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A Maximum of Good Results: Martin Dodge and the Good Roads Trains

Joyce Ritter, former writer-editor with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), gathered information about Martin Dodge while developing America's Highways 1776-1976 for publication by the FHWA in 1976. That information, passed on to the author, was invaluable in preparing the biographical portions of this article.

Who was Martin Dodge?

Martin Dodge was the second person to head the Federal road agency, during most of which time it was called the Office of Public Road Inquiries (OPRI). From August 1898 to January 1899, he served as Acting Director of the Office of Road Inquiry (ORI) while General Roy Stone, the first head of the agency, served as a volunteer in the Spanish-American War. After General Stone retired in October 1899, Dodge became Director and served into 1905. When Dodge took office in 1899, the OPRI's budget was $10,000 a year, the same amount as the first year of General Stone's tenure in 1893.

Dodge was born on May 27, 1851, in Auburn, Geauga County, Ohio, the youngest son of Joseph and Hannah Dodge. According to information provided by the Geauga County Historical Society, Dodge grew up on his father's farm and attended the common schools. When he was 17 years old, Dodge began teaching in the District School during the winter term. Although he entered Hiram College in 1871, he continued teaching for eight winter terms, serving as superintendent of a village graded school for two years. Dodge attended Hiram College for 4 years and Buchtel College in Akron for 1 year. The historical society material states, "A degree of Master of Arts was conferred upon him by the Trustees of Hiram College in 1893 in recognition of his services to the State."

Dodge moved to Cleveland in 1876 to study law. He was admitted to the bar and practiced law in the city for several years. According to the historical society, "He also became interested in real estate and did considerable building. For three years he was business manager of the Cleveland Sun and Voice."

In 1891, Dodge began the political career that would take him to Washington when he won election to the 70th Ohio General Assembly. Representing Cuyahoga County, Dodge "served ten consecutive terms, being one of the Republican leaders, first in the House and for four years in the Senate."

Hal P. Denton, writing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, explained that "it was while serving in this position that he put in his first licks for better roads." ["Father of Good Roads a Clevelander," November 6, 1931] Shortly after taking office in January 1892 as Governor of Ohio, William McKinley included a passage in his first annual message to the General Assembly calling attention to the need for better roads. The legislature did not act on the new Governor's remarks. After the Governor included a similar passage in his second annual message, Dodge helped secure approval of a resolution on February 28, 1892, calling for the Governor to appoint a four-member commission to address the issue:

Whereas, The Governor of Ohio, in his last annual message, most earnestly asked the consideration of the general assembly to the subject of good roads, and suggested the appointment of a commission to investigate and carefully consider all plans proposed and experiments being made, and to submit a report with recommendations in time for the meeting of the first session of the next general assembly; and

Whereas, It is the opinion of many engineers and inventors that electric and other artificial powers may be successfully applied to the country roads, when properly prepared, so as to reduce the cost and time of transportation, both on freight and passengers, far below that which can ever be attained by the continued use of horses and other animals; therefore,

Be It Resolved, By the general assembly of the state of Ohio, That the governor be and he is hereby authorized to appoint a commission, composed of four suitable citizens of the state, two of whom shall be chosen from each of the two political parties which received the largest number of votes in this state at the last general election, whose duty it shall be to thoroughly investigate the whole subject of road construction and the cost of transportation over roads, including those operated by steam power and electric power as well as those operated by horse power. Said commission shall make report to the governor what the average cost per ton per mile now is by horse power, and what the approximate cost would be if artificial power should be substituted for horse power; and especially whether it is possible and advisable to construct country roads so that both cars and wagons can pass over the same road, propelled by either horse power or artificial power; also the estimated cost of such combination roads as compared with the cost of roads established for horse power only, together with whatever recommendation they have to make as to the road laws of Ohio, or as to the enactment of any new laws by the legislature of the state. [Reprinted in Dodge, Martin, "McKinley -- Pioneer of Roads," National Republic, Vol. 18, No. 8]

Denton explained:

In contending for the passage of the resolution, Dodge directed attention to the fact that already we had reached the limit of horse power, and that there was no possibility of increasing the speed, strength or endurance of that animal; and on the other hand that applied science stood ready to furnish us with a power which was unlimited as to speed, strength and endurance.

Chairman, Ohio Good Roads Commission

In 1893, Governor McKinley appointed Dodge the Chairman of the first Ohio Good Roads Commission. As Chairman, Dodge published an article in the May 1894 issue Good Roads magazine called "A Plea for Inanimate Power and Steel Roads." The article, an adaptation of the commission's report, outlined ideas that would be part of Dodge's good roads gospel for many years. The article began:

The two largest factors in the problem of improving our common roads are, first, the enormous cost of such improvement in the aggregate if the system is co-extensive with our territory, and, second, the excessive cost of transportation over such roads, if animal power is to be applied.

Ohio, for example, contained approximately 80,000 miles of common roads. The level of improvement would vary from road to road based on location and use ("in some sections, $9000 per mile; in others it may cost as little as $3000 per mile"), but he estimated an average cost of $6,000 per mile, which theoretically "could be reduced to $5000 per mile on the average." Overall, Dodge estimated that "it would still cost the enormous sum of $400,000,000 to improve all the roads in the State." He added:

This enormous cost of construction, though easily ascertained, is not so large a factor in the problem as the excessive cost of transportation over these roads when built. It is not generally known how high the rate of transportation with horses and wagons is, because most of this transportation is not paid for in cash, and therefore those who bear the burden of it are not mindful of how great it is.

He estimated that "our own rate in Ohio is twenty-five cents per ton per mile, and that there has been but little improvement or reduction in this cost in a generation or more, and that there is not likely to be much in the future."

The railroad, the steamship, and the electric street car had significantly reduced the cost of transportation where they operated. Applying electricity to the vehicles on the roads "is destined to do for the short haul what the steam cars have already done for the long haul." He elaborated on this point from a historical perspective:

It is a significant fact to which attention has been frequently called, that the history of the development of the means of transportation shows no instance in which, after a better means has been devised, mankind has gone back to a former method.

Every improvement in means of transportation reduced the comparative value of the former means of transportation, and frequently destroys it altogether. The bridle path and the pack animal disappear as soon as wheeled vehicles are placed upon the common roads in competition. The ox-team is abandoned for horses, and the post-rider for the stage-coach. These, in turn, all give way and disappear wherever it is possible to introduce a steam car or an electric car.

It is undeniable that the development of the railway arrested the building of wagon roads on a large scale, such as the " National Road," running through Ohio. The horse cars in cities superseded other methods of carrying passengers, and the electric and cable cars have about rendered the horse car obsolete.

At this early date, Dodge was not envisioning the automobile-gasoline-powered or electric-powered-as the vehicle for our common roads; the first gasoline-powered "motor-wagon" in the United States had been driven by the Duryea Brothers in Springfield, Massachusetts, only a few months earlier (September 1893). Dodge was seeking a way to reduce the cost of horse-drawn transportation by extending street-car tracks 30 or 40 miles into the country, but with the tracks designed for use by wagons and carriages drawn by horses initially but eventually by the electricity that operated the street cars in the city. Dodge believed that allowing horse-drawn and electricity powered vehicles to operate on the same tracks would so clearly demonstrate the superiority of "inanimate power" that horse power would soon be abandoned.

After repeating the argument he had made in the State Legislature about the limits of horse power, Dodge continued:

The only improvement we could hope to make to lessen the cost of transportation with these animals would be in improving the road-bed. A comparison of cost will show that the average expenditure required to macadamize a road or make it hard with any kind of metal is fully equal to the cost required to lay down steel rails over which not only wagons and carriages propelled by horses but cars propelled by electric power might also go at a greatly reduced cost in transportation . . . . [The] same vehicle can be moved over steel rails with one-eighth of the power that would be required to move it over a macadamized road, and with one-eighteenth of the power that would be required to move it over a gravel road, and with one-twenty-fifth of the power that would be required to move it over a common earth road in good condition.

The rails, especially with the replacement of horses, could carry passengers and freight. If the area between the rails were paved, it could carry bicyclists-then enjoying nationwide popularity in what historians refer to as "The Bicycle Craze" and leading to the push for better country roads. Dodge said:

Another new, unexpected and wonderful means of transportation has lately appeared in the form of the bicycle which is destined to give us the cheapest means of transportation of anything that can be devised for the transportation of a single passenger; and, in constructing a system of roads, some reference should be had to the uses of this new machine. It is a most wonderful fact that a person, with no cost but his own exertion, can go one hundred miles a day upon one of these machines, while, with a horse and carriage he could go but fifty,-which demonstrates that this is a machine for practical use both in short and long distances, and also illustrates the fact referred to above, that by departing from horse-power we get great and unexpected gains, while, by adhering to it, we make no progress. Steel rails, laid as suggested above, long distances into the country upon the principal roads connecting city to city and village to village, with a slight additional cost for paving between, would make long, straight, smooth, level stretches over which bicycle riders could go with the rapidity of the cars themselves; and true economy would be secured by providing such a combination road as would allow both wagons and carriages propelled by horses, and cars propelled by electricity, to go over the same track while the pavement between would be suitable not only for the bicycle rider, but for the pedestrian. These roads should be constructed either with double tracks or with frequent turnouts and approaches, so that vehicles of the different kinds and going at different rates of speed could pass and repass each other.

(Despite this enthusiastic endorsement of bicycling, Dodge, then in his forties, does not say here or elsewhere whether he was a bicyclist.)

Dodge recognized that his proposed steel rails would have to be adapted for present uses, as well as for the future:

Wagons propelled by animal power, which would only be used during the evolutionary stage of development, could also be provided with wheels with a double tread, so as either to follow the tracks or to go upon the hard pavement, as desired.

He continued:

If it is objected that it would be impossible to make the system so extensive as to include all roads, this much has certainly been demonstrated: That we are on the threshold of the door that leads to a more extended use of inanimate power to take the place of animal power as a means of transportation; that more electric roads will be built, that they will be almost innumerable, in fact, unlimited, as evidenced by every indication, so that the problem of building the wagon road is made easier and easier by reason of the shortened distances for which horses may be profitably used for purposes of transportation. [p. 181-187]

General Stone commented on the commission's report in New Roads and Road Laws of the United States, a book published by D. Van Nostrand Company in 1894 (p 109-113). The chapter titled "The Report of the Ohio Road Commission" began:

If the late report of the Ohio Commission is, as some friends of good roads think it, a distinctly retrograde step in the march of road improvements, it is the only one taken by any State authority.

The Commission recommends to the Legislature to pass no new road laws, but to adopt a plan of masterly inactivity in the matter, mainly upon the ground that the extension of electric railways will greatly restrict the use of wagon roads and curtail the extent to which they need be built.

General Stone quoted a contrary view by Engineering News magazine that "especially in the neighborhood of large towns and cities, the present rapid extension of suburban electric railways will in itself hasten the general improvement of all roads affected by them." The magazine explained that by connecting "chains of villages and towns," the lines would increase "facilities for travel, tend to enhance the value of country property as a place of residence, and as a consequence create a demand for better roads and make it easier to meet the cost of improvement."

The magazine, General Stone pointed out, also took exception to the cost estimates in the report. The commission had estimated that the average cost of "suitable improvement" of 80,000 miles of common roads would be $5,000 a mile. Engineering News considered this estimate "altogether too high"-four or five times higher than the cost of excellent hard roads around the country. General Stone summarized the magazine's argument that 10,000 miles of the common roads in Ohio were satisfactory and that 30,000 more miles "are not of such importance as to demand much improvement." Ohio would need $50 million, not $400 million, "judiciously expended . . . to give the State a good system of highways."

Further, General Stone questioned the report's characterization of the State's role. In some parts of the State, the commission found that people do not "appreciate nor desire good roads." The Ohio report goes on to say:

There are, undoubtedly, some places in the State where material for road-making is sufficiently abundant and cheap, but where the character of the population is such that they prefer the discomforts and loss occasioned by defective highways to the trouble and expense required to improve the roads. It is manifest that no legislation can or should alter such a state of affairs. It is not the province of legislation to change human nature, and where a community deliberately prefers to adopt a course of action that is opposed to its best interests, it should be left to its own devices.

General Stone said of this passage that, "This is a novel exposition of the relations of a State to its citizens." Education, he pointed out, is one of the primary duties of a State:

[If] any part of its people are so benighted as this, on a subject of such importance to their welfare, it would seem that duty, self-interest, and State pride would all conspire to urge the better-informed sections of the State to work a speedy reformation among them; and, since no lessons are so useful as object lessons, the most effective and persuasive teaching would be to help build some bits of good road in each of these districts.

Next, General Stone cited a passage in the commission's report on fairness. The passage read:

There are counties in Ohio that have improved their roads at their own expense in the past; they have borne the burden willingly and are now enjoying the benefits. To tax these counties again for the purpose of building roads in localities where the people, through lack of enterprise or inability, have failed to secure good highways, is unjust and is discouraging to enterprise. Why should Logan County or Hardin County or Union County, in which turnpikes have been built by local assessment, be required to contribute money for the purpose of building roads in Geauga County, where there is not a single mile of turnpike?

General Stone replied that "an enlightened self-interest would commend to the wealthy counties the policy of stimulating improvement in the poorer ones." Such a policy would "enable the latter to bear in time their proper share of the burdens of the State; and, again, there are many ties of blood, friendship, and business which cross county lines, and the people who confine their driving to their own county limits are few indeed."

In conclusion, General Stone gave the commission's report a mixed review:

The Commission has done good service in collecting information regarding the cost of various kinds of transportation, and though it does not propose any further action or investigation, but confines itself to negative recommendations, it may be hoped that its report will stimulate private experiment in the direction of such "combination roads," and ultimately bring in a new era of rural rapid transit; meanwhile, it seems a pity to raise up obstacles to such immediate and substantial improvement of the ordinary highways as is progressing elsewhere in the United States, and thus to bring a great State to a standstill in the path of progress.

Dr. W. D. Kempton, secretary and treasurer of the Ohio division of the premiere bicycle organization, the League of American Wheelman (LAW and L.A.W.), also was uncomplimentary regarding the commission. In October 1895, he addressed the National Road Parliament, a convention that General Stone presided over in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Kempton explained that Ohio did not have a State-aid program, such as the program in New Jersey where the State provided funds to counties to help them improve roads. He said:

There is nothing of that kind done. There was a law passed by the legislature not long ago-two or three years ago-authorizing the governor to appoint a commission to investigate the nature of the roads and suggest plans for improving them. This road commission consisted of Mr. Turney, of Cincinnati, Martin Dodge, and another gentleman, neither of whom was particularly interested in the country roads. Their report was not accepted by the committee on public roads in the legislature, and they did not recommend any legislation from it.

As a result, he said, "the road laws of Ohio have not been modified for a great many years."

Dr. Kempton did agree with the report on one point, namely the attitude of the State's citizens (although he did not reference the report in discussing this subject):

The League of American Wheelmen tried to get some improvement in the road legislation. They soon discovered that until there was a popular sentiment backing up any legislation, it was folly to try to secure it, because it excited a prejudice among the people . . . . The National Association of the League published several little pamphlets on that subject and I secured a number of these and sent them around to township trustees and road supervisors. Still, the very fact that that literature was published by a bicycle organization and sent out by it, prejudiced the road interests . . . .

I think we need in Ohio more agitation, because when the people become convinced that a certain thing is a good thing they will have it. When they are not convinced, you can not get it, because the legislators will vote the way their constituents want them to, and I think attempts at road legislation until the people are convinced, would be useless. [Progress of Road Construction in the United States: Reports by Delegates to National Road Parliament held at Atlanta, Ga., October 17-19, 1895, Bulletin No. 19, ORI, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1897, p. 34-35]

(The prejudice against the bicycle and bicycle organizations was common in rural areas. Farmers thought the bicyclists were idle city "peacocks" parading around the country, scaring the horses, and "scorching" (speeding) while the farmers had to work for a living.)

Road Building in Ohio

For ORI Bulletin No. 17, General Stone compiled information on road building in the United States. The bulletin included an essay by Dodge on " Road Building in Ohio." Ohio, Dodge began, "stands in the first rank as to her road improvements, both in number and quality." He proudly noted that Ohio had more mileage than any State of the National Road built by the Federal Government in the early 19th century-it was "in a fair state of preservation for the most part." However, "with the advent of the railroad national road building ceased," and later road work was done by counties and municipalities.

Dodge explained how State road laws had encouraged road development in the first part of the 19th century:

The most extensive road improvements outside of the paving of streets in cities and villages have been made in the form of free turnpikes under the 1-mile and 2-mile assessment plan, by which all land outside of municipal corporations and within 1 mile or 2 miles is taxed according to the benefits. Whether the 1-mile limit or the 2-mile limit is taken depends upon the petition which accompanies the application. There is also a supplementary provision in the general law by which the entire property of the county may be taxed at a rate not to exceed 4 mills on the dollar to supplement the fund raised for free turnpikes under the 2-mile assessment law as referred to above. Before this can be done the proposition must be submitted to the voters of the county and favored by a majority.

(The phrase "4 mills" is a term used for property tax purposes. A "mill" is 1/10th of 1 cent or 1,000 mills to a dollar. The tax rate is based on "mills per dollar of taxable value." If the tax is "4 Mills," the tax assessor would calculate the tax by multiplying 4/1000ths of a dollar times the market value or assessed value of a property.)

Under this law, Ohio's counties had worked on "many miles of turnpike of an excellent character . . . which have an aggregate of 6,000 miles of turnpike." Dodge added:

So that, with the national road, the free turnpikes in various counties, and her extensive system of canals, the State has always been in the first rank as to the means of cheap transportation.

Because of the railroads, "the line of turnpike building has been gradually on the wane" the previous two decades. Now that interest in good roads had revived, the Nation had slipped into the worst economic depression of its existence to that point. Beginning with the Panic of 1893, the depression continued through 1896. In Ohio, "it being felt that the farmers were too poor to bear the burden of improving the roads by assessing the entire cost upon the benefited areas adjacent to the improved roads," the General Assembly enacted legislation to revive road building without relying exclusively on the proximity taxation.

Dodge cited a special law for Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, as "perhaps the most important of any." The county had not employed the earlier law for construction of free turnpikes, so "the only improved roads it had before the passage of this special law were toll roads built of plank." (The toll plank road craze had hit the country in the mid-19th century. Wooden planks were placed along the center of a road so wagons traveling in either direction could ride with one set of wheels on the planks. The craze lasted about a decade-just long enough for the wooden planks to rot. In the absence of sufficient revenue to replace the planks, the owners abandoned the roads to general use.) He explained:

Toll roads and toll bridges are generally of short duration among the American people. The time has come when their abolition is demanded and when free roads must take their place.

The General Assembly passed a law in 1892 to allow Cuyahoga County to build free roads where no toll roads had been built:

This act provides that all of the property in the county, both personal and real, shall be taxed at the rate of one-half mill on each dollar valuation on its assessed value; and in addition thereto the agricultural line outside of the city of Cleveland shall be taxed 1 mill on every dollar valuation. This is to form a general road fund for the improvement of the country roads in such manner as the county commissioners may direct.

With the tax, the county commissioners had about $80,000 a year available for country roads, with about $60,000 coming from within Cleveland. With this "magnificent sum," Cuyahoga County had selected three roads leading out of Cleveland for improvement, with civil engineer Jay Brown in charge. Dodge reprinted Brown's lengthy statement of plans, costs, and details for one of the projects on the Wooster Pike. This project was of sufficient interest that historian Albert C. Rose identified it as a milestone-"1893-First Brick Rural Road"-in Historic American Roads: From Frontier Trails to Superhighways (Crown Publishers, Inc., 1976, p. 77). Rose wrote:

The four miles of brick pavement were built in the fall of 1893, on the old stage route between Cleveland and Wooster in Wayne County, now United States Route 42. The brick section was [quoting Brown] "reached by following out Pearl Street in the City of Cleveland, through the village of South Brooklyn to the second toll gate, four miles southwesterly from said village, where the four miles of road built in 1893" began . . . . Built over a heavy white-clay soil, believed by many residents to present insuperable drainage obstacles, the brick road was completed successfully at a cost of about $16,000 a mile.

The road was 60 feet wide from fence to fence, with a 32-foot wide roadway. A brick pavement was installed on an 8-foot strip along the drainage area "leaving 24 feet of dirt road for summer use," as Brown explained. "This dirt road was repeatedly rolled with a heavy roller until the upper foot or 2 feet of the crust of the roadbed became hard and solid." To hold the brick in place along the dirt portion without building a stone curb, Brown used "three courses of brick, standing edgewise, the first course flush with the top of the pavement, the second breaking joints and dropping two inches lower, the third 2 inches lower still, forming a stairwise bond for the brickwork course of curbing brick . . . ."

Dodge considered the new Cuyahoga County road "probably the best ever built in the State of Ohio," but he added, "it remains true that the rate of transportation over these roads with horses and wagons is higher than the rate which prevails upon the electric cars wherever they are introduced." The appearance of macadam and electric roads allowed for comparisons:

The macadam road is built with public money at a cost of $16,000, while the electric road is built with private money at a cost of from $5,000 to $7,000 per mile. Still, the one that is built with private money is furnishing now, and is destined to furnish hereafter, a cheaper means of transportation than can be obtained over the free turnpike with horses and wagons.

Dodge explained his view that laying steel rails on the roads would be the best use of public money, quoting extensively from the commission's report. He added:

The effect of this report has been to stimulate the building of electric roads in various parts of the State, all of which have been extremely successful, and have shown the intrinsic value of the electric road to so greatly exceed any other means of transportation for short distances that the public is likely to extend to it the same friendly policy that it has heretofore given to vehicles propelled by animal power; that is to say, the public will provide the track upon which the vehicle runs, while private enterprise will supply the vehicle and power as heretofore.

He clarified the public and private roles:

It is not proposed that the public should operate these roads, but only furnish the track, according to the established public policy that has prevailed time out of mind for the public to furnish the way and private enterprise to furnish the power and vehicles.

As an example, Dodge cited the electric road from Norwalk to Sandusky via Milan as one of the most successful lines yet built. It was "being used for carrying package freight and food products as well as express and mail."

The outlook for Ohio, he concluded, "is brighter than ever":

And we shall demonstrate here first, most likely, how far it is wise to provide roads for the wagonload haul by means of horses, and how far it is best to provide steel tracks and inanimate power to supersede the horses. [p. 16-23]

On July 5 and 6, 1894, Dodge participated in the National Road Conference held at the Westminster Church in Asbury Park, New Jersey. (General Stone published the proceedings as ORI Bulletin No. 10 later that year.) Dodge began his address by recognizing that "the opinions of the members of this conference are, like Joseph's coat, of many colors." The principle that he thought everyone would agree on is that "whatever judicious expenditure of money is made to really better the roads so as to cheapen the cost of transportation, will result in lightening the burden rather than in putting greater burdens upon the people." If a road improvement "finally results in cheapening transportation, and thereby adds to the value of land and the rewards of labor," he said, "then we have done a good thing."

Judging the value of a road improvement can vary over time. He pointed out that Shelby County, Ohio, had expended $2.5 million for common wagon roads that cheapened transportation costs and increased the value of land and labor when they were built earlier in the century. Because the railroad had reduced the value of the roads when measured in this way, "it has not proved to be for the best interests of the people to continue this method of building."

Now that roads again had the potential for increasing the value of land and labor while reducing transportation costs, Ohio had "departed somewhat from the usual rule" in other States. Ohio had not adopted the "clearly established principle that the horse and the wagon is the proper thing for the common people for the common purpose of common transportation upon the common roads." Cleveland's electric car system had provided the inspiration for Ohio's view:

I think I am right in saying that the first practical system of electric cars was introduced in the city of Cleveland, although experimental lines had been used in two or three other places; and we have had object lessons there by means of those cars that have been most wonderful. I quite agree with the gentleman from North Carolina [Professor J. A. Holmes, State Geologist] when he says that a single object lesson is of more importance and value than any number of theories which may or may not prove to be correct.

Noting that the electric cars had greatly reduced the cost of transporting passengers, Ohio officials believed the same could be accomplished for freight, "especially farm products that are raised in the neighboring territory and largely consumed in the great cities, or shipped to the seaboard or other places." After discussing costs, Dodge told the conference:

Every investigation and observation that the commissioners have made in Ohio tends to show that the electric [street] car is exactly suitable to come in and supplement these other means of transportation, and so give you, over every distance in the county, a cheaper means of transportation than we ever have had or ever can have unless we shall encourage and adopt, to a certain extent, the electric-car system; or, if not the electric-car system, some other system which shall use inanimate power rather than horse power.

Dodge favored electricity as power, but acknowledged the arrival of a challenger:

There are other systems of generating power which may be cheaper for such purposes than the electric system. It is possible that the gas engine, which had been largely developed in Europe, and somewhat in this country, whereby the unit of power is entirely detached from the central plant, and is entirely under the control of the operator, the same as a horse, may be cheaper than the electric system . . . .

Nevertheless, Dodge believed that the track system was the best alternative for accommodating the existing modes of road transportation. He concluded by urging the conference not put "new wine into old bottles." If the common methods are best, he was for it, "but if there is a better way by which we can give better and more advantageous means of transportation than by the horse and wagon, let us do so."

After Dodge concluded, General Stone asked him if Ohio had made provision for experiments of the theory Dodge had expressed. Dodge replied:

I will state that the Ohio legislature has passed three different acts authorizing the people to build in three different places experimental roads for the purpose of testing their value, and I will state to you that when a road is so built that both the horse and inanimate power can be applied side by side over the same track, then the question will be solved, and the object lesson that my friend from North Carolina discussed will be given before your faces and eyes, and those who think it is cheaper to uses horses will either find out that it is or else that it is not, for they will be in competition over the same road and rail with the other power . . . .

Dodge submitted a paper, reprinted in the proceedings, about a combined rail and road way that W. I. Ludlow of Cleveland had invented.

A Malthusian Comparison

Dodge reiterated his key points at every opportunity, including the July 1895 issue of the literary magazine The North American Review. The article, "The Need of Better Roads," began:

The Malthusian doctrine of population teaches that the people will increase faster than the means to sustain them, and that it is only a question of time when the population will press upon the means of subsistence so as to prevent further increase in numbers, or, in other words, that the entire energy of the people will be insufficient to supply them with food.

(British mathematician Thomas Malthus, in his An Essay on the Principle of Population, published in 1789, had made his predictions based on extrapolation of current data. Although his theories were influential, skeptics have cited his predictions to illustrate the dangers of extrapolation.)

Although population had increased on the Malthusian principle of doubling once in 25 years, Dodge explained that the United States did not face the predicted problem of food supply. Food "has increased . . . [because of] the increased power and productiveness of human labor, whereby the output of product proceeding from the same unit of exertion has been increased from two to ten fold." Increased productivity meant that fewer people were needed on the Nation's farms or in the small communities serving the farms. The result was a population shift to the cities and to the industries operating in them.

"Cheap transportation," Dodge told his North American Reviewreaders, "has contributed much to the increased capacity of labor, by making it possible to concentrate surplus food products and material for manufacture." Cheap and abundant food produced by fewer people and the increased output of products where labor and machinery are concentrated combined with cheap transportation resulted in "the prevailing condition by which nearly one-half of our population in the older settled parts of the country is concentrated in cities . . . ." This condition "is a normal and not an abnormal condition, and being based upon scientific causes is permanent and not temporary."

Dodge summarized his views on the need to reduce reliance on horse power, then noted that those who live in the declining rural districts cited the Nation's railroad building to support the view that "if the same energy and expenditure were given to the improvement of the common roads, the results would be equally beneficial, and perhaps more beneficial than those that have followed the era of railroad building." Dodge did not share this view. Horse power can never exceed the value of the railroads in reducing transportation costs:

The rate of transportation with horses and wagons can never be brought on the average below twenty-five cents per ton mile, while the average cost that prevails upon the steam [railroad] cars is not to exceed one cent per ton per mile, and in many instances but half a cent a ton a mile. The steam railroads have served and will continue to serve a great purpose, but it is probable that the limit of their usefulness is nearly reached so far as the ramification of their branches is concerned; but at the very point where the ramification of these roads ceases to be an advantage, the electric road comes in and is destined to contribute still more to cheapen transportation than it is possible that the horse and wagon can do by any amount of expenditure directed to that end. The average cost per ton-mile upon the electric cars would not exceed five cents, and the cost of building the steel roadbed suitable for such cars to run upon would be no greater than the cost of building stone roads.

Dodge went on to describe his vision:

My plan is to extend the street-car tracks from our cities out into the circumjacent [sic] territory a distance of thirty or forty miles, so that all the territory between the centres [sic] of population sixty or eighty miles apart would be reached. Let these tracks be so made and laid that wagons and carriages propelled by horses may go upon them, as well as cars propelled by electricity or other inanimate power.

He saw no reason why the electric cars, thus far confined to passengers, could not be adapted for freight, especially food products. He was convinced that such shared roads would quickly result in "a complete substitution of electric power for horse power wherever the rails are laid."

Dodge made clear he did not think the electric roads should be built out of "the profits of the carrier." He thought they should be financed by those who benefit from them, as was the case under Ohio's State road law:

No better expenditure of public money could be made in the State of Ohio for road improvements than to build a system of electric roads connecting all the county seats with each other and with the great cities of the State . . . . And the roads when so built could be operated by leasing to lowest bidder or by taking toll for each vehicle, the same as the State now does from canal-boats.

In closing, Dodge acknowledged that the dollar amounts he used for savings were simply estimates. "Observation to confirm this only waits upon experiment." [p. 125-128]

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Updated: 10/16/2013
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