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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

The Greed-Driven Train                                       Adeline Tang


Born in Bradford, England in 1955, Richard Rayner now lives in Los Angeles. Unfazed by the Associates, he understands the criminal mind; the son of a dishonest car salesman, Rayner was a shoplifter, check forger, and burglar. Although he mended his ways and attempted architecture, he respects buccaneers like the Associates for their daring deeds. He has written two nonfiction works and five novels. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and other publications.



            In The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California, Richard Rayner discusses the Transcontinental Railroad and the overwhelming gluttony of the four men behind its creation. Although biased in his beliefs that the Associates were a clique of four greed-driven robber barons, he thoroughly documents their schemes that built the transcontinental railroad. The Big Four, as they were also known, helped in the rise of big business and the creation California, both of which were ¡§necessary by-products of a process by which these four men became as fabulously wealthy as anybody in American history.¡¨ 1

            Rayner juxtaposes time and starts from the aftermath of Huntington¡¦s involvement in the railroad only to flashback to the Central Pacific Railroad¡¦s humble beginnings in chapter one to four. A hardened, cunning businessman in his old age, Huntington believed that only edifices that generated money were useful; because of this, he claimed that the ¡§Eiffel tower is all very well¡K[but] where¡¦s the money it?¡¨ 2 Born into a destitute family, he quickly learned the value of money and its importance in gaining advantage and power. Caught by the scent of quick-cash in the 1848 gold rush, he hurried over to California to sell goods. Persevering through a fire, he partnered with Mark Hopkins, a neighboring Sacramento businessman. Meanwhile, Rayner narrates the difficulties of Theodore Judah¡X ¡§Crazy Judah¡¨¡Xin following his dream to create a transcontinental railroad. Using Judah¡¦s information, Huntington and his partner Hopkins joined other wealthy Sacramento businessmen to turn the Judah¡¦s dream of a railroad into a work of reality. With five financers, Huntington, Hopkins, Cornelius Cole (later an influential congressman and senator), Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford, Judah gave wings to his dream of building a transcontinental railroad. Using his political expertise, Judah furthered the railroad question with President Abraham Lincoln until the 1862 Railroad Act legally allowed it to be built. Unfortunately, Judah died from yellow fever by crossing Panama on his many political missions to the East. The fantastic mind behind the railroad, Judah never received his proper reward; in this story, he acted as the man who worked hard behind the scenes even though he never received his due credit.

            Rayner covers the entire track-laying race between California¡¦s Central Pacific Railroad and the East¡¦s Union Pacific Railroad between chapters five through eight. Having met Thomas C. Durant, head of the Central Pacific, Huntington learned more about his opponent and how to profit by lying and bending government policy. Rayner proves that Durant¡¦s ¡§scheme was to gather quick profits from building the railroad, not from running it¡¨ by creating his own construction company which gave him additional wealth from inflated contracts. 3 Both Durant and Huntington pushed for and passed amendments to the time limit clause on the 1862 Railroad Act as well as twice the amount of the money and land grants for the different types of terrain. Huntington learned that if he kept pushing the government, it would eventually give in. With so much to earn from the doubled land grants and cash in the new 1864 Railroad Bill, the Central Pacific only needed more workers to hasten construction. Crocker found the perfect laborers in the Chinese, who worked ¡§for $35 a month, as compared to $3 a day for the Irish.¡¨ 4 Instead of operating on the vast scale of Durant¡¦s Credit Mobilier, the Associates made the Charles Crocker & Company as well as The Contract and Finance Company and kept the stocks mainly for themselves. Carving through the mountains, the Central Pacific moved in a race to gain as many miles as possible before Union Pacific could gain all the easily graded lands. Huntington set strategic goals for his railroad to cover, which began with the terminus city of Ogden near the Salt Lake. Although he eventually did build up to Ogden with the Union Pacific and the whole transcontinental railroad had been completed, Huntington wondered if there was any profit left to be sucked from the railroad he created.

            From chapters nine through twelve, Rayner discusses the workings of the Central Pacific in trying to gain profit from their completed railroad. As his partners eventually lost interest in the railroad, Huntington decided to sell the railroad and added wharfs, ferries, more track, and built on those tracks to increase Central Pacific¡¦s value. With public opinion against the railroad and its corruption, Huntington was forced to settle stockholder conflicts against his clique out of court to keep things under cover while Credit Mobilier of the Union Pacific fell under investigation by the House. Afraid that the House Committee would investigate the Central Pacific next, the Associates burned their records and claimed that they spent more on construction than was commonly believed. After the ¡§railroad bubble¡¨ of prosperity burst, stock values lowered and European stock markets, who invested heavily in American railroads, collapsed from over speculation on the short-lived boom. 5 However, Crocker returned from his short retirement, returning his exit fee and saving the business. Because of scandals, the Union Pacific¡¦s leadership fell apart and Jay Gould, another railroad king, bought the weak company. Even though the railroad excitement lessened and the post-Civil War boom ended, the Big Four made much of their wealth by owning numerous railroads and poured their money into lavish mansions. Growing old, the Big Four needed a younger soul to bargain for them in politics; they found a candidate in Dave Colton. He became a part of the Associates, which grew to become ¡§the Big Four and a Half.¡¨ 6 Moving the Southern Pacific through Yuma, a military post, Huntington acted amicably with President Rutherford B. Hayes and managed to gain presidential approval for his violation of military authority, secure his trust, and make him backstab the Texas and Pacific Railroad which helped him gain the presidency. This line did not go far, however, because people suffered from an economic depression and could not spend money to buy land around the tracks. Unfortunately, their political backer, Colton, was a greedy man who stole funds from the Associates. After one of his many enemies murdered him, his wife, Ellen White, the sole heiress, gained all his assets and obligations. Because they did not want a stranger to hold their stock, the Big Four traded her financial obligation of one million dollars for all their stocks back. Realizing that she had been cheated, she searched for legal help to bring down the corrupt Associates.

            In the last chapters, Rayner depicts the dirtied reputation of the railroads as it fell into a dark pit filled with scandal and corruption. Evicting farmers who would not pay the land fee to the Southern Pacific for their settlements, the Associates stirred up court cases and even a battle, the Mussel Slough Tragedy, where eight men died. This event caused the railroad to be known as ¡§the octopus¡¨ through Frank Norris¡¦s novel of the same name. In Ellen White¡¦s court case, many of the Associates¡¦ secrets were uncovered through letters that Colton kept as blackmail. These ¡§Colton Letters¡¨ created ¡§lasting political damage¡¨ that turned the public against railroads. 7 Business, however, was still strong with the railroads since the Associates¡¦ Southern Pacific shared earnings with Jay Gould¡¦s Texas and Pacific on the road east of El Paso equally. Prepared for this, Huntington had already forged links with other parts of America and was able to travel coast to coast on Southern Pacific¡¦s Sunset Limited. The Southern Pacific gave rates according to whether or not they favored the shipper, how much they could pay, and how much competition they faced. Outside of the railroad, the Associates made history in other ways. Stanford, upon the loss of his only child, Leland, Jr., made a university in his name¡XStanford University. With Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer, he even sponsored a moving picture with many frames which led to the invention of motion pictures. After the death of Crocker, Stanford and Huntington¡¦s relationship fared even worse as Huntington held a grudge against Stanford ever since Stanford took the position of Central Pacific¡¦s president. Running for California senator against Huntington¡¦s choice of Aaron Sargent, Stanford initiated a word war with Huntington that caused Huntington to blackmail him, causing his downfall and the depression that led to his death. The only associate left, Huntington grew greedier and gained more railroads, tugs, freighters, and contracts that symbolized national pride and power. He built a chapel to honor his mother and gave Westchester, New York a library that would ¡§add much to [their] happiness and may keep [them] from temptation.¡¨ 8 His adopted daughter and niece Clara, married Prince Francis von Hatzfeldt de Wildenburg, the son of a German ambassador, with a dowry of ten million dollars. With the $60 million debt to the government for railroad funds close to due, Huntington tried to push it off with lobbying, but the government did not give in. Upon his death, many despised him although he understood the true nature of America¡Xcapitalism. Rayner continues with a summary of the Associates¡¦ financial matters, their misdeeds, and their accomplishments. With the Associates, America gained the greed that drove the Industrial Revolution, modern corporations, immigrant labor, and corporate corruption that can control the government.

            Rayner¡¦s thesis is that though the Associates were mostly a group of materialistic businessmen, their gluttony pushed American business to develop into its modern big business style of today and created the state of California and the Transcontinental Railroad. Through his entire work, he strives to tell the story of the Associates as objectively as possible although he also adds his own biased comments such as that they showed themselves later to be philanthropists ¡§only because by then they¡¦d bought enough newspapermen and historians to make such a recasting of events even remotely plausible.¡¨ 9 However, his thesis looks at both sides of the argument and includes the Associates¡¦ corrupted actions as well as their good works.

            As a New Left historian, Rayner summarizes history as a struggle between the rich and the poor. He constantly shows how the railroad companies took advantage of the government and its workers to milk as much profit as possible. Rayner believes that the Associates maximized profits by charging the highest possible railroad rates, in short¡X¡§all the traffic will bear.¡¨ 10 Rayner assumes that his audience believes his view of the Big Four and understands that capitalism is driven by greed since he does not specifically mention how capitalism and greed are linked. Writing his book with a biting tone, Rayner discusses the railroad and all the different institutions it had suctioned unto itself. In this battle of oppressor against oppressed, the railroad arose victorious most of the time since its many tentacles reached far into government, law, and politics.

            Wendy Smith, a critic and author, describes the Associates as ¡§the quartet that seized control of the Central Pacific from its inconveniently scrupulous founder in 1863 [and] used any means to ensure that there were profits.¡¨ 11 She concludes that although many histories showed the Big Four as either entirely captains of industry or robber barons, ¡§Rayner assumes a neutral stance.¡¨ 12 Uncovering Rayner¡¦s father as a cheating car salesman, she reveals that he has an interest in and a respect for rouges who manage to swindle others, especially on such a large scale as the Big Four operated. Though his own personal background might seem to hinder his work according to Smith, Rayner succeeds in retelling the story in its whole. Contrary to Smith¡¦s beliefs, Rayner¡¦s work is not neutral, however, since he directly criticizes the Associates and covers their philanthropic acts as falsely motivated. Smith¡¦s review provides details into the life of Rayner, but does not criticize the book since her review is mainly a summary.

            More critical, however, is Mark Arax, an author and journalist. Looking at the Norton¡¦s Enterprise series that Rayner¡¦s book is part of, he reveals the irony in that Rayner¡¦s book is part of the same capitalist scheme that he disapproves of in his work. He believes that Norton sought out writers to write about ¡§epic stories of empire building¡Xtheir only constraint being that their narratives cannot be epic in scale.¡¨ 13 Although he starts with harsh words on the book¡¦s eager participation in capitalism, Arax feels that Rayner shows his pleasure in writing on such an enticing subject. He also enjoys how Rayner brings his story to life, especially in his guessing of the deep, inner thoughts of Huntington. It seems that the approximately 200 pages it takes up are not much, but Arax concludes that Rayner covers his topic directly with a few descriptive details. Arax¡¦s review agrees with Rayner¡¦s outlook on the transcontinental railroad. Because Arax¡¦s criticism takes into context the Rayner¡¦s book and its purpose in the capitalist society it was published in, Arax assumes that it was made, just as the transcontinental railroad was¡Xfor profit. His review gives more depth to the book and appreciates that its facts, although numerous, did not suffocate the book¡¦s fluidity.

            With the Transcontinental Railroad, California and the western United States became more connected with the East, politically, economically, and socially. During the construction of the transcontinental railroad, Washington created laws that determined the amount of land grants and federal subsidies that the railroad tycoons earned per mile. The whole track race began with a word of agreement from Washington and ended ¡§in the smoke-filled study of a dodgy congressman.¡¨ 14 Connected by intricate political ties to the East through the railroad, California began to also share a more similar economic and social status to that of the East. Because of its distance from the East Coast, though, California had different views on labor. With many immigrants coming to participate in the California gold rush and the Arizona silver rush from the South, the Plains, and Asia, immigrants provided cheap, easily renewable labor. A new state, California had less established businessmen and many opportunities that were available with hard work. With these similarities and differences, California turned out to be a commercial center of the United States although it relied on an ever-replenishable source of labor.

            According to Rayner, California connects the fortunes of the East and the West and gave the impetus for the Industrial Revolution and the Rise of Big Business. Because the Associates worked mainly for their own gain, they were ardent capitalists. It was their greed that drove California to become one of the first states with a modern economy based on large corporations. These ¡§storekeepers bent laws, broke rivals, and bribed governments to emerge as billionaires¡¨ thereby creating the precedent for monopolistic corporations of today. 15 Only through the survival race of the Californians where their scrimping and saving to keep business moving could such a strategy as the Associates used be created. He believes that California provided these modern practices as a part of its boom-bust life cycle. Since California was born in a gold rush, Rayner thinks that it will continue growing in this manner and rise up with the United States economically, politically, and socially.

            Throughout his book, Rayner describes in detail the lives of the Associates and all the tricks they pulled to fulfill their capitalist dream of the ¡§world¡¦s most profitable shovel.¡¨ 16 By completing the railroad, they received enormous sums of money, connected the East with the West, and created the world¡¦s biggest business in their time. With the help of their stocks and other bribes, they coerced the government to obey their will. Ending with the overall accomplishments of the Big Four, Rayner emphasizes that their effect on society left a lasting testament to people living in America even today. Without the avarice of these men and the gold rush that brought them, California may not have grown to become one of the most populous and business-oriented states of the U.S. that it is today.

1. Rayner, Richard. The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California. Enterprise. New York: Norton, 2008. 15.

2. Rayner, Richard 14.

3. Rayner, Richard 57.

4. Rayner, Richard 66.

5 Rayner, Richard 111.

6. Rayner, Richard 126.

7. Rayner, Richard 159.

8. Rayner, Richard 181.

9. Rayner, Richard 15.

10. Rayner, Richard 161.

11. Smith, Wendy. "'The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California' by Richard Rayner: The days of cutthroat businessmen." Los Angeles Times. 2008. 24 May 2008 <http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-bk-smith30dec30,0,7854036.story>.

12. Smith, Wendy.

13. Arax, Mark. "Mark Arax on California¡¦s Capitalist Founders." Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines. 7 Feb 2008. 24 May 2008 <http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/ 20080207_mark_arax_on_californias_capitalist_founders>.

14. Rayner, Richard 103.

15. Rayner, Richard 15.

16. Rayner, Richard 76.