Character Development Revisited/ Grenville Dodge

Grenville looking cool, hanging out with the guys.
Grenville looking cool, hanging out with the guys.

Okay, you non-history buffs–this isn’t really about a Civil War soldier railroad guy so calm down. Well, it is sort of. A while back I wrote glowingly of Grenville Dodge, but (and this is the good thing) he’s more complex than I originally thought, not quite so heroic in all things. In fact he was a hater. He hated blacks, Irish, Catholics (he really hated Catholics) and most other people. I don’t mind someone who hates with abandon–at least they’re being fair.

Soup throwing jerk I love.
Soup throwing jerk I love.

It seems he also may have painted a hand injury in a different light from the way it really happened (he forgot he had a pistol in his pocket or something). But haven’t we all had those moments? Once when my husband and I were obsessed with making stained glass( it was like working in a sweat shop but we were the bosses and the workers) I grabbed the wrong end of a soldering iron. In this case there was no hope of me dressing up the story–not with a hostile witness standing nearby 🙂

Back to Grenville. I shouldn’t have put the guy on such a pedestal. I mean, he’s still great for the things he accomplished but he had a bit of a temper–once he threw soup over a black waiter because the guy was staring at the gold buttons on his jacket for too long. Dear Grenville was proud of this story, so okay, he was a bit of an ass.

C'mon Grenville, give us a smile.
C’mon Grenville, give us a smile.

The characters in my series will get into railroad stocks, bonds and swindles in the late 1880’s so I’m not sure if Grenville will make a cameo but he does get high marks for character development, and I still adore him. Is that wrong? I think not.

My first article on Grenville.

Books I’ve Known And Loved



I could go on about this book FOREVER!!! If you love intrigue and corruption, avarice and stupidity all assembled in a breathtakingly well-researched and witty BIG read, then here’s the book for you. If you like flawed though strangely lovable characters, then again, here they are presented to you on a silver platter. There’s the intellectual railroad man, Charles Adams and the blustering, risk-taking old grump Collis Huntington to begin with, but it’s Richard White’s depth of knowledge and insight into humanity (about the fairest book I’ve read about anything in a long time) that steal the show.

As you know, I hate easy answers, simple villains and preachy one-sided visions of humanity and Richard keeps everyone in perspective. This is no Howard Zinn good worker vs. evil corporate manager fantasy. Everyone’s corrupt from top to bottom. Everyone’s blind to their own flaws. America’s youth and all of the waste and foolishness that came with it bursts from the pages! Yes, I adore this book.

It even explains what a short stock is in a way I understand!! Now that’s something. You might wonder if it is a depressing story (I felt like giving up on life after reading Zinn’s junk), but this book is too full of wit–as if the author has the sense of humor of someone who doesn’t expect people to be anything near perfect–just interesting.

Richard White Interview


Immigrants of Yesteryear

Fighting for a living wage or just fighting to live?
Fighting for a living wage or just fighting to live?

Rock Springs, Wyoming 1885. A massacre that killed 28-50 Chinese miners seems a pretty solid case of racism–but no. Life and the hearts of men are never that simple.

The  ideal of masculinity in the late 19th century was on a collision course with a new corporate manhood. One claimed a man to be an independent contractor with decision-making rights. The other believed the people who paid the wages had the say.

Then came the Chinese, willing to work for next to nothing and willing to undercut the wages of everybody else (incidentally the white miners were also immigrants from all over Europe).

For some years they worked side by side in uneasy and unaddressed tension. They slept on different sides of this coal town built solely to fuel the railroad while the railroad fueled the hostility. The Knights of Labor fighting for the working men loathed the Chinese. Everyone’s wages were cut or kept low. A living wage was defined differently by the Europeans who planned to stay in the US and set about having families and the Chinese who were willing to live six men to a room in hopes of having enough money to go home one day back to wives and children in China. As long as the Chinese took lower pay more Chinese would be hired and white jobs lost.

At the time it was illegal to hire illegal new Chinese workers, but no one knew who was legal or illegal. In the workers’ minds the Union Pacific robbed them of their manhood every time they hired a “coolie” (a low skilled indentured worker).

And then it happened. An argument over room assignments (in mines there are rooms) turned violent. Different accounts blame one side or the other for the first shovel or pick to the face but soon all hell broke loose. Miners gathered and spontaneously went mad on the streets of the little Chinatown of Rock Springs, shooting, maiming and butchering men they’d worked with for years. Setting fires to the houses and to the small savings within the wooden structures, men released a crazy rage.

Men who worked for family, now set upon humans for blood. What good could come of it? Imagine killing someone and then going home to your family. But were they racist? Or were they union men against a population who didn’t respect the value of manhood and undermined it by their very presence?

Is there freedom in settling for just above nothing if at home in China you have nothing? What does freedom mean when it comes to wages? Are the owners free? Are the workers? Do unions or even communist dictatorships work? Corruption, corruption. The railroads were corrupt and broke. They cut wages and hired desperate foreign people while some insiders skimmed money all along the ride.

The whites who made a ghost town of Chinatown were never charged. People all over the West felt the same uneasy way about the Chinese. They took but didn’t give back, some said though the lawmakers made it impossible for them to really call the US home. Miners in a quickly moving train of corporate, unknowable power turned on the ones settling for scraps.

Who Owns Time? The Railroads Do.



“At present the jewelers of Burlington are using almost exclusively Chicago time but on Sunday will adopt standard time. Among the jewelers visited by an Hawkeye representative yesterday was Mr. G.H. Waldin, who stated he would change his time to conform to the new schedule of time just formulated for the use of the railroads by the railroad time convention recently held in Chicago. He further said: “Burlington time is now fourteen minutes slower than Chicago time. According to the new standard it will be five minutes slower than Chicago time. According to the new standard it will be five minutes faster than present city time. We get the correct time from Chicago every morning at 2 minutes past 10 o’clock and we receive it here in the store, being connected by wire. Next Sunday we will adopt the new time. We have always used railroad time; the public demands it and we must supply the demand. Very few people in Burlington use the city time.

Upon a request for determining the accurate time in Burlington, the following reply came from the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir – In reply to your letter of June 7, I would state that the longitude of Burlington, Iowa, is 91°07′, and that of Chicago, Illinois is 87°38′; the difference therefore is 3°29′. At 4 minutes to 1°, or 4 seconds to 1′, this gives a time difference of 13 minutes and 56 seconds. It is proper to observe that as 1′ of longitude at this latitude is more than half a mile, different points in the two cities, would differ by several seconds.

Yours very respectfully,
Spencer,W. Baird, Secretary,
Smithsonian Institute

It is very probable the city will adopt the new standard time, as it will be generally used in Burlington anyway. So Sunday at noon, if you have correct Chicago time, set back your clock nine minutes, and you will have standard time.

-The Daily Hawkeye
15 November 1883″