"If a man . . . make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door." If Emerson really said that, well, he was a philosopher, not a merchant. The up-timers of Grantville may know where oil can be struck, or how to build a typewriter, but unless they know how to economically transport the oil or the typewriter to a prospective customer, they will not be able to translate their knowledge into wealth.

Transportation Modes

In 1632, there were three main methods of transporting freight:

–across open water (by sailing ship or oar-propelled galley)

–along inland waterways, i.e., rivers and canals (e.g., by barges; they were usually drawn upstream by human or animal power but could be carried downstream by the current)

–along roads (by human porters, or with pack animals, carts or wagons)

At some point, up-time technology will lead to the development of railroads, steamships, pipelines, and civilian aircraft.

Physical Infrastructure

Pre-RoF Roads. The all-weather, cemented stone-surfaced Roman roads still exist, at least in Italy and parts of southern France and Spain, but they were designed for legions on the march, not for wagons and carts.

The new paved roads were mostly in the immediate vicinity of cities and large towns. In our time line, France under Colbert "surfaced most of the main roads of France with broken stones," but in 1632, Colbert was just thirteen years old.

In northern and western England, oxen were used for plowing and heavy hauling. Since oxen can traverse soft ground, most of the width of the roads of the region were left soft, with just a narrow causeway on the side to accommodate pack animals. This was called a "pack and prime way," and it could not be used by horse-drawn wagons or coaches (Crofts, 6–7).

In contrast, in southeastern England, within the line running from the Wash to Gloucester to Weymouth, wagon traffic dominated (Crofts, 8). The ruts left by the wagons tended to make the going difficult for pack animals, and compelled the use of teams of four or even six draft beasts (Crofts 17).

Most roads, especially in less settled areas, are mere "rights of way," not prepared roadways, so it is easy for overland traffic to flow around most obstacles. The principal exceptions would be fords, bridges and mountain passes, and consequently it was at these bottlenecks that tolls were sometimes exacted.


Post-RoF Roads. The up-timers have already substantially improved the road network of southern Thuringia. By fall 1632, the "official" roads include U.S. Routes 4 (modern route B7 before it intersects B84, the "old main trade route from Frankfurt am Main to Leipzig"; DeMarce) and 26 (modern B19; DeMarce). Such roads "were invariably widened and properly graded. Graveled, too, more often than not. So the farmers were happy enough with the change. Easier on their carts and draft animals." ( 1632, Chap. 52).


Rail. A rail link to Halle is under construction as of 1633. ( 1633, Chapter 34). These are characterized, somewhat unfairly, by Quentin Underwood as "dinky wooden rails with an iron cap . . . with pathetic cargoes being pulled as often as not by 'locomotives' made up of a pickup truck—or even just a team of horses." As explained later, draft animals can pull a much heavier load on a rail line than on any normal road. The Baltimore & Ohio began operations in 1830 with similar rails and with horse-drawn cars.

By July 1633 there are trains running from Grantville to Jena and Naumberg (Cooper, "The Chase," scheduled for Ring of Fire, Volume 2). We know that the line runs all the way to Halle by June 1634 ("Until We Meet Again," Grantville Gazette, Volume 4), but the exact completion date hasn't yet been revealed.


Rivers. The principal rivers of commerce which pass through the USE are the Main (Frankfurt am Main to Wurzburg and then near Bamberg), the Weser (Bremen to the vicinity of Kassel and then near Eisenach), the Elbe (Hamburg to Magdeburg to Dresden), the Saale (a tributary of the Elbe, its mouth upstream of Magdeburg, and running to Halle, Jena, Rudolstadt, and Saalfeld), and the Oder, connecting Stettin on the Baltic to Breslau (Wroclaw). The Rhine (Rotterdam to Mainz to Switzerland) clips the extreme southwest of USE territory. All of these rivers flow north and west, into the North Sea or the Baltic Sea. The Danube, which flows south and east into the Black Sea, passes within about eighty miles of the Main, and there is a modern canal (1992) linking the two river systems, by way of Nurnberg. Some rivers were dredged to make them navigable over a greater length.

The most important rivers in the general vicinity of Grantville and Magdeburg were the Elbe and the Saale. The Elbe is Magdeburg's connection with the sea. How far up the Elbe a ship could reach depended on its draft: Hamburg (with twelve feet draft), Magdeburg (four feet), and the mouth of the Saale, near Halle (three feet). Small boats could go up the Saale as far as Naumberg. Higher up, river traffic was limited to wooden rafts. (Zander).

The navigability of a river changes over time. A river segment may be navigable one year, impassable another, depending on whether the year was wet or dry. Within a single year, the traveler may experience ice in winter, flood waters in the spring, and logjams in the summer or fall.


Canals. Navigable canals were common in the Netherlands and parts of northern Italy, rare elsewhere. (Parry, 214-5) It should be noted that the fact that a canal is available does not guarantee that the tow path is in good condition.

There are several different kinds of canals. Lateral canals run parallel to a natural waterway. Contour canals cut across the neck of a river loop. Summit-level canals bridge two river valleys.

The oldest canal, of Roman origin, is the Foss Dyke in England. Sweden has a canal (1606), with locks, joining Eskilstuna with Lake Malar. Construction of the forty lock, 55 kilometer Canal de Briare, a summit-level project, began in 1605, but in OTL, it wasn't completed until 1642. (ICML)

Germany has a summit-level canal connecting the river Elbe, Molln lake, and the river Trave, forming a navigable waterway from Lauenberg to Lubeck and the Baltic Sea. The 100 kilometer route could be traversed in 8-10 days (ICML; Hadfield 33).

Traffic frequently shifted back and forth between roads, and inland waterways (natural or artificial), depending on changes in weather conditions, tolls, and safety.


Ports. For coastal and ocean trade, there are many good harbors, with docks and other facilities, and smaller ships (usually engaged in smuggling) can enter unimproved coves to transfer cargo. The Dutch shipyards of the mid-seventeenth century were able to construct ships at a cost 40-50% less than in their English counterparts, because of their efficient use of machinery (winches, cranes, etc.), and the low cost of materials (a byproduct of the Dutch dominance of shipping). (Parry, 210–11). It is unclear whether those shipyards are still in operation, given the Spanish invasion. However, the Dutch shipyard design could be copied in the USE.


Trade Routes. While German goods could be shipped down the rivers, around the Iberian peninsula, and into the Mediterranean, there were several trade routes which more directly connected Germany with northern Italy. The first was the direct overland route. We begin arbitrarily at Basel, which is on the Rhine river, and thus accessible to German goods. The route continued southeast to Zurich, then south to Lucerne, went over the St. Gotthard Pass, and finally reached Milan. This alpine route may have been adversely affected by the Little Ice Age, which caused the glaciers to advance. (Parry, 186)

There were three other routes. One also began at Basel, but skirted the mountains by passing through Chalons and Lyons and then descending the Rhone. (Samhaber, 143) Another major transit was much more roundabout (about three times as long as the direct one), but had the advantage that some of the travel was on rivers. It went through the Low Countries to Paris, then along the Seine and the Rhone to southern France, and finally east into Italy. (Kohn I) Finally, there was the route from Erfurt (Thuringia), through Nurnberg and Augsberg (Bavaria), over the Brenner Pass, and onward to the Italian towns of Bolzano, Trento, Verona and Venice. (Parry, 185).

Germany was also linked, albeit tenuously, to Asia, by the land routes Magdeburg-Leipzig-Breslau-Krakow–Lemberg (Lvov)-Akerman, and Nurnberg-Regensburg-Passau-Vienna-Buda/Pest-Belgrade-Constantinople. (Tuma, Fig. 6.1; Samhaber 140–1, 153–154).

Social Infrastructure

The social infrastructure of early seventeenth-century commerce was surprisingly sophisticated. Most merchants didn't own their own ships or barges. Instead, they relied on common carriers—specialized transportation services—to carry goods for them.

Innkeepers were key players in the intra-European transport network. Once goods landed at a port, and cleared customs, they were delivered to a local innkeeper. He or she then arranged for them to be shipped to an inn closer to the final destination. There, the recipient innkeeper arranged for the next leg of the journey, and so forth, until the cargo finally reached the end point and was picked up by the merchant's factor. The arrangements made by the innkeepers included hiring carriers, paying tolls, and, sometimes, arranging financing.

By the 1540s, the long-distance overland trade among Belgium, Germany and Italy was dominated by "about half a dozen firms, the largest being from Milan, with others from Genoa, Germany, and Lorraine." (Kohn I, p. 45) Braudel mentions the existence of transporters in Ratisbon, Ulm, Augsburg, Coire and Basle (II, 354). There were also common carriers in England. The main role of these firms was that they made the arrangements for the entire trip, and quoted an all-inclusive price, so the merchant didn't have to deal with a host of innkeepers. They thus were more analogous to a modern freight forwarder than to a trucking company.

There were also itinerant carters in Germany, who traveled about looking for business. Inns acted as commission agents for these entrepreneurs, too. (Braudel II, 353). For short hauls, peasant carts could be hired for a pittance if it didn't interfere with the agricultural routine. (Braudel II).


The Spanish, Portuguese and Venetian ships published regular shipping schedules, encouraging merchants to get their goods to port at a particular time, allowing the ships to fill quickly. The Genoese used a hub-and-spoke system, with small ships carrying goods to and from the periphery, and large ships handling the higher volume inter-hub traffic. Finally, the Dutch came up with the notion of having shipowners sell some or all of their cargo capacity to "charterer's houses." This transferred the risk of finding a cargo from the shipowner to the charterer. Merchants, in turn, could find cargo space more quickly, by "one stop shopping" at the local charterer's house, rather than by walking the docks in search of an accommodating ship.


By the publication of Sir John Taylor's Carrier's Cosmography (1637), the English long distance wagon trade had regular schedules (Crofts 43), and I think it likely that the well-developed system he described was in place by the time of the RoF. A carrier could further diminish waiting time by using the post to warn customers of its impending arrival. This was usually done by "footpost," who were trained long-distance runners. (Use of post-riders was then too expensive for routine business correspondence; the British post office, an offshoot of the official communication system, wasn't established until 1635, see Crofts, 51–54).

The Risk of Loss

One significant gap in the social infrastructure is that it has failed to suppress bandits and pirates. The cargo, the vehicles (animate or inanimate), and (in the case of the Barbary corsairs) even the crew were vulnerable to seizure.

In the seventeenth century, the rate of loss of sailing ships was 10–30% a year (Kohn I, p. 23). The losses could be the result of nature (storms and shoals), or piracy. The Baltic was free of pirates, but the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and certain Asian waters were hotbeds of buccaneering. In 1620–23, out of "thirty four ships sailing from Lisbon or Goa, eight were wrecked, two captured, and nine forced to return to harbor." (Parry, 195). Portuguese losses in the Asian trade were estimated as occurring in one in five sailings during the period 1550-1650 (Id.)

One method of protecting one's self was to take out insurance. A typical premium was 18–20% (Kohn I, p. 32), so this was usually resorted to only in the case of cargoes with a high profit potential.

An alternative to insurance was to diversify the risk. You split your cargo among several ships, hoping that some at least would reach their destination. You sold shares (usually one share for each crewman, for a total of 16 to 70) in your cargo to other merchants, and you bought shares in other voyages from them in turn. (Kohn I, p. 28)

In 1591, a Dutch merchant sent thirty ships to Italy; "God was the insurer." The result? "Two foundered and ten were seized en route, although some of these were eventually recovered." (Kohn I, p. 32). This not only shows how high the rate of predation was in the Mediterranean at the time, but also illustrates how use of several ships can save you from losing your entire investment.

You could increase security by arming your ships. Of course, that meant that capacity and capital which could otherwise be invested in cargo was diverted to cannon, shot, powder and gunners. A long distance trader was more likely to be armed than a coaster in the pirate-free Baltic (although, in the 1632 universe, the Baltic is not peaceful).

A compromise was the convoy system, in which several unarmed or lightly armed vehicles traveled together with a common, heavily armed escort. This system usually worked well at sea; in 1782, insurance rates were 20% for unescorted ships and 12% for those in a convoy (Armstrong, 55). However, it was not a panacea, because the convoy was also a juicier target. English and Dutch privateers flocked to attack the Spanish gold fleets.

In 1645, during the English Civil War, a wagon convoy, carrying cloth valued at 10,000 pounds, with a 80 man escort, was successfully ambushed by 200 cavalry sent out by the Earl of Northampton (Crofts 45). Consequently, the carriers adjusted to the wartime conditions by presenting a "scattered target" (Crofts 46–7).

Pre-RoF Transport Vehicles

Characters in 1632 can acquire their own "vehicles" (from mules to sailing ships), or hire others to ship goods for them. Carrying capacity and speed estimates are given in Table 1. For purchase prices and rental costs, see the Transportation System Addendum.


Draft and pack animals. Pack animals carry the cargo in panniers, one on each side. Draft animals pull some kind of passive cargo-bearing vehicle, such as a cart, wagon, or sleigh.

Insofar as land travel was concerned, carts and wagons were used mostly in local and regional trade. While their carrying capacity was greater than that of pack animals (mules, donkeys, horses, and, in the desert, camels), they were slower, and less able to negotiate rough terrain. Long-distance travelers were more likely to have to cross regions without good roads, and also more likely to face bandits or armies (the distinction can be a fine one). They would find it inconvenient if they were unable to move off-road when it is prudent to do so. Hence, long-distance overland traffic was heavily reliant on pack animals.

The premier pack animals are mules and donkeys. Horses are more expensive, more finicky, and more vulnerable to disease and accident, and hence they are more likely to be used as riding horses by the merchants and guards, than as pack animals.


In general, animals can pull a greater load than what they can carry directly. A light horse can carry 200–300 pounds, but could draw a 1,000-pound laden cart.

Where roads are good enough to permit the use of wheeled transport, you are likely to see mules, donkeys and oxen drawing wagons. The wagons which engaged in long-distance carriage were called "long wagons" in England, and they seem to have appeared by 1567 (Crofts 7).

Oxen are immensely strong; they can pull 150% of their own weight. Ox had other advantages; they were less subject to disease, they were less likely to be stolen, and they made a good meal if food became more important than transportation. And they were cheap. Their big disadvantage was their slow speed (1 mph).


If the travelers are going outside the area where they can stay at inns each night, part of the load will be provisions for the humans, even if they intend to let the animals graze.


Coaches were first used to transport those who could not ride themselves by reason of age, infirmity, or modesty. By Elizabethan times, town coaches had become popular, as much as a status symbol as for the practical service they rendered.

By the time of the RoF, there were at least a few stage coaches serving the British public For example, in 1629, you could take a stage coach between London and Cambridge (Crofts 125). The term "stage" implies that they had regular routes. Long-distance stage coach service was acutely dependent on the adequacy of the roads. They were typically pulled by four or six horses, and carried six or eight passengers.

For more information on coaches and wagons, see Bergstralh, "Adventures in Transport," this issue.


Finally, there were boats and ships, ranging in size from wherries to the Manila galleons. Which brings us to the issue of carrying capacity.

Carrying Capacity

A quantum leap in carrying capacity was achieved when you left dry land. According to Kohn, a river boat could carry as much as 400 mules (forty tons). The maximum size of the boat actually depends on the river conditions. On most British rivers, the barges were at most twenty to forty tons (Willan 97), but on the Thames, barges eventually reached a size of 250 tons (Sailing Barge Ass'n). On the Elbe-Lubeck canal, the standard size boat was 19 meters by 3.25 meters, and carries 12.5 tons. (Hadfield 33). The largest Russian barges were 150–170 tons (Hadfield 56).

Of course, ships are much more expensive than mules or carts, and so purchasing one makes sense only if you are regularly moving large cargoes. Indeed, large ships were usually built, to order, for a group of merchants, each thereby acquiring a share in the ship. (Kohn I, p. 29).

The typical size of a sailing ship depended on circumstances. Small ships could use shallower waters, narrower straits, and smaller harbors. They could find full cargoes faster, and could be loaded or unloaded quickly. On the other hand, large ships had lower manning ratios (Brautaset), and were less vulnerable to small craft attack, less likely to founder in storms, and more hydrodynamically efficient.

In general, the size of the ship dictated whether it specialized in short, medium or long distance trade. For Bristol vessels operating 1539–46, only one, the 255 ton Saviour, carried goods to the Levant. The ships primarily with France and Spain were 30–135 tons, median 90 (Evan 19–20). The largest engaged exclusively in the (local) Irish trade was 25 tons.

Kohn says that in the seventeenth century, the "typical" English ship trading to Spain was twenty to forty tons. (Kohn I, p. 25). But the Red Dragon, sent in 1601 to the faraway spiceries of Asia, was 600 tons (Milton 73).

Propulsive Force, Resistance and Energy

To move forward, a vehicle must overcome opposing forces: surface friction, hydrodynamic or aerodynamic drag, and (if it moves upward) gravity.

The less these opposing forces, the less effort is required to move a given load. That's important, because there are limits to how much pull can be exerted by an animal or an inanimate powered vehicle.

So friction is important. If the cargo is on a sledge, the load (including vehicle weight) can be 50% of a draft horse's weight; if it is on a wheeled vehicle with a good road beneath it, the load can be 100%; if it is a car on a rail track, 1000% (keep that in mind when considering the evolution of USE's railroads), and finally, if it is towing a barge, a magnificent 6500% (HNC)


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