Roger, age 11
Have you ever seen something in a store that you thought you really liked? You bugged your mom to get it for you. She did!
It was a really cool race car. You tear open the package. Put it on the floor and give it a good push. One of the wheels falls off. They are glued in place. What kind of toy has glued wheels? The toy is useless. It did not do what you thought it would. It was cheaply made and broke easily.
Well, that is about what happened to the Santa Fe Railroad Company in 1906.
The railroad needed ties, no not the kind you wear to church, the kind of ties that go under railroad tracks to expand their reach. The Santa Fe was buying ties from the North-east and had to pay to ship them west. They decided to plant their own trees, grow them and make their own ties.
Someone saw an Australia eucalyptus tree and realized it grows about 10 feet a year and can reach up to 300 feet tall. The oak trees normally used to make ties grow slow, almost the same rate as a human. That means it would take years and years for the tree to be able to grow enough to be cut into ties.
Santa Fe bought land, about 8000 acres. A football field is about one acre – so imagine 8,000 football fields of trees. The trees were planted and grew real tall. But when it was time to make ties, Santa Fe was in for a surprise. The eucalyptus wood was too soft for railroad spikes. The wood split as the spike was pounded into the wood. Worse, as the wood dried it twisted and cracked. The wood could not even be used for furniture.
It turns out there are many, about 100, types of eucalyptus trees. Santa Fe bought the wrong kind. The trees smelled really good and grew fast. Santa Fe sold off the forest and it would become a housing development. The moral of this story is to shop carefully before you rush to buy junk.