User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Mr. Chairman: Within the past half-century, the employments of men have multiplied enormously. Thousands of people are now eagerly toiling, with hand and brain, at occupations that, within the lifetime of many living men, were not dreamed of. The telegraph and the telephone, now furnishing a vast multitude of men and women with employment, are among the most recent contributions to the world’s industry, convenience and happiness. And within the present century that marvelous machine with which you are so familiar, the locomotive, took form and shape in the inventive brain of Robert Stephenson.

It is doubtful whether any invention of any age—with the possible exception of that great motive power of all modern life, the printing-press—has wrought such changes in the life, work and thought of mankind as has the locomotive. It has annihilated distances; it has wedded the oceans flowing on either side of great continents; it has crowded the most remote and inaccessible regions with a busy and prosperous life; it has transformed all the methods and systems of human labor and activity; it has so assimilated different peoples by the speedy and direct communication it has afforded them, that the world is becoming cosmopolitan; and it has created a new employment, engaging a vast army of trained and skilled workmen.

One is amazed, on looking up the facts, to learn how brief is the time in which this marvelous revolution has been wrought, and how vast is the business conducted on the iron net which now checkers almost the entire surface of the civilized world. Thousands of men are still living who read the contemporary accounts of Stephenson’s first successful experiment. His queer old locomotive, the _Rocket_, made its trial trip in September 1829, not quite fifty-seven years ago, and the first successful railroad, that from Liverpool to Manchester, England, was formally opened on the 15th of September, 1830. Contemporaneous experiments were made in this country, however, and on the 30th of August, 1830, a trial was made of a locomotive built by the late Peter Cooper, of New York, on a road from Baltimore to Ellicott’s Mills. Mr. Cooper’s locomotive, however, was a diminutive machine of only one-horse power, and on the return trip to Baltimore, it was beaten in speed by a pair of horses. Exactly four months after the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester road, or on the 15th day of January 1831, a railroad running out of Charleston, South Carolina, was formally opened, the motive power being a small locomotive built at West Point, New York; and on the 9th of August of the same year a trial trip was made on a road from Albany to Schenectady, New York.

These, however, were all mere experiments, and they were not attended with remarkable success. The locomotives used were small machines, difficult to regulate, feeble in power, and dangerous to those in charge of them. The first really successful railroad in this country was not opened until the 16th of May, 1834, and it ran from Boston to Newton, Massachusetts, a distance of about eight miles.

Our railway system is, therefore, the growth of only a little more than fifty years. Thousands of living men have witnessed its beginning and its development to its present vast proportions. And what a marvel it is! There are now within the limits of the United States fully 160,000 miles of railway track, or enough to reach around the globe nearly seven times. Fully 30,000 locomotives drag the commerce of the continent over these lines, and 20,000 passenger cars and fully 900,000 freight cars are employed in transporting the travelers and merchandise of the country. In 1884—correct statistics of later date not having been compiled—the freight trains of the United States ran an aggregate of 334,814,529 miles, and the passenger trains an aggregate of 206,516,118 miles. During that year the railways carried 334,570,766 passengers and 390,074,749 tons of freight. In conducting this vast business—the magnitude of which the human mind can hardly measure or comprehend—250,456 persons were employed.

In this State, which has just completed the first quarter-century of its existence, there are 5,117 miles of railway track, over which more than three million passengers and seven million tons of freight are annually carried; and nearly 700 locomotives and over 7,000 people are employed in conducting this gigantic business.

You are representatives, therefore, of a great army of men employed in the mightiest work of modern times, and it affords me pleasure to meet and greet you. I know of no human vocation requiring greater skill, fidelity, sobriety, endurance and courage than does the work of the men who are employed on our railways, and I am glad to add that, in my judgment, there is no body of men in this country who more fairly and fully meet the requirements of their arduous and responsible station than do those who run the trains of our railways.

And this is especially true of the men who ride at the front, on that marvel of modern mechanism, the locomotive. Theirs is the post of danger and of responsibility, and singularly brave, cool, thoughtful, watchful, intelligent men they grow to be. You will all, I presume, become locomotive engineers. The way to the engineer’s seat, I am informed, is from the fireman’s side. I hope promotion will not be slow. The engineers, it is said, are the best-paid body of skilled workmen in America. I hope this is true. If it is not, it ought to be, for certainly nobody of skilled workmen in America occupy a more responsible position, nor, in my judgment, is there a body of workmen in America who more faithfully and nobly discharge the duties of their post. The engineers and the firemen who ride with them are employed in a work that is not only arduous but dangerous as well; in a work that requires steady nerve, watchful eye, quick thought, prompt action, and at times, the undaunted and self-sacrificing spirit of a martyr.

In war, an army rests securely in its camp by day, and sleeps peacefully in its tents during the night, trusting confidently in the vigilance, fidelity, and courage of the pickets at the front, who never sleep. So the railroad train, crowded with passengers or loaded with valuable freight, rushes along over hills and through valleys, while in the cab at its front sits its pickets, the engineer and fireman, sleepless and alert. Those who ride as passengers place implicit confidence in the vigilance, the courage and the resources of the pickets in the cab. They talk and laugh, read or sleep, never thinking of danger, because they know that watchful eyes are on the track and that everything that human foresight, care, and skill can do to avert disaster, will be done. None of them, perhaps, fully realize the mental and physical strain the men in the cab endure. But when the invisible but ever-present perils of the track take tangible form, and the engineer and fireman at their posts of duty, and faithful to its trusts, even when they look death in the face, are hurled over the embankment or against an obstruction, then all realize the constant dangers they face, and applaud the faithful heroism of their daily life.

To talk to you of your duties and responsibilities is, however, unnecessary. You understand them far better than do I, and the history of railway operations in this country shows how intelligently and faithfully you discharge them. I come before you, not to lecture or instruct you, but at the request of your local committee, to meet and welcome the chief officers of your organization. I very cheerfully do this. In Atchison, where so many of your fellow-craftsmen live, and in this State, which in a few years will have more miles of railway within its limits than any other State of the Union, the representatives of any large body of trainmen will always meet with a cordial welcome. I hope your visit will be an agreeable one, and that you will return to your homes carrying with you only pleasant memories of your brief sojourn in this always hospitable city, and of those whose acquaintance you formed while here.