Charles N. Crewdson.

Tales of the Road online

. (page 5 of 19)
Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 5 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with ticket and all the money she had.' He came back with nearly
enough silver in his hat to break out the crown - eighteen dollars!

"'Will you chip in, Colonel?' said Ferguson to the old man who had
been his traveling companion?

"'No,' answered the old skinflint, 'I think the railroad company ought
to look after cases of this kind. Ahem! Ahem!'

"'Well,' said Ferguson, snatching the valise out of his seat - I never
saw a madder fellow - 'We've enough without yours even if you are worth
more than all of us. You're so stingy I won't even let my grip stay
near you.' "When the train stopped at Lincoln, Billie and Ferguson
took the conductor to the superintendent's office. They sent me to the
lunch counter. I got back first with a cup of coffee for the mother
and a bag for the children. But pretty soon in bolted Billy and
Ferguson. Billie handed the woman a pass to Denver, and Ferguson
dumped the eighteen dollars into her lap.

"'Oh, that's too much! I'll take just three dollars and give me your
name so that I can send that back,' said the woman, happier than any
one I ever saw.

"But we all rushed away quickly, Billy saying: 'Oh, never mind our
names, madam. Buy something for the children; Good-bye, God bless

Not the poor widow, alone, but even the big, able-bodied, hungry tramp
comes in often to share the drummer's generosity. A friend once told
me of a good turn he did for a "Weary Willie" in Butte.

Now if there is any place on earth where a man is justified in being
mean, it is in Butte. It is a mining camp. It rests upon bleak, barren
hills; the sulphuric fumes, arising from roasting ores, have long
since killed out all vegetation. It has not even a sprig of grass.
This smoke, also laden with arsenic, sometimes hovers over Butte like
a London fog. More wealth is every year dug out of the earth in Butte,
and more money is squandered there by more different kinds of people,
than in any place of its size on earth. The dictionary needs one
adjective which should qualify Butte and no other place. Many a time
while there I've expected to see Satan rise up out of a hole. Whenever
I start to leave I feel I am going away from the domain of the devil.

"One morning I went down to the depot before five o'clock," said my
friend. "I was to take a belated train. It was below zero, yet I paced
up and down the platform outside breathing the sulphur smoke. I was
anxious to catch sight of the train. Through the bluish haze, the lamp
in the depot cast a light upon a man standing near the track. I went
over to him, supposing he was a fellow traveling man. But he was only
a tramp who had been fired out of the waiting room. I wore a warm
chinchilla, but it made my teeth chatter to see this shivering 'hobo'
- his hands in his pockets and his last summer's light weight pinned
close around his throat.

"'Fine morning, old man,' said I.

"'Maybe you t'ink so, Major,' replied the hobo, 'but you stan' out in
de breeze long's I have in Fourt' of Chuly togs an' you'll have to
have a long pipe dream to t'ink it's a fine mornin'. Say, pard, cup o'
coffee an' a sinker wouldn't go bad.'

"I took the tramp to the lunch counter. I was hungry myself and told
the waiter to give him what he wanted.

"'Cup o' coffee an' a sand'ich - t'ick slab o' de pig, Cap'n, please,'
said my hobo friend. "I saw some strawberries behind the counter and I
said to the waiter: 'Just start us both in on strawberries and cream,
then let us have coffee and some of that fried chicken.'

"'Sport, you are in on this,' said I to the tramp.

"He unpinned his coat and looked with longing eyes on the waiter as he
pulled the caps off the berries; he never said a word, merely
swallowing the secretion from his glands. When he had gulped his
berries, I told the waiter to give him some more.

"'Ever hungry, Major?' said the hobo. 'Dat's kind a feather weight for
my ap'tite. Let me have a ham sand'ich 'stead.

"'No, go on, you shall have a good square meal. Here, take some more
berries and have this fried chicken,' I answered, shoving over another
bowl of fruit and a big dish with a half a dozen cooked chickens on
it. 'Help yourself like it all belonged to you.'

"The hobo ate two halves of chicken, drained his cup of coffee and
started to get down from his stool. But: he cast a hungry look at the
dish of chicken.

"'Have some more, old man,' said I.

"'It's been s'long since I had a good square that I could stan' a
little more, Major; but let me go up against a ham sand'ich - it's got
a longer reach.'

"'No, have chicken - all the chicken you want - and some more coffee,'
said I.

"Eat! How that fellow did go for it - five pieces of chicken! I'd
rather see him repeat that performance than go to a minstrel show. He
slid off his stool again, saying: 'Major, I guess I'm all in. T'anks.'

"'Oh, no; have some pie,' I said.

"'Well,' he replied, 'Major, 's you shift the deck, guess I will play
one more frame.'

"'Gash o' apple,' said Weary to the waiter.

"When I insisted upon his having a third piece of pie, the hobo said:
'No, Major, t'anks, I got to ring off or I'll break de bank.'

"He, for once, had enough. I gave him a cigar. He sat down to smoke -
contented, I thought. I paid the bill; things are high in Montana, you
know - his part was $2.85. My hobo friend saw $3.55 rung up on the cash
register. Then I went over and sat down beside him.

"'Feeling good?' said I.

"'Yep, but chee! Dat feed, spread out, would a lasted me clean to
Sain' Paul.'"

Although the traveling man will feed the hungry tramp on early
strawberries and fried chicken when ham sandwiches straight would
touch the spot better, all of his generosity is not for fun. A drug
salesman told me this experience:

"A few years ago," said he, "I was over in one of the towns I make in
Oregon. I reached there on Saturday evening. I went to my customer's
store. Just before he closed he said to me: 'I'll take you to-night to
hear some good music.'

"'Where is it?' said I. 'I'll be glad to go along.'

"'It's down the street a couple of blocks; it's a kind of garden. A
family runs it. The old man serves drinks and the rest of the family -
his wife and three daughters - play, to draw the crowd. I want you to
hear the oldest girl play the violin.'

"Now, traveling men are ready any time to go anywhere. Sometimes they
fly around the arc light, but they can buzz close and not get their
wings scorched. They must keep their heads clear and they do,
nowadays, you know. It's not as it was in the old days when the man
who could tell the most yarns sold the most goods; the old fashioned
traveling man is as much behind the times as a bobtailed street car.
Well, of course, I told my friend Jerry that I'd go along. I should
have put in my time working on new trade, but he was one of the best
fellows in the world and one of my best friends. Yet he would not give
me much of his business; we were too well acquainted.

"When we went to the garden - Jerry, his partner ner and myself - we sat
up front. We could look over the crowd. It was a place for men only.
The dozen tables were nearly all full, most of the seats being
occupied by men from the mines - some of them wearing blue flannel
shirts. But the crowd was orderly. The music made them so. The oldest
daughter was only seventeen, but she looked twenty-three. She showed
that she'd had enough experience in her life, though, to be gray.
There was a tortured soul behind her music. Even when she played a
ragtime tune she would repeat the same notes slowly and get a chord
out of them that went straight to the heart. The men all bought rounds
of drinks freely between the numbers, but they let them remain
untasted; they drank, rather, the music.

"We listened for two hours. The music suited my mood. I was a long way
from home. Most of the men there felt as I did. Twelve o'clock came,
yet no one had left the garden. More had come. Many stood. All were
waiting for the final number, which was the same every night, 'Home,
Sweet Home.'

"There is something more enchanting about this air than any other in
the world. Perhaps this is because it carries one back when he once
has 'passed its portals' to his 'Childhood's Joyland - Little Girl and
Boyland.' It reminds him of his own happy young days or else recalls
the little ones at home at play with their toys. I know I thought of
my own dear little tots when I heard the strain. How that girl did
play the splendid old melody! I closed my eyes. The garden became a
mountain stream, the tones of the violin its beautiful ripples -
ripples which flowed right on even when the sound had ceased.

"'Home, Sweet Home!' I thought of mine. I thought of the girl's - a
beer garden!

"'Boys,' said I to Jerry and his partner, 'I am going up to shake
hands with that girl; I owe her a whole lot. She's a genius.' I went.
And I thanked her, too, and told her how well she had played and how
happy she had made me.

"'I'm glad somebody can be happy,' she answered, drooping her big,
blue eyes.

"'But aren't you happy in your music?' I asked.

"'Yes,' she replied in such a sad way that it meant a million nos.

"When I went back to my friends they told me the girl's father was not
of much account or otherwise he would send her off to a good teacher.

"'Now, that's going to take only a few hundred dollars,' said I. 'You
are here on the spot and there surely ought to be enough money in the
town to educate this girl. I can't stay here to do this thing, but you
can put me down for fifty.'

"Well, sir, do you know the people in the town did help that girl
along. When the women heard what a traveling man was willing to do,
they no longer barred her out because, for bread, she played a violin
in a beer garden, but they opened their doors to her and helped her
along. The girl got a music class and with some assistance went to a
conservatory of music in Boston where she is studying today."

Traveling men are not angels; yet in their black wings are stuck more
white feathers than they are given credit for - this is because some of
the feathers grow on the under side of their wings. Much of evil,
anyway, like good, is in the thinking. It is wrong to say a fruit is
sour until you taste it; is it right to condemn the drummer before you
know him?

Days - and nights, too - of hard work often come together in the life of
the road man. Then comes one day when he rides many hours, perhaps
twenty-four, on the train. He needs to forget his business; he does.
Less frequently, I wager, than university students, yet sometimes the
drummer will try his hand at a moderate limit in the great American

A year or more ago a party of four commercial travelers were making
the trip from Portland to San Francisco, a ride of thirty-six hours -
two nights and one day. They occupied the drawing room. After
breakfast, on the day of the journey, one of the boys proposed a game
of ten cent limit "draw." They all took part. There is something in
the game of poker that will keep one's eyes open longer than will the
fear of death, so the four kept on playing until time for luncheon.
About one o'clock the train stopped for half an hour at a town in
Southern Oregon. The party went out to take a stretch. Instead of
going into the dining room they bought, at the lunch counter, some
sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, doughnuts and pies and put them in their
compartment. On the platform an old man had cider for sale; they
bought some of that. Several youngsters sold strawberries and
cherries. The boys also bought some of these. In fact, they found
enough for a wholesome, appetizing spread.

The train was delayed longer than usual. The boys, tired of walking,
came back to their quarters. They asked me to have some lunch with
them. Just as one of the party opened a bottle of cider a little,
barefoot, crippled boy, carrying his crutch under one arm and a basket
half full of strawberries under the other, passed beneath the window
of their drawing room.

"Strawberries. Nice fresh strawberries, misters - only a dime a box,"
called out the boy. "Three for a quarter if you'll take that many."

There he was, the youthful drummer, doing in his boyish way just what
we were - making a living, and supporting somebody, too, by finding his
customer and then selling him. He was bright, clean and active; but
sadly crippled.

"Let's buy him out," said the youngest of our party - I was now one of

"No, let's make a jackpot, the winner to give all the winnings to the
boy for his berries," spoke up the oldest.

The pot was opened on the first hand. The limit had been ten cents,
but the opener said "I'll 'crack' it for fifty cents, if all are

Every man stayed in - for the boy! Strangely enough four of us caught
on the draw.

"Bet fifty cents," said the opener.

"Call your fifty," said numbers two and three, dropping in their

"Raise it fifty," spoke up number four.

The other three "saw the raise."

"Three Jacks," said the opener.

"Beats me," said number two.

"Three queens here," said number three.

"Bobtail," spoke up number four.

"Makes no difference what you have," broke in number three. "I've the
top hand, but the whole pot belongs to the boy. The low hand, though,
shall go out and get the berries."

As the train pulled out, the little barefoot drummer with $6.50
hobbled across the muddy street, the proudest boy in all Oregon; but
he was not so happy as were his five big brothers in the receding car.

Brethren, did I say. Yes, Brethren! To the man on the road, every one
he meets is his brother - no more, no less. He feels that he is as good
as the governor, that he is no better than the boy who shines his
shoes. The traveling man, if he succeeds, soon becomes a member of the
Great Fraternity - the Brotherhood of Man. The ensign of this order is
the Helping Hand.

I once overheard one of the boys tell how he had helped an old

"I was down in Southern Idaho last trip," said he. "While waiting at
the station for a train to go up to Hailey, an old man came to the
ticket window and asked how much the fare was to Butte. The agent told
him the amount - considerably more than ten dollars.

"'_Mon Dieu!_ Is it so far as that?' said the old man. '_Eh bien!_
(very well) I must find some work.'

"But he was a chipper old fellow. I had noticed him that morning
offering to run a foot race with the boys. He wasn't worried a bit
when the agent told him how much the fare to Butte was. He was really
comical, merely shrugging his shoulders and smiling when he said:
'Very well, I must find some work.' Cares lighten care.

"The old man, leaving the ticket window, sat down on a bench, made the
sign of a cross and took out a prayer book. When he had finished
reading I went over and sat beside him. I talked with him. He was one
of Nature's noblemen without a title. He was a French Canadian. He
came to Montana early in the sixties and worked in the mines. Wages
were high, but he married and his wife became an invalid; doctors and
medicines took nearly all of his money. He struggled on for over
thirty years, taking money out of the ground and putting it into pill
boxes. Finally he was advised to take his wife to a lower altitude. He
moved to the coast and settled in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon.
His wife became better at first; then she grew sick again. More

"Well, sir, do you know that old man - over seventy years of age - was
working his way back to Butte to hunt work in the mines again. I spoke
French to him and asked him how much money he had. 'Not much,' said
he - and he took out his purse. How much do you suppose the old man had
in it? Just thirty-five cents! I had just spent half a dollar for
cigars and tossed them around. To see that old man, separated from his
wife, having to hunt for work to get money so he could go where he
could hunt more work that he might only buy medicine for a sick old
woman and with just three dimes and a nickel in his purse - was too
much for me! I said to myself: 'I'll cut out smoking for two days and
give what I would spend to the old man.'

"I put a pair of silver dollars into the old man's purse to keep
company with his three dimes and one nickel. It made them look like
orphans that had found a home. '_Mon Dieu! Monsieur, vous etes un
ange du ciel. Merci. Merci._' (My God, sir, you are an angel from
Heaven. Thank you. Thank you.) said the old man. 'But you must give me
your address and let me send back the money!'

"I asked my old friend to give me his name and told him that I would
send him my address to Butte so he would be _sure_ to get it; that he
might lose it if he put it in his pocket.

"He told me his name. I gave him a note to the superintendent at
Pocatello, asking him to pass the old Frenchman to Butte. We talked
until my train started. Every few sentences, the old man would say:
'_Que Dieu vous benisse, mon enfant!_' (May God bless you, my boy!)

"As I stood on the back end of my train, pulling away from the
station, the old man looked at me saying:

"'Adieu! Adieu!' Then, looking up into the sky, he made a sign of the
cross and said: '_Que Dieu vous protege, mon enfant!_' (May God
protect you, my boy!)

"That blessing was worth a copper mine."



Since starting on the road many have asked me: "How can I get a job on
the road?"

Young men and old men have asked me this - clerks, stock boys,
merchants and students. Even wives have asked me how to find places
for their husbands.

Let's clear the ground of dead timber. Old men of any sort and young
men who haven't fire in their eyes and ginger in their feet need not
apply. The "Old Man," who sits in the head office sizes up the man who
wishes to go out on the road and spend a whole lot of the firm's money
for traveling expenses with a great deal more care than the dean of a
college measures the youth who comes to enter school. The dean thinks:
"Well, maybe we can make something out of this boy, dull as he is.
We'll try." But the business man says: "That fellow is no good. He
can't sell goods. What's the use of wasting money on him and covering
a valuable territory with a dummy?"

On the other hand, the heads of wholesale houses are ever on the watch
for bright young men. This is no stale preachment, but a live fact!
There are hundreds of road positions open in every city in America.
Almost any large firm would put on ten first class men to-morrow, but
they _can't find the men_.

The "stock" is the best training school for the road - the stock boy is
the drummer student. Once in a while an old merchant, tiring of the
routine of the retail business, may get a "commission job" - that is,
he may find a position to travel for some firm, usually a "snide
outfit" - if he will agree to pay his own traveling expenses and accept
for his salary a percentage of his sales shipped. Beware, my friend,
of the "commission job!" Reliable firms seldom care to put out a man
who does not "look good enough" to justify them in at least
guaranteeing him a salary he can live on. They know that if a man
feels he is going to _live_ and not lag behind, he will work better.
The commission salesman is afraid to spend his own money; yet, were he
to have the firm's money to spend, many a man who fails would succeed.
Once in a while a retail clerk may get a place on the road, but the
"Old Man" does not look on the clerk with favor. The clerk has had
things come his way too easy. His customers come to him; the man on
the road must _go after his customers_. It is the stock boy who has
the best show to get on the road.

The stock boy learns his business from the ground up or better, as the
Germans say, "from the house out." If one young man cannot become a
surgeon without going through the dissecting room, then another cannot
become a successful drummer without having worked in stock. The
merchant, who oft-times deals in many lines, wishes to buy his goods
from the man who knows his business; and unless a man knows his
business he would better never start on the road.

But, my dear boy, to merely know your business is not all. You may
know that this razor is worth $12.00 a dozen and that one $13.50; that
this handle is bone and that one celluloid; but that won't get you on
the road. _You must have a good front._ I do not mean by this that you
must have just exactly 990 hairs on each side of the "part" on your
head; that your shoes must be shined, your trousers creased, your
collar clean and your necktie just so. Neatness is a "without-which-
not;" but there must be more - a boy must work hard, be polite, honest,
full of force, bright, quick, frank, good-natured. The "Old Man" may
keep to sweep the floor a lazy, shiftless, stupid, silly, grouchy
"stiff"; but when he wants some one to go on the road he looks for a
live manly man. When you get in stock it is _up to you;_ for eyes are
on you, eyes just as anxious to see your good qualities as you are to
show them, eyes that are trying to see you make good.

[Illustration: "I braced the old man - it wasn't exactly a freeze. But
there was a lot of frost in the air."]

How can I get "in stock?" That's easy. If you are in the city you are
on the spot; if you are in the country, "hyke" for the city! See that
you haven't any cigarette stains on your fingers or tobacco in the
corners of your mouth. Go into the wholesale houses, from door to
door - until you find a job. If you are going to let a few or a hundred
turn-downs dishearten you, you'd better stay at home; _for when you
get on the road, turn-downs are what you must go up against every
day._ If you know some traveling man, or merchant, or manager, or
stock boy, maybe he can get you a "job in stock." But remember one
thing: When you get there, you must depend upon Number One. Your
recommendation is worth nothing to you from that hour on. This is the
time when the good front gets in its work.

The city is a strong current, my boy, in which there are many
whirlpools ready to suck you under; yet if you are a good swimmer you
can splash along here faster than anywhere else. A successful
traveling man once told me how he got on the road.

"I was raised in a little town in Tennessee," said he. "A traveling
man whose home was in my native town took me along with him, one day,
when he made a team trip to Bucksville, an inland country town,
fourteen miles away. That was a great trip for me - fourteen miles, and
staying over night in a hotel! - the first time I had ever done so in
my life. And for the first time I knew how it felt to have a strange
landlord call me "mister." It was on that trip that I caught the fever
for travel, and that trip put me on the road!

"When, the next morning after reaching Bucksville, my drummer friend
had finished business and packed his trunks, he said to me: 'Billie, I
guess you may go and get the team ready.' I answered him, saying, 'The
team _is_ ready and backed up, sir, for the trunks.' In three minutes
the trunks were loaded in and we were off.

"'Billie,' said my friend - I shall never forget it for it was the dawn
of hope for me, as I had never had any idea what I was going to do in
after life! - 'I'll tell you, Billie, you would make a good drummer,
suh. When we drove down yesterday you counted how many more horseflies
lit on the bay mare than on the white horse. You reasoned out that the
flies lit on the bay because the fly and the mare were about the same
color and that the fly was not so liable to be seen and killed as if
it had lit on the white. That showed me you notice things and reason
about them. To be a good traveling man you must make a business of
noticing things and thinking about them. Real good hoss sense is a
rare thing. Then, this mo'nin', when I said "Get the team ready," you
said "It is ready, suh," and showed me that you look ahead, see what
ought to be done and do it without being told. Generally any fool can
do what he is told to; but it takes a man of sense to find things to
do, and if he has the grit to do them he will get along. I'm just
going to see if I can't get a place in our house for you, Billie.
You've got the stuff in you to make a successful drummer, suh. Yes,
suh! Hoss sense and grit, suh - hoss sense and grit!'

"Sure enough the next Christmas night - I wasn't then sixteen - I struck
out for the city in company with my older traveling man friend. He had
got me a place in his house. The night I left, my mother said to me:
'Son, I've tried to raise you right. I'll soon find out if I have. I
believe I have and that you will get along.' My father then gave me

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 5 of 19)