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Thread: Circa 1800s grain transportation question

  1. #26
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    In my world, I have the cities on the coast. The coastal land is not particularly good for crops. It is very rocky. But, there is oil and coal. So energy production = civilization. Plenty of fish.

    On 'the other side of the mountains' (mountains = a good device as a barrier, both physical and mental demarcation, and geologically reasonable as a means to separate two land types), there is very little to no fossil fuels, but great farmlands, forests and so on.

    So this sets up two culture types, and why there might be an economic pull for farmers to get a good price on grain (etc) if they schlepp the stuff over the mountains to the cities.

    But, I am seriously mentally revising the specifics of this on the basis of comments here. For example, I don't see why they would caravan to all the cities since a boat in city #1 can take over and the oxen can go back. Additionally, the idea of alcohol introduces some interesting character possibilities.

    I had thought that they would caravan 8 hour days or more, in part to cover that 150 miles in the time frame I need. But it might make more sense to make the travel hours shorter each day, and the overall distance shorter too. This gives the oxen more time to graze, and the characters more time to interact with one another.

  2. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by frimble3 View Post
    I do have one question, which might affect a farmer's ability to make this trip in person. 'Over the mountains'. How high are the mountains and when does snow start falling in the passes? Because if the way is impassable, or hard to struggle through, in the winter, the caravan would likely happen in the late spring or summer - exactly when the farmers should be farming, so that they have enough to eat for the following year.
    Unless this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for the farmer, an excursion or adventure, (which raises the question of 'why?') wouldn't he be likelier to sell his grain to a third-party who would have the stock and equipment to regularly make the trip? A broker or dealer or such? Then he could stay home, doing what he does best.

    I set it up as a once per year deal, just after harvest, around september or more likely october. I think it can be reasonable that snow would not necessarily fall in this time frame. And farmers don't have as much to do after harvest as before, at least the time pressures eases, there may be some fields to glean but there is less of a deadline on things.

    A third party would mean the cost increases to the farmer. The 'middleman.'

    The 'why' is the economics, which is why everyone's feedback here is so great. Thank you!
    Last edited by Patty; 12-03-2017 at 08:56 AM.

  3. #28
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    Good Iowa Boy,

    You reminded me - Tobacco! That's got to be worth something.

    - Good Indiana Girl

    (Heck, poppies might not be a bad idea either.)

  4. #29
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    If there are farmlands and forests on the other side of the mountains, yes, a caravan to the nearest port city would make more sense than carrying stuff city-to-city overland. That's the whole point of a port city, after all.
    And, if you have a navigable river running down to the sea on the farming/forestry side: rafts, barges, etc become feasible to connect with the sea.
    Also such fun stuff as log-driving: in the Spring, after the thaw, when the rivers are running well, the loggers push the logs into the river and guide and push them down the river. Dangerous work, out on bobbing, moving logs. Google Log-driving.

  5. #30
    Who's going for a beer? waylander's Avatar
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    In the 18th and 19th century geese were walked to market in London ftom Norfolk a journey that could take a couple of months.

  6. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    And farmers don't have as much to do after harvest as before, at least the time pressures eases, there may be some fields to glean but there is less of a deadline on things.
    The urgency of getting in the wheat crop is eased after harvest, but there's still a lot to do on a working farm, e.g. the fields have to be prepared for the next crop, & for some crops ploughed and planted as well, wood has to be laid in for winter fuel, herds have to be culled and the meat/skin/carcasses dealt with, autumn crops & fruits have to be gathered & processed.... A small farmer will not have the leisure to abandon his farm for weeks on end till winter sets in, when mountain passes have probably closed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    A third party would mean the cost increases to the farmer. The 'middleman.'
    The eternal complaint of the farmer. And an eternal necessity. Middlemen exist for a reason. Grain dealers or brokers have the capability to move goods in bulk when and where they want, to arrange the storage and delivery, to make and manage commercial contracts to their advantage, and to deal with the vagaries of changing market conditions, e.g. if there's an oversupply and the price has dropped, sell somewhere else or store the goods till the price is higher. A small farmer from a distant village has no way to scale the operation, no leverage or flexibility in the marketplace, no ongoing business relationships with customers or partners in the city, and little experience or expertise in wholesale trade. He will probably have higher transaction costs and get the worst available price for the goods, if he's lucky enough to not display the "rube here, please cheat me" sign.

    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    The coastal land is not particularly good for crops. It is very rocky. But, there is oil and coal. So energy production = civilization. Plenty of fish.

    On 'the other side of the mountains' (mountains = a good device as a barrier, both physical and mental demarcation, and geologically reasonable as a means to separate two land types), there is very little to no fossil fuels, but great farmlands, forests and so on.
    To be honest, as a high level description this doesn't really sound like a plausible geography or economy. Oil was worthless to anyone except as a novelty until the chemical & technological revolutions of the late 19c. It lay around in pools in places like Iran and Pennsylvania & had absolutely no economic value to speak of till people figured out what it could be used for -- which requires a significantly higher technical baseline than exists in a world where ox-drawn caravans are even conceivable as a viable mode of bulk transport. Coal was always used for heating -- the air of London was filthy from coal as far back as the 16c -- but it wasn't particularly important till the industrial revolution. Coal, transformed into heat and steam, runs pumps for mines, furnaces for metalworks, machines for factories, engines for railroads and ships, gasworks for light and heat. Lacking those, it's just a rock that burns.

    Is your city a center of industrial production? 18-19c industrial towns tended to be extremely dirty, unpleasant places, and they depended heavily on a constant migration of new population displaced by economic change from the agricultural hinterland, because the existing urban population tended to died young and unpleasantly of overwork, filth, hunger and disease. Without constant large-scale immigration the industrial town would depopulate and die. But your city has no agricultural hinterland to feed its industrial maw with the necessary stream of hopeful or displaced young workers. So how does it manage?

    And I'm still hung up on the question of how those coastal cities feed and supply themselves if they don't have any direct access to their farmlands. A once-a-year grain caravan just won't cut it. The city will starve in a week if that's how it's getting all its non-fish food. Seriously. If it really doesn't have any good farmland nearby, it's getting its food in ships from somewhere that does, or from somewhere that can send over shiploads of grain from farmlands upriver. (Which is what your farmers should be doing.)

    I don't want to be Debbie Downer and piss on your story. But economies are complicated things, and the parts fit together in complicated ways because things connect to things. When you pull things apart and reassemble them in a new shape for fiction, you have to make sure the connections are still there and stray parts don't swing around and hit you in the butt!
    Last edited by benbenberi; 12-04-2017 at 12:40 AM.

  7. #32
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    Thanks! I appreciate the details.


    I'm trying to build the story around other elements (I am building a world to tell a hero journey that ties geological history with fossil fuel use). Working economies weren't on my radar at all.

    Yes, industrial production, but not synced entirely to earth's trajectory. At the moment (since you re kind to ask and seem invested) there are six cities, along the coast, and they have varying degrees of industrialization. They have been using coal for ~50 years perhaps, and oil more recently.

    There are villages (the 'middleman') between the cities and the farmlands. But they are not carriers - they are a way point. this serves as a year - round point of trade. City dwellers (including presumably business owners, manufacturers, etc) can come to the villages at any point. Farmers can come to the villages at any point.

    But, once a year, in the way I originally set it up, the farmers schlepp on over to the city. This is just a device, to have some of the cultural elements clash more directly.

    To the point about autumn work on the farms, the 'farmer' has his eldest son working the caravan, in order to learn the business start to finish. The son will take over the farm some day. The farmer is staying on his farm with the farm wife. There are also hired hands, and the oxen will be hired as well.

    On the one hand, the story is SF/F and so some small amount of mess may be fine. The story's not historical fiction. On the other hand, the closer to plausible, the better.

    I have not fleshed out the (limited) farming capabilities near the cities yet - but have been mulling it over. I originally was thinking they'd have chickens and so on, and I think it is easy enough to work in some agriculture, but as you point out feeding that many people requires a lot.

    I have a future revision dedicated to 'reality check' and the items in this thread have been going onto the list.

    The southernmost city (think New Orleans) has a fertile delta. I had not explicitly stated in my story that its produce would be shipped north, but this is a solution to some of the problems here, and something I started noodling a few days ago. The river itself is non-navigable.

    I still need a mechanism/device to get the farmers to the city for plot reasons, but I hope it is economically viable with crops like tobacco or poppy.? These items would not feed a citizenry, and so perhaps they are not grown near the cities.

    Drug use is an element in the story, so the poppies might make sense. And, as mentioned earlier by someone else, the farmers will want city items for things like farming implements. Yard goods. Etc.So, they have a motivation to go, too, beyond sales.
    Last edited by Patty; 12-04-2017 at 04:41 AM.

  8. #33
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    So, it's the eldest son going with the caravan, and not the father/farmer?
    This would, to my mind, make more sense. If he's going to take over the farm, and more or less be tied to it's rythms, he's getting one trip out to the 'big city' before he settles down. Maybe the grain is being taken by the broker, but he's joining up to take some smaller, high-value products to sell separately. He would travel with the caravan for protection and company.
    Maybe it's a normal part of his culture ( a coming of age thing, 'cause who knows when he'll have a chance to go again, if he's farming with the wife and kids) or he just wants to have a look at the wider world before he settles down.

  9. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by waylander View Post
    In the 18th and 19th century geese were walked to market in London ftom Norfolk a journey that could take a couple of months.
    Didn't they walk the geese through tar to put a protective surface on their feet? (This is one of those 'I read it somewhere once' things, so feel free to correct me.)

  10. #35
    Who's going for a beer? waylander's Avatar
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    I believe that is correct

  11. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    There are villages (the 'middleman') between the cities and the farmlands. But they are not carriers - they are a way point. this serves as a year - round point of trade. City dwellers (including presumably business owners, manufacturers, etc) can come to the villages at any point. Farmers can come to the villages at any point.
    A village isn't a middleman. It's a place. Typically villages were where the farmers lived & had their day-to-day interactions. Towns were the economic center of their local region, where the people of the surrounding villages would come regularly to buy & sell at markets. There were shops and tradesmen & craftsmen in towns. Cities were the political & economic hub of a much larger region. In populous parts of Europe the traditional rubric has a village every mile (so farmers could walk to & from their fields every day & put in a full day's work there), a town every 5 miles (so the farmers could transport goods to & from market in 1 day, or at most an overnight), and a small city no closer than every 20 miles or so, depending on the level of economic and political activity. In the US, there's a similar gradation in the size of settlements but much more spread out because transportation technology had moved past foot and oxen before most of it was settled.

    By "middlemen" I mean, literally, the people whose business is to stand between the farmers or producers and the ultimate consumers of what the farmers have grown & the producers have made. Brokers, dealers, aggregators, wholesalers... the whole category at one time known as "merchants" (which originally did not include retail trade). They perform an essential role in organizing the movement & distribution of goods. Above the village level economies can't function without middlemen.

    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    I still need a mechanism/device to get the farmers to the city for plot reasons, but I hope it is economically viable with crops like tobacco or poppy.? These items would not feed a citizenry, and so perhaps they are not grown near the cities.

    Drug use is an element in the story, so the poppies might make sense. And, as mentioned earlier by someone else, the farmers will want city items for things like farming implements. Yard goods. Etc.So, they have a motivation to go, too, beyond sales.
    Traditionally the thing that brought farmers into the city once or twice a year was the need to purchase supplies that weren't available in their local village or town. What they brought with them on these expeditions was generally not their year's crop (which had already been safely sold & paid for, somebody else's worry how to move it around) but their profit from the sale, ready to spend.

    (Sears, Roebuck got its start by giving farmers a more convenient alternative to the annual buying spree. Check out some of the older editions of the catalog for insight into what the mid-19c farm family needed & craved!)
    Last edited by benbenberi; 12-04-2017 at 07:05 PM.

  12. #37
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    Thanks!

    I've reread the comments a few more times.

    Believe it or not, the simple word 'merchant' has triggered a slew of new thoughts and possibilities.

    I'll keep working on things.
    Last edited by Patty; 12-04-2017 at 11:14 PM.

  13. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by jclarkdawe View Post
    Prior to railroads and canals, grain was transported as whiskey.
    This was, as I understand it, one of the main commodities transported on the original Erie Canal. It also was the genesis of the Whiskey Rebellion of the early days of the Republic, when the government slapped a tax on whiskey.

    caw
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  14. #39
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    OK. On my current revision I am making sure to have enough references to the economy of the place to be quasi-legit.

    I just wrote "(when they arrived back at the farm,) Bill stabled the team with the other horses and oxen" ... to communicate that in addition to the two teams of horses, the family also keeps oxen. This is the only mention of oxen I plan to make, until the boys caravan over to the city, ten chapters hence.

    But I have never personally seen horses and oxen stabled together. I googled it, and can't find much about whether this would be common or not.

    Question:

    It's a silly question, but would a single stable be used for 4 horses and 6 oxen? (I don't see why not on the other hand maybe there are issues with this sort of thing.)
    Last edited by Patty; 12-12-2017 at 05:45 AM.
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  15. #40
    Feeling lucky, Query? jclarkdawe's Avatar
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    Why are the animals in a stable?

    Animals are kept in three locations, broadly speaking. Stables (stalls), corrals, and pasture. Pasture is for grazing and is used for animals not in current use. You balance ease of catching versus doing the least amount of work to take care of the animal. Animals in pasture get a workout from moving and maintain their form without effort by the owner. If naturally growing grass is not sufficient, hay is tossed into the pasture. Pastures can be anywhere from one acre on up. In the West, pastures can be over a hundred acres. Food is commonly used as a way of catching the animals. You toss some grain and usually the animals will come.

    Corrals are smaller enclosures close to the barn. Hay is required as horses and cattle eat relatively constantly. Mucking out is required, although not as frequently as a stall. The footing is often mud because of the number of animals. (Mud is not good footing.) Animals are easy to catch and will be kept in corrals for use in the near future, but care is a lot more work.

    Stable space is usually at a minimum and is actually stalls. Care of the animals is a lot of work, and daily or more frequent mucking out is required. Usually in subsistence farming, labor is one of the rarest resources, so animals are kept in stalls for very limited periods, such as when putting on equipment such as saddles and tack, or milking.

    So why are the animals in stalls? Most likely the returning animals would be released into pasture as soon as their gear was taken off.

    Some horses and cattle don't mix well. Others are fine together. Stalls don't provide a lot of room, so there's not much the animals can do if they don't play well with others.

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  16. #41
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    I assumed they did not 'stay outside' overnight. I will put them to pasture. Thanks!

    We had a barn with a loft and no stalls. (no animals.) I've always thought a stable was a barn with stalls. I don't want to take your time, so I will leave it there.
    Last edited by Patty; 12-12-2017 at 09:03 AM.
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  17. #42
    Feeling lucky, Query? jclarkdawe's Avatar
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    Stable would have stalls. Barns can have stalls. Local usage of language does matter.

    Tonight's weather is a snowstorm. My horse is happily outside. Again, with subsistence farming, animals would be left outside, with a shelter maybe (should be) available. It's a lot less work. Livestock eat a lot and poop out the same amount. In a stall, the food has to be provided and the poop removed. Remember that the basic equation with livestock has to be that the benefits of the animal outweigh the costs (labor and cash) in subsistence farming.

    However, the stable down the road will have its horses in stalls tonight, with blankets as well. They do a lot more work to keep their horses than I do. However, they have a lot of people with more money than sense.

    As your farm sounds closer to subsistence farming, I've been approaching your question with that in mind.

    Jim Clark-Dawe
    EQUINE LIABILITY: WHAT EVERY HORSEOWNER NEEDS TO KNOW Published 2002 sold through

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    THE PICTURE Might be my next project.

  18. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    I assumed they did not 'stay outside' overnight. I will put them to pasture. Thanks!

    We had a barn with a loft and no stalls. (no animals.) I've always thought a stable was a barn with stalls. I don't want to take your time, so I will leave it there.
    A stable is a place to keep animals - a barn is a storage place. If you put the stables underneath the hay/straw, it makes it simpler to, as Jclarkedawe says, to feed and care for them. Just throw the necessary stuff down. If you don't have animals, you can eliminate the stalls, and use the space for storage, equipment, or a threshing floor (older usage).
    See 'riding stables', which tend to be one-level structures, with individual doors, like a horsey garage.
    AFAIK, the reason for keeping animals inside is to keep animals usefully handy. Cows come in for milking, then go out to graze. Animals you intend to use or show, you keep near at hand, easy to catch, and accustomed to being handled. Animals you intend to eat, or aren't being used in the near future, can live outside.

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