The annex is not the least interesting part of the American exhibition. By a singular anomaly, it contains even the most important objects, and those most likely to call attention to the particular kind of this industrious people.
In the first place, I shall mention the great locomotive and its tender. At first sight, this immense machine produces a sort of amazement. One realises that one is in a country where everything is colossal, the tool as well as the tree, the works of industry as well as the works of nature.
The second impression is one of admiration. Mr. Grant, having given his locomotive imposing proportions, has adorned and enriched it with the most delicate care.
It is a monster and it is a beauty; it is a hell and it is a jewel. One can see oneself in its polished sides; one takes oneself to caress it, as one would do with one of these large African elephants, so terrible to see and yet so innocent.
Finally, one notices the perfect execution of its complicated details.
The four low wheels are pivoted and allow for a straightforward approach to curves. The counterweight of the gearshift lever is replaced by a double spring, enclosed in a copper box, and fixed on one side to the boiler.
There is a curious appendage in front. This is the snowplough. In those long solitudes through which a single railway track passes, open to all like an ordinary road, it frequently happens that cattle lie on the rails; they could derail the train; the plow grabs them, throws them aside, and the train passes. Sometimes the snow blocks the track; the snowplough takes charge of restoring it. Sometimes a tree falls; again, it is thanks to this ingenious mechanism that the tree is lifted and moved aside.
This big bell, which would almost be the envy of a cathedral, is used to warn the inhabitants when one is crossing a town. This enormous lantern produces a fire visible at an astonishing distance.
A very great improvement is the covering of the mechanics' room. Here in France, we leave these brave people, on whom the salvation of so many people depends, exposed to the rain, the wind, and all the bad weather of the seasons, so that they are perpetually burnt on one side and frozen on the other. In America, they are safe from the cold and dust. It is true that there the journeys are longer, and the changes in temperature more frequent.
In this room is a bell connected to the train by a rope that goes to the last car. This bell is used to warn the engineer of any accidents that may occur en route.
The tender is, like the locomotive, as strong as it is light. It is said that Mr. Grant wants to sell the whole thing for seventy-five thousand francs. 11 must have spent a hundred and fifty thousand, just to have the engine built. Who will be tempted by this piece of furniture?
The sight of this locomotive makes one regret that a series of American wagons was not displayed after it. In America, there is only one class of passenger. The carriage is much longer than in the United States, and holds fifty people. It is arranged in a very different way.
Only four people sit abreast; two on one side, two on the other. Between them is a fairly wide passage, which allows you to move from one end of the wagon to the other. Everyone is seated so as to move forward. The backs of the seats are movable, so that if there are four of you travelling together, all you have to do is push a spring, and you are facing each other.
On a long journey, these benches can form a bed. Mattresses and sheets are spread out on them, and you lie down very comfortably; tilting boards can also form another bed - this is the method used in the cabins of ships.
Many other comforts are part of American trains. For example, a platform connects the various carriages. Thanks to the corridor in the middle, one can walk through the whole train, choose one's place, change it, walk around, talk standing up, vary one's position, etc. There is a smoking car, so that once you have finished your cigar you do not have to endure a smoky atmosphere forever.
In all the trains there is a bookshop selling books and newspapers, a buffet selling cakes, and sometimes cold meat. You understand that when, as on the Californian railway, which is in the process of being built, you have to cross interminable solitudes, where what is called a town is a meeting of three huts, it is advisable to take with you a thousand things which you would not find anywhere else.
A stove heats each wagon in winter; not only is one comfortable, but one can approach the fire and meet and talk. This stove would be useful everywhere; for it is really incredible that people should be left to freeze because their purse is not well enough furnished; heating is not a luxury to be reserved for wealth; it is a necessity of life.
If space were not limited, I would also have much to say about the way in which the American railways are run. It will suffice for me to remark, that almost all of them have only one track. A people which alone possesses more miles of railways than the rest of the world could not have accomplished this gigantic task if it had been organised as in Europe. From distance to distance, there is simply a rallying or waiting track. There the mixed trains withdraw, to let the express trains pass.
- Near the Grant locomotive is a specimen of the rail omnibus. It is noticeable how much more ornate and comfortable the omnibuses of the United States are than ours. I am not speaking only of the paintwork, which of course is less than mediocre, but whose colour enlivens. These cars combine solidity with extreme lightness. They have a brake that stops short, and prevents accidents. This brake consists of a simple pedal under the driver's feet. Moreover, in these omnibuses one can get on more easily, one is better seated, and one is sheltered everywhere.
-C. Herring's safes are reminiscent of the great struggle that took place, and is still going on, between the English safes and the American safes. In our money age, this issue has a certain gravity.
The American safe obviously wins. It braves the most intense fire. It has been heated to red-hot without the papers in it being compromised. We will not dwell on this subject. Suffice it to say that several workmen, equipped with levers, hammers and all the most powerful instruments, toiled for four hours without being able to break into one of these chests. Let us judge what a thief could do.
- American ploughs also amaze our farmers. Their dimensions are unknown in Europe. Indeed, whereas here we only have to plough a soil that has been prepared for a long time, over there we have to tackle a virgin and resistant soil. Usually the settlers have to deal with either forests or dwarf hazel woods covering huge areas of grassland. The first step is usually to draw a boundary and clear the land; then, to move more quickly, they set fire to it. This is why one sees in its path, in all the western territories, so many charred trunks, which one did not bother to finish. Then they ploughed. It is easy to see that the tools must be in proportion to the difficulty.
-The same can be said of the axes. Some Frenchmen stopped in front of these disproportionate tools, wondering if steam was not used to employ them. The Americans, however, are getting used to handling them. When it is necessary to cut down enormous oaks, and contemporary with I don't know what the beginning of the world was, our lumberjacks' choppers would be completely inadequate.
In short, French farmers and mechanics will have had much to learn from the American annex. We would be astonished if some profit were not made from it, and if various objects of our industry were not subsequently perfected. With regard to the railways, I believe that the American wagon system could make it possible to abolish the third classes. In order to achieve this result, the second and third classes would be combined, leaving only the first classes for people who like solitude, a little more well-being, and who want to live apart. For we must not conceal from ourselves that if our nation has some egalitarian tendencies, it also has many aristocratic ones.
The appendix has given us, more than the interior, a true idea of the greatness and power of the States of the new world; greatness and industrial power above all. America cannot compete with Europe in the field of art, but she is in the lead in practical matters. Must it not found and create before it enjoys itself? We have before us the immensity of the dream and the ideal; she has before her the immensity of nature still untamed.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée