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From the Clyde to California
Chapter V.—Sacramento—Omaha—San Francisco


PASSING from the State of Nevada into California, it ' is not long till we encounter an immense row of snow sheds. We previously passed through some comparatively short ones, but here we have nearly forty miles at one stretch, but as they are passed in the night-time, when most of the passengers are asleep, they are but little observed. They are constructed principally of wood, the roof being sometimes flat, so as either to carry weight or allow the snow from the mountains to slide over them. Where the ground is such that the snow will not slide from the upper side, a couple-roof is used.

In no case did the sheds appear to be entirely dark. There are so many openings at the bottom, and bad joints in the cleading, that there is always a fair supply of light to the inside. In long stretches of this kind there is always danger from fire in dry seasons. In order to meet any such emergency, there are, at short intervals, sections where both sides and roof are covered with corrugated iron. There are also self-acting fire- alarms, which communicate with a station at the extremity of the shed. The alarm indicates the exact position of the fire at the station, when an engine, which is always kept in readiness with water tanks and a fire brigade, is at once despatched to the scene of action.

In the evening we retired to rest in the midst of a bleak, uninhabited district. In the morning when we awoke, the scene was completely changed. We were now passing along the side of a hill, to the right of which was a beautiful valley, with a river winding along its course, and the ground rising gently on each side, with occasionally a cosy-looking dwelling, and well- cultivated gardens and vineyards. Since crossing the muddy Moursie river, all the streams by the way were naturally clear and transparent, while these we were now seeing were dark, and so thick with mud as to give an apparent sluggishness to their motion. On inquiry, we learned that this was the effect of the operations of the gold diggers, who divert the water from the river at some point suitable for giving them a good head of water when it reaches their claim. They then direct it with as much force as they have at their command on to a strata of gold ore. The water carries off all the mud, leaving the heavy metals along with gold. The water, thus polluted, finds its way by little streamlets back to the river from which it was taken, and which in its turn becomes so thoroughly polluted that in some instances the natural bed of the river is completely silted up, and the water forced into a new channel—in some cases much to the loss and annoyance of the proprietors who have land near its course.

As we approached Sacramento, the country gradually spread out into a great plain. To our left there were extensive orchards in various stages of growth, from the newly-planted sapling to the ten-year-old full-bearing trees. These orchards have a beautiful appearance in passing. Looking up the long lines of trees, each space between them has the appearance of a long avenue, converging to a point in the distance. This continues for miles, till at length we gradually get into a great farming district, where the whole country seems to be one extensive wheat field, with no apparent break in view, except an occasional farm-house, and the roads and fences, which are but "few and far between," and scarcely observable, unless you get an end view of them in passing.

For a considerable distance after leaving Omaha, we admired very much the natural richness of the country, and the great extent of green crops we passed by the way. Little then did we think that what we admired so much was in a few days to be so entirely thrown into the shade. Here we are, as if it were, in the midst of an ocean of grain, quite ripe, the harvest in full swing, and the reapers busy at work. Our attention was arrested by the novelty of American harvesting. The grain is not cut close to the ground, neither is it tied into sheaves, built into stacks, or dragged into barns, as is usually done in Scotland. When a field is to be cut, a central spot is fixed on as a depot, where all the grain is carted to. Each reaper is drawn by horses, and has three waggons to attend to it—one waggon alongside of the reaper being filled, the second waggon at the depot discharging its load, and the third travelling from the •depot to be ready to take its place alongside of the reaper when the other is full, so that there is no need for stopping till the reaping of the field is completed. The straw being of little value, the reaper is set to cut about half-way down, or as low as will ensure getting all the heads of the grain. The reaping being completed, the steam-thresher comes alongside of what appears to be a mound of straw, and in a surprisingly short time it is threshed, and the grain winnowed, measured, filled into sacks, and made ready for the market, without being removed from the field where it grew.

After the grain has been removed, the hogs, cattle, and poultry are driven into the field, to pick up what best suits their respective tastes, and the straw they leave is the only manure required for the next season's crop.

Seeing immense piles of sacks of grain lying exposed in the fields and at the stations, we remarked to a farmer that there was surely a great risk in leaving the bags so exposed to the weather; if it came on rain, the grain would swell and burst the bags, and get destroyed. He laughed, and, in reply, said it took a little time for old country people to understand their American climate, and assured us there would be no rain for two months to come. He informed us that when we went from sixty to eighty miles further south, we would find, instead of waggons, a threshing machine accompanying the reaper, and the grain being threshed, winnowed, weighed and filled into bags as it was being cut by the reaper.

As an instance of the encouragement given by Americans to new inventions, there is at present a large premium offered to anyone who will produce a portable flour mill to accompany the thresher in the field that will successfully grind the grain into flour as it is being threshed! Many of our Scotch farmers think this is impracticable, they being under the impression that the grain would require some time to dry after being cut. On this point there need not be the slightest doubt. Owing to the hot weather, the grain, when newly cut, is so dry and hard that it might be used for shooting sparrows.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century, Scotch farmers had peculiar ideas for machine labour farming. The late John Kelso Hunter, in his "Retrospect of an Artist's Life," relates when he was a boy that an old farmer, an elder of the Church, was the first in the parish who "used fanners to dight his corn, and for such transaction he was put under the lesser excommunication of the Church. He was deemed unworthy to eat God's bread unless he was willing to wait for a wind from heaven to winnow the grain. As he had applied to the devil for help, he could not remain in connection with the Church; and unless he repented and laid aside his winnowing machine, he would be put under the greater excommunication by being given over to the devil and damnation for ever!"

A few weeks ago, the Earl of Dalkeith, presiding at the dinner of the West Teviotdale Agricultural Society at Hawick, referring to the agricultural depression, said "that better judges than he could pretend to be thought farmers were only under a passing cloud, which would soon clear away. He did not think American competition so overwhelming that British farmers could not contend with it."

It will be a great misfortune should the industrious British farmer pin his faith to such statements as these, coming as they do—it may be with perfectly honest convictions—from interested parties. Let him take advice, and, if at all practicable, go, examine, and judge for himself; then he will have little difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the cloud which he is told will soon pass away is gradually becoming darker, and will ultimately completely settle over him; while the landed proprietor will, in his turn, learn that he has more to fear from the "immense and far-reaching consequences" of American competition than appears at first sight; and no Land Bill that is likely to be passed by the British Legislature can put him in a position to fight successfully against odds so overwhelming.

Let the farmer and the landowner take an unprejudiced view of the facts, and each judge the case for himself, at the same time bearing in mind that the American farmer gets no State aid, as is sometimes asserted, his advantage being altogether in the rich, cheap land, and a climate naturally suited for raising and ripening his crops, the result being that there is little more than one-third of the labour required for harvest operations, while the same applies to nearly the same extent in the preparing of the soil for the seed. From the time the American farmer breaks the ground till the grain is ready for the market, the saving in labour alone is more than sufficient to meet the expense of conveying his produce from the farm to the British market; the British farmer's proximity to the market being fully compensated to the American farmer by his labour-saving advantages. It is the rent of the land that the British farmer has mostly to contend with, and where the landed proprietors will in the future have to play an important part in coming to the rescue.

The American farmer generally owns the land which he farms, and can purchase the very best agricultural land at from five shillings to two pounds sterling per acre. If it be so situated that the water for irrigation requires to be purchased from a Water Company, it will cost from two to four shillings per acre, and the labour attending the irrigation will cost from two to three shillings per acre. Taking the maximum of the last two items, and giving the farmer five per cent. on the money invested, the total annual cost will be under ten shillings per acre for land as good as that for which our home farmer is paying in rent from two to three pounds sterling per acre. This state of matters very naturally suggests the question—Who is responsible for such high rents? It certainly is not the landlord, who advertises when he has a farm to let, and gets offers sometimes from twenty to thirty competitors, all of whom seem respectable men, with considerable capital at their command. No one would deny the landlord the right to select the offerer that is most favourable to himself. In this way the rent of the land is regulated by the competition amongst the farmers themselves.

It would be well for the farmer if he could but see the change that farming is undergoing at the present time, a change that is brought about in a great measure by the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad having opened up immense tracks of agricultural land and facilitated the conveyance of its produce to the British market. In the San Joaquin Valley there is a track of rich land about two hundred and fifty miles long and forty miles broad, where a few years previous to the opening of the railway no crops were cultivated, the land being considered worthless. The whole district is now one continuous wheat field, yielding heavy crops, irrigation taking the place of rain. Along the line there are many similar tracks of land waiting for the farmer to make them productive.

Before departing from that vital question for the farmer—the question of land tenure reform—I wish to refer shortly to what Professor Leone Levi has said on that matter. He states that "all must lament the depression in agricultural industry, but the cause of it was want of sunshine and the excess of rain, and that what agriculturists now wanted was not protection from foreign competition, but improvements in our land laws, greater facilities for investing in land and for the transfer of land, and the removal of the privileges which kept the ownership of land in the hands of a very few individuals."

The Professor is right so far, but I am afraid he fails to grasp the full reality of the practically unlimited resources of America in grain-growing, cattle-rearing, and their remarkable facilities of transport. So far as can be seen, the foreign competition, which is all but ruining the farming interests at home, seems but in its infancy, and the time is not far distant when American produce of all kinds will flow into this country like a mighty river, breaking down all competitive barriers, and forcing a revision of our land laws to an extent that even Professor Levi cannot forecast the limits.

As an instance of how men of intelligence and energy solve this intricate problem to their own profit, the following conversation that we had with a Scotch farmer will clearly show. He was a fellow-passenger with us from Liverpool to New York. There were the father, mother, four Sons and four daughters. The youngest son and daughter would be 12 and 14 years of age respectively; all the others were grown to manhood, and had the appearance of being the right sort of people to better their condition in the new world.

The father and mother seemed to possess a considerable amount of common-sense and sturdy independence. Here is the tale, as told to us by the father—"Our lease was at an end this term, and for several years past we had just been working for the landlord. The last two years we had to encroach on our capital, in order to keep square with him, and every year that was becoming more difficult to do. I began to lose heart, and was always speaking of going to America. My better-half seeing that I was in earnest took speech in hand, and said 'You will do nothing of the kind. Would you take us away to a place that you ken nothing about, and do not know a living creature there? But I'll tell you what to do—Just leave me with the family and the farm, and I'll do the best I can with them till you come back, and you can go to America and see what like a place it is before you take us there.' I thought this was quite a practical suggestion, and turned my attention to making arrangements to proceed on a voyage of discovery, and shaped my course for Minnesota, where I fortunately met an old acquaintance, from whom I got some information as to the best place to invest in land. The result was that before returning I purchased eight hundred acres of land at eight dollars (32s) per acre, being six shillings per acre less than I formerly paid of an annual rent. Previous to returning, I made arrangements for cropping a portion of the land, and have now about 200 acres in crop. I am now proceeding there, with my family, to take possession, and have resolved to make it my home for the remainder of my life."

This was a most practical solution of the land question. Our hard-headed friend who heretofore simply toiled at home year after year to pay his rent, was now in possession of an estate of eight hundred acres in his own right, purchased, too, at six shillings less per acre than that of rent he paid at home. This little incident is well worth pondering over by our farmers in this country, and should lead them to look over the water for bettering their circumstances, instead of competing and unduly raising the rent of farms at home.

Leaving the wheat district, we pass through a great extent of swamp land, where there are large herds of cattle grazing. They appear small in size when seen amongst the long grass on which they are feeding. Shortly after emerging from these swamps, we arrive at the Strait of Carquinez, where the train is divided and transferred to a ferry boat, in form like an enormous raft, propelled by two engines, which are placed in the centre, the one right in front of the other, and two lines of rails on each side. This boat is 425 feet long, 115 feet broad, and draws about six feet of water. The railway engine proceeds on board with the first half of the train, and a spare engine pushes the second half on board, then pushes it on shore on the other side. The whole time occupied in dividing and crossing (about one mile), and connecting on the other side, is about twenty minutes. In an hour more we arrived at Oakland, and were run into the bay on a wooden platform, about three miles in length, where we left the palace cars and proceeded on board a large ferry boat, where the upper deck is exclusively for the use of passengers, and the lower deck, which is on the level of the piers, has a cabin fitted up on each side for passengers, and the centre is reserved for two lines of horse carriages, lorries, or vans, of which a great number pass from one side to the other, the distance being about three and a-half miles, and occupies about a quarter of an hour. The water in the bay has a very dirty appearance from the mud sent down from the diggers in the gold regions.

But we proceed on our journey. As we leave Oakland Pier and approach San Francisco, we get a good idea of its extent and surroundings. The full length of its frontage to the bay is a succession of wharfs and docks, and several vessels lying at anchor in the bay, the whole presenting a forest of masts between us and the city. Right ahead, and to the left, is the only apparently level ground in the district, on the left corner of which stands Rincon Hill, sloping gradually down towards the wharfs. On it is erected the Sailors' Home. The situation is well chosen for such an institution, as it commands a very extensive view of the bay, wharfs, and shipping.

Looking to the right, and away in the distance, the whole district appears to be a succession of hills. In the foreground, the two more prominent of these (Russian and Telegraph Hills) rise very abruptly at about a mile hack from the wharfs. The level part between these hills and the wharfs has been partly reclaimed from the bay by levelling down some of the smaller hills that once formed the foreground. A very extensive work of the same kind is at present being executed at the extreme end of the wharfs, and to the north of Telegraph Hill. Some of the principal warehouses and business premises occupy the site where a few years ago large ships were riding at anchor. As we draw near the wharf, the lines of the streets, with fine mansion-houses on each side, can be easily traced over the crown of the hills, giving a very picturesque appearance to the city.

Having landed, we took up our quarters at the Occidental Hotel, where we got a very refreshing bath and a good dinner, then go in search of an old shop- mate who had been over twenty years resident here. Having found him, it was some time before he recognised me, but, on learning that I was his old shoprnate, he gave me a very hearty reception, and before parting he arranged to spend the following day with me in visiting places of interest.

It may not be out of place here to relate a little incident which took place that evening as it shows how closely visitors are watched and traced out when travelling in the States.

On returning to our hotel, the hail porter handed me a card, saying that the lady named on it called a few minutes after I had gone out, and seemed much disappointed that she had not seen me before I left. Looking at the name, I said "It is a mistake; it can't be for me; I never knew any person of that name, so you must have misunderstood the lady." He replied, "I beg your pardon, sir, there is neither mistake nor misunderstanding about it, as the lady came in, asked for you, and examined the visitors' book, and satisfied herself that you were the gentleman she wanted to see, and that you would find her at the address on the card." Having heard much about the 'cuteness of Yankees for entrapping strangers, I concluded that this was one of their methods of setting a trap, and resolved to pay no attention to it. Next day, after our excursion, and while at dinner, I showed the card to my old shopmate, and stated the circumstance to him. He suggested that after dinner we might take a walk in the direction of the address and see how the land lay. On doing so, and finding it a most respectable part of the city, I went tO the address, and was there met by a Chinese servant, by whom I was conducted up two stairs and introduced to a respectable looking lady, who said, "I presume you are, Mr ." Replying that I was, she then said, "Oh, beg pardon, it is a mistake!" then said to a little boy who was standing at her side, "Run away and tell your mother that it's not uncle." She then explained that she had a brother in Glasgow who was of the same name as myself, and under the impression that it was he coming on a visit, she had watched my progress from Omaha on to Salt Lake City, then on to the hotel here, and being anxious to save me the trouble of searching for her, she had left her address at the hotel. It seemed a great disappointment to her that it had not turned out as she expected, but it was arranged that when I got home I would call on her brother. I have done so, and found him the managing partner of an extensive establishment in Glasgow.

Leaving the hotel and getting into the street, we in Scotch fashion looked up to make our remarks on the weather, when we observed at from fifty to sixty feet overhead what appeared to be a large net thrown over the city, wires crossing each other in every conceivable direction. Our friend informed us that they were the wires of the telephone, which had become of late a great institution with them, and this being the great business part, of the city, there was a wire led into nearly every house in the district.

We set out for the United States Mint, a new and extensive erection, which is fitted with the most improved machinery of its kind, and is open to visitors two hours a day. We were first conducted into the chamber where the gold and silver ore is seen, in the state in which it had been received from the diggers. We were then taken from place to place, to see all the various stages of manufacture—from the melting of the crude ore until turned out current dollars. The silver, after being melted and refined, is cast in bars about nine inches long by one and a half broad, and about one inch thick. It is then passed through a succession of rolling machines, until it is brought to the proper breadth 'and thickness of a dollar. At this stage it has the appearance of a strip of hoop iron; it is then handed over to a workman, who passes it through the finishing roller. It is then taken up by another workman, who stamps it into blank dollars. This stamping machine moves at a great speed. There is another man in close attendance, whose duty is to weigh one out of every twenty. When that number is completed, the machine stops for a few seconds, and if the weight is correct, the process is continued at the same rapid rate as before.

The blank dollars are then handed over to the finisher, who stamps them with the head and eagle. From thence they are conveyed to the testing-room, where a number of females seemed to be very comfortably engaged at a long table—some busy weighing and adjusting, others packing the dollars. Any that are too light, or much too heavy, are sent back to be melted over again. In this hail there were five of these machines— three for silver and two for gold. The three for silver were the only ones in operation at the time of our visit. We were informed by the superintendent that these three machines produced three millions per month.


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