January 18, 2009

Potato Patch Farming and Bustles in Detroit

All right, I confess. I've been under heavy deadlines starting off this exciting new year. So, I haven't had a whole lot of time to plan out my post for today. Then, there's the whole dilemma in the fact that I haven't actually SOLD a western novel yet, although I've written several. So far, it's all been romance set in places like Delaware and Michigan. Not exactly high points of cowpokes, ranches, spurs and cattle. :)

But my heart is firmly mired in the fun and excitement of the grand Old West. If the doors open the way I hope they will this year, I'll sell one or more of the westerns I have waiting for just the right publisher. As an author, you're only as good as your next book and you have to keep the contracts coming, so you have to write what sells.

For me right now, that's a 3-book series set in historical Detroit during the Industrial Revolution. Now, the effects of this boom in industry took a little longer to reach the ranches and undeveloped wide, open land of the West, but they weren't without their needs that the industry offered. The general stores of those western towns relied on the railroad industry as well as the major cities and the production of items the trains brought to them so they could sell the treasures to folks living nearby.

As I researched details for the most recent book I just submitted (entitled Hearts and Harvest and releasing September 2009), I came across newsworthy events such as the Pullman Strike in Chicago in the summer of 1894 which about shut down all transportation west of that city. You can bet the western towns felt the effects when they couldn't get their standard shipments of goods and materials because the trains weren't running.

Another major component of this recent book is spotlighting the Pingree Potato Patches which were established following the economic recession that occurred in 1893. Overinvestment in railroad development led to widespread bank failures and the eventual closing up shop of several prominent business or industries. Places such as cookstove companies, railcar industries and shoe factories all had to close their doors when they could no longer afford to stay open.

The major cities were hit the hardest, but once the effects trickled outward toward the western territories or states, the folks living in those towns suffered as well. Mayor Pingree of Detroit was the first man to settle on public works as a means of recovering from the financial crisis. Instead of allowing those who suffered to be left to their own devices, the mayor sought out donations of land from investors who had purchased the plots, hoping for a rise in value. The land was then converted into vegetable farms, with potatoes being the prime crop grown. Those who worked the plots would be able to feed their families and provide the surplus to the city to replenish the stores and help rebuild the economy.

The idea held widespread appeal, and soon other cities both in the US and Europe adopted similar plans to help dig themselves out of the financial pits. The recession and potato farming lasted until 1896, but as early as 1894, produce again could be shipped all around the country and folks were ready to face the dawning a new century.

And that's not all. Despite some of the rough-and-tumble sorts who frequented saloons or seemed to populate those typical western towns, there also existed a more genteel lot. And many of them had begun in the major cities before moving west. Many of them even maintained their annual trips back to the big cities like Detroit on their way to places like Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel between the upper and lower Michigan peninsulas. The resort island was a hot spot for the high-society folks who wore bustles instead of spurs as their everyday clothing. :) Today (with the lack of automobiles and transportation being limited to horses, carriages, bicycles or on foot), the island represents a harkening back to a simpler time....much the same way westerns take us back to the age of westward expansion and the pioneering souls who helped pave the way to the world in which we live today.

So yeah, I suppose even though my books right aren't set in a typical western setting, and I don't have roping, riding, wrangling and tobacco-chawing cowpokes, what I do write still has connections and ties to the Old West...and for now, that will have to do. *winks*

1 comment:

Molly Noble Bull said...

Great article, Tina. I want to hear more about that historical novel coming out in September.