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Mayor McCaskrin

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Don't become too discouraged by politicians. Every now and then a promise made during a campaign is actually carried out.

Take George Washington McCaskrin, the man who was elected mayor of Rock Island in 1906. The citizens of Rock Island soon found out that when he had promised to "do his duty" when he was sworn in, he meant more than keeping the streets clean.

Mayor McCaskrin was a Republican who was not about to let legal technicalities serve as an excuse for inaction. He had a handy motto when it came to getting things done. "Act now," he said, "and let them decide later if it's legal."

That explains his confrontation with the Union Electric Telephone Company in January of 1906. The telephone company had gone ahead erecting telephone poles without the necessary permit. Mayor McCaskrin assembled several Rock Island policemen, handed each one an axe, and ordered the poles to be chopped down. The telephone company got the message.

The politically powerful Burlington and Milwaukee Railroad lines took a bit more convincing. McCaskrin was convinced that the railroads had conspired to set high rates, defrauding local shippers. The mayor had a choice; he could petition Congress to regulate rates and wait for months or years. But that would not have been his sworn duty.

One afternoon in April of 1906, the mayor notified the railroads they had just forfeited their right-of-way through Rock Island. Five minutes later, a crew of policeman protected by armed guards appeared in front of the Burlington depot and tore up thirty feet of track.

The clever railroad then switched their trains to Rock Island and Peoria tracks. An even more determined mayor simply followed and ripped up another thirty feet of track.

There was a howl from the city Democrats who claimed that McCaskrin had upset the whole country by tampering with the United States rail. The railroads soon had a Federal injunction against further damage, but not before the mayor had made his point: when a man pledges to do something, he must do it.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.