Specialist Freight

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Specialist Freight

Specialist Freight

The bulk of the freight-forwarding business is comparatively plain sailing. Scotch whisky from England is one of its biggest items, as are the wines of France. Luxury merchandise for American retailers is another big item. The company specializes in shipping Dutch tulip bulbs, which, because of their perishable nature, must be handled and passed through government quarantine with great speed.

Another specialty of American Express is carpet wool, of which it handles 80 per cent of American imports. That sounds like a prosaic commodity, but actually it is not. For carpet wool comes from all the tough places, the highlands and mountains, the pampas of Argentina, and the harsh hills of northern China. Wherever a sheep grows long, coarse wool to protect himself from the cold, drinks brackish water because he can find no other, and half starves for lack of fodder, he becomes a producer of carpet wool. If Himalayan sheep were brought to New Jersey, in two generations they would no longer be carpet-wool producers.

Foreign Traffic is closely connected with many trades, and, with enlightened self-interest, it helps to develop markets by putting potential shippers in contact with probable buyers. For example, a Dutch shipbuilder recently sent a sample eighty-five-foot yacht to this country. American Express put him in touch with reputable ship brokers who could handle his line of yachts.

Though such solid commercial shipments as whisky and wool and textiles are the backbone of profits, it is the odd and difficult ones - sometimes handled at a loss - that are fun. Such was a shipment of Shetland ponies to Barnum and Bailey-Ringling Brothers. The ponies had to arrive by a certain date for the circus opening, but just as they were due to start, an unexpected blizzard filled their native valleys with snow too deep for their short legs to negotiate. Considerably daunted, but not ready to give up, the American Expressman in charge hired a snowplough and a convoy of motor trucks, led them up the rocky mountain roads, and delivered the ponies at dockside in time to catch the boat.

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Adventures happen to Merrill because he loves them and seeks them, from the wood-and-paper cabins of the Japanese mountain people to the bazaars of Pakistan and the drawing rooms of the British. Nor do his tales lose in the telling, for he is a born spinner of yams who delights in embroidering homespun fact with the colourful threads of outrageous fancy. To such a man, a difficult - almost impossible - assignment in the transportation of queer cargoes from far, unlikely places is not a problem but a challenge and a joy.

"We arrange for the shipment of anything from a needle to an elephant, from anywhere to anywhere," he says.

Vice-Presidents Gerald K. Berkey and George F. Doherty, Jr., respectively, head the Foreign and Domestic divisions of this department. Berkey, an old-time expressman, came to American Express as a messenger boy in 1906, when he was fourteen years old, and rose step by step. Doherty is a young man with Irish... see: OF SHIPS, SHOES, AND ELEPHANTS

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