On This Date in History: Do you remember the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? It starred Robert Redford as Sundance and Paul Newman as Butch. It had some amusing scenes and some were actually based on some true events, though maybe not events associated with Butch Cassidy. For instance, there was the great scene in which the Hole in the Wall Gang try to rob a train. Woodcock was the man inside the car and he had been held up by Butch and Sundance before. So, the second time, he refuses to open the door of the car and Butch uses dynamite to blow the door only to blow up the entire car. Sundance asks, “think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?” Well, I suspect that this type of event really happened only it was an event in the life of whom I called the worst outlaw in the old west, Al Jennings. Now, part of the comedic aspects of these train robberies was Woodcock’s outspoken loyalty to Mr. E. H. Harriman. As it turns out, E. H. Harriman was indeed a real person and a very powerful and influencial man.
Episcopal minister Orlando Harriman and his wife, Cornelia Neilson, brought Edward H. Harriman into the world in Hempstead, New York on this date in 1848. Young Edward hated school, dropped out at age 14 and became a broker’s boy. He amazed the stock brokers at his ability to pick stocks. By the time he was 21, he had his own seat on the stock exchange. He got interested in railroads when he tried to revive some distressed rail lines owned by his wife’s relatives. He apparently was the type of man who dove into his projects because he became very astute when it came to managing rail flow as well as the technological aspects of steam locomotion. He also seemed to enjoy the challenge of rehabilitating depressed railroads. So, he moved on to a more ambitious project: saving the Union Pacific Railroad.
The Union Pacific had been one of the railroads that completed the transcontinental railroad. But, by 1897, it was but a shadow of its former self as its equipment fell into disrepair, the business had become extremely inefficient and in general was behind the times. In about a decade, E. H. Harriman had turned the Union Pacific into one of best run railroads and companies in the nation. As part of his revival of the Union Pacific, he gobbled up weaker railroads in the West and Southwest in order to maximize profits and efficiency. His business created a concentration of power in the transportation business that was vital to the American economy. That got the attention of the great “trust buster” President Theodore Roosevelt. He sued Harriman and the Union Pacific for violation of anti-trust laws and the US Supreme Court ordered that Harriman divest in 1904.
Because Harriman adamently refused to explain his rationale, he is viewed in history as a robber baron who only wanted to make more money for himself at the expense of others. But, like John D. Rockefeller, Harriman went about his business in an effort to maximize efficiency and a more efficient transportation system was a benefit to the economy and the nation as a whole. He didn’t buy railroads for a quick profit but instead believed that a more efficient operation and improvement to the railroad property would maximize profitability. It can be argued that monopolies are the most efficient way to bring a product or service to the public but, that is dependent on having an honorable person at the helm. However, pragmatically, the temptation to take advantage of the opportunities presented by a monopoly is extreme and the risk involved is just too great to allow that to happen as a matter of normal business. Rockefeller defended his position and left a large portion of his enormous fortune to build the University of Chicago and the Rockefeller Institute and also greatly improve education of minorities in the South.
Harriman did not defend himself and, regardless of what he did, is largely remembered as an evil Robber Baron. Nevertheless, had someone like Harriman not come along and improved the transportation system, the American marketplace and economy may not have evolved as quickly and with such gusto as it did from the late 19th century into the 20th century. Harriman established standards for locomotives, cars, bridges, structures, signals, and even such items as paint and stationery. And, he spearheaded an expedition to Alaska in 1899 that brought valuable knowledge to the science community. He probably should be praised, not buried. Naturalist John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club, wrote this about Harriman:
“Comparatively few have gained anything like adequate knowledge of the extent and warmth of his sympathies, but none who came nigh him could fail to feel his kindness, especially in his home, radiating a delightful, peaceful atmosphere, the finest domestic weather imaginable. His warm heart it was that endeared him to his friends, but in almost every way he was a man to admire—in apparent repose brooding his work plans, or in grand, overcoming, enthusiastic action shoving them forward, rejoicing and influencing all the country like climate; when silent in company, or at long intervals giving out something striking, saying the commonest things in unforgettable ways and making them seem uncommon in the new light flashed upon them; when severe and rigid as fate; or merry in friendly conversation, eye striking eye, thought clashing against thought making wit sparkles fly.”
Does that sound like the Robber Baron presented to us in history? Often, labels given by historians or popular culture do not fit the man.
Weather Bottom Line: Now, yesterday, I told you that I am a bit handicapped by not having access to a Skew-T/Log P diagram, though I may have said Log P/Skew T. This would be helpful as general rules of thumb come into conflict with reality when we have a change of seasons. It’s good to be able to analyze what is happening. So, I often have to rely on experience. For instance, I saw forecasts for Wednesday that called for highs of 36, 37 or 38 degrees. Now, a rule of thumb is that freezing conditions can generally be found when there is a 1000mb – 5oomb thickness of 5400 meters or less. Different times of year and other variables mess that up but, in this case, we are still in winter, the forecast was for cloudy skies and with light snow or flurries all day which would tend to drag cold air down. The thickness forecast for the models had it going from 5230 mb to 5130 mb. I could not figure out how in the world we would get above freezing if all of those factors came to pass. For all practical purposes, we did not. The high at the almost always warmer than everyone else airport was 33 and that was at 12:39 AM. The low was 27 at 1:25 pm and we stayed in the upper 20’s for most of the day. So, its stuff like this that often causes my puzzlement.
Anyway, I had surmised that we we’d have light snow all day but because it fell over a long period, accumulations would not be an issue and that was correct, though I think most people got more than the trace of snow reported at the airport. Now, by Wednesday evening, we had some decent light snow bands coming through and the ground became covered in snow and the roads slick in spots. It was enough for Snow White to go out and cover up our adopted outdoor kitty cat, Paintbrush, though she refrained from using the expensive robe I gave her and instead used fleece blankets. That has got to be the most pampered stray cat of all time. He gets all the food he wants, has time to chase birds or the ladies at his leisure and can return to a pampered bed.
The outlook continues to be cold. That little warm up we had last weekend was simply an fluke and the pattern shows no signs of changing. Over the next couple of days, the thicknesses do increase a bit and we get sunshine. So, even though after lingering snow flurries or light snow early Thursday the thickness only rises to about 5300 meters, we get some sunshine so that should get us to 34 or 35, if the sun does show up. So, that call has some merit. After that though, through the weekend, its hard to draw a conclusion to support temperatures much beyond 40. I mean….maybe some of the forecasts that I see of 43 or 44 come about, but I don’t get it. In fact, there is a big fat snow snowstorm that you will hear about because it bombs out going up the east coast, stops off of New York Harbor and then backtracks into New England where it stays put. Parts of the Northeast should get buried in a couple of feet of snow and David Letterman will probably be talking about weekend snow on Monday night. I suspect that storm will help drag down cold air for the weekend, perhaps some clouds and maybe even some flurries or weak light snow bands. So…I don’t get how we get to 40. After that, there had been indications of a potential event around here…first it was snow then it looked like maybe a severe outbreak in the southern plains, but now some indications are that the big trof in the east persists and we get nothing like that. I’m guessing that the longer range models are having a conflict between reality and the climate parameters built into the programming. For that reason, long range modeling will probably be in flux and the data largely unreliable. Eric…that is your answer.