Big Inca

To: The Boss

From: Bill

Date: July 16

Are you my handler? What is my job title, anyway? In answer to your questions, let me begin, the place we know as yrUBbury is an old mill town founded on waterpower. At one time a lot of towns looked like this. They stretched from Maine to Maryland, at least, and were the incubus of the Industrial Revolution. Many of them were on the Fall Line, where streams plunged into tidal waters. Others, like yrUBbury, were set along fast-running currents back in the hills and mountains. The master plan would look like this:

  • Find a scenic spot on a river. It must have sufficient water to run the machinery all year, not just in the springtime.
  • Make sure there’s a critical drop in elevation. A spectacular waterfall on your stretch of the stream is very good. Rapids are almost as acceptable.
  • Secure the legal rights to the water and build a dam, preferably above the cascade. That will leave a craggy outcropping pitted with puddles below, reminding the populace of your power to resources to your ends.
  • If possible, dig a canal parallel to the river, allowing enough room to construct rows of brick or stone mills. This industrial island will make you very rich, leading you to build an elaborate brick Italianate mansion up on the hill overlooking your factories. Stuff your residence with expensive imported doodads. The water-filled ditch, meanwhile, will resemble a moat protecting the castles that grind out your unspeakable wealth. Maybe even an actual boat passage, as an alternative to railroads.
  • Have a product. You may perform some minor milling like grain and logs, but the big bucks are in textiles, shoes, woodworking, wire-making, paper and cardboard – the Big Industrial Stuff of the 19th (YrUBbury, by the way, once specialized in manufacturing cigars and shoes. Since it’s now prime dairy country, I suggest we make cheese, for starters. I have other possibilities in mind, too.) The original formula worked. Some say the industrial version started at the Great Falls of the Passaic in New Jersey. Others point to the Slater Mill and Blackstone River in Rhode Island. Either way, it spread rapidly. Along the Merrimack and the Connecticut, the Androscoggin and Kennebec, the Naugatuck and the Mohawk, the Susquehanna and the Schuylkill. Everywhere, it seemed, a lot of future Boston Brahmins were becoming vulgarly rich. Growing resourceful, too, taking even small streams like the Jones Falls in Maryland and turning them into complex industrial centers. So what if it was long hours at a slow pace for children and old folks? A job’s a job – and anything in the mill beat farming. As additional steps to the original plan:
  • When the enterprise booms, import workers. Build four-story wooden dormitories and company apartments. Collect the rent.
  • Open your own bank. Expand into insurance, railroads, and utilities.
  • On the side, there’s prostitution, numbers, and liquor. Or, in our era, maybe drugs.
  • Don’t lose your shirt playing the market. Many prosperous entrepreneurs fall to the Sweeps every decade, even now. Also, beware of addictions – gambling, alcohol, drugs, especially.
  • Marry your family into depleted European nobility. This will cancel out whatever crimes you have committed on the way to the top. Give ostentatiously to civic causes. Endow museums or colleges – especially their buildings. Cruise on your yacht. Run for Republican office or accept an ambassadorship in Europe.
  • Arrange a Banana Republic plantation for your youngest son when he graduates from Harvard. The eldest, of course, is your successor at the helm of the enterprise. Others become lawyers and political powerhouses, physicians or professors, maybe even bankers. Resettle any rogue children to small cities in the Midwest or California – as far from the scandal as possible.

Of course, these days the master plan’s been long in decay and generally forgotten. In yrUBbury, waterpower gave way to steam and electricity around the 1890s. The last flood, in 1938, pretty much knocked out any remaining work in the buildings. A few factories over by the railroad tracks seem to run on fuel oil and natural gas. By the way, the Corps of Engineers has done flood-prevention work upstream, so that problem’s eliminated. As for the mills themselves, they seem to be abandoned.

Census data suggest the region is populated largely by Social Security recipients and high school dropouts, with a large gap in-between. Not many jobs available, so families leave. Sometimes yrUBbury feels like a ghost town; I’m not sure quite where the economic engine is or, for that matter, why rents are so high.

Back in the early ’60s, the state realized a need for more colleges, so it dropped a brand new campus on the city. The governor considers yrUBbury a cheap place to build in. At least, he seems to be doing some pretty cheap construction on the campus. I suspect a lot of the bucks are lining somebody’s pocket. The resulting Taj Mahal seems to be a big shot in the arm for the local economy. All the while, yrUBbury resents its new college students and their loony professors. But the town folk love their money, about the only fresh currency coming into the valley, from what I can tell. That resentfulness may be have ominous overtones for our Present Company.


The full Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider novel is yours at Thistle/Flinch editions.


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