IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
E. H. Thomas
YEARS OF HIGH FREIGHT
TREMENDOUS TAX ON THE PEOPLE’S
revision of Freight Rates is needed-river improvement and Water
Transportation is the Solution
While rehearsing the history of the past in reference to water
transportation, it is well to consider present condition.
The politicians are aboard in the land telling the people that
their greatest burden is the tariff tax.
It can be shown by actual statistics and figures that this tariff
tax is a very small matter, when compared with the exorbitant freight
charges which the people have been paying for the past 30 years.
During the past five years the “Rivers and Harbors Congress,”
through experts employed for that purpose, has been looking into this
transportation business. This
investigation has shown that what the people mostly need is a downward
revision of freight charges. One
of these experts declares that one-third of the present high cost of
living can be traced back to the freight charges.
That it is a direct tax, and the consumers pay it all.
This is his statement and he presents facts and figures to prove
his assertion. As I have
stated before these experts find that there are three methods of
transportation-the wagon, the railroad and the boat.
That on a wagon, one dollar will carry one ton of freight a
distance of from five to ten miles, owing to the conditions of the
roads. On the railway train
127 miles on the boat, a distance of 1,500 miles.
One dollar per ton for these distances is the actual cost to the
carriers. These figures are
reliable and this item of cost of hauling the merchandise to the
merchant, should be sufficient to clinch the matter with the people.
It needs no additional argument.
However, it is difficult to induce the people to investigate the
matter for themselves, but some progress is being made in this
direction. The association
referred to is now conducting a campaign of education.
Two speakers are making a canvass of the entire country.
They are loaded up with reliable statistics, and are showing the
people why they should favor the return of the boats, and the
restoration of water transportation, the cheapest method known to man.
I find that the wage earner gives this matter little attention.
He has the idea that the merchant, the shipper, is the only class
interested in cheaper transportation.
I will concede that with lower freight rates the merchant could
do a larger volume of business, and get more money out of it.
The steamboat will concede
this, and that he is constantly making an effort to secure lower freight
rates through “The Inter State Commerce Commission,” altho he has
had little success in this direction.
But the consumer, the person who purchases the goods of the
merchant, should understand that he pays the excessive freight charges,
and pays them all. The
merchant pays no part of them. They
go into the merchants expense account, with his rent, clerk hire,
insurance, capital invested, etc. It
is a very plain matter that the consumer pays all of this, and in
addition, the merchants profit, on each and every article.
Therefore, the wage earners of all classes, are certainly, or
should be, interested in a lower rate on all articles, which are shipped
to them, and which they are compelled to purchase and use.
When the people get a correct understanding, and a full knowledge
of the burden they are now carrying, I am quite sure that they will show
some interest in the matter, and demand the restoration of the cheap
water transportation. The return of the boats and laws to protect them.
These being the two things needed for the relief of the people.
To illustrate: the
average rail rate, at the present time between Ottumwa and Chicago is a
little above six dollars per ton. On
first class stuff it is $12 per ton.
With a steamer and two barges, of the canal type, which would go
under our bridges on the Des Moines river, this fleet can take 500 tons
of this stuff to Chicago, at two dollars per ton, and get a profit out
of he trip not less than $500. Here
is a margin of four dollars per ton.
An extra charge of that amount, and the people, the consumers,
are paying it. There is no
doubt about that. The bulk
of the freight in this country is hauled east and west, and the rates
are much higher than in other directions, and it has always appeared
strange to me, that the people of Burlington and other cities between
Davenport and St. Louis, have not used the water route and the boats to
and from Chicago. They have
the choice of two routes. One
via Rock Island, then the Hennepin and Ohio and Michigan canals to
Chicago, a distance from the Mississippi river of but 157 miles.
These two canals have a stationary stage of seven feet of water,
and with the low deck canal, steamers and barges it is clear sailing.
One of these steamers and two of the barges,
loaded to 5 feet,
carry 500 tons, and they are being successfully operated on the Illinois
river and the old canal between Chicago and interior points, giving the
people along these two waterways the benefits of cheap transportation.
The second route is up the Illinois river and on thro the Ohio
and Michigan canal to Chicago. With
a proper equipment of steamers and barges a large business could be done
on both of these waterways. The
government and the state of Illinois have spent a large sum of money on
these canals, and are maintaining them, and the people should use them.
It is not generally known, but the US Engineers along the upper
Mississippi river have a standing order from the War Department to go on
with the work of river improvement until they create a six foot channel,
six feet during the dry months, or low water period.
This they are doing, increasing the depth of the channel each
year. The boats are also
coming back to the upper river. The
Blair company, the Streckfus Company, and others, have invested
their money in boats, and are making an effort for the restoration of
water transportation. The
government and the steamboat men are doing their part of it, and the
time, has now arrived when the people of the river cities should show
some interest in the movement. It
will certainly pay them to assist the present movement in every possible
way for with them it is a matter of dollars and cents.
The cities, in their official capacity, should at once provide
suitable landing places for the boats.
Improve their river fronts and make them attractive.
And the people, the consumers who pay the freight bills should
urge their merchants to patronize the boats.
Give them at least a portion of the freight, which I shipped in
and out of the cities. By so
doing, he merchant can then afford to make lower prices to his
customers, and all will receive some benefit from the cheap water
steamboat men have not returned to the river as a matter of pleasure,
not for the benefit of their health, but are there for business.
If you patronize them, as you should do, they will remain with
you, and largely reduce your expense accounts.
If the people take no interest in the movement, t can only result
in a repetition of history. The
boats will leave the river, as they did in the 80’s.
Knowing that it will prove of great benefit to the people, I want
to see the present movement to use the waterways successful.
Do not listen to the short water story and other tales of woe. If
no work is done on them, the rivers can be navigated now, as they were
for 30 or 40 years before in the long ago.
Provide good landing and furnish the business, and the steamboat
men will do the rest of it. Capt
Walter Blair demonstrated the navigation part of it, by operating
his fleet of light draft steamers all thro two seasons, during the
lowest stage of water ever known on the upper Mississippi river.
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