Readers; Here is the latest bit of work on the novel in progress. I have introduced a character by the name of WK Vanderbilt. He was a real guy and really did most of the stuff that I attribute to him in this piece. He really was a major shareholder in the C&O Railway; he really did breed and race champoinship thoroughbred horses; and his daughter, Consuelo, really was married to the Duke of Marlborough and really did live in a palace. I am using this real character as the means to get my major fictional character – Isaac Martin – over to Europe where he will meet the girl of his dreams. Thanks for reading. Ed.
The grand corner window of the office of W. K. Vanderbilt looked out over the wide, terminal railyard of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. He was a principal shareholder in the flourishing C&O and his was the entire top floor of the brick headquarters that towered over the thirteen sets of rails, the long, red-tile-roofed depot and the gigantic roundhouse there in the port of Newport News, Virginia. Here all traffic from the west – from as far away as St. Louis – came to rest before being loaded onto the great, ocean-going ships docked there in the blue James RIver that made the locomotives and freightcars look like toys.
On the opposite wall were his trophies: a line of some twenty-four blue ribbons for the wins of his thoroughbred horses – Maintenon, winner of the Grand Prix de St-Cloud and the Prix du Jockey Club, both in 1906; Montrose II and Petulance,both his own, who broke the finish line in a dead heat at the Prix de la Foret in Paris in 1911. Above the ribbons hung horns and hides from his five African safaris: eland, kudu, waterbuck, wildebeest, lion and leopard. On another wall, beside the doorway, there hung a framed crest of the Duke of Marlborough, his son-in-law. W.K. Vanderbilt had spent one summer as a guest of his daughter and the Duke at Blenheim Palace. He loved the life there: the perfect symmetry and restfulness of it all; the exquisite dining, night after night; the constant flow of engaging company – he had met both Arturo Toscanini and Enrico Caruso. But Vanderbilt’s estate and his true love was this moving world of steel and timbers over which he ruled.
This, after all, was the world that was being created and the potential that passed on these rails daily surely pointed to a world that would overwhelm the aristocracy and create prosperity that would cover the entire Earth, such that had never been imagined. Men had already devised a machine that could take them flying through the air. Vanderbilt did not regard flight as a passing novelty or game as did many of his contemporaries. He saw, day by day, how commerce grew, how the shipyards continued to fill with more and better goods, made faster and with less expense than the day before. Free men would build and invent and improve. He knew that the sky was not the limit. One day men would fly from Newport News to Blenheim Palace.
Vanderbilt’s entire office, up to the nine-foot ceiling, was paneled in clear butternut hardwood, the color of creamed coffee. He had found the wood himself by inspecting remarkable carloads of lumber that came down the C&O line from West Virginia. Here he found rare and high-grade hardwoods that were cut into boards and beams for rough construction. With a little research he located the mill of Isaac Martin in Walhonde, West Virginia, and ordered a carload of center-cut butternut. Solid panels, four feet by nine feet, three-quarters of an inch thick.