Charles N. Crewdson.

Tales of the Road online

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the only word of advice he ever gave me in his life: 'Son, be polite,'
said he; 'this will cost you nothing and be worth lots.'

"Well, sir, with those words ringing in my ears: 'Use hoss sense; have
grit;' 'Be polite;' 'Son, I've tried to raise you right,' I struck out
for the city. As I think it over now, the thing that did me the most
good was my father's advice: 'Son, be polite, this will cost you
nothing and be worth lots.' The boy can never hope to be much if he
does not know that he should tip his hat to a lady, give his seat to a
gray-haired man, or carry a bundle for an old woman.

"How strange it was for me that night, to sleep with my friend in a
bed on wheels! How strange, the next morning, to wash in a bowl on
wheels! and to look out of the Pullman windows as I wiped my face! I
was _living_ then! And when I reached the city! Such a bustle I've
never seen since. As I walked up a narrow street from the depot,
I fell on the slippery sidewalk. 'Better get some ashes on your feet'
said my friend. And, indeed, I did need to keep ashes on my feet for a
long time. I had before me a longer and more slippery sidewalk than I
then dreamed of. Every boy has who goes to the city. But, when he gets
his sled to the top, he's in for a long, smooth slide!

"I started in to work for twenty dollars a month - not five dollars a
week! I found there was a whole lot of difference, especially when I
had to pay $4.50 a week for board and forty cents for laundry. I was
too proud to send home for money and too poor to spend it out of my
own purse. Good training this! One winter's day a friend told me there
was skating in the park. I asked a gentleman where the park was. 'Go
three blocks and take the car going south,' said he. I went three
blocks and when the car came along I _followed_ it, for I could not
afford a single nickel for car fare. What a fortune I had when, during
busy season, I could work nights and get fifty cents extra for supper
money! None of this did I spend, as my boarding house wasn't far away.
The only money that I spent in a whole year was one dollar for a
library ticket - the best dollar I ever spent in my life! Good books,
and there are plenty of them free in all cities, are the best things
in the world, anyway, to keep a boy out of devilment. The boy who will
put into his head what he will get out of good books will win out over
the one who gets his clothes full of chalk from billiard cues. One day
the "Old Gentleman" saw me at the noon hour as I was going to the
library with a book under my arm. 'So you read nights, do you,
Billie,' said he. 'Well, you keep it up and you will get ahead of
the boys who don't.'

"Work? I worked like a beaver. I was due at seven in the morning. I
was always there several minutes before seven. One morning the old
gentleman came in real early and found me at work, while a couple of
the other boys were reading the papers and waiting for the seventh
strike, and before most of the stock boys had shown up. At noon I
would wrap bundles, take a blacking pot and mark cases, run the
elevator or do anything to "keep moving." I did not know that an eye
was on me all the time; but there was. At the end of a year the old
gentleman called me into the office and said: 'Billie, you've done
more this year than we have paid you for; here's a check for sixty
dollars, five dollars a month back pay. Your salary will be $25.00 a
month next year. You may also have a week's vacation.

"How big that sixty was! Rockefeller hasn't as much to-day as I had
then. What he has doesn't make him happy; he wants more. I had enough.
Why, I was able to buy a new rig-out. I can see that plaid suit of
clothes to this day! I could afford to go home looking slick, to visit
my mother and father; I could buy a present for my sweetheart, too.
The good Lord somehow very wisely puts 'notions' into a young man's
head about the time he begins to get on in the world, and the best
thing on earth for him when he is away from home is to have some girl
away back where he came from think a whole lot of him and send him a
crocheted four-in-hand for a Christmas present. This makes him loathe
foul lips and the painted cheek. When a boy 'grows wise' he stands,
sure's you're born, on the brink of hell. It's a pity that so many,
instead of backing away when they get their eyelashes singed a little,
jump right in.

"All during my first year I had helped the sample clerk, who had the
best job in the house, get out samples for the salesmen. It was not
"my business" to do this; but I did it during spare time from my
regular work. When I came back from my visit home, the old gentleman
found me on the floor one day while I was tagging samples. 'Billie,'
said he, 'Fritz (the sample clerk) is going out on the road for us
next week. I have decided to let you take his place here in the house.
You are pretty young but we think you can do it.'

"I tried to answer back, 'I'll do my best,' but I couldn't say a word.
I only choked. The old gentleman had to turn away from me; it was too
much for him, too. After he stepped on the elevator, he turned around
and smiled at me. I heard him blow his nose after the elevator sunk
out of sight. I knew then that he believed in me and I said to myself,
'He shall never lose his faith.'

"In a few days Fritz had gone out on his trip and I was left alone to
do his work, the old gentleman handed me a sample book one afternoon
near closing time. 'Billie,' says he, 'Gregory is in a hurry for his
samples. Express them to Fayetteville.' He had merely written the
stock numbers in the book. It was up to me to fill in on the sample
book the description of the goods and the prices. This I did _that
night at home_ from memory. I had learned the stock that well. I
also wrote the sample tickets. It took me until after midnight. Next
morning I was waiting at the front door when the early man came to
unlock it. That night the samples went to Fayetteville.

"Two days afterward the old gentleman called me to the office and
asked me: 'When can Gregory expect his samples? He's in a big hurry.'

"'I sent them Wednesday night, sir,' said I.

"'Wednesday night! Why it was Tuesday night when I gave you the sample

"'I'm sure they went,' said I, 'because I saw the cases go into the
express wagon.'

"'All right,' said the old gentleman; and he smiled at me again the
same way he did the morning he made me the sample clerk, a smile which
told me I had his heart, and I have it to this day.

"Next morning he sent up to me a letter from Gregory, who wrote that
the samples came to him in better shape than ever before. At the end
of that year I got a check for $150 back pay, and my salary was raised
again. At the end of the third year the old gentleman gave me more
back pay and another raise, saying to me: 'Billie, I have decided to
put you on the road over Moore's old territory. He is not going to be
with us any more. Be ready to start January 1st.' I was the youngest
man that firm ever put out. I was with them sixteen years and it
almost broke my heart to leave them."

"You bet," said I, "the stock boy has a chance if he only knows it."

"Yes," answered my friend, "sure he has. My mother put in my trunk
when I left home a Sunday School card on which were the words: 'Thy
God seeth thee, my son.' Without irreverence I would advise every
stock boy who wants to get on the road to write these words and keep
them before him every day: 'The eyes of the old man are upon me.'"

I once heard one of the very successful clothing salesmen of Chicago
tell how he got on the road.

"I had been drudging along in the office making out bills for more
than a year, at ten a week," said he. "My father traveled for the firm
but he never would do anything to get me started on the road. He
thought I would fall down. I was simply crazy to go. I had seen the
salesmen get down late, sit around like gentlemen, josh the bosses,
smoke good cigars and come and go when they pleased for eight months
in the year. This looked better to me than slaving away making out
bills from half past seven in the morning until half past six at
night, going out at noon hungry as a hound and having to climb a
ladder after a ham sandwich, a glass of milk and a piece of apple pie.

"I had kept myself pretty well togged up and, as my father wouldn't do
anything to get me started, I made up my mind to go straight to the
boss myself. He was a little fat sawed-off. He wore gold-rimmed
glasses and whenever he was interested in anybody, he would look at
him over his specs. He did not know much about the English language,
but he had a whole lot more good common sense than I gave him credit
for then. It never hurts a boy in the house, you know, who wants to go
on the road to go square up and say so. He may get a turn-down, but
the boss will like his spunk, and he stands a better show this way
than if he dodges back and waits always for the boss to come to him.
Many a boy gets out by striking the 'Old Man' to go out. If the boy
puts up a good talk to him the old man will say: 'He came at me pretty
well. By Jove, he can approach merchants, and we will give him a

"One day, pretty soon after I had braced the old man to send me out, a
merchant in Iowa wrote in that he wanted to buy a bill of clothing.
They looked him up in Dun's and found that he was in the grocery
business. My father didn't wish to go out - the town was in his
territory. I overheard the old man in the office say to him: 'Let's
send Chim.'

"Well, Jim started that night. They told me to take a sleeper, but I
sat up all night to save the two dollars. I didn't save much money,
though, because in the middle of the night I got hungry and filled up
on peanuts and train bananas. The town was up on a branch and I didn't
get there until six o'clock the next day. When I reached there, I went
right up to my man's store. You ought to have seen his place! The town
was about seven hundred, and the store just about evened up with it -
groceries and hardware. I got a whiff from a barrel of sauer kraut as
I went in the door; on the counter was a cheese case; frying pans and
lanterns hung down on hooks from the ceiling; two farmers sat near the
stove eating sardines and crackers. No clothing was in sight and I
said to myself: 'Well, I'm up against it; this man can't buy much; he
hasn't any place to put it if he does.' But I've since learned one
thing: You never know who is going to buy goods and how many on the
road must learn that the man who has _nothing_ in his line is the very
man who can and will buy the most, sometimes, _because he hasn't any_.
And besides, the _little_ man may be just in the notion of spreading

[Illustration: "You ought to have seen his place"]

"A young man was counting eggs back near the coal oil can. He was the
only one around who seemed to have anything to do with the store. I
walked up to him and told him who I was. He said, 'Yes, we are glad to
see you. I'm just out of school and father wants to put me in business
here. He is going to put in all his time in the bank. He wants me to
take charge of the store. I've told him we could sell other things
besides groceries - they are dirty, anyway, and don't pay much profit;
so we have started to build on another room right next door and are
going to put in other lines. I've told father we ought to put in
clothing, but he hasn't fully made up his mind. I'll ask him to come
down after supper and you can talk to him.'

"'Hasn't fully made up his mind, and here I am my first time out, 24
hours away, and a big expense,' - all this went through me and I
couldn't eat any supper.

"The old banker that evening was just tolerably glad to see me. It
wasn't exactly a freeze, but there was lots of frost in the air. He
said, after we had talked the thing over, that he would look at my
samples the next morning, but that he would not buy unless my line was
right and the prices were right. I was sure my 'prices were right.' I
had heard the bosses talk a whole year about how cheaply they sold
their goods. I had heard them swear at the salesmen for cutting prices
and tell them that the goods were marked at bare living profit; and I
was green enough to believe this. I also knew that my line was the
best one on the road. I had not stopped to figure out how my bosses
could stay under their own roof all the time and know so much about
other houses' goods and be absolutely sure that their own line was
bound to be the best ever. I had heard the road-men many times tell
the bosses to 'wake up,' but I did not believe the salesmen. You know
that a young fellow, even if he is with a weak house, starts out on
his first trip feeling that his house is the best one. Before he gets
through with his maiden trip, even though his house is a thoroughbred,
he will think it is a selling plater.

"That night I worked until two o'clock opening up. I did not know the
marks so I had to squirm out what the characters meant and put the
prices on the tickets in plain figures so I would know what the goods
were worth. But this was a good thing. The salesman or the firm that
has the honesty and the boldness to mark samples in plain figures and
stick absolutely to their marked price, will do business with ease.
Merchants in the country do not wish to buy cheaper than those in
other towns do; they only wish a square deal. And, say what you will,
they are kind o' leery when they buy from samples marked in
characters - not plain figures. They often use a blind mark to do scaly
work on their own customers and they don't like to have the same game
worked on themselves. Honest merchants, and I mean by this those who
make only a reasonable profit, mark their goods in plain figures, cut
prices to nobody - prefer to do business with those who do it their
way. The traveling man who breaks prices soon loses out.

"That night I couldn't sleep. I was up early next morning and had a
good fire in my sample room. I had sense enough to make the place
where I was going to show my goods as comfortable as I could. I sold a
bill of $2,500 and never cut a price.

"When I got home I put the order on the old man's desk and went to my
stool to make out bills. The old man came in. He picked up the order
and looked over it carefully, then he asked one of the boys: 'Vere's
Chim? Tell him to com heer. I vant to see him.'

"I walked into the office. The old man was looking at me over his
specs as I went in. He grabbed me by the hand and said so loud you
could hear him all over the house: 'Ah, Chim, dot vas tandy orter. How
dit you do id mitoud cotting prices, Chim? You vas a motel for efery
men we haf in der house. I did nod know we hat a salesman in der
office. By Himmel! you got a chob on der roat right avay, Chim.'"



I sat with a group of friends around a table one evening not long ago,
in one of the dining rooms of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. The
dining room was done in dark stained oak, the waiters whispered to
each other in foreign tongues, French and German; on the walls of the
room were pictures of foreign scenes painted by foreign hands; but,
aside from this, everything about us was strictly American. We had
before us blue points with water-cress salad, mountain trout from the
Rockies, and a Porterhouse three inches thick. We had just come out of
the brush and were going to "Sunday" in Denver. It was Saturday night,
A man who has never been on the road does not know what it is to get a
square meal after he has been "high-grassing it" for a week or two,
and when such can become the pleasure of a drummer, he quickly forgets
the tough "chuck" he has been chewing for many days.

We were all old friends, had known each other in a different territory
many years before; so, when we came together again, this time in
Denver, not having seen each other for many years, we talked of old
times and of when we met with our first experiences on the road.

When a man first begins to hustle trunks he has a whole lot to learn.
Usually he has been a stock-boy, knowing very little of the world
beyond the bare walls in which he has filled orders. To his fellow
travelers the young man on the road is just about as green as they
make them, but the rapid way in which he catches on and becomes an
old-timer, is a caution.

A great many decry the life of the traveling man, even men on the road
themselves are discontented, but if you want to get one who is truly
happy and satisfied with his lot, find one who, after having enjoyed
the free and independent (yes, and delightful!) life of the road, and
then settled down for a little while as a merchant on his own hook,
insurance agent, or something of that kind, and finally has gone back
to his grips, and you will find a man who will say: "Well, somebody
else can do other things, but, for my part, give me the road."

After we had finished with the good things before us and had lighted
cigars, we could all see in the blue curls of smoke that rose before
us visions of our past lives. I asked one of my friends, "How long
have you been on the road, Billy?"

"Good Lord!" he yawned, "I haven't thought of that for a long time,
but I sure do remember when I first started out. I left St. Louis one
Sunday night on the Missouri Pacific. It was nearly twenty years ago.
I remember it very well because that night I read in a newspaper that
there was such a thing as a phonograph and, as I was traveling through
Missouri, I didn't believe it. I had to wait until I could see one.
The next day noon I struck Falls City, Nebraska. It had taken me
eighteen hours to make the trip. To me it seemed as if I were going
into a new world and I was surprised to find, when I reached Nebraska,
that men way out there wore about the same sort of clothes that they
did in St. Louis. I would not have been surprised a bit if some Indian
had come out of the bushes and tried to scalp me. The depot was a mile
and a half from the hotel. Here I took my first ride in an omnibus.
The inside of that old bus, the red-cushioned seats and the
advertisements of a livery stable, a hardware store, and "Little
Jake's Tailor Shop" were all new to me. Mud? I never saw mud so deep
in my life. It took us an hour to get up town. The little white hotel
with the green shutters on it was one of the best I ever struck in my
life. Many a time since then I have wished I could have carried it -
the good friend, chicken and all - along with me in all my travels. My
best friend and adviser, an old road man himself, had told me this:
'When you get to a town, get up your trunks and open them and then go
and see the trade. You might just as well hunt quail with your shells
in your pocket as to try to do business without your samples open.'

"I opened up that afternoon. It took me three hours. I put my samples
in good shape so that I knew where to lay my hands on anything that a
customer might ask for - and you know if you go out to sell anything
you'd better know what you have to sell! My samples open, I went down
the street and fell into the first store I came to. The proprietor had
been an old customer of the house, but I now know that the reason he
gave me the ice pitcher was that he had been slow in paying his bills
and the house had drawn on him. A wise thing, this, for a house to do
- when they want to lose a customer! This was a heart-breaker to me
right at the start, but it was lucky, because, if I had sold him, I
would have packed up and gone away without working the town. A man on
the road, you know, boys, even if he doesn't do business with them,
should form the acquaintance of all the men in the town who handle his
line. The old customer may drop dead, sell out, or go broke, and it is
always well to have somebody else in line. Of course there are
justifiable exceptions to this rule, but in general I would say: 'Know
as many as you can who handle your line.'

"After the old customer turned me down I went into every store in that
town and told my business. I found two out of about six who said they
would look at my goods. By this time everybody had closed up and I
came back to the hotel and went to bed, having spent the first day
without doing any business.

"Five men from my house in this same territory had fallen down in five
years and I, a kid almost, was number six - but not to fall down! I
said to myself, '_I am going to succeed.'_ The will to win means
a whole lot in this road business, too, boys. You know, if you go at a
thing half-heartedly you are sure to lose out, but if you say 'I
will,' you cannot fall down.

"Next morning I was up early and, before the clerks had dusted off the
counters, I went in to see the old gentleman who had said he would
look at my goods.

"'Round pretty early, aren't you, son?' said the old gentleman.

"'Yes, sir; but I'm after the worm,' said I.

"'All right. Go up to your hotel and I'll be there in half an hour.'

"Instead of waiting until he was ready for me, I went to the hotel.
After the half hour was up I began to get nervous. It was an hour and
a half before he came. I hadn't then learned that the best way to do
is to go with your customer from his store to yours, instead of
sitting around and waiting for him to come to you. This gives him a
chance to get out of the notion.

"I sold the old gentleman a pretty fair bill of hats, but it was sort
of a hit and miss proposition. He would jump from this thing to that
thing. I hadn't learned that the real way to sell goods is to lay out
one line at a time and finish with that before going to another.
Pretty soon, though, good merchants educated me how to sell a bill.
This is a thing a beginner should be taught something about before he
starts out.

"Customer No. 2 was a poke. But I suppose this was the reason I sold
him, because most of the boys, I afterwards learned, passed him up and
had nicknamed him 'Old Sorgum-in-the-Winter.' It is a pretty good idea
to let a slow man have his way, anyhow, if you have plenty of time,
because when you are selling goods in dozen lots, no matter how slow a
man is, you can get in a pretty good day's work in a few hours.

"When I got through with 'Old Sorgum' I had several hours left before
my train went west. Did I pack up and quit? Bet your life not! I
didn't have sense enough then, I suppose, to know that I had placed my
goods in about as many stores as I ought to. I then did the 'bundle

"I did up a bunch of stuff in a cloth and went down the street with
the samples under my arm. I did have sense enough, though, to tuck
them under my coat as I passed by the store of the man I had sold. I
didn't know, then, of the business jealousy - which is folly, you know
- there is between merchants; but I felt a little guilty just the

The only thing I sold, however, was a dozen dog-skin gloves to the big
clothing merchant on the corner. That night I took the two o'clock
train out of town and had my first experience of sleeping in two beds
in two towns in one night - but this, in those days, was fun for me.

"Do you know, I had a bully good week? I was out early that season,
ahead of the bunch. By Saturday afternoon I had worked as far west as
Wymore. I went up to see a man there on Saturday afternoon. He said,
'I'll see you in the morning.' Well, there I was! I had been raised to
respect the Sabbath and between the time that he said he would see me
in the morning and the time that I said all right - which was about a
jiffy - I figured out that it would be better to succeed doing business
on Sunday than to fail by being too offensively good. For a stranger
in a strange place work is apt to be less mischievous than idling,
even on the Sabbath Day.

"Heavens! how I worked those days! After I had made the appointment
for Sunday morning I went back to the hotel and threw my stuff into my
trunks quickly - by this time I had learned that to handle samples in a
hurry is one of the necessary arts of the road - and took a train to a
little nearby town which I could double into without losing any time.
I even had the nerve to drag a man over to my sample room _after he
had closed up on Saturday night!_ I didn't sell him anything that
time, but afterwards he became one of my best customers. It pays to
keep hustling, you know.

"Whew! how cold it was that night. The train west left at 3 a.m.
Heavens! how cold my room was. A hardware man had never even slept in
it, to say nothing of its ever having known a stove. The windows had
whiskers on them long as a billy goat's; the mattress was one of those

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Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 6 of 19)