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Progressive Era to New Era
Automobiles in the Progressive and New Eras
W.T. Ellis and His Oldsmobile

W.T. Ellis worked for the Western Pacific Railroad as a purchasing agent. His primary work involved buying rights of way for the railroad. In the following excerpt from pages 233 and 234 of his autobiography (contained in California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900), Ellis mentions one of his first experiences with an automobile. How did the novelty of the automobile make a difference to his clients and to an accountant in his company? Do you think such novel technologies have similar effects today?

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I really had an interesting time buying these rights of way through Yuba County [California]. The automobile was then a new thing, there were only about a half dozen in Marysville and many people had never seen one. There was only one in town for hire. This was a small Oldsmobile, with one seat, a dashboard in front and a small open box in the rear; it was guided with a long stick as a handle; I believe it had one cylinder, and it sneezed and coughed like a consumptive, but could travel at the high speed of twenty-five miles per hour. The owner did the driving and charged me $20 per day. It saved me time, however, over a horse and buggy and was of material assistance in getting rights of way. When I called on some ranch owner with this machine to talk right of way with him, I soon found out that, to first take the family out for a ride of one or two miles or so and give them a "thrill" by having their first ride and going so fast, permitted me to come to agreements quickly and satisfactorily. If there was some hesitation about signing up deeds, which there was in a couple of cases, I promised to come back soon and give them a ten mile ride. That settled the deal and I afterwards kept my promise.

A few years afterwards, I was calling on the Western Pacific office in San Francisco and one of the officials reminded me of my expense accounts with the charge of $20 a day for an automobile and said that when several of these charges had come through, an auditor had complained of my extravagance, that I could have hired a horse and buggy for $5 a day, that he had mentioned the matter to Mr. Bogue who had remarked, "Hell! Leave him alone. See what he is getting those rights of way for us for."
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View the Book Navigator for Memories, from which this excerpt was drawn, from California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.