A Building Crash
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A FACTOR wanted some butcher's chopping-blocks. So he employed a telegraph company to send a message to that effect up to Bangor, Maine. The company employed a man to deliver it. The agent to whom it was addressed hired a gang of woodsmen. The men laid in a stock of flour and pork, which the farmers had raised, got teams, and went into the woods to cut the lumber. They floated it down the river to the sawmill. There it was cut into the proper lengths by the mill hands, trimmed by the carpenter's employees, and loaded, while it was still nothing but the rounded trunks of trees, into ships by the 'longshoremen. The sailors brought the load to New York, where a banker refunded to the agent, for account of the factor, the wages of all these workers.
Truckmen carted the tree trunks up to storage sheds, which had been built by some framers for that purpose. The factor employed commission men to visit the butcher shops, and, wherever the chopping-blocks looked old or unsanitary, to offer new ones at moderate prices. Then the truckmen hauled the sections of tree trunks to the various shops, and put them in position. They were no longer mere trunks of trees: they had become part of the butchers' capital.
Meanwhile the factor had made a profit on them while they were raw material, and contracted with a builder to put up a house for him on Long Island.
Next year the factor wanted to repeat the operation. He sent a letter this time, and promptly got back word that all the heavily timbered land had been bought by a syndicate, which had induced Congress to put a tariff on lumber (so as to encourage American industry), and that in view of the prospective rise in value, the syndicate had decided to restrict the supply and raise the prices, of big timber.
Upon figuring what he could get for blocks, the manufacturer replied that he could not see anything in it for him. Therefore, the agent did not hire those men that year, the teams were not needed, and, even though the woodsmen had to go hungry, the corn and bacon could not be bought from the farmers, who had expected to find a home market for it. Business was dull up in Bangor that fall, as the mill hands were out of work and the carpenters could find nothing to do. The longshoremen had to strike against a threatened reduction of wages, because there were idle hands about the docks offering to work for less. The butchers got along with the old blocks for another year; and the customers ate canned beef, because the butchers, the banker, the truckmen, and the commission men all found business bad, and ascribed it variously to "financial uncertainty," "dull times," and "over production."
The factor, wishing to employ his office and to do something for which he could get pay, sent next to Rockland, to try to get some limestone, have it burned, and sell it here, but he learned that a company which owned the Vermont lime quarries had gotten hold of the most of the Maine land, and were not selling any limestone there. He tried to get some iron ore; but the agent laughed at him, and said that was the closest monopoly in the United States, and that an outsider had no chance to get in. So the factor, whose expenses were running on, discharged his clerks and made an assignment. Bradstreet's said his failure was due to too heavy expenditures, and his clerks applied to the Charity Organisation Society for relief. The officers advised them to go to the country,—up to Maine, for instance, where there is plenty of work for all.