Charles N. Crewdson.

Tales of the Road online

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thin boys. I hadn't then learned that the cold can come through the
mattress under you just about as fast as it can through the quilts on
top. I hadn't got onto the lamp chimney trick."

"Why, what's that?" spoke up one of the boys.

"Aren't you onto that?" said Billy. "You can take a lamp chimney, wrap
it up in a towel and put it at your feet and it will make your whole
bed as warm as toast.

"Well, I went back to Wymore the next morning and sold my man. I cut
the stuffing out of prices because I had been told that the firm he
bought from was the best going, and I remembered the advice that my
old friend had given me: 'It's better, Billy, to be cussed for selling
goods cheap than to be fired for not selling them at all.' Of course I
don't agree with this now, but I slashed that bill just the same.

"Next morning, when I reached Beatrice, the first thing I saw in the
old hotel (I still recall that dead, musty smell) was a church
directory hanging on the wall. In the center of the directory were
printed these words:

"'A Sabbath well spent brings a week of content
And plenty of health for the morrow;
But a Sabbath profaned, no matter what gained,
Is a certain forerunner of sorrow.'

"Down in the corner, where the glass was broken, one of the boys who
had without doubt profaned the Sabbath, had written these words:

"'A man who's thrifty on Sunday's worth fifty
Of a half-sanctimonious duck;
He will get along well if he does go to dwell
Where he'll chew on Old Satan's hot chuck.'

"My business the week before had been simply out of sight. The old man
in the house wrote me the only congratulatory letter I ever got from
him in my life. He was so well pleased with what I had done that he
didn't kick very hard even on the bill that I had slashed. But that
next week - oh, my! I didn't sell enough to buy honeysuckles for a
humming bird. I began to think that maybe that Sunday bill had
'queered' me."

"But how about Sunday now, Bill?" spoke up one of the boys. "Do you
think you'd like to take a good fat order to-morrow?"

"Yes, I've grown not to mind it out in this country," said Billy. "You
know we've a saying out here that the Lord has never come west of

"I shall never forget my first experience," said my old friend Jim, as
we all lighted fresh cigars - having forgotten the Dutch pictures and
the black oak furnishings.

"I had made a little flyer for the house to pick up a bill of opening
stock out in Iowa. They all thought in the office that the bill wasn't
worth going after, so they sent me; but I landed a twenty-five hundred
dollar order without slashing an item, a thing no other salesman up to
that time had ever done, so the old man called me in the office and
gave me a job just as soon as I came back.

"I started out with two hundred dollars expense money. The roll of
greenbacks the cashier handed me looked as big as a bale of hay. I
made a couple of towns the first two days and did business in both of
them, keeping up the old lick of not cutting a price.

"The next town I was booked for was Broken Bow, which was then off the
main line of the 'Q,' and way up on a branch. To get there I had to go
to Grand Island. Now, you boys remember the mob that used to hang out
around the hotel at Grand Island. That was the time when there were a
lot of poker sharks on the road. When I was a bill clerk in Chicago I
used to meet with some of the other boys from the store on Saturday
nights, play penny ante, five-cent limit, and settle for twenty-five
cents on the dollar when we got through - I was with a clothing firm,
you know. I had always been rather lucky and I had it in my head that
I could buck up against anybody in a poker game. I had no trouble
finding company to sit in with. In fact, they looked me up. In those
days there were plenty of glass bowls full of water setting 'round for
suckers. My train didn't leave until Monday morning and I had to
Sunday at Grand Island.

"We started in on Saturday night and played all night long. By the
time we had breakfast - and this we had sent up to the room - I was out
about forty dollars. I wanted to quit them and call it off. I thought
this was about as much as I could stand to lose and 'cover' in my
expense account, but all of the old sharks said, 'By jove, you have
got nerve, Jim. You have the hardest run of luck in drawing cards that
I ever saw.' They doped me up with the usual words of praise and,
after I had put a cup of coffee or two under my belt, I went at it
again, making up my mind that I could stand to lose another ten. I
figured out that I could make a team trip and 'break a wheel' to even
up on expenses.

"Well, you know what that means. The time for you to quit a poker game
(when you have money in your pocket) is like to-morrow - it never
comes. By nightfall I was dead broke. Then I began to think. I felt
like butting my brains out against a lamp-post; but that wouldn't do.
I ate supper all alone and went to thinking what I'd do.

"I wasn't a kitten, by any means, so I went up to my shark friends and
struck one of them for enough to carry me up to Broken Bow and back.
He was a big winner and came right up with the twenty. They wanted to
let me in the game again on 'tick,' but then I had sense enough to
know that I'd had plenty. I went to my room and wrote the house. I
simply made a clean breast of the whole business. I told them the
truth about the matter - that I'd acted the fool - and I promised them
I'd never do it any more; and I haven't played a game of poker since.
The old man of the house had wired me money to Grand Island by the
time I returned there and in the first mail he wrote me to keep right

"Business was bum with me for the next three days. I didn't sell a
cent. One of the boys tipped me on an Irishman down in Schuyler who
had had a squabble with his clothing house. I saw a chance right there
and jumped right into that town. I got the man to look at my goods. He
looked them all through from A to Z, but I couldn't start that
Hibernian to save my life.

"He said, 'Well, your line looks pretty good; but, heavens alive! your
prices are away too high.' Then he said, picking up a coat: 'Look
here, young man, you're new on the road and I want to figure out and
show you that you're getting too much for your goods. Now, you put
down there, here is a suit that you ask me $12 for. Just figure the
cloth and the linings, and the buttons, and the work. All told they
don't cost you people over seven dollars. You ought to be able to - and
you can - make me this suit for $10. That's profit enough. You can't
expect to do business with us people out here in Nebraska and hold us
up. We're not in the backwoods. People are civilized out here. Your
house has figured that we're Indians, or something of that kind. You
know very well that they sell this same suit in Illinois, where
competition is greater, for ten dollars. Now I won't stand for any
high prices like you're asking me. I'm going to quit the old firm that
I've been buying goods from. I've got onto them. Now I'm going to give
my business to somebody and you're here on the spot. Your goods suit
me as far as pattern and make and general appearance go, and I'll do
business with you, and do it right now, if you'll do it on the right
sort of basis.'

"Well, there I was. I hadn't sold a bill for three days and I felt
that this one was slipping right away from me, too. I had come
especially to see the man and he had told me that he would buy goods
from me if I would make the price right. So I lit in to cut. I sold
him the twelve dollar suit for ten dollars. He took a dozen of them.
It was a staple. I didn't know anything about what the goods were
worth, but he had made his bluff good. I sold him the bill right
through at cut prices on everything. The house actually lost money on
the bill. I have long since learned that the only way to meet a
bluffer is with a bluff. This man had laid out a line of goods which
he fully intended, I know now, to buy from me at the prices which I
had first asked him for them, but he thought he would buy them cheaper
from me if he could.

"Many a time after that, when I had got onto things better, has this
old Irishman laughed at me about how he worked me into giving him a
bill of goods, and enjoyed the joke of it - Irishmanlike - more, I
believe, than he did getting the bill at low prices.

"Well, my nerve was gone and I thought the only way I could do
business then was by cutting the stuffing out of prices. I kept it up
for a few days - until I received my next mail at Omaha. Whew! how the
old man did pour it into me. He wrote me the meanest letter that a
white man ever got. He said: 'Jim, you can go out and play all the
poker that you want to, but don't cut the life out of goods. You can
lose a hundred and fifty dollars once in a while, if you want to,
playing cards, that will be a whole lot better than losing a hundred
and fifty every day by not getting as much as goods are worth. Now
we're going to forget about the hundred and fifty dollars you lost
gambling, instead of charging it to your salary account, as you told
us to do. We had made up our minds because you were starting out so
well and were keeping up prices, to charge this hundred and fifty
dollars to your expense account. We were going to forget all about
that, Jim; but if you can't get better prices than you have been for
the last week, just take the train and come right on in to the house.
We can't afford to keep you out on the road and lose money on you;'
and so on.

"I was scared to death. I didn't know that the Old Man in the house
was running a bigger bluff on me than the Irishman to whom I made cut
prices on the bill.

"But that letter gave me my nerve back and I ended up with a pretty
fair trip. At that time I hadn't learned that this road business is
done on confidence more than on knowledge. A salesman must feel first
within himself that his goods and prices are right, and then he can
sell them at those prices. If you feel a thing yourself you can make
the other man feel it, especially when he doesn't know anything about
the values of the goods he buys.

"When I reached the house one of the boys in stock patted me on the
back and said; 'Jim, the old man is tickled to death about what you've
done. He says you're making better profits for him than any man in the

"Well, I guess you held your job, all right, then, didn't you, Jim?"

"Oh my, yes. I stayed with them - that was my old firm, you know - for
fifteen years, and I was a fool for ever leaving them. I would have
been a partner in the house to-day if I hadn't switched off."

"How long have you been out, Arthur?" said my friend Jim, after ending
his story.

"Well, so long that I've almost forgotten it, boys, but I shall never
forget my start, either. The firm that I worked for had a wholesale
business, and they were also interested in a retail store. I was stock
man in the retail house but I wasn't satisfied with it. I was crazy to
go out and try my luck on the road. I braced the old man several times
before he would let me start; but he finally said to me: 'Well,
Arthur, you're mighty anxious to go out on the road, and I guess we'll
let you go. It won't do much harm because I think that, after a little
bit, you will want to get back to your old job. Then you'll be
satisfied with it. I kind o' feel, though, that in sending you out
we'll be spoiling a good retail clerk to make a poor traveling man.
You've done pretty well selling gloves a pair at a time to people who
come in and ask for them, but you're going to have a good deal harder
time when you go to selling a dozen at a clip to a man who hasn't been
in the habit of buying them from you. But, as you're bent on going,
we'll start you out this season. You can get yourself ready to go
right away.'

"My territory was Iowa. In the first town I struck was the meanest
merchant I've ever met in my life. But I didn't know it then. He was
one of the kind who'd tell you with a grunt that he would not go to
your sample room but if you had a few good sellers to bring them over
and he'd look at them. The old hog! Then about the time you'd get your
stuff over to his store something would have turned up to make him hot
and he'd take out his spite on you.

"Well, this old duck said he'd look at my samples of unlined goods. I
rather thought that if I could get him started on unlined goods I
could sell him on lined stuff and mittens. So I lugged over my whole
line myself. I didn't have sense enough to give the porter a quarter
to carry my grip over to his store and save my energy, but, instead, I
picked up the old grip myself. It was all right for the first block,
but then I had to sit down and rest. The store was four blocks away.
On the home stretch I couldn't go twenty steps before I had to sit
down and rest. It was so heavy that it almost pulled the cords in my
wrist in two. When I finally landed the grip at the front of the old
man's store, my tongue was hanging out. He had then gone to dinner.

"I thought I wouldn't eat anything but that I would get my line ready
for him by the time he came back, get through with him and take
luncheon later. I carried the grip to the back end of the store and
spread out my line on the counter. About one o'clock he came in and I
said to him, 'I'm ready for you.' He walked away and didn't say a word
but took out a newspaper and read for half an hour. He did it for pure
meanness, for not a single customer came into the store while he sat

"I was beginning to get a little hungry but I didn't mind that then.
When the young lady on the dry goods side came back from dinner I
sidled up to her and talked about the weather for another half hour.
My stomach was beginning to gnaw but I didn't dare go out. The old man
by this time had gone to his desk and was writing some letters. I
waited until I saw him address an envelope and put a stamp on it, and
then I braced him a second time.

"'No, I guess I don't want any gloves.'

"'Well, I've my goods all here and it'll be no trouble to show them to
you,' I said.

"'Nope,' said he, and then started to write another letter.

"When he finished that one, I said: 'Now, I don't like to insist but
as my goods are all here it won't do any harm to look at them.'

"With this the old man turned on me and said:

"'Looker here, young man, I've told you twict that I don't want to buy
any of your goods. Now, you just get them in your grip and get them
out of here right quick; if you don't I'll throw them out and you with

"Well, the old duffer was a little bigger than I was, and I didn't
want to get into any trouble with him; not that I cared anything about
having a scrap with him, but I thought that the firm wouldn't like it,
and if they got onto me they'd fire me. So, without saying a word, I
began to pack my goods together.

"About that time a customer came in who wanted to buy a pair of shoes.
Some of my samples were still on the counter near the shoe shelves.
The old man, with a sweep of his hand, just cleaned the counter of my
samples and there I was, picking them up off the floor and putting
them into my grip. I felt like hitting him over the head with a nail
puller but I buckled up the straps and started sliding the grip
along, - it was so infernally heavy - to the front door.

"Before I got to the front door, he came up and took the grip out of
my hand and piled it out on the sidewalk and gave me a shove. Then he
went back to show the customer the pair of shoes.

"I was just a boy then - was just nineteen - and this was the first man
I'd called on.

"'If they're all like this,' thought I to myself, 'I believe I'll go
back home and sell them a pair at a time to the boys I know who "come
in" for them.'

"I lugged that grip back to the hotel, hungry as I was. There was ice
on the sidewalk but I was sweating like a mule pulling a bob-tailed
street car full of fat folks. I was almost famished but I went to my
room and cried like a child. My heart was broken.

[Illustration: "My stomach was beginning to gnaw, but i didn't dare go

"But after awhile my nerve came back to me, and I thought, surely all
the merchants I call on won't be like that man, - and I washed up and
went down to supper. After eating something I felt better. At the
supper table I told an old traveling man, who was sitting at the table
with me, about the way I'd been treated.

"'Well, come on, my boy, and I'll sell you a bill tonight. That old
fellow is the meanest dog in Iowa. No decent traveling man will go
near him. As a rule, you'll find that merchants will treat you like a
gentleman. The best thing you can do is to scratch that old whelp off
the list. Of course you know,' said he, giving me advice which I
needed very much, 'you'll often run up against a man who is a little
sour, but if you sprinkle sugar on him in the right kind of way, you
can sweeten him up.'

"You know how it is, boys, even now, all of us like to give a helping
hand to the young fellow who's just starting out. I would almost hand
over one of my customers to a young man to give him encouragement, and
so would you. We've all been up against the game ourselves and know
how many things the young fellow runs up against to dishearten him.

"As I think of my early experiences, I recall with a great deal of
gratitude in my heart the kind deeds that were done for me when I was
the green first-tripper, by the old timers on the road. My new friend
took me down the street to one of his customers and made him give me
an order. That night I went to bed the happiest boy in Iowa."

With this one of the boys called a waiter. As we lit our cigars my
friend Moore, who was next to tell his story, said, "Well, boys,
here's to Our First Experiences."



The man on the road is an army officer. His soldiers are his samples.
His enemy is his competitor. He fights battles every day. The "spoils
of war" is _business_.

The traveling man must use tactics just the same as does the general.
He may not have at stake the lives of other men and the success of his
country; but he does have at stake - and every day - his own livelihood,
a chance for promotion - a partnership perhaps - and always, the success
of his firm.

Many are the turns the salesman takes to get business. He must be
always ready when his eyes are open, and sometimes in his dreams, to
wage war. If he is of the wrong sort, once in a while he will give
himself up to sharp practice with his customer; another time he will
fight shrewdly against his competitor. Sometimes he must cajole the
man who wishes to do business with him and at the same time,
especially when his customer's credit is none too good, make it easy
for him to get goods shipped; and, hardest of all, he must get the
merchant's attention that he may show him his wares. Get a merchant to
_looking_ at your goods and you usually sell a bill.

In the smoking room of a Pullman one night sat a bunch of the boys
who, as is usual with them when they get together, were telling of
their experiences. The smoker is the drummer's club-room when he is on
a trip. On every train every night are told tales of the road which,
if they were put in type, would make a book of compelling interest.
The life of the traveling man has such variety, such a change of
scene, that a great deal more comes into it than mere buy and sell.
Yes, on this night of which I speak, the stories told were about
tussles that my friends had had to get business.

As the train rounded a sharp curve, one of the boys, who was standing,
bumped his head against the door post. A New York hat man who saw the
"broken bonnet," said, "Your cracked cady reminds me of one time when
I sold a bill of goods that pleased me, I believe, more than any other
order that I ever took. I was over in the mining district of Michigan.
That's a pretty wide open country, you know. My old customer had quit
the town. He couldn't make a 'stick' of it somehow. I had been selling
him exclusively for so long that I thought I was queered with every
other merchant in the town. But the season after my customer Hodges
left there, much to my surprise, two men wrote into the house saying
they would like to buy my goods. My stuff had always given Hodges'
customers satisfaction. After he left, his old customers drifted into
other stores and asked for my brand. Now, if you can only get a
merchant's customers to asking for a certain brand of goods, you
aren't going to have trouble in doing business with him. This is where
the wholesale firm that sells reliable merchandise wins out over the
one that does a cut-throat business. Good stuff satisfies and it
builds business.

"Well, when I went into this town I thought I would have easy sailing
but I felt a little taken back when I walked down the street and sized
up the stores of the merchants who wished to buy my goods. They both
looked to me like tid bits. Both of them were new in the town, one of
them having moved into Hodges' old stand. I said to myself that I
didn't wish to do business with either one of these pikers. 'I'll see
if I can't go over and square myself with Andrews, the biggest man in
town,' I said. 'While I've never tried to do business with him, he
can't have anything against me. I've always gone over and been a good
fellow with him, so I'll see if I can't get him lined up.'

"Three or four more of the boys had come in with me on the same train.
When I went into Andrews' store, two of them were in there. Pretty
soon afterwards I heard one of them say: 'Well, Andy, as you want to
get away in the morning, I'll fall in after you close up. It'll suit
me all the better to do business with you tonight.' Andrews spoke up
and said, 'All right, eight o'clock goes.'

"This man saw that I had come in to see him and, having made his
engagement, knew enough to get out of the way. The boys, you know,
especially the old timers, are mighty good about this. I don't believe
the outsiders anyway know much about the fellowship among us.

"The other man who was in the store was out on his first trip. He was
selling suspenders. It was then, say, half past five. I joshed with
the boys in the store for a few minutes. Andrews, meantime, had gone
up to his office to look over his mail and get off some rush letters.
The new man, who sold suspenders, was a good fellow but he had lots to
learn. He trailed right along after Andrews as if he had been a dog
led by a string. He stood around up in the office for a few minutes
without having anything to say. Had he been an old-timer, you know, he
would have made his speech and then moved out of the way. After a few
minutes he came down and said to me, 'That fellow's a tough
proposition. I can't get hold of him. I can't find out whether he
wants to look at my goods or not. He joshes with me but I can't get
him down to say that he will look. I don't know whether I ought to
have my trunks brought up and fool with him or not.'

"'Let me tell you one thing, my boy,' said I, 'if you want to do
business, get your stuff up and do it quickly. If he doesn't come to
look at your goods, bring 'em in. Bring 'em in. Go after him that

"'All right, I guess I will,' said he, and out he went.

"As soon as Andrews came down from his office, I said 'Hello,' but
before I could put in a word about business, in came a customer to
look at a shirt. Well, sir, that fellow jawed over that four-bit shirt
for half an hour. I'd gladly have given him half a dozen dollar-and-a-
half shirts if he would only get out of my way and give me a chance to
talk business. Just about the time that Andrews wrapped up the shirt,
back came the new man again, having had his trunks brought up to the
hotel. I knew then that my cake was all dough. So I skipped out,
saying I would call in after supper. I felt then that, as Andrews was
going away the next morning, I wouldn't get a chance at him so, being
in the town, I thought the best thing to do was to go over and pick up
one of the other fellows who was anxious to buy from me.

"I went over to see the man who had taken Hodges' old stand. As soon
as I went in he said: 'Yes, I want some goods. I have just started in
here. I haven't much in the store but I'm doing first rate and am
going to stock up. When can I see you? It would suit me a good deal
better tonight after eight o'clock than any other time. I haven't put
on a clerk yet and am here all alone. If you like, we'll get right at

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Online LibraryCharles N. CrewdsonTales of the Road → online text (page 7 of 19)