Today on the train a man about 65 in a well-made dark suit sat down next to me, apologizing in a very genteel way for the intrusion. He was obviously on his way to the airport, and he seemed to want to talk, so I asked him where he was going. (Part of my ongoing program to get to know my fellow humans better and become less of an intellectual recluse.) Home to Cleveland, it turned out, from a conference in Washington. He is, he explained, a community banker, which in his mind is something quite different from being an ordinary banker; his bank is very focused on lending to people in the communities around their branches. Plus, they have no stockholders; the bank is effectively owned by the depositors. We talked the whole way to the airport, nearly half an hour. He ended up talking about growing up in Cleveland, and how much he enjoyed going down to the docks to watch the unloading of iron ore from the great ore boats, the loading of coal, the building of ships from the keel up.
He told me about the Hulett ore unloaders (above and top), great machines built in the early 1900s to extract ore from the holds of the ships coming down from the Iron Range.
He went on for a couple of minutes about the machines that lifted and tipped whole train cars loaded with coal (above), "all done with counterweights."
This technology was dirty and it used up men like spare parts, but it meant something to people. It was not a mystery like the innards of a smart phone, but something that could be seen, heard, and understood. These men did not manipulate spreadsheets or attend meetings; they made things, steel and automobiles and trains and washing machines.
My new acquaintance summed it up: "I don't think people realized how much was being lost."