“And this circle?”
Pavel Melnikov leaned over the Tsar’s shoulder and looked at the red-penciled loop below his finger.
“That, I believe, is the forest owned by the son of the Duke that, uh... he is a great supporter of you, your majesty... it would benefit his lumber interests to not have to move his mills the several miles toward the, um, more direct lay of the tracks.”
Tsar Nicholas tapped his finger on the circle and shook his head, which had turned a shade redder. He looked disapprovingly at Pavel.
“Right turns, left turns... loops! Pavel, I’ve asked you to build a railroad, not a panoramic tour of Russia. Your plans here add hundreds of miles to the route; this is what you learned from the Americans during your observations there?”
The Tsar pushed his chair back from the desk and agitatedly began opening and closing drawers until he found what he was looking for. Leaning forward again over the plans, he placed one end of a ruler on Moscow, and the other end he slid into place right over St. Petersburg. With a charcoal pencil, he traced a thick and heavy black line from one city to the other. Then he rose and handed the ruler to the ashen-faced Pavel and broke the pencil, dropping the pieces into a wastebasket.
“You will construct it like this,” he said without turning around on his way out of the office on February 1, 1842.
Ten years later, the Moscow-St. Petersburg railway opened and the trains ran on time. The power of autocracy prevailed, even if thousands of serfs gave their lives working from sunrise to sunset seven days a week to do it. To this day, it runs the 404 miles in a line as a straight as a ruler.