RAILCAR GOLD is a historically accurate multi-generational fictional tale of hidden treasure, primarily set in York County, Pennsylvania during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. This is Part 4 of Chapter 22 . . . Diversify. A new part will be posted every Thursday. Recent chapters stand alone, starting here; however new readers may want to start at the beginning.
CHAPTER 22 . . . DIVERSIFY . . . Part 4
On the way home from Chicago, the group stopped by Pullman, Illinois. While George Billmeyer was not a close friend of George Pullman, he knew him well enough to get a tour of Pullman’s operations for the benefit of Emma, Becky and Dan. Viewing the operations of the Pullman Car Works, they witnessed the demise of wood cars, being replaced by steel cars.
George Pullman had built an entire town around his Pullman Palace Car Company. The employees eat company food, live in company housing and worship at company churches. George Pullman viewed himself the benevolent father figure to his employees. At one time, George Billmeyer, thought this was a good concept; however no longer, because too much power was placed in one individual.
In June of 1893 a panic broke out in the stock market. Orders for railcars dried up to a trickle. The workforce at Billmeyer & Small was but a shadow of its peak of 700 employees only a decade earlier.
Increasing business failures in the United States were an underlying cause, but not the root cause for the panic. What ready brought it to a head was India’s sudden switch from a silver standard to a gold standard.
Western mining stocks and silver prices plunged to record low levels. The plunging silver prices resulted in a silver dollar being worth only 60 cents, as it continued to drop.
The Sherman Silver Law of 1890 allowed for silver dollars to be redeemed for a full measure of gold. During the panic, people were rushing to buy a dollar of gold for their silver dollar, now only worth 60 cents of silver. The drain on the United States gold reserves continued until Congress rolled back the Sherman Silver Law in November of 1893.
The action by the Congress only slowed the run on the Treasury gold reserves. The economy remained in bad shape through 1894. Billmeyer & Small went through rolling shut-downs of their Car Works for weeks at a time. The lumber operations continued to provide steady employment, be it at reduced levels. On a personal note, the joy of Becky being pregnant again, was abruptly tempered with sorrow, when she had another miscarriage.
On the national scene, things were much worse, especially in Chicago. With Pullman Palace Car orders way down, Pullman cut wages. Pullman workers launched a strike. Along with rail workers, striking in sympathy, and legions of the unemployed, the effect spread when other unions began to boycott Pullman cars that operated on over 40,000 miles of track. By July 2, railroad operations in, and radiating out from, Chicago were brought to a standstill.
President Cleveland was worried a continued strike would throw the economy down the drain and that it could quickly become violent. The government got an injunction, declaring the strikers in restraint of trade under the Sherman Antitrust Act. On July 4th, 14,000 troops entered Chicago to restore order. Soon the meat trains from the stockyards and other essential trains were rolling again under heavy escort by U.S. Cavalry Soldiers. The strikers returned their focus specifically to the Pullman Car Works.
The one bright spot, as far as George Billmeyer was concerned, was his partnership with his brother-in-law John E. Baker. Irrespective of what the economy was doing, the Wrightsville Lime Company continued to grow a strong customer base, primarily supplying farmers with limestone to fertilize their fields.