Charles N. Crewdson.

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nearly all gone. He had actually sold - and out of his little shanty -
more of my goods than any other customer I had. When I started to have
my trunks unloaded the Colonel said to me: 'Now just hol' on there;
that's entirely unnecessary. The last ones sold so well, you just
duplicate my last bill, except that you leave out the poah hats. Come,
let's go up to my house and have a julep and rest a while.'"

Although a man's friends will not buy from him if he does not carry
the goods, he will yet get their patronage over the other fellow if he
has the right stock. Here's where a man's personality and adaptability
are his stock in trade when he is on the road; and the good salesman
gets the business over his competitor's head just by being able to
turn the mood of the merchant he meets. The more moods he can turn,
the larger his salary.

One of my musician road friends once told me how he sold a bill to a
well-known old crank, now dead, in the state of Montana.

"When I used to work at the bench, years ago," said he, as we sat in
the smoker, "evenings when I was free, for relaxation, I studied
music. Our shop boys organized a brass band. I played the trombone,
and learned to do so fairly well. I never thought then that my music
would fatten my pocket-book; but since I have been on the road it has
served me a good turn more than once - it has sold me many a bill.

"You've heard of the 'Wild Irishman of Chinook,' haven't you?"

"Old Larry, the crank?" said I.

"Yes, old Larry, the great."

[Illustration: "Larry let business drop entirely and danced a jig."]

"Well, sir, the first evening I ever went into Larry's store, I hadn't
been in a minute until he said to me: 'Oi'm all full up; Oi've got
plinty of it, I doon't give a dom pwhat ye're silling.'

"I paid no attention to him, as I had heard of him; instead of going
out I bought a cigar and sat down by the stove. Although a man may not
wish to buy anything from you, you know, he is always willing to sell
you something, even if it is only a cigar. I've caught many a
merchant's ear by buying something of him. My specialty is bone collar
buttons - they come cheap. I'll bet that I bought a peck of them the
first time I made a trip through this country.

"I had not been sitting by the stove long until I noticed, in a show
case, a trombone. I asked Larry to please let me see it. 'Oi'll lit ye
say the insthrumint,' said he, 'but pwhat's the good of it? Ye can't
play the thromboon, can ye? Oi'm the only mon in this berg that can
bloo that hairn. Oi'm a mimber of the bhrass band.'

"I took the horn and, as I ran the scale a few times, Larry's eyes
began to dance. He wouldn't wait on the customer who came in. The
instrument was a good one. I made 'Pratties and fishes are very foine
dishes for Saint Pathrick in the mairnin'' fairly ring. A big crowd
came in. Larry let business drop entirely and danced a jig. He kept me
playing for an hour, always something 'by special rayquist' - 'Molly
Dairlint,' 'Moggie Moorphy's Hoom' and everything he could think of.
Finally he asked me for 'Hairts Booed Doon.'

"As I played 'The Heart Bowed Down,' tears came to the old Irishman's
eyes. When I saw these, I played yet better; this piece was one of my
own favorites. I felt a little peculiar myself. This air had made a
bond between us. When I finished, the old man said to me: 'Thank ye,
thank ye, sor, with all my hairt! That's enoof. Let me put the hairn
away. Go hoom now. But coom aroond in the mairnin' and Oi'll boy a
bill of ye; Oi doon't give a dom pwhat ye're silling. If Oi've got
your loine in my sthore Oi'll boy a bill; if I haven't, Oi'll boy a
bill innyway and stairt a new depairtmint. Good noight, give me yer
hand, sor.'

"Not only did Larry give me a good order, but he went to two more
merchants in the town and made them buy from me. He bought every
dollar's worth of his goods in my line from me as long as he lived."



Many a bill of goods is sold on the road through the influence of the
clerk. The traveling man who overlooks this point overlooks a strong
one. The clerk is the one who gets next to the goods. He checks them
off when they come in, keeps the dust off of them every day, sells
them to the people and often he does the selecting of the goods in the
first place. A merchant usually buys what pleases the clerks in order
to get them interested. In this way he puts a sort of responsibility
upon them. If the business man neglects his clerks, they neglect his
business; if the traveling man ignores the clerks, they ignore the
traveling man.

But in this matter the salesman must go just so far and no farther,
for the moment that the merchant begins to think the traveling man is
influencing the clerks unduly, down comes the hatchet! A hat man once,
as we rode together on the train, told me this incident:

"I once sold a small bill of hats to a large merchant down in
California," said he. "The next season when I came around I saw that
my goods were on the floor-shelf. I didn't like this. If you want to
get your goods sold, get them where they are easy to reach. Clerks,
and merchants too, usually follow the line of least resistance; they
sell that which they come to first. If a man asks me where he ought to
put his case for hats to make them move, I tell him, 'up front.'

"From the base shelf I dug up a box of my goods, knocked the dust off
the lid, took out a hat, began to crease it. One of the clerks came
up. He was very friendly. They usually are. They like to brush up
against the traveling man, for it is the ambition of nineteen clerks
out of every twenty to get on the road.

"My young friend, seeing the hat in my hand, said, 'Gee, that's a
beaut. I didn't know we had a swell thing like that in the house. I
wish I'd got one like that instead of this old bonnet.'

"With this he showed me a new stiff hat. I scarcely glanced at it
before I cracked the crown out of it over my heel, handed him the hat
I had taken out of the box, threw three dollars on the counter and
said, 'Well, we'll swap. Take this one.'

"'Guess I will, all right, all right!' he exclaimed.

"Another one of the boys who saw this incident came up with his old
hat and asked, laughing, 'Maybe you want to swap with me?'

"Crack went another hat; down I threw another three dollars. Before I
got through, eight clerks had new hats, and I had thrown away twenty-
four dollars.

"Thrown away? No, sir. I'll give that much, every day of the week, to
get the attention of a large dealer. Twenty-four dollars are made in a
minute and a half by a traveling man when he gets to doing business
with a first-class merchant.

"The proprietor, Hobson, was not then in. When I dropped in that
afternoon, I asked him if he would see my samples.

"'No, sir, I will not,' he spoke up quickly. 'To be plain with you, I
do not like the way in which you are trying to influence my clerks.'

"There was the critical - the 'psychological' - moment. Weakness would
have put an end to me. But this was the moment I wanted. In fact, I
have at times deliberately made men mad just to get their attention.

"'Hobson,' I flashed back, 'You can do just as you please about
looking at my goods. But I'll tell you one thing: I have no apology to
offer in regard to your clerks. You bought my goods and buried them. I
know they are good, and I want you to find it out. I have put them on
the heads of your men because I am not ashamed to have them wear them
before your face. You can now see how stylish they are. In six months
you will learn how well they wear. I would feel like a sneak had I
stealthily slipped a twenty dollar gold piece into the hand of your
hat man and told him to push my goods. But I haven't done this. In
fact I gave a hat to nearly every clerk you have except your hat man.
He was away. Even your delivery boy has one. You owe me an apology,
sir; and I demand it, and demand it right now! I've always treated you
as a gentleman, sir; and you shall treat me as such.' Then, softening
down, I continued: 'I can readily see how, at first glance, you were
offended at me; but just think a minute, and I believe you'll tell me
you were hasty.'

"'Yes, I was,' he answered quietly. 'Got your stuff open? I'll go
right down with you.' After Hobson had, in a few minutes, given me a
nice order, he said to me: 'Well, do you know, I like your pluck.'

"It sometimes happens that a traveling man meets with a surly clerk, a
conceited clerk, or a bribed clerk who has become buyer," continued my
friend. "Then the thing to do is to go straight to the head of the
establishment. The man I like to do business with is the man whose
money pays for my goods. He is not pulled out of line by guy ropes. It
is well to stand in with the clerks, but it is better to be on the
right side of the boss. When it gets down to driving nails, he is the
one to hammer on the hardest.

"I once took on the territory of a man who had quit the road. About
this same time one of his best customers had, to some extent, retired
from business activity and put on a new buyer in my department. Now,
this is a risky thing, you know, for a merchant to do unless the buyer
gets an interest in the business and becomes, in truth, a merchant
himself. It usually means the promotion of a clerk who gets a swelled
head. The new buyer generally feels that he must do something to show
his ability and one of the ways he does this is by switching lines.

"During the illness of my predecessor, who soon after quit the road,
another man made for him a part of his old trip. In one of the towns
he made he struck the new buyer and, of course, got turned down. Had I
been there, I would have received the same sort of treatment.

"My immediate predecessor, who was turned down, posted me; so when I
went to the town, I knew just what to do - go direct to the proprietor.
I knew that my goods were right; all I needed was unprejudiced
attention. Prejudice anyway buys most of the goods sold; merit is a
minor partner. Were merchandise sold strictly on merit, two-thirds of
the wholesale houses and factories would soon lock up; and the other
third would triple their business.

"When I entered the store, I went straight to the proprietor and told
him without introducing myself (a merchant does not care what your
name is) what my line of business was. It was Saturday afternoon. I
would rather go out making business on Saturday than any other day
because the merchant is doing business and is in a good humor, and you
can get right at the point. Of course, you must catch him when he is
not, for the moment, busy.

"'Can't do anything for you, sir, I fear,' said he. 'Hereafter we are
going to buy that line direct from the factories.'

"I saw that the proprietor himself was prejudiced, and that the one
thing to do was to come straight back at him. 'Where do you suppose my
hats come from?' said I. 'My factory is the leading one in New
Jersey.' I was from Chicago although my goods, in truth, were made in
Orange Valley.

"'Will you be here Monday?' he asked. This meant that he wanted to
look at my samples. The iron was hot; then was the time to strike.

"'Sorry, but I cannot,' I answered. 'But I'll tell you what I'll do.
My line is a specialty line - only fine goods - and I'll bring in a
small bunch of samples tonight about the time you close up.' Merchants
like to deal with a man who is strictly business when they both get to
doing business. Then is the time to put friendship and joking on the

"That night at ten o'clock I was back at the store with a bundle under
my arm. The man who is too proud to carry a bundle once in a while
would better never start on the road. The proprietor whispered to the
hat buyer - I overheard the words - 'Large Eastern factory' - and
together they began to look at my samples. The new buyer went to the
shelves and got out some of the goods which had come from my house to
compare with my samples, - which were just the same quality. But, after
fingering both, he said right out to the proprietor: 'There's no
comparison. I've told you all along that the factory was the place to

"I booked my order - it was a fat one, too - solid case lots.

"'Shall I ship these from Orange Valley or Chicago?' I asked.

"'Why do you ask that?' asked the proprietor.

"'Because you have bought a bill from a firm you have dealt with for
twenty years, Blank and Company of Chicago, that I represent, and I do
not want one who has favored me to pay any extra freight. You will
pardon me, I'm sure, for not telling you the whole truth until now;
but this was the only way in which I could overcome your prejudice.'"

"That's one on me," said the merchant. "Come - boys, you are in on this
too - I'll buy the smokes."

Many traveling men make mistakes by steering shy of cranks. The so-
called crank is the easiest man to approach, if only you go at him

Once I sat at dinner with two other traveling men who were strangers
to me - as strange as one traveling man ever is to another. This is
not, however, very "strange," for the cosmopolitan life of the road
breeds a good fellowship and a sort of secret society fraternity among
all knights of the grip. My territory being new, I made inquiry
regarding the merchants of a certain town to which I intended to go.

"Don't go there," spoke up one of my table companions. "There's no one
there who's any good except old man Duke and he's the biggest crank on
earth. He discounts his bills, - but Lord, it's a job to get near him."

Some men on the road are vulgar; but will not this comment apply to
some few of any class of men?

"My friend," said companion number two, looking straight at the man
who had just made the above remarks, "I've been on the road these many
years and, if my observation counts for anything, those we meet are,
to a great extent, but reflections of ourselves. True, many call Mr.
Duke peculiar, but I have always got along with him without any
trouble. I consider him a gentleman."

I went to the "old crank's" town. As I rode on the train, louder than
the clacking of the car wheels, I heard myself saying over and over
again: "_Those we meet are, to a great extent, but reflections of

When I went into the old gentleman's store, he was up front in his
office at work on his books. I merely said, "Good morning, sir," and
went back and sat down by the stove. It's never a good thing to
interrupt a merchant when he's busy. He, and he alone, knows what is
most important for him to do. Maybe he has an urgent bill or sight
draft to meet; maybe he has a rush order to get off in the next mail;
maybe he is figuring up his profit or his loss on some transaction.
Then is not the time to state your business if you wish to make your
point. The traveling man must not forget that the merchant's store is
a place of business; that he is on the lookout for good things and
just as anxious to buy good goods advantageously as the salesman is to
sell them; and that he will generally lend an ear, for a moment at
least, - if properly approached - to any business proposition.

After a while, the old gentleman came back to the stove and, as he
approached, politely said to me, "Is there something I can do for you,

I caught his southern accent and in a moment was on my guard. I arose
and, taking off my hat - for he was an old gentleman - replied: "That
remains with you, sir," and I briefly stated my business, saying
finally, "As this is my first time in your town and as my house is
perhaps new to you, possibly, if you can find the time to do so, you
may wish to see what I have." Recalling that one of my table
companions had said he considered him a gentleman I was especially
careful to be polite to the merchant. And politeness is a jewel that
every traveling man should wear in his cravat.

"I shall see you at one thirty, suh. Will you excuse me now?" With
this the old gentleman returned to his office. I immediately left the
store. The important thing to get a merchant to do is to consent to
look at your goods. When you can get him to do this, keep out of his
way until he is ready to fulfil his engagement. Then, when you have
done your business, pack your goods and leave town. What the merchant
wants chiefly with the traveling man is to _do business_ with him.
True, much visiting and many odd turns are sometimes necessary to
get the merchant to the point of "looking," but when you get him
there, leave him until he is ready to "look." Friendships, for sure,
will develop, but don't force them.

At one twenty-nine that afternoon I started for the "old crank's"
store. It was just across the street from my sample room. I met him in
the middle of the street. He was a crank about keeping his engagements
promptly. I respect a man who does this. The old gentleman looked
carefully, but not tediously, at my goods, never questioning a price.
In a little while, he said: "I shall do some business with you, suh;
your goods suit me."

I never sold an easier bill in my life and never met a more pleasant
gentleman. Our business finished, he offered me a cigar and asked that
he might sit and smoke while I packed my samples. Yes, offered me a
cigar. And I took it. It was lots better than offering him one. He
enjoyed giving me one more than he would have enjoyed smoking one of
mine. In fact, it flatters any man more to accept a favor from him
than to do one for him. Many traveling men spend two dollars a day on
cigars which they give away. They are not only throwing away money but
also customers sometimes. The way for the salesman on the road to
handle the man he wants to sell goods to in order to get his regard is
to treat him as he does the man of whom he expects no favors. When you
give a thing to a man he generally asks in his own mind, "What for?"

Before I left the town of the "old crank" I met with another of his
peculiarities. I was out of money. I asked him if he would cash a
sight draft for me on my firm for a hundred dollars.

"No, suh," said he. "I will not. I was once swindled that way and I
now make it a rule never to do that."

Needles stuck in me all over.

"But," continued the old gentleman, "I shall gladly lend you a hundred
dollars or any amount you wish."

For the many years I went to the town of the "old crank," our
relationship was most cordial. I believe we became friends. More than
once did he drop business and go out fishing with me. Since the first
day we met I have often recalled the words of my table companion:
"Those we meet are, to a great extent, but reflections of ourselves."

Recalling the predicament I was in for a moment in the town of the
"old crank," reminds me of an experience I once had. As a rule, I
haven't much use for the man on the road who borrows money. If he
hasn't a good enough stand-in with his firm to draw on the house or
else to have the firm keep him a hundred or two ahead in checks, put
him down as no good. The man who is habitually broke on the road is
generally the man who thinks he has the "gentle finger," and that he
can play in better luck than the fellow who rolls the little ivory
ball around a roulette wheel. There are not many of this kind, though;
they don't last long. It's mostly the new man or the son of the boss
who thinks he can pay room rent for tin horns.

Even the best of us, though, get shy at least once in a life time, and
have to call on some one for chips. I've done this a few times myself.
I never refused one of the boys on the road a favor in all my life.
Many a time I've dug up a bill and helped out some chap who was broke
and I knew, at the time, that as far as getting back the money went, I
might just as well chuck it in the sewer. Few of the boys will borrow,
but all of them are ever ready to lend.

The one time I borrowed was in Spokane. When I went down to the depot
I learned that I could buy a baggage prepaid permit and save about
fifty dollars. I did not know until I reached the station that I could
do this in Spokane. Down east they haven't got on well to this system.
You can prepay your excess baggage all the way from a coast point
clear back to Chicago and have the right to drop your trunks off
anywhere you will along the route. This makes a great saving. Well,
when I went to check in I saw that I was short about four dollars. I
did not have time to run back to my customer's up town or to the hotel
and cash a draft. I looked to see if there was somebody around that I
knew. Not a familiar face. I had to do one of three things: Lose a
day, give up by slow degrees over fifty dollars to the Railroad
Company, or strike somebody for four.

Right here next to me at the baggage counter stood a tall, good
natured fellow - I shall always remember his sandy whiskers and pair of
generous blue eyes. He was checking his baggage to Walla Walla.

"Going right through to Walla Walla?" said I.

"Yes," he said, "can I do anything for you?"

"Well, since you have mentioned it, you can," I answered.

I introduced myself, told my new friend - Mason was his name, Billie
Mason - how I was fixed and that I would give him a note to my
customer, McPherson, at Walla Walla, requesting him to pay back the

I gave Mason the order, written with a lead pencil on the back of an
envelope, and he gave me the four dollars.

I got down to Walla Walla in a few days. When I went in to see
McPherson the first thing I said to him, handing him four dollars,
was: "Mac, I want to pay you back that four."

"What four?" said McPherson.

"What four?" said I. "Your memory must be short. Why, that four I gave
a traveling man, named Mason, an order on you for!"

McPherson looked blank; but we happened to be standing near the
cashier's desk, and the matter was soon cleared up.

The cashier, who was a new man in the store, spoke up and said: "Yes,
last week a fellow was in here with an order on you for four dollars,
but it was written with a lead pencil on the back of an envelope. I
thought it was no good. I didn't want to be out the four, so I refused
to pay it."

"The deuce you did," said my friend Mac, "Why, I've known this man
(referring to me) and bought goods of him for ten years."

The thing happened this way: On the very day that Mason presented my
order both McPherson himself and the clerk in my department were out
of town. When the new cashier told Mason that he did not know me,
Mason simply thought he was "done" for four, and walked out thanking
himself that the amount was not more.

But it so happened that Mason himself that night told this joke on
himself to a friend of mine.

My friend laughed "fit to kill" and finally said to Mason: "Why that
fellow's good for four hundred;" and he gave Mason what I had failed
to give him - my address.

I had also failed to take Mason's address. After he made me the loan
in Spokane we sat on the train together chatting. I became well
acquainted with him, and with a friend of his named Dickey, who was
along with us. Yet I did not ask Mason his business, even; for, as you
know, it's only the fresh, new man who wants to know what every man he
meets is selling.

After McPherson's new cashier had told me that he had not paid my
order, I inquired of every man I met about Mason, but could get no
clew on him. He was in a specialty jewelry business and made only a
few large towns in my territory. Every time I boarded a train I would
look all through it for those sandy whiskers. It was lucky that he
wore that color; it made the search easy. I even looked for him after
midnight - not only going through the day coaches, but asking the
Pullman porters if such a man was aboard. I woke up more than one red-
whiskered man out of his slumbers and asked him: "Is your name Mason?"
One of them wanted to lick me for bothering him, but he laughed so
loudly when, in apologizing, I told him the reason for my search that
he woke up the whole car. I never found him this way, and not having
his address, I could only wait.

I had just about given up all hopes of getting a line on my confiding
friend when, several weeks after a letter bearing the pen marks of
many forwardings, caught me. I've got that letter; it reads this way:

"Walla Walla, Dec. 6th.

"My Dear Sir:

"I called on Mr. McPherson today and unfortunately found him out of
the city. None of his clerks seemed to know you when I presented your
request for an advance. They all began to look askance at me as if I
were a suspicious character. I ought to have put on my white necktie
and clerical look before going in, but unluckily I wore only my

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Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 2 of 19)