Impact

Somehow I don’t think the train will blow its whistle at this stop anytime soon.

 I found this in the woods last summer; it’s been long since tacks ran here. The station is a bare spot, and all that remains are the whistle post. It’s a reminder of the days in New England when the train was the way to travel speedily from one place to the other. Look at railroad maps of the region at the turn of the twentieth century; the area was netted in railroad lines. 

Anyplace worth going to had at least a small terminal. It was an achievement of note when a community connected via rail to the rest of the world. A rail connection shouted that your community was open for enterprise and was literally on the map.

The roads were not so great, but who needed them when people and commerce traveled the rails. Standing not too far from the station stood a railroad hotel where traveling business people and the traveling public could dine and reside. Nothing seemed to foreshadow anything that could challenge the status quo. Few saw the internal combustion engine as a potential antagonist competing with steam-drawn trains.

By the 1920s, the road network was improving. The automobile was penetrating the mind and dreams of the public. Even the railroad companies started taking notice. Rural or poorly frequented routes began to be serviced by gas-electric rail cars. It was not a threat to the primary business model, just a cheaper way to serve marginal areas.

The railroad systems’ decline in the forties and fifties was matched by the improvements in the automobile. At about this time, the whistle post got abandoned, the right of way overgrown, and the little station moved to take on other purposes as a local general store.

When they were tinkering with internal combustion, I doubt many saw anything near the totality of the social and economic changes it would yield.

I believe it was Mark Twain that mentioned the history don’t repeat itself, but it does tend to circle around. The other day, I read an article that mentioned that wind and solar projects in Texas were evening out the load demands on the power grid. Despite much political noise to the effect that solar and wind were unreliable, these projects were responsible for averting the collapse of the state’s power grid through a record-breaking heat wave. It was not too many years ago that wind and solars impact on power grids was negligible.

Here’s something for you to consider from Paul Graham: 

People are bad at looking at seeds and guessing what size tree will grow out of them. The way you’ll get big ideas in, say, health care is by starting out with small ideas. If you try to do some big thing, you don’t just need it to be big; you need it to be good. And it’s really hard to do big and good simultaneously. So, what that means is you can either do something small and good and then gradually make it bigger, or do something big and bad and gradually make it better. And you know what? Empirically, starting big just does not work. That’s the way the government does things. They do something really big that’s really bad, and they think, Well, we’ll make it better, and then it never gets better.

So businesses are building those small projects that are making a significant impact – perhaps to spite the rhetorical posturing of the politicians? Things do seem to circle around. Don’t they?

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