw any?" 

Her smile broke into the same kind of little laugh. "No, 
never saw any, either. I never saw much of anything till I 
came here. If you live on a ranch out in the Panhandle, 
there isn't much to see." 

While she spoke I remembered something that Governor 
Alfalfa Bill Murray once said to me. We were sitting in his 
office in the state-house when work for the day was about 
over. He had his hat ona broad-brimmed black crumpled 
hat and he had slipped down in the large office chair un- 
til he was half reclining on a leather pillow, with his heels 
resting on the edge of the executive desk. He wore high 
shoes that needed a shine, and white cotton socks that 
were down over the tops of his shoes. His mustache and 

266 / Travel by Train 

hair looked as if they had never been trimmed, and a 
growth of stubbly gray beard was showing all over his face. 
But his eyes were keen. 

"What are you reading?" he asked me after he had told 
somebody over the telephone that he would see that the 
state provided fruit-jars to some needy persons if they would 
grow what was to go in them. 

"Oh," I replied, remembering the libraries he had read 
when he was working on a constitution for Oklahoma, "not 
so much. My guess is that authors read less than most peo- 

"Most people/' he said, "read too damned much. If 
they'd go off to a mountain somewhere and think . . ." 

"What do you expect to do?" I asked the girl. 

"Oh" and she threw her head back and shook her hair 
into place a little "I don't know; teach, maybe." 

And this institution's approach to life which is doing so 
much in a state as extensive as a good-sized nation to en- 
rich the taste of the people right where they live every day 
is the approach characteristic of the entire region of fer- 
ment. Whether we like it or not, whether or not it seems to 
lack the bouquet of traditional culture, it provides the 
interesting spectacle of men and women trying in some 
degree to make their philosophies out of the new facts of 
life, instead of trying to bend and distort the facts to make 
them fit into categories long ago conceived for other pur- 



IT was a strange preparation for the sight of a region the 
mere fact that on a train out of Kansas City into the 
Southwest I had to take an upper berth. In the middle 
of the night, long after I had gone to sleep, I became drow- 
sily half-aware of voices that penetrated the steady roar of 
the train. As I grew a little more sharply conscious I thought 
they must be near me. And by the time I was wide awake I 
knew that they were in the berth beneath mine. I could 
not hear what they were saying, but one of them was the 
voice of a man and the other that of a woman, and the tone 
of their speech was serious. Just when I was ready to press 
the button and request the porter to have quiet, the train 
came to a stop, and I could hear what the two were saying. 
They were an old man and an old woman, and their voices 
expressed great resignation. 

"It wouldn't be so bad/' the old man said, "if you could 


2 68 / Travel by Train 

see anything. But just to go roarin' along through the dark 
like this-" 

She held out little comfort. She supposed they would 
have to make the best of it till daylight. 

"What time do you suppose it is, anyhow?" he wished to 

"Oh, some 'eres around two o'clock, I shouldn't wonder." 

He was silent for a time. Then he asked: "Do you sup- 
pose theyll be there to meet us?" 

"They said they would." 

Thus they talked together as if some mutual mighty 
awareness reduced all else in their lives to inconsequence. 
As soon as I knew that they expressed no unfriendly intent, 
I dropped off into the soundest of slumbers that lasted until 
late the next morning. 

When I came back from breakfast the porter had made 
up the section and they were sitting together in the sun- 
two kind, drooping old people whose faces and hands re- 
corded long struggle. They were so oblivious of their im- 
mediate surroundings that I could not bring myself to 
breaking in upon them and claiming my half of the section. 
Conveniently, the one across the aisle was now unoccupied. 

In a chance word now and then, plus an occasional glance 
into each other's face when they referred to something that 
they were ready to hurry past, it all came out: they were 
on their way home from a famous hospital up north, and 
it seemed that there was little or no hope for either of them. 

"Anyhow," the old man said after a long silence in which 
they both had looked distantly out at the window, "it's 
good to have some real sun once more." Then after another 
silence they smiled at each other like two very unworldly- 
wise lovers. 

Sunlight 269 

"That sun!" he said again, as if she might not be fully 
appreciative of it. 

Something of their overpowering sense of life's tenuous- 
ness swept across to me as I watched them. I, too, had to look 
away into the distance. And almost before I knew it, the 
sun was making me aware that he was newly important. We 
were getting down into the Texas Panhandle where the sun 
is a great sun, and where most of the time there is nothing 
much in his way to prevent him from displaying his full 
power on the earth's surface. Down here his light gives new 
character to everything; it touches everything with wonder. 
It makes the sky a bigger, clearer sky. It brightens up the 
landscape until you not only feel the vastness, the limitless- 
ness of the plains, but in the high visibility discern all sorts 
of detail that give the distance an unbelievable kind of 
depth and solidity. In ordinary sunlight, that long silk 
thread of a dark line just at the horizon would have been 
only an undistinguishable part of the general vagueness, 
but in this brightness it was a freight train a mile long 
creeping on its way from Memphis to Los Angeles. What 
loomed as large as a small city in the far distance turned 
out to be when we came up to it only the buildings and the 
clump of planted shade-trees on a ranch. But what was that 
there was a city, was there not? It stood up high almost 
too high just beyond a shimmering lake. It was my first 
mirage. The city was there, undeniably. But it was many 
more miles away than it seemed. And there was no lake. 
And the buildings, I found when I was ready to get off the 
train, though high enough, were not so high as the ones in 
the phantom city I had just seen. 

The sun had awakened me to a large-scale drama. And 
when I fell in with a painter from New York who was 

270 / Travel by Train 

spending his first days in the region, and whose awakening 
by the sun had amounted to an intoxication from which he 
experienced no let-down, I was soon seeing yet more than 
my own eyes had seen unaided. He had to stop in the mid- 
dle of the street in Amarillo to sketch an effect of light that 
he had never observed before. He had to pull up at the 
roadside to catch a wheat-field of billowing gold with a 
man sitting high on a combine that marched irresistibly 
across the field. He had to follow for a half-hour a broad 
man who bulged out over the seat of a mowing machine 
behind two stout bay horses plodding lazily along the grassy 
edge of the road following, driving up close, sketching; 
falling behind, driving up again, sketching, until the man, 
despite the noise of the mowing machine in thin grass, de- 
tected him and good-naturedly wanted to know "just what 
the hell." 

Fortified by a Texan who had lived in the Panhandle for 
twenty-eight years, and who could not be induced to live 
anywhere else, we roamed the region, just to feel the vast- 
ness of a world under a bright sun. We sped beside wheat- 
fields that promised to be without end, yet did end; then 
through fields as large as townships dotted with cattle, cat- 
tle, the white faces of Hereford cattle everywhere and 
everywhere in the fields with them jack-rabbits that stood 
high on their hind legs, their eyes full of inquiry, their long 
ears so erect that light showed through them, and then 
quickly squatted close down to the ground in the hope that 
they had not been seen; then more fields of precisely the 
same kind, and more thousands of cattle big cattle soon to 
be ready for market, young heifers and steers, and tiny 
white-faced, innocent-looking calves the cow-puncher's 
"dogies" tugging at mothers that acted as if giving milk 
should not be the entire business of life; and yet other fields 

Sunlight 271 

here and there that had been overpastured until the cactus 
and the yucca had crept in and taken possession. 

And right in the middle of this flat Panhandle country 
we came suddenly out above the Palo Duro Canyon. Most 
people seem to think that there is only one canyon in the 
world. Few have ever heard of this one here, and fewer still 
have ever seen it. Yet it is one of the earth's beautiful won- 
ders. In this seemingly flattest of all flat regions, in the 
course of enough tens of thousands of years, a prairie stream- 
letthe headwaters of the Red River in a constant effort 
to keep to its clearest course has meandered back and forth 
across miles of terrain, and broken and swept the fragments 
away until it has cut its way deep down through multi- 
colored rock of unbelievable brightness. Into the hazy 
purplish-yellow distance as far as you can see are points and 
domes and cathedrals and cliffs and giant toadstools in 
maroons and yellows and greens and whites and grays and 
mauves too bright to be accepted at first view. It is so many 
miles long that you are not troubled about whether it has 
an end or not; yet somehow it is not so large but what the 
mind can encompass it. 

It is a canyon worth talking about. For on a well-kept 
road it is possible to descend into it, and enjoy the quiet 
that seems somehow colored by the rocks everywhere above 
one's head, and breathe the late afternoon coolness, and 
come back up to the starting-point, and linger there, and 
become again as rapturous as one wishes over the yellows 
and blues and violets all within the limits of a few hours. 

The sun does not let anything in the region seem ordi- 
nary. Least of all is the sun's own afternoon decline an 
ordinary sunset. It reaches the horizon without any of the 
accompaniments of mountains or forested valleys and old 
ruins that are supposed to give sunsets the significant touch. 

272 / Travel by Train 

It is big enough in its own name to go down. As I watched 
it the first evening I ever spent in the region, the prairie 
seemed to extend solidly from where we stood right out to 
the very edge of the sun. 

"Wait a minute/' the painter commanded when he saw 
one of his first. 

He rushed off like a boy and came back in a moment 
all ready to make a water-color. He worked with a wild 

"I can put that old windmill in tomorrow," he said when 
it was no longer light enough to work; "but I wanted to get 
the proportion of that black line of earth and the big sky. 
Did you ever see a sky as big as that one?" 

Nor does the sun leave the spirit of the people untouched. 
They express something of its bright expansiveness. From 
the Panhandle on down through the western side of the 
state through the Staked Plains area the best of the early 
American memories have fused with the spirit of the west- 
ern pioneer in an alert, hopeful, friendly people. Life has 
not been easy. In truth, it would be difficult to imagine any- 
thing more disheartening than the march into this Pan- 
handle region when there was nothing there not even a 
decent hill to invite one with an assurance of protection. 
The open prairie with a thunder-storm coming on can fill 
one with a sense of helplessness not to be paralleled any- 
where else. Constantly when I went into shops, I was im- 
agining that I heard echoes of the people's loneliness in 
the manner of their invitation to come again: "Well, hurry 
back!" "Don't stay away long!" "Sure will be glad to have 
you come again!" For these lonely days were only a few 
decades ago within the memory of men still living. Many 
a face that one sees bending over a ranch-house kitchen 

Sunlight 273 

bears the marks of hard days still present but also the softer 
lines implanted by hope. 

And their children are a kind unto themselves. Ever since 
they were able to do anything that might be called work 
and that was early in their lives they have labored in the 
faith that things were sure to be better if only they per- 
sisted long enough. Life was to be something progressively 
expansive naturally, for they have never lived where any- 
thing was on a small scale. After enough winters and sum- 
mers on a ranch, they pack up and drive a few hundred 
miles to college to learn more about agricultural life, to 
prepare to teach, to gain less utilitarian knowledge and 
points of view that in some way they have come to believe 
worth having. The boys are rangy fellows of cheerful dis- 
position who have not the slightest doubt about their ability 
to do whatever they decide to undertake, and who say con- 
stantly in their looks, "All right; but no kidding." And the 
girls suggest some strange and uncontemplated union of the 
romance of old Virginia with the enforced self-reliance of 
the pioneer West. I should be willing to risk the dagger 
words of women in other regions to say that there is a higher 
percentage of naturally beautiful girls in west Texas than 
in any other area of the United States. 

The painter was exclamatory about this part of his dis- 
covery of the region, too. "Say! They know how to walkl 
They walk on their feet! None of this pitching and clatter- 
ing along of the girl who has been propped up on high heels 
all her life! And no piano legs, either! They are slender 
without effort, what? And liveliness of motion did you ever 
see anything quite like it? And beauty of face! And genuine- 
nessin the boys, too, the same as the girls. I didn't know 
it existed anywhere in the world any longer like that. I 

274 ^ Travel by Train 

walk around here in the evening just to see these young 
couples strolling together. It makes me feel better toward 
the race." 

Here are people who have not been prevented by the 
presence of their fellow-beings in too great numbers from 
developing their own originalities. They have had solitude. 
They have thought things over. They have considered the 
world where they live. They have wondered just what they 
were about. 

They have become intelligently concerned, too, with pre- 
serving an adequate record of what they have contributed 
to civilized life. Men whose chief and outward occupation 
has been to keep an eye on cattle or to make semi-arid land 
produce more wheat have been busy also with unearthing 
journals kept by their fathers and mothersor grandfathers 
and grandmothers at the time they came into the region, 
making collections of all kinds of firearms, cooking utensils, 
crude agricultural implements, and all sorts of hand-made 
household means of livableness that were not so long ago 
a part of everyday existence but are already more or less 
forgotten, and building museums where all this material 
may be safely preserved. The museum on the campus of 
the State Teachers College at Canyon, fostered by men and 
women scattered over the Panhandle area, makes vivid 
the history of the region. Even the sculptors who contrib- 
uted to the external beauty of the building felt the impor- 
tance of using the life of the locality as motif. 

Nor have the people contented themselves with the im- 
mediate past. They have preserved the record of what they 
found there. They have gone far back. Not only does a mural 
record the coming of Charles Goodnight into the Palo Duro 
to establish the first Panhandle ranch in 1876; another re- 
cords Coronado's expedition leaving the canyon in 1541. 

Sunlight 275 

And now they are busy with the geologic past. Something in 
the dry atmosphere and dry earth has helped to preserve 
in unusual state the skeletons of mastodons and other more 
ordinary fry of ages long gone. In this museum I saw men 
working on one almost perfect tusk more than ten feet long 
that had just been unearthed in the vicinity. One of the 
college buildings is faced with stone split from the remains 
in the region of a petrified forest in which trees six feet in 
diameter have been found. The more imaginative of the 
people contemplate nothing less stupendous than some 
day having trees on the plains again and perhaps a more 
productive rainfall. 

Southward across west Texas, life has much the same 
color the sun is much the same sun. If you go two or three 
hundred miles east from the central Panhandle region, you 
run into the rolling long-range red hills of Oklahoma where 
cottonwood and elm down deep in canyon-like gutters and 
all sorts of draws and stream-beds rise just high enough to 
produce meandering billowy ridges of lush green above the 
level of the fields and make into rhythmic patchwork vast 
areas of land that receives enough rain to meet require- 
ments. If you go east a little farther down, out into the 
body of Texas, you run out of the flat land and the half- 
desert-looking undulations covered with yucca and cactus 
and mesquite into greener levels and, eventually, more tim- 
ber and all sorts of tangled vines and more fruit trees thriv- 
ing in gardens. Or if you go in the other direction over into 
New Mexico, you enter desert country that is unmistakably 
dry and hot. But for the hundreds of miles down through 
west Texas you are just in between. You have brightness 
without being quite in the desert, and vegetation without 
being in frequent danger from downpours, 

Or if you prefer, you can go off southwest through New 

276 I Travel by Train 

Mexico to the tip of Texas it must be remembered that El 
Paso is farther west than Santa Fe and enter the southern 
end of the region from the west. But by whatever route you 
proceed, you come into the same surprising and little- 
known country. In truth, it is yet more surprising than the 
region farther north, for here you are in a vast area of 
mountainous country two hundred and fifty miles or so in 
length and almost as wide. Just to discover that there are 
so many mountains in Texas, and that one of them rises 
well toward ten thousand feet above sea level, is in itself 
rather breath-taking. It is more breath-taking to discover 
the kind of mountains they are. For they are not the ordi- 
nary mountains that everybody visits, and camps in, and 
uses as a base from which to mail post-cards. They are a 
dreamer's mountains: long ranges of so many points and 
levels that they seem without number or end; areas of iso- 
lated volcanic peaks rising high above the plateau; great 
bulks of rock looming ponderous in the sky like gigantic cas- 
tles; vast stretches of palisades in flutings and columns all 
these in sunlit pink-grays and pale green-grays and yellow- 
grays which near, farther away, and so far away that they 
are just visible make endlessness something easy to accept. 
For a week I found time to make trips out from Alpine, 
a little city forty-four hundred feet up on a spreading pla- 
teau, and a center for the mountain region. I explored to 
the north, or northwest, in the Davis Mountains the Jef- 
ferson Davis Mountains, from the Fort Davis of pre-Civil 
War days and found a peacefulness that invited me to 
linger. The plains between mountains were covered with 
cattle, and frequently antelope were enjoying the pasture 
with them. From the top of Mt. Locke, where the Mac- 
Donald Observatory of the University of Texas stands 
sixty-eight hundred feet above sea-level, one can see the 


clear gray outlines of the mountains stretching away eighty 
or a hundred miles. 

I had a bird's-eye glimpse of the people of the region, too. 
A legal interlude in Alpine enabled me to have it. A man 
and wife from some other part of the state had decided to 
make a home for a thirteen-year-old boy. They took out a 
five-thousand-dollar life insurance policy in his name. Then 
they came to the mountain region after due time for a 
vacation. Late one day the "father" and "mother" came to 
town with the boy's mangled body. They said he had fallen 
from a three-hundred-foot cliff. He was buried rather 
promptly. And rather promptly the "father" was arrested 
and charged with having thrown him to his death. 

The trial was on. From all over a county as large as a 
small state the people had come to hear and see. Here was 
something real enough to be interesting a clear-cut issue 
of life and death. The movies were neglected; the classes 
at the state college for teachers shrank in size. Men and 
women and boys and girls crowded into the large court- 
room and filled every seat and every added chair; they 
stood close about the judge's bench; they filled every aisle; 
they stood high in the windows. 

I soon lost interest in the proceedings. For before I had 
been present an hour wedged in among shorter people 
far down one of the aisles where I could see well I de- 
cided that the man was guilty. His efforts to be casual and 
nonchalant and confident were not effective. He forgot to 
keep up appearances and occasionally bit his nails in great 
nervousness or obliviously dropped his face to the table 
with his hand clutching his forehead. So I watched the peo- 
plemen now a little rotund in their slacks and work-shirts, 
with their good-sized light-colored felt hats crushed under 
their arms; men in down-to-the-minute clothes who were 

278 / Travel by Train 

stealing a little time from store or bank; women fresh from 
ranch kitchens with their hair sleeked back; town women 
who could afford to have Mexicans from south of the rail- 
road do their housework for them; boys and girls who si- 
lently flirted while the life-or-death trial proceeded; small 
children who squirmed and wiggled in their mothers' 
arms and wondered when they were ever going to be 
through with whatever it was they were doing. The entire 
assemblage who watched radiated great cheerfulness and 
good-will. They were not hostile toward the defendant. 
But they seemed to think that if he had been keeping any- 
thing back that he could say for himself, it was about time 
for him to be telling it. 

The next afternoon when the jury returned a verdict of 
guilty and the man was sentenced to death, the people sud- 
denly became more interesting than ever. The sentence was 
what they had expected, yet it terrified them a little. It was 
too bad for the man to have to go to the electric chair. But 
then men should not be throwing little boys from high 
cliffs for life insurance money. Anyhow this fellow had 
given their mountains a bad name. He had caused number- 
less press despatches about a murder to go out all over the 
country dated "Alpine, Texas." They were glad he was 
from somewhere else. And in relief and content they went 
off to the stores to buy a few things before they hurried 
back to their workaday lives. 

These people express much the same blending of the old 
South and the new West that one finds all the way north 
to the Panhandle. They have awareness of the common 
destiny of their kind, and of the continuity of civilized life. 
Like their neighbors farther north they are interested in 
preserving the record of their regional past. I found them 
busy assembling in a new museum every kind of household 

Sunlight 279 

and outdoor object that had been used in the first struggles 
toward orderly life. But also like their neighbors to the 
north they live chiefly in the present and the future. Life 
must go on, must it not? Life must be made more livable. 
If money must be scarce, then ways of getting along in good 
style without much money must be devised. On a campus 
that is steadily growing into a larger and larger spot of green 
at the base of a dry-looking mountain, in attractive cottages 
of native stone which the teachers' college has erected, a 
student can live cooperatively for an academic year on what 
many a student in socially important colleges spends in a 
month. Did people quit trying just because there was more 
sunshine than rainfall in a region? 

It seemed not. For a week all my spare time was taken by 
students who slipped down to the hotel to talk over some- 
thing they had been thinking about. And they were think- 
ing about everything but crassly utilitarian projects. One, 
a tall young woman of thoughtful manner, came in behalf 
of some one else, a young man on a ranch her fiance per- 
haps. On a ranch he had plenty of solitude in which to 
think. He had been trying to put something down on paper 
something of his immediate world. He would never have 
ventured to suggest that she bring any of his results to me. 
But she had arranged some of them in a loose-leaf note-book, 
and would I take a glance? They were more than the pleas- 
ant but harmless little verses which college students too 
often write. Here was the drama of the range the drought, 
the bulls fighting, the spiritual vagabonds who happened 
along and touched the current of his life, his own way of 
looking at things. It was something fresh from an active 
mind. It partook of the region. It was poetry. 

From Alpine, too, I went on down to the Rio Grande 
to see some mountains of special interest. The president 

280 / Travel by Train 

of the college at Alpine is a dreamer of dreams. These moun- 
tains, isolated by act of nature, must be set aside as a great 
park. But they must not be made into any ordinary state 
or national park. They look right across to neighboring 
extraordinary peaks in Mexico. In at least one place the 
Rio Grande has to squeeze through a canyon so narrow that 
a bridge would readily tie the two mountains and the two 
countries together. The park must be an international park, 
devoted to friendship. It is something well on the way. 
And soon I was to see it. 

All the way down I experienced a special preparation of 
mind. The biological scientist in charge of the survey of 
wild life in the region pointed out every neighboring range 
and peak the Glass Mountains, so pale and so seemingly 
translucent that their name was obviously appropriate; a 
darker range off in another direction with sawteeth of some 
very light formation distinct against its side from one end 
to the other; isolated peaks with dark traces of volcanic ash 
streaking their sides; stretches of desert in which we stopped 
for the ripe fruit of the cactus. From nine-thirty in the 
morning till four in the afternoon we saw only six auto- 

Hawks sat undisturbed in the sun when we passed within 
thirty feet of them; turkey buzzards that fed on the carcass 
of some jack-rabbit that had been too careless of the occa- 
sional automobiles on the road, scarcely circled out of our 
way, and then were back again; road-runners that evidently 
had found enough choice lizards and young snakes for the 
day scarcely moved out of the road at all, and once when we 
stopped to watch, and made a peeping noise, one of three 
became so curious that she had to come peering and duck- 
ing in strange feints of movement all the way to the front 
fender; an occasional red racer four feet long or so paused 

Sunlight 281 

and protested in angry, harmless disgust that his leisurely 
progress should be disturbed by an overtowering vehicle; 
mocking-birds sang on tall stems of yucca that leaned over 
the road, and never changed their tempo at our passing. 

And then after a long steady climb that heated the en- 
gine, we were in the mountains: the Chisos Mountains- 
unworldly in their cragginess. Five thousand feet above 
sea level in the wide mouth of a canyon we stretched out 
under a gnarled pifion tree that the botanist said was 
probably from four to six hundred years old, and ate our 
sandwiches, and lounged, and felt the cool breeze sweep our 
faces, and listened to the flood of bird music that came 
from everywhere, and let our eyes range over the bright 
red crags that rose three thousand feet or so above us. Then 
we pushed on, climbing higher and higher until we were 
over a pass and beginning to have intimations of something 
far beyond the Gothic-like bulks that shut out most of the 
distant view. Here high in the sunlight was as appropriate 
a place as any to consider the journey at an end. For over 
there to the south, on and on and on, the same kind of 
mountains rose peak beyond peak until in the bright sun- 
light they faded into the palest of luminous ethereal grays. 



IT was just the trip I had long dreamed about but had 
never taken: a great swing-around down out of the 
Plains into the desert Southwest, up along the Pacific 
Coast to the Canadian boundary, and back through the 
mountains into the Plains again all in a swift succession 
that would enable me to feel the differences between one 
place and another. 

Contrasts were not slow in arising. In one afternoon a 
stream-line train carried us flying close against the earth 
down from St. Paul and Minneapolis through the untamed 
lushness of southern Minnesota into the cleaner-looking 
fields of Iowa, across Iowa, across a portion of Missouri, and 
into Kansas City. The people in this train were matter-of- 


Novelty 283 

fact in appearance, and they busied themselves with matter- 
of-fact concerns with wheat, and the prices of beef, and 
the evils of tenant-farming, and whether the family had 
done well in breaking up the old home-place when they 
might have gone on together farming it as a unit. Such 
workaday matters they discussed as we swept down across 
the country to the accompaniment of a broadcast of a 
Minnesota-Michigan football game. But in Kansas City I 
stepped into another world into a seemingly endless extra- 
fare train of stainless steel from Chicago that was filled with 
somewhat swanky people apparently bound for a destina- 
tion where there were no matter-of-fact concerns to trouble 

This was a train guaranteed to take people somewhere 
in a hurry. By the next morning the last of the productive- 
looking farms of the region of sustenance had vanished, and 
we were in a desolate land somewhere in eastern Colorado 
where nothing much was growing except some half- 
famished cottonwood trees along gravelly stream-beds that 
had no water in them. Before the morning was old we were 
down among dry-looking mountains in New Mexico. Cattle 
roamed over rocky foot-hills among runty trees and boul- 
ders as if they were finding a spear of grass now and then 
that ordinary human eyes could not see. 

The train stopped at a station perhaps it was Las Vegas 
and a gray man in leather coat but with plenty of money 
in his pocket for extra fares and full meals said in the silence: 
"There's something all right, all right." Railroad workers 
had erected a memorial bearing an inscription that began: 
"Lest we forget . . ." The monument consisted of three or 
four old-fashioned coupling-links such as brakemen had to 
lift into place as the cars bumped together sooner or later 
at the expense of a hand or arm back in the nineties before 

284 / Travel by Train 

the installation of automatic couplers was required. "Maybe 
I don't remember those old meat axes!" 

I asked him about the cattle. Just what did they find out 
there that could possibly result in beef? 

He smiled. "Takes just exactly one section of that land 
to keep one steer going if he don't run himself to death 
getting from one blade of grass to the next!" 

We talked. 

And then I was in Lamy and in Santa Fe. In a short 
twenty-four hours I saw something of the bright picturesque- 
ness of the surrounding mountain countryincluding the 
rounded peak where I was told the ashes of Mary Austin 
had been scattered and caught something of the spirit of 
the community. Santa Fe is active a trifle self-conscious and 
overanxious to live in the older New Mexican tradition 
but none the less unafraid and productive. 

In Santa Fe there were still threads of life running back 
eastward and binding Santa Fe a little. But the next day 
before I had gone far on my way I was aware that we were 
in a world that bore no logical relation to what goes on in 
the Mississippi Valley and along the Atlantic seaboard. The 
detachment had become complete. We were surrounded by 
a dry-looking picture-book unreality. The farther we trav- 
eled the drier-looking the rock-piles of mountains became 
and the narrower and farther apart the watered strips. Out 
here people live in a great scantiness of everything includ- 
ing human associations as if life were in fact a game in 
which you win if you can still prove that you are alive. 

"It's an interesting spectacle," I remarked to a conductor 
who bore as much gold braid as an admiral. 

"Yes, but who would want to live in a spectacle?" 

He, too, watched out at the window while great sheer 
buttresses of red rock to our northward moved by in snail- 

Novelty 285 

like procession. "People ask me every day just what this 
country down here is for, and I've been making this run 
now for twenty-odd years, but I've never been able to tell 
them." Later when he came through he said, "We're right 
on top of the Continental Divide, if that interests you. 
There's one of the markers 7,248 feet up." 

By daybreak the next morning we were across Arizona 
into southern California, and the rock-piles of mountains 
that rose up out of a desert which seemed only a rock-pile 
flattened out were complete in their magnificent suggestion 
of eternal death. 

In the dressing-room a hectic young fellow who glanced 
out from time to time as if he were in familiar country asked 
me if I had ever been out there in summer weather. He 
had tried it. "I spent three months once over there about 
forty miles just beyond that mountain, right when it was 
hottest June, July, August. Midday temperature anywhere 
from 120 to 135. Many a day I've left a cup of coffee 
standing on the table at breakfast and by the time I came 
back in the afternoon half of it would be evaporated. Some 
people say they like such a life, but I'd rather be dead than 
to go out there and spend another three months/' 

I was limp at the thought of so much desolation. Men 
might survive here, they might prove life possible, but the 
life which results in any cumulative resource must be lived 
where a more generous earth helps its children away to a 
running start. These men who pant in the desert will be im- 
portant to the race only if the entire earth turns so dry that 
everybody has to learn a dry technique. Then I felt myself 
restored, and discovered that somewhere between Barstow 
and Pasadena, in fields that were well irrigated, grass grew 
as if it were actually growing. The mountains, too, had 
taken on a slightly less lifeless appearance. They seemed to 

286 / Travel by Train 

block our way high, massive ranges, with scant vegetation, 
and at the base of them great slabs of smooth white, as high 
as hills, turned up edgewise in the sun. Then, after a swift 
descent through a narrow valley and some ugly smudges 
of smoke, the green of the earth widened into orange groves, 
and palm trees lined streets of houses of some semi-tropical 
looking architecture that seemed specially appropriate in 
the bright sun. 

Many somewhat oversleek-looking people began to get 
off at suburban stations which were alive with people of the 
same kind people who were dressed up a bit beyond the 
requirements of an ordinary day, and who moved about as 
if they expected to stay dressed up. From inside a train that 
had recently been in Kansas City and Chicago, everything 
seemed foreign. I was startled to hear close outside the train 
window snatches of the English language. I seemed to be en- 
tering a vast dreamland retreat for people who wish to settle 
down to something that is neither physically nor mentally 
too difficult. 

People in Los Angeles tell you that the city is the great- 
est thing of its kind on earth. And it is. It has a very great 
interest. But its interestingness is that of any other good 
show. Those who declare that Hollywood and motion pic- 
tures have given to all Los Angeles a reputation that belongs 
to only a part of it speak falsely. For there is about the en- 
tire city a piquant unreality as great as that of any movie. 
Nowhere is the tempo one which suggests that here we have 
the sweat and pain and waiting and renewed struggle of 
men who have settled into a natural stride. 

I was invited by men in gold braid to see Beverly Hills 
and "the homes of famous movie actresses." The tour did 
not actually admit one to the stars' houses, no; but one was 
likely to see some of them walking with their dogs. I was 

Novelty 287 

invited to go to Santa Monica, for there I could see "the 
seaside homes of movie stars." I was implored to make an all- 
day tour of "the great City of Make Believe," where I would 
see nothing but studios and other "homes of famous movie 
stars" without number, and would be the "privileged guest** 
just whatever that might mean of one of the largest pro- 
ducing companies on earth. The trip included luncheon 
at Studio Cafe, where movie stars positively dine, and where 
by all the laws of chance one might see three or four. 
Through somebody's subtle feeling for unity, this tour- 
so I was assured ended with "a visit to Aimee Semple Mc- 
Pherson's million-dollar Angelus Temple/* And then if I 
had not seen enough, I could make a Los Angeles Night 
Club tour guaranteed to be "more daring" than anything 
put on in New York or anywhere else in the world. The fare 
itself included three full-sized cocktails, and a midnight 
supper that positively would not be served before midnight. 

I preferred to go out unguided. I wanted to see the funda- 
mental Los Angeles. I went to a ten-cent store one that 
stretched from one street to the next. It would be reassur- 
ing to see "the people." But all the people there looked as 
if they belonged somewhere else. They did not act as if 
they had been there long, or as if they expected to stay, I 
asked fifteen of them if they minded telling me where they 
were from, and seven of them were from Iowa. What were 
they doing out there? Oh, nothing much just acting as 
supers in the greatest show on earth. 

I followed them to a two-story cafeteria one of the best 
ones I was ever in and by "ordering" a second time I man- 
aged to sit at two different tables. But my sense of unreality 
was only heightened. One man with a strange new eager- 
ness in his eye assured me that life begins at sixty-five. This 
discovery he had but recently made. He had lived in one 

2 88 / Travel by Train 

place or another more or less in Iowa, in Texas, in Hawaii 
but he had now lived in Los Angeles so long that he re- 
garded himself as one of the early settlers. He talked in- 
terestingly while I sat for an hour and enjoyed an ornately 
decorated stage set with men and woman at tables all about 
me eating food that looked substantial enough, and talk- 
ing about apartments and agents and studios and some- 
body they knew who had just sold picture rights. 

Sooner or later I had wandered in all directions south, 
west, and north. But I never quite escaped the feeling that 
everything was make-believe. There are earnest, solid peo- 
ple of all sorts at work in Los Angeles in business, in the 
schools of the city, in the universities of course I know 
that. One modest philosopher in Los Angeles who would 
be speechless in the presence of a movie star has recently 
said something more important in the history of the world 
than all the highly advertised products that have come out 
of all studios of the region. But such conscientious people, 
slithered over by the rough-shod life everywhere about 
them, have not yet become powerful enough to save the 
city from its unreality. Who are they? Why, the people who 
take prominent roles in the great show never so much as 
heard of theml 

"Tell me where to find the most characteristic thing in 
Los Angeles/' I begged of people, "the thing I ought not 
to get away without seeing." And they directed me to Holly- 
wood, to the studios all along the edges of the region, to the 
houses on Beverly Hills. I did not mean to go out at all; 
I preferred time at the Huntington Library or the Zoo. 
But the library was closed for a period, I was told. And 
there seemed to be no time when one could not see "the 
houses of famous movie stars." 

Eventually I was out there seeing some of them. And 

Novelty 289 

some of them were so beautiful that they almost made me 
forget the billboards and the buildings painted over as if 
all life were a street carnival. But never quite. The tawdri- 
ness had been too much exalted. Everybody was advertising 
something studios devoted to the development of speech, 
agencies guaranteed to sell picture rights, dentists pledged 
to straighten unattractive teeth, beauty-parlors fully 
equipped to make good whatever nature had carelessly left 
undone. And everywhere so it seemed were institutions 
devoted to the developing of the full personalities of dogs 
and cats. 

"Am I overimaginative," I asked a man when I was pass- 
ing a studio devoted to "the clipping and boarding of dogs 
bathing and defleaing," "or are there lots of places here 
for the care of dogs?" 

"You're not overimaginative," he replied, the least bit 
grimly. "There are more damned dogs in this place than 
on all the rest of the Pacific Coast. Eight of them have in- 
sulted me already today while I've stood talking with peo- 
ple about real estate," He smiled a faint smile. "I'm think- 
ing of running for Governor and doing something about it." 

It was toward the end of a warm day when I was in tfie 
region of the Hollywood Bowl. Pressed together were 
cramped houses announcing board and lodging; blocks of 
undeniably beautiful houses with well-watered shrubs and 
flowers that were beginning to give the new houses a 
settled-in appearance; and billboards with premature night- 
time luridness flashing their invitations to buy cigarettes 
or gasoline or a pleasant lot in a distinguished cemetery. 
Places of business did not have names above entrances; 
they were painted all over the front of the building. Right 
ahead of me when I turned one corner was a spacious il- 
luminated sign which begged to say: "Motion pictures are 

2 go / Travel by Train 

your best entertainment. Go to a movie to-nite." Nowhere 
was anything inappropriate, for there was no standard of 

But here was something to see. A sunset behind the hills 
was lighting up broken clouds all over the sky-gorgeously. 
And there on another hill was a great cross in the reflected 
glow. It was an unbelievable spectacle. Yes, that was just 
what it was. It was an arrangement a movie. The sunset 
seemed overdone as if it had been devised by somebody 
who was desperately trying to attract attention. 

And then just as if it had been prearranged by the man 
in gold braid down at the hotel, my trip back to town took 
me past the Angelus Temple. I saw the bright name; I saw 
an illuminated cross slowly revolving; I saw neon letters an- 
nouncing when Aimee Semple McPherson was next to ap- 
pear, and who was to assist her. The man who arranged 
tours was right; it was a perfect ending for an afternoon in 
the world of make-believe. 

There was something of the same unreality in the tough 
districts when I wandered through them at night. True 
enough, I encountered men who looked me over, suspected 
that I might be an undercover person of some sort, and 
would have been pleased to bump me off if they could have 
done so without raising questions about their own identity. 
But most of the men were out of Bret Harte's stories. With 
the trace of a romantic flourish, the ones who drank at the 
bar pushed their hats back on their foreheads and put a 
foot on the brass rail as an accepted preliminary, just as Mr. 
John Oakhurst might have done. And roomful after room- 
ful of them sat at tables and drank and played for modest 
stakes and made remarks designed to incite the women to 
braggadocio, just as if they were out of the same book 
or on the stage; and the women looked sacrificial as if a 

Novelty 291 

thousand of them might be the legitimate daughters of 
Mother Shipton. 

Nothing in Los Angeles was dull. But I never was with- 
out the feeling that the whole place had been made up. I 
thought I had better go to a movie. I wanted to see some- 
thing real. 

But San Francisco I must have been prepared by a night 
on a Coast train to appreciate San Francisco. At quarter to 
two I was awakened by a woman in the aisle just outside 
my berth who persistently declared, "I can't! I can't make 
it! I p-positively can't 1" 

"Then I'll go first," a man said. "Watch me. I can shoot 
right past him just like a meteor." 

I peeped out. Just ahead a gray-haired man in his pa- 
jamas stood reaching into an upper berth as if he were 
getting something out of a bag up there. The man by my 
berth said again, "Now watch me." And he was able to get 
past. "See! You can make it! There's plenty of room! Come 

Heads appeared all along the aisle. And the old man 
smiled in the pale light of berth lamps as if he did not mind. 

She laughed a little; then she shrieked a little, as if she 
faced some such feat as swimming the English Channel. 
Then she plunged. But the old man multiplied just as she 
came up, and she crashed right into one of him. 

She had to try again. It was fun. But some man who had 
been awakened late in the show wanted to know "What 
the hell?" And a woman ordered the porter to call the con- 
ductor, who came. 

It all took time. Then somebody had to talk when he 
got off the train at five-thirty. And a business man who sat 
opposite me at breakfast insisted on talking about the de- 
partment-store strike in San Francisco when I wanted to 

2 9 s / Travel by Train 

enjoy the trees of Palo Alto. By the time we were approach- 
ing the water-front, my nerves were enough alive to enable 
me to see what San Francisco is like. 

As soon as I was established in a hotel I went out to enjoy 
the clear views and the invigorating air. I climbed the 
nearest hill, and I had glimpses of the bay and the great 
bridges. But I wanted a more complete view. For here was 

I picked out the highest building I could see, made my 
way to it, found the administrative offices, and told the 
efficient-looking woman in charge that I wished to view the 
city. Would she be good enough to let me go to the roof of 
the building? She seemed to decide that I had no bombs in 
my pockets, drew a key from a drawer, handed it to me, 
and said that the elevator boy would show me the stairway 
that led on up to the door which the key unlocked. I felt 
as if I had the key to the cityand I had. The door opened 
out to a view not to be matched in America: plenty of well- 
kept city covering many hills, gigantic bridges suspended 
over vast expanses of clear water, and yonder on Treasure 
Island the outlines of new World's Fair buildings that ex- 
press an unaccustomed appropriateness. 

When I was back in the street I had to climb a hill again 
just to enjoy the experience. High above most of the city 
I came upon a half -finished cathedral. I wandered in. A 
genius in glass had contributed windows that were alive 
with the spirit of poetry and religion. I seemed to be find- 
ing the right things in San Francisco. 

Back down in the busier streets I enjoyed a strange rush 
of good feeling without knowing just why. Then I was 
aware of music. It seemed to be in Union Square. 

People filled the paths, stood in the shade of low-arching 
palms, lounged on the grass in the warm sun. A band that 

Novelty 293 

had just finished one number and was beginning another 
spread out like a fan at the base of the monument in the 
center of the park, and above the heads of the musicians was 
some new scaffolding where a workman regilded pains- 
takingly the record of Admiral Dewey. 

The music had taken hold. Well-tailored men away from 
business for a moment of luncheon rest stood with lighted 
cigars or cigarettes between relaxed fingers while they 
listened. Office girls everywhere on the grass in bright clus- 
ters looked away as if there were still some distant golden 
haze in life that they had all but forgotten. Down-and-outers 
with days of stubbly beard on their unhealthy-looking faces 
who had come early in order to enjoy the park benches 
looked blankly at something indefinite. It was Sibelius's 
Finlandia. I shared the great sensitivity of the crowd. I did 
not know that any music could be so profoundly moving. 

"Who are they?" I whispered into the ear of the man 
close beside me. 

"Reliefers," he explained. "W.P.A." 

In the intermission after the prolonged applause had 
died away I went down and talked with the conductor 
a distinguished American musician, "I did not know any- 
thing could be quite like that/' I said, having largely in 
mind the absolute silence of the people feeding on some- 
thing which they very much needed. 

"They are the finest musicians in San Francisco," he re- 

Two or three of the numbers they played were the com- 
positions of members of the band. And near the end of 
the program one was an arrangement of several of Stephen 
C. Foster's best-known songs. Four brasses stood and car- 
ried the melody of "My Old Kentucky Home." How ap- 
propriate that a band of intelligent musicians in need of a 

294 I Travel by Train 

living should play Foster! He would have been on relief 
himself if there had been relief. My dream city of San Fran- 
cisco was becoming more literal. San Francisco was only 
carrying out the great American tradition of treating saviors 
of various kinds as if they deserved to be paupers. 

But San Francisco had become a magic city again by the 
time I left it. For I crossed to Oakland on the ferry to take 
a train for the north. As we pushed out into the bay, out 
into water that pressed through the Golden Gate from the 
Pacificfrom Hawaii, from China and Japan, from Samoa, 
from Australia men stood about on the crowded forward 
deck in clumps of four and played pedro. But there were 
others who saw with fresh wonder the disappearing sun, 
the intervening purple mountains, the miraculous spans of 
the "eight-mile bridge" far above our heads where trucks 
scooted along in the open framework like beetles on a wire, 
and later the faint blinking of thousands of lights against 
the darkening hillside in Oakland. 

Yes, it was all new a thing unto itself. That was what 
explained pretty nearly everything on the Coast, a white- 
haired stout man assured me that evening. He stood lean- 
ing back against the wash-basin in the dressing-room with 
his coat off, and smoked cigarette after cigarette and talked 
to me while I enjoyed the long upholstered seat. 

There was the labor problem, for instance. In most places 
the employer-labor fights arise after society has hardened 
into unsympathetic classes. But in California the troubles 
have arisen because society has not hardened enough. Cali- 
fornia had pretty nearly always had a leisure class for 
somebody got the gold. And in the past two or three decades 
this class had grown until a man sometimes thought every- 
body belonged to it. Yet always California had had roving 
migratory workers in overabundance who picked hops or 

Novelty 295 

grapes or lettuce or whatever there was to pick. People out 
of work in Kansas or the Oklahoma Dust Bowl or the Twin 
Cities seemed always to head for California. "Why, I know 
of one project in this state that is going to require men, 
and right now before there is anything for any of them 
to do, seven thousand have drifted into the community 
from everywhere. Maybe that isn't a mess for the local 
authorities! And when all these people see everybody else 
who comes to California taking it easy, they begin to de- 
mand all sorts of things themselves. Maybe well" 

He stopped in the middle of the sentence, and I noticed 
that he had grown pale and seemed to be about to topple 
over. I jumped up and offered to help him to the seat. "It's 
my heart," he said, and began to fumble in a vest pocket for 
something as he slumped into the corner by the window. 
"I'll be all right as soon as I can swallow one of these 'high- 
power explosives.' " 

When the color was returning a little to his face, he ex- 
plained: "My heart is just no good and never will be, now. 
I have to carry these capsules with me all the time to keep 
her from stopping completely." 

He had to tell me how it was. He was sixty-eight, and 
within a year and a half had lost both his wife and his 
daughter. There was no special reason why his heart should 
go on beating. And added to all that, he was overweight, 
and so gave his heart too much to do. He had consulted a 
specialist who promised to tell him the truth and who told 
him that he had never known a heart as badly wrecked as 
this one that lasted longer than two years. If he smoked 
plenty of cigarettes it would not last that long. Well, he was 
still smoking. A few months more or less it was just a de- 

But what the doctor told him set him to thinking. What 

296 / Travel by Train 

could he do in two years at a maximum that he'd really 
like to do? After turning the matter over, he decided that 
the only thing which seemed worth while at all was just 
to be friendly to people who might have more than two 
years ahead or less. 

He began with the black woman who had devoted her 
life to his wife and daughter. He went down to the house 
where she lived and gathered together the children and an 
old black mammy who was well past ninety. "I told them 
that we were going to have a little picnic with plenty of 
ice-cream. Well, sir, I never knew that anything no more 
important than doing that could make people so happy 
that they'd shed tears and say 'God bless you* till they em- 
barrassed you." 

He became so completely warmed to his narrative that 
he had to stand up again and lean against the edge of the 
wash-basin and light another cigarette. "I felt as if I had 
gone somewhere and got religion and maybe I had. I would 
go right on doing pleasant things for other people maybe 
for two years. That would be something or as near some- 
thing as anything is. 

''Well, the next morning as I went down the street I 
passed a man I'd passed before, though I didn't know him. 
'Why not speak?' I said to myself. 'You're just a couple of 
humans/ So as agreeably as I knew how I said, 'Good morn- 

"He gave me the stoniest stare I ever met up with and 
walked straight on without a word. 

" 'Then go to hell!' I called after him. 

"He turned. 'Didn't you say something?' he asked. 

" 'Yes, I told you to go to hell/ 

" 'But didn't you say something before that?' 

" 'Yes, but it was something you couldn't understand/ " 

Novelty 297 

He laughed, then in sudden pain clutched his chest and 
held his breath. "Ooh-h-h. Just like going down through 
there with a curry-comb." He waited a little. "I suppose I 
had better try to get some sleep." Then he came back to 
what he had laughed at. "You know, there are some things 
that you just have to go slow with, even in California/' 

I was awake at five o'clock the next morning. The train 
was laboring along a narrow canyon. Once, as we took a 
curve, I could see towering fir trees that looked as if they 
had always been there and a thin sliver of a moon that was 
growing pale in the coming light. There could be no doubt: 
this was Oregon. 

At Eugene something of the strangeness of the Coast had 
disappeared. Students in the state's university there were 
youngsters fresh from new cities and new farms, but they 
had habits of mind which suggested that their fathers and 
mothers had not long been out of Ohio or New England. 

And even more of the strangeness had gone by the time 
I had reached Seattle. Here people grew apples, not citrus 
fruits. Here there was rain and fog, too. Here there were 
people who had come in easy stages in two or three genera- 
tions all the way from Minnesota and Michigan and Indi- 
ana and Vermont. There had been no break. Down at the 
foot of the campus o the University of Washington the 
new theater that had just opened a model for experimental 
theaters was called the Show Boat, and it stood white at 
the water's edge as if it were afloat on the Mississippi. Here 
something perpetuated was being employed in fresh pio- 
neering. And near each other in a non-commercial theatri- 
cal area that is much to the credit of Washington and 
Seattle the Wesley Players produce religious drama, and 
the young political radicals of Independence Hall produce 
plays of the proletariat or at least controversial plays. Other 

298 I Travel by Train 

groups in the city are active. In a stable setting, all sorts 
of ideas are jockeying for place. 

One morning I watched as we were coming eastward 
across the neck of Idaho. 

"Highway?" I asked the conductor, indicating some even 
embankments of fresh earth far toward the top of the moun- 
tain across the canyon. 

"Highway? That's where we go. We do twenty miles to 
travel four. And we do a hair-pin turn up here right in a 

When we were at last up there, and through a pass, and 
going down on the other side, I had a strange nostalgic feel- 
ing that we had left the last of something bright and new 
behind. Down toward Missoula at least it seemed down- 
there were inviting grassy mountains of great roundness 
that might have been in the north of England almost. 

And over in South Dakota the next day passengers who 
were getting on the train talked about Atlantic seaboard 
football scores as if their interests were back in that direc- 
tion. And when we passed through a town called Groton 
and immediately afterward through one called Andover, 
and a wag in the observation-car said that a St. Mark's man 
who had owned real estate farther north had named them 
in the hope of putting a curse on the region, the people 
who heard understood the joke. There were bleached skele- 
tons of cattle in the fields along the way, and occasionally 
steers' skulls hanging on a wire fence. Men and women who 
looked as if they had never received more than they had 
earned discussed the price of wheat, and wondered if they 
were going to be able to go out to the Coast to see the 
World's Fair next year the Coast, off yonder just as def- 
initely as that. 




HAVE you ever tried to see the entire United States 
of America at one look? It is an unforgettable ex- 
perience. For there is no denying it: the United 
States is something amazing. 

It is difficult enough, first of all, to accept the simple fact 
that the United States continues to exist. Why does it not 
fly apart into a half-dozen self-sufficient entities? Once on 
the train when I had listened to two men who were trying 
to decide whether the country was too big to be one nation, 
and we came suddenly out several thousand feet up just east 
of a northern sector of the Continental Divide where there 
was nothing in view except the haze of distant plains, I tried 


goo I Travel by Train 

to imagine that I was viewing the whole country. And 
the first result was a feeling that the continued existence 
of the United States was only some miraculous accident. 
What geographical reason, for example, is there for the 
nation? The distance from the extreme limits of one coast 
of it to those of the other is as great as from North America 
to Europe. One of the chief mountain systems of the world 
cuts directly athwart it, and, supported by a desert, does 
what it can to isolate the west-coast area from all that is to 
the eastward. The Great Plains region with a vast river 
system directing thought north and south instead of east 
and west is ready-made an empire in itself. And yet once 
more a mountain system cuts down across the country and 
invites the people on the eastern seaboard to go north and 
south instead of east and west. The men with whom I had 
been traveling who proposed that the country was too far- 
flung to be administered as a unit had some geographical 
arguments on their side. 

Neither is the continued existence of the country less 
to be marveled at when one sees the diversity and often 
the conflict of economic interests. The Pacific Coast has 
its natural front door toward the Orient; the Middle West 
is busily concerned with producing for anybody who will 
buy, and wishes no outside competition lest its cherished 
civilization of free men on the soil pass into obscurity; the 
great industrial region of Smoke stands forth as a dominant 
yet unstable feudalism in the heart of a country dedicated 
to democracy; the central Atlantic area of powerful finan- 
cial concerns would make itself still more powerful by 
dominating the rest of the country, including the feudal 
industrialists; in the old South an oversupply of human 
beings would be glad to have the New England mills move 
down to them; and in New England, geographically out of 

Panorama 301 

the current of national life, people who know England and 
France better than their own country quite reasonably 
fear that the South will take what New England must keep. 

Nor does national unity become anything less to be mar- 
veled at when one views the hodge-podge of races covering 
the landscape in these diverse geographical and economic 
regions: everywhere a first coating of English; and then 
Italians and Irish and French Canadians in New England; 
Irish and Jews and Negroes in New York; millions of more 
or less unwanted Negroes in the old South; Mexicans in the 
Southwest; all sorts of Europeans in Michigan, Wisconsin, 
and Minnesota one country school in the Upper Pen- 
insula of Michigan had seventeen nations represented in 
it; Indians scattered here and there west of the Mississippi; 
and on the Pacific Coast, representatives of all these races, 
with some Japanese and Chinese thrown in. Where is the 
unifying homogeneity? 

And there are other fundamental diversitiessuch as re- 
ligion and political prejudices. When religious feeling is 
confused with denominational feeling, the result is enough 
hate to menace the most substantial national unity. I have 
been in towns where the chief business of the Catholic and 
the Protestant clergy seemed to be to keep members of each 
other's faith out of political office. I have heard Catholic 
and Protestant mothers declare fervidly that they would 
rather follow their children to the grave than have them 
marry anybody of the other faith. In some regions politi- 
cal partisanship takes on a religious-like character strong 
enough to break up business partnerships and families. 
And in many places if a man chances to hold to some 
specially distasteful political faith, he may be pursued and 
set upon as an outlaw. 

Not even the least serious approach makes the existence 

3O2 / Travel by Train 

of the United States seem any more logical. Everywhere peo- 
ple vainly trying to recapture their pasts, people trying to 
leave their pasts behind them, people desperately in pur- 
suit of reality, people just as desperately trying to escape 
reality, people who are reducing, people who are trying to 
put on weight, people rushing to Miami, people rushing 
to Reno, people reading the New Yorker and sniffing at 
people who read the Atlantic Monthly, people reading the 
Atlantic Monthly and blasting with silence the people who 
read the New Yorker where in all this is there anything 
that explains why the people are nationally one? 

Yet something does. If one rides long and hears people 
when they are not on parade, has glimpses of them when 
they are absorbed in enterprises that they put above all 
others, and catches something of the feel of their lives as 
they live in their own special solitudes day by day, it is pos- 
sibleeven quite easy to know why the United States is 
a very close unity. One discovers that the people are bound 
together by something more potent than geography, more 
potent than any cold-blooded balancing of economic inter- 
ests, more potent than any elemental feeling of race. For 
they are bound together by a dream. And it is the mightiest 
of all dreams something that parallels the sense of bio- 
logical growth. It says that the individual human beings 
who make up the United States shall enjoy the sense of free- 
dom that is to be found in growing into an existence that 
is undeniably expansive; that they shall feel that they are 
experiencing an increase of life rather than a decrease. Day 
after tomorrow must be better than day before yesterday. 
They have made the extension of self-feeling, the freeing of 
the spirit, and consequently the developing of mental power 
and the enlarging of life, the one great national romance. 
No matter how much they may disagree on many matters, 

Panorama 303 

they are in overwhelming general accord on this: that the 
extension of self-feeling into the world roundabout is at 
once the most fruitful experience that the individual can 
have, and the most useful, the "best" contribution he can 
make to the world. It is a tenuous dream, sometimes con- 
fusedly merged with others, sometimes shrewdly perverted 
by the unscrupulous and made to yield financial dividends, 
sometimes shamed out of sight by those who talk loosely 
about it as if it were only a sentimentality. But always some 
remnant of it is left, always the whole of it reappears in- 
termittently to view. 

A means of expressing the dream, of perpetuating it, of 
multiplying it toward realization, must be at hand. So the 
people have given themselves to the creation of liberalizing 
institutions. This means of expressing the people's dream 
has exceeded anything known in history. It has become so 
completely a part of every community that there is always 
the danger of regarding it as a commonplace. But lift it up 
a little into relief and it becomes to all eyes what it really 
is a thing without parallel: Millions of children, from 
Maine to Texas, from Key West to Seattle, every morning 
marching off in the exuberant style of the unafraid to cen- 
ters within easy reach or being hauled in school buses if 
the centers must be too far away to spend the day with 
older trained persons in coming to new understandings 
and new skills, not only in the more strictly utilitarian fields, 
not only in the fundamentals of subjects that are to be ex- 
plored more maturely later, but in music and drawing and 
dancing and poetry and other imaginative worlds that of- 
fer fresh joys to a child's daily living; and then older mil- 
lions going to h,igh schools that are better equipped with 
laboratories, machine-shops, working libraries, experimen- 
tal theaters, and facilities in music, in practical design, in. 

304 / Travel by Train 

the arts and economy of the household, than most of the 
colleges were as recently as thirty years ago; and then still 
other hundreds of thousands occupied sometimes lightly, 
often seriously in higher institutions of learning with man's 
past and man's mind and man's world, and all sorts of 
schemes of life that might be adapted to the needs of man 
in the future. Although there were efforts in some quarters 
to preserve the higher reaches of education as a kind of in- 
tellectual sanctuary where only the elect should hold forth 
and reproduce their kind, the entire world of higher educa- 
tion has been more or less invaded by the hungrier youths 
who have swarmed everywhere from the high schools. If 
they have not been "prepared" to enter, to work within the 
strict limits of the sanctuary, they have stormed the doors 
until the sanctuary has been adjusted to their essential needs. 

Now more significant nationally than anything else in this 
scheme of education and in its inclusiveness and idealistic 
character it is truthfully without parallel is the fact that 
it has become not only a means to greater freedom of spirit 
for those who participate in it directly, but a kind of high 
standard by which everything else in the nation's life and 
everything proposed receives the most nearly impartial 
measurement possible. Especially do the millions who have 
been directly touched it may be very superficially, it may 
be profoundly insist on determining whether what takes 
place in the United States furthers or hinders the great 
dream of individual freedom. 

That is why there are many stirrings in the country. That 
is why there seems to be a fight on. All those who write 
about "the growing arrogance of the proletariat," the in- 
creasing power of all sorts of "subversive influences/' the 
display of "class feeling" where it had not been noticed be- 
fore, have a certain surface lightness in what they say. But 

Panorama 305 

to attribute the general disquiet to people's supposed un- 
intelligence or their supposed low motives is to confess 
blindness to what has been taking place right under our 
eyes. We have seen and are seeing the rise of the educated 
many in a democracy. They want as much freedom both 
the inner feeling of freedom and the manageable environ- 
mentas possible, and many of them know that despite 
their conscientious effort they are having little, and may 
have less. They are troubled because they see elements at 
work in our life that do not seem to parallel the dream of 
a nation of free men. They fear that something else has 
been lifted up for adoration until the one thing least 
thought about in many quarters is the state of the individual 
human beings who live there. They invite you, many of 
them, to ride through their part of the country and com- 
pare, for instance, the sheltering of human beings with the 
sheltering of mill machinery and decide for yourself which 
of the two the United States has come to accept as the more 
important. They ask you to make a collection of the pro- 
grams proposed in this city or that for the restoring of good 
times when times have been bad, and see whether you 
would care to be thought of as only so many consumers who 
might be kept around to use up things and thereby keep 
the wheels turning and the dividends coming and the price 
of stocks mounting. Here is why they are discussing reme- 
diesnot a few of the ragged proletariat, as some would like 
to believe, but all sorts of substantial citizens: farmers, 
skilled craftsmen, railway conductors, school-teachers, shop- 
keepers, judges, mill workers, the unemployed young, the 
insecure old, university professors, ministers, social work- 
ers. Here is why they are ready to hear about any wild 
scheme that anybody begs to propose. Here is why some of 
them wonder regretfully if a revolution of some kind will 

306 / Travel by Train 

be required to extend democracy into fields where it can 
produce results. "All right/' the more impatient say; "we've 
learned how something better can be had; so why aren't we 
all having a little more of it?" 

It would be pleasant to say that these fears are ground- 
less; that as one travels over the land one discerns no 
hindrances to indefinite extensions of the democratic prin- 
ciple; that with enough faith in something or other, every- 
thing must come out for the best in the end without any- 
body's special thought. But I believe nothing of the sort. 
To pretend that I did would be groveling dishonesty. For 
after seeing the country three or four times a year for a 
decade and a half, and living among all sorts of people, 
from coal miners and ditch diggers to business executives, I 
am convinced that the extension of democracy confronts 
formidable obstacles. 

The greatest of these is high-pressure industry. It is the 
sore spot in our national body. I do not refer to the fact of 
mass production; I do not decry the development of the 
machine I encourage it; and I believe that anybody who 
directs the production of anything needed, or invests his 
capital in production, should have as fair a chance of finan- 
cial return as human beings in general have. But the spirit 
of the contemporary industrial world with notable excep- 
tionsis quite another matter. It does not fit into a demo- 
cratic scheme of life. Its functioning is avowedly monarchi- 
cal; it is ruthless; it is arrogant in its attitude toward other 
human productivities; and it arbitrarily takes from men 
fundamental freedom by telling them where they shall live, 
when they shall live somewhere else, when they shall work 
and when remain idle, what work it shall be, and whether 
they and their families shall eat. 

If the democratic ideal in the United States is not to be 

Panorama 307 

swallowed up sooner or later by some totalitarian ideal, 
then the people who operate factories must own them. I 
do not mean any scheme in which the government would 
be the direct owner and the people would hold only an in- 
direct ownership by being the final arbiters in maintaining 
the government, but an ordinary direct and full owner- 
ship in which the workers and the managers of the factories 
the people who together know how to run them would 
accept an owner's hazards and receive his profits. The time 
will come when some such democratic participation in in- 
dustrial production will be accepted as so right and in- 
evitable that the present feudal monstrosity will then seem 
immeasurably more fantastic to the public mind than this 
suggested democracy does to the most dogmatic industrialist 

The case is simple enough when one looks. A man feels 
substantially related to his fellows when he possesses enough 
of the means of production to give him as much control 
over his destiny as people in general have over theirs. From 
being in undisputed possession of a piece of the earth from 
which all things have sprung, a man derives, too, a primal, 
half-mystical steadying that is important. Here are reasons 
why even the smallest of farmers who own their land and 
face hazards from the weather alone that make the risks of 
the wholesale millinery business seem like absolute security 
have an independence of character quite out of proportion 
to that of the mill workers who receive the same income or 
more. Here are reasons why the men who work in factories 
and the men who manage them must own them. If it is good 
for farmers to own their farms and band together in the 
production of milk and grain and fruit, and we have evolved 
an industrial scheme in which vast numbers of people may 
not own farms because they work for life in a factory, it must 

308 / Travel by Train 

follow that if they are to derive from a sense of ownership 
the self-respect and sense of freedom about which the big- 
gest owners speak more worshipfully than anybody else 
whenever any kind of collectivist state is mentioned, they 
must derive them from ownership in the factory. They can- 
not have them if they have nothing to sell except their labor 
and somebody else can tell them whether or not they are 
to sell that. If they shared ownership in the factory they 
might then own the houses that sheltered them and express 
individual preferences in making them livable, as they can- 
not well afford to risk doing when an industry owned by 
somebody a thousand miles away may pack up and move 
somewhere else next week and render houses valuable only 
as kindling for the unfortunate last-to-leave. There would 
be risks, and they would be for the good of the men in- 
finitely better than the simple formula: "Do this exactly as 
I tell you and see that you put lots of personal initiative 
into it"; or the simpler formula, "Do nothing at all." 

And as if this sore dislocation in the democratic scheme 
of life were not enough of an evil in itself, the czarist type 
of executive mind which it exacts insists on injecting the 
high-pressure profit aims and techniques into all sorts of 
activities where they do not applyinto the church, into the 
arts, into education, into government. After years of casual 
and intimate acquaintance with men who have "alien" so- 
cial and political philosophies to promote, and with every 
kind and grade of business man and business philosopher, 
I have come to believe that the greatest menace to orderly 
and satisfying life in the United States is not any group who 
champion a supposedly alien political philosophy, but a cer- 
tain type of man who through persistence plus good luck 
comes into financial power, and then immediately wants 
to apply his oversimplified philosophy pig-headedly to the 

Panorama 309 

whole complex problem of other people's existence. For he 
does not want to depend on thinking; he depends on power. 
He believes in telling people what to do. Too many of his 
kind among people who have grown more sensitive through 
education might in fact result in an upheaval. In the in- 
terests of democracy we must think about him. 

A second great hindrance to the extension of democracy 
that the traveler eventually sees is our out-dated attitude 
toward poverty. We shall have to quit treating poverty as 
if it were only something pitiable to be kept out of sight, 
and begin thinking about it as something that bogs down 
the entire experiment in individual freedom. We speak in 
lofty phrase about how a democracy increases the general 
welfare how it "lifts the life of the people to higher and 
higher levels." Very well. In some degree, it can. But if the 
lifting is to be donedone at all how is it to be done? Is it 
not in some such manner as this? Certain exceptional heads 
by superior endowment plus good luck get up above the 
others, see farther, do more original thinking, open new 
ways, and in some degree according to the capacity of the 
general level have their better ideas accepted and absorbed 
until the level is actually brought up ever so slightly. The 
exceptional minds that spring from this slightly lifted level 
have a somewhat better start, and a somewhat better level 
to deal with in the spreading of their more original ideas. 
They lift the leveleventually once again. Thus the proc- 
ess may go on. Thus we may come to have much improved 
levels in the long course of time. If ever we should be lucky 
enough to have a general level quite receptive to direct new 
ways of thinking, it is even conceivable that the process 
might become swifter, that what today is still unimagined 
improvement might finally result. 

But just how speedily can that process be carried on if 

gio / Travel by Train 

twenty or thirty millions of people in a nation with a popu- 
lation only four or five times that large are made a mill- 
stone on the .neck of the others by being constantly depend- 
ent, constantly humiliated, constantly baited into doing 
their worst instead of their best? By all the laws of chance, 
any potential leaders among them will have a harder time 
achieving their own development. And if they do in smaller 
numbers or in lesser degree succeed, how much effect will 
their own fertilizing ideas have on a general level that has 
been so extensively deadened? For it must be remembered 
that in a democracy the humbled, the embittered, the pas- 
sively inert have quite as much to say about what shall be 
adopted and put into practice or not as the more healthy- 
minded have. 

I was in a state where fifty thousand children who had 
nothing to wear to school were being provided with cloth- 
ing by the government. The number of children of differ- 
ent ages had been ascertained, and the clothes had been 
provided according to age. There were many exclamations 
of "How terrible!" when the news got abroad that much 
of the clothing was too large because undernourished chil- 
dren were below normal size for their age. I saw some of 
these children. But what impressed me more than mere evi- 
dence of undernourishment was the feeling of inferiority, 
the consciousness of being on the outside when nearly every- 
body else was on the inside, that was already marked in 
their faces. 

Now multiply this great army many times into the total 
army of the young who are growing up with the feeling 
that they have been left out, and then ask if there could be 
any greater stupidity than to let this army go on accumulat- 
ing into a substantial percentage of the voting population of 
the country. Here is a problem so stupendous and so full 

Panorama 311 

of social dynamite that it makes all such supposedly impor- 
tant concerns as balancing the budget or preventing infla- 
tion seem like the merest trivialities. For the presence of the 
poor in large percentages thwarts all near approach to the 
democratic ideal, and in the end may obliterate it wholly. 

A vague hypocritical knowledge of this clutches us now. 
The poor talk about their fear of another depression, when 
as a matter of fact they have become aware that the "depres- 
sion" for them is something that will last as long as they do. 
The more fortunate desperately proclaim their disgust that 
some magical recovery has not been brought about, when 
the real trouble is that they are caught up by a great fear 
lest their own present abundance be required in the un- 
ending struggle to feed the permanently unemployed. So 
nobody is in a right state of mind to do his best work or 
to find the greatest satisfaction in living. 

But suppose we were to become honest with ourselves. 
Suppose we were to recognize poverty poverty that did not 
result from sub-normal mentality unmistakablyas a na- 
tional disease, and were to admit that we were under obli- 
gation to find cures for it, if for no other reason than that if 
we did not destroy it it would destroy us. Suppose we were 
to set to work with the best intelligence we could concen- 
trate, as nearly untrammeled as possible by political or eco- 
nomic preconceptions, to discover a scheme of productive 
life large enough to include everybody, and rid ourselves 
of such a cancerous disgrace as hunger and consequent slow 
spiritual destruction for millions in an age that can produce 
plenty. This we would do not merely out of good feeling 
for the unfortunate, but as a means of improving the en- 
tire social climate. After all, such pompous affairs as na- 
tions and eras and civilizations, when reduced to their low- 
est terms, consist of hesitant, fearful, hopeful human beings. 

312 / Travel by Train 

And hope carrying promise of any degree of fulfillment 
would soon give large numbers of the poor the young 
among them, at least a positiveness of attitude that would 
help at once to rehabilitate their lives. They would not 
only cease to be a millstone on others; they would soon be 
energizing these others through their own new-found dy- 
namic. Through their own freedom they would help to set 
everybody free. We could in this way have a renewal of the 
sense of common enterprise that we have somewhat lost 
and that totalitarian states do have, and profess to monopo- 
lize. We would have it not by surrendering our personal 
freedoms, but by increasing them. 

Other hindrances are in the educative process itself- 
the process designed to increase the people's acquaintance 
with the art of democracy. The press, for instance, has now 
come to be owned by what we conveniently call the capi- 
talist class the class that has money to invest in any busi- 
ness that promises profits. Naturally the press reflects the 
point of view of the owners. Yet these capitalists attempt to 
provide mildly restive non-capitalists with the news. They 
must seem to be concerned with the people's rights in or- 
der to have readers; yet they dare not champion the peo- 
ple's cause lest the people decide to take things in hand and 
in some frightening process of revivification take away some 
of the capitalists' power that is, their money. So a very 
large part of the press has taken its cue from the press in 
the regions where the economic battle is acute, and pub- 
lishes news that will be exciting without having economic 
significance, stories and articles that entertain without be- 
stirring thought or contributing too much basically en- 
lightening knowledge, and important-looking editorials and 
special columns that do not conflict with the economic in- 
terests of the predominant class of newspaper publishers. 

Panorama 3 1 3 

The result is one of the spectacular ironies of the age: peo- 
ple by the millions reading the parts of newspapers that in- 
terest or amuse them, and then acting and thinking and 
voting in disregard of the newspapers' expressed convic- 

All groups and blocs should have full newspaper repre- 
sentationincluding the capitalist bloc. But the people 
ought always to be able to read with enlightened discrimina- 
tion. "Somebody," a young executive who is interested in 
newspapers and education said to me, "ought to write up 
in accurate detail the complete life history of every im- 
portant newspaper in the country, so that readers could 
know specifically who owns it, what its financial and social 
connections are, and on what basis it prints or excludes 
news." More important still, there must be many news- 
papersmany of them owned by large numbers of the 
people who read them, so that the great diversity of stock- 
holders would make it not only reasonable but safe for 
the staff to publish all the successes, all the failures, all the 
aspirations, of democracy at work. The great body of par- 
ticipants in our enterprise must have their own voices, their 
own advocates. They must have the assurance that the news 
is printed chiefly by those who are in sympathy with full 
extension of the idea of democracy, rather than so ex- 
clusively by those who often give the impression that they 
would rather see the United States disintegrate than have 
it succeed in ways not proposed by them. 

So, too, does the radio fall far short of what it could do 
in the interest of the national dream. No one can make a 
sweeping turn of the dial of a radio today without wonder- 
ing if Americans have become a nation of imbeciles, so 
overwhelmingly is the "air" which of all things should be 
as open as possible to everybody used by those who have 

314 I Travel by Train 

axes to grind. It may be a trifle far-fetched to suggest just 
yet that a manufacturer of dentifrice or a distributor of 
gasoline should confer bachelor of arts degrees. Yet we con- 
tent ourselves with depending upon them to set standards 
in music and speech. Even the Lord's Prayer over the radio 
is preceded and followed by the more positive voice which 
assures you that this great privilege comes through the gen- 
erosity of some soap manufacturer or cigarette-maker or 
meat-packer or druggist. The radio which, after all, is the 
result of disinterested men's long sacrificial inquiries- 
should be unrestrictedly at the service of institutions of 
learning and the arts, not merely because they can offer 
vast audiences of people something worth having, but be- 
cause they are as nearly disinterested as any agency in the 

Nor can the traveler fail to see how democracy is con- 
fronted by the hindrance of partisan interpretation. Put- 
ting people in pigeonholes or on sides saves all the trouble 
of new thinking. When anybody has once been pigeonholed 
and labeled even if incorrectly everything he thereafter 
proposes is regarded as having a certain bias, a certain sec- 
ond motive which is assumed to be in truth the primary one. 
It may be years before partisanships have t been shifted, or 
certain of them completely obliterated, so that the country 
in general is able to see just what was of value in all that 
once had been so bitterly fought over. This partisan inter- 
pretation of many matters not only slows down the exten- 
sion of democracy, but helps to create doubt as to whether 
we are making any headway whatever. 

Such hindrances are real. Sometimes they assume the 
aspect of menaces to the entire national dream. We cannot 
ignore them. We cannot escape ,them by seeking refuge in 
some highly idealized past. They constitute an incontro- 

Panorama 315 

vertible fact. Yet they are not the chief fact of our national 
life. The chief fact is that not even the most formidable 
hindrance deters the people altogether in the pursuit of 
their dream. They only move a little confusedly. They need 
to have their sense of enterprise sharpened their sense of 
high enterprise. The democratic idea at work must be made 
visual, rendered vivid. Few people in the United States 
relatively few have even the slightest conception of what 
all the people in the country together are bringing to pass. 
Few people have any image of the country itself. Few can 
draw a map of the United States that shows with even rough- 
est approximation the state lines, the regional topography, 
the products of the different wide areas. 

Likewise the people need a non-partisan symbol that will 
stand for their total aspiration. In England, it is the busi- 
ness of every good Britisher to denounce many things, as 
cabinets come and go. But all Britishers can get together on 
the king. No other kind of king will do. If he stutters a bit, 
what matter? He represents everybody. He stands for the 
whole people. We admit the need of a symbol whenever we 
concentrate on a transatlantic flyer, or child actress, or phi- 
losopher from the cattle-fields of Oklahoma. Perhaps from 
time to time some living symbol, free of all confusing ties, 
will rise up, like a kind of democratic messiah, and be con- 
tent to do nothing but keep the people sharply aware of 
their dream. Perhaps they will create out of their own 
dreaming an ideal man who will always be there ahead in 
the future to beckon them and keep them from turning 

However that may be, here they are, deeply engaged in 
a spectacle quite unlike anything we have record of: pro- 
viding themselves with bread and fruit and clothing, blast- 
ing coal from the hills, drawing oil from the depths of the 

316 / Travel by Train 

earth, building bridges that span unbelievable stretches, 
building skyscrapers that touch the clouds, exploring the 
air, studying the distant heavens, investigating God, de- 
tecting how sun-spots affect the radio in their houses, at- 
tempting to explain stock-market values, predicting the 
weather, performing operations on the brain even on the 
heart establishing cooperatives, combatting dust, combat- 
ting floods, building more highways than ever were built 
before yet all the while with a dream in the back of their 
heads that it is possible for individual men to achieve a cer- 
tain freedom, that they should be as free as possible, that 
their children must be freer than they themselves have been. 
The presence of the dream makes the people more inter- 
esting to see. The presence of the dream is somehow greatly 
to their credit. 

Nor is it to their discredit that they are ever ready to hear 
the spell-binder who promises them some overcomplete re- 
alization of their dream. They like to dwell upon stupen- 
dous possibilities. They have come to the view of the man 
who proclaimed a new interpretation of the song of the 
sirens; they know that the politician is not luring them to 
their destruction, but only stirring them to try new dan- 
gerous ways toward the poetic unknown which they are 
dead in earnest to discover. The rhapsodic politician adds 
to the romance of their lives by pointing out something 
yonder ahead. They may laugh at him they do often enough 
but they wish that all he says might come true. 

They are no longer "the monster, the people/ 1 "the un- 
thinking masses'* who are supposed not to be able to under- 
stand civilization and therefore would destroy it. They have 
come to understand it too well, and know that changes in 
it rapid changes must be made. Although not one of them 
in a hundred perhaps not one in a thousand has yet re- 


ceived an education that opens the way to anything ap- 
proximating full growth, they have received enough to know 
that somewhat enlightened beings can be helpful to them- 
selves, and that they can try new ways of helping themselves 
without losing their balance. As one sees thousands of them 
in all corners of the country, in every condition, in every 
temper, the total seems to say: "See here! Just why is there 
any big joke in dreaming of something magnificent enough 
to be worth having? Did anybody ever dream of anything 
so wild but what somebody sooner or later came along and 
made it all come true? Haven't we seen light and heat and 
power come in over a dark, cool, silent wire, and wagons 
run without being drawn, and men descend and travel un- 
der the sea, and men rise in the air and fly, and men's voices 
and their photographic likenesses flash from the other side 
of the earth on the wings of nothing, and slaves go free, and 
yellow fever disappear, and other ills lose their deadly im- 
port? So what is so impossible about having enough food 
to eat, and pleasant places to live in, and a little time for 
enjoyment, and mental light for anybody who has a mind 
all in the protective climate of a government which we 
ourselves constitute and can change whenever we choose? 
We are on to that old wail that all this would be very nice 
to have, but that it is useless to begin talking about want- 
ing it until we know exactly how we are going to get it. 
If we want it enough, well find a way of getting it. And 
if we can't get it in one way, we'll try another. What are 
minds for? We might hit upon something. Or if we don't, 
maybe our children will." 

Something that has shown them how reasonable and how 
available the "utopian" may be has made the dream into a 
mightier one than ever, that will not let them go.