And so it would.
THE HELPING HAND.
The helping hand is often held out by the man on the road. Away from home he is dependent upon the good will of others; he frequently has done for him an act of kindness; he is ever ready to do for others a deed of friendship or charity. Road life trains the heart to gentleness. It carries with it so many opportunities to help the needy. Seldom a day passes that the traveling salesman does not loosen his purse strings for some one in want—no, not that; he carries his money in his vest pocket. Doing one kind act brings the doer such a rich return that he does a second generous deed and soon he has the habit. The liberality of the traveling man does not consist wholly of courting the favor of his merchant friends—he is free with them, but mainly because it is his nature; it is for those from whom he never expects any return that he does the most.
A friend of mine once told this story:
"It was on the train traveling into Lincoln, Nebraska, many years ago. It was near midnight. It was, I believe, my first trip on the road. Just in front of me, in a double seat, sat a poor woman with three young children. As the brakeman called 'Lincoln, the next station! Ten minutes for lunch!' I noticed the woman feeling in her pockets and looking all around. She searched on the seats and on the floor. A companion, Billie Collins, who sat beside me leaned over and asked: 'Madam, have you lost something?'
"Half crying, she replied, 'I can't find my purse—I want to get a cup of coffee; it's got my ticket and money in it and I'm going through to Denver.'
"'We'll help you look for it,' said Billy.
"We searched under the seats and up and down the aisle, but could not find the pocket book. The train was drawing near Lincoln. The poor woman began to cry.
"'It's all the money I've got, too,' she said pitifully. 'I've just lost my husband and I'm going out to my sister's in Colorado. She says I can get work out there. I know I had the ticket. The man took it at Ottumwa and gave it back to me. And I had enough money to buy me a ticket up to Central City where my sister is. They won't put me off, will they? I know I had the ticket. If I only get to Denver, I'll be all right. I guess my sister can send me money to come up to her. I've got enough in my basket for us to eat until she does. I can do without coffee. They won't put me off, wi—ll—?'
"The woman couldn't finish the sentence.
"One of the boys—Ferguson was his name—who sat across the aisle beside a wealthy looking old man, came over. 'Don't you worry a bit, Madam,' said he. 'You'll get through all right. I'll see the conductor.' The old man—a stockholder in a big bank, I afterward learned—merely twirled his thumbs.
"The conductor came where we were and said: 'Yes, she had a ticket when she got on my division. I punched it and handed it back to her. That's all I've got to do with the matter.'
"'But,' spoke up Collins, 'this woman has just lost her husband and hasn't any money either. She's going through to Colorado to get work. Can't you just say to the next conductor that she had a ticket and get him to take care of her and pass her on to the next division?' "'Guess she'll have to get off at Lincoln,' answered the conductor gruffly, 'our orders are to carry no one without transportation.' All railroad men have not yet learned that using horse sense and being polite means promotion.
"The poor woman began to cry but my friend Billie, said: 'Don't cry, Madam, you shall go through all right. Just stay right where you are.'
"The conductor started to move on. 'Now, you just hold on a minute, sir,' said Collins. 'When this train stops you be right here—right here, I say—and go with me to the superintendent in the depot. If you don't you won't be wearing those brass buttons much longer. It's your business, sir, to look after passengers in a fix like this and I'm going to make it my business to see that you attend to yours.'
"The conductor was lots bigger than my friend; but to a coward a mouse seems as big as an elephant and 'brass buttons' said: 'All right, I'll be here; but it won't do no good.'
"As the conductor started down the aisle, Ferguson turned to the woman and said: 'You shall go through all right, Madam; how much money did you have?'
"'Three dollars and sixty-five cents,' she answered—she knew what she had to a penny—three dollars and sixty-five cents; And I'll bet she knew where every nickel of it came from! A cruel old world this to some people, for a while!
"The train had whistled for Lincoln. Ferguson took off his hat, dropped in a dollar, and passed it over to Billie and me. Then he went down the aisle, saying to the boys, 'Poor woman, husband just died, left three children, going to hunt work in Colorado, lost her purse 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 you!'"
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 game.
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 them.
"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 agreed."
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 chips.
"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 Frenchman.
"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 medicine!
"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."
HOW TO GET ON THE ROAD.
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.
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 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 book!'
"'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 chance.'
"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 himself.
"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.'"
FIRST EXPERIENCES IN SELLING.
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 act.'
"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 same.
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 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 Cheyenne."
"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 on.
"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 house.'"
"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 there.
"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 them.'
"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.
"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."
TACTICS IN SELLING.
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 way.'
"'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 it and take sizes on what stock we have. Then you can get your supper and see me at eight o'clock and I'll be ready for you. I want to buy a pretty fair order. I've had a bully good hat trade this season. I've been sending mail orders into your house—must have bought over four hundred dollars from, them in the last three months. I s'pose you got credit for it all right.'
"Well, this was news to me. The house hadn't written me anything about having received the mail orders and I'll say right here, that the firm that doesn't keep their salesmen fully posted about what's going on in his territory makes a great big mistake. If I'd known that this man had been buying so many goods, I wouldn't have overlooked him. As it was, I came very near passing up the town. And I'll tell you another thing: A man never wants to overlook what may seem to him a small bet. This fellow gave me that night over seven hundred dollars—a pretty clean bill in hats, you know, and has made me a first-class customer and we have become good friends.
"But I'm getting a little ahead of my story! After supper, that night, I dropped into Andrews' store again. The suspender man was still there. He had taken my tip and brought in some of his samples. While Andrews was over at the dry goods side for a few minutes, the suspender man said to me:
"'I don't believe I can sell this fellow. He says he wants to buy some suspenders but that mine don't strike him somehow—says they're too high prices. I've cut a $2.25 suspender to $1.90 but that doesn't seem to satisfy him, and I'll give you a tip, too—you've been so kind to me—I heard him say to his buyer that he wasn't going to look you over. He said to let you come around a few times and leave some of your money in the town, and then maybe he'd do business with you. I just thought I'd tell you this so that you'd know how you stood and not lose any time over it.'
"'Thank you very much,' I said. Now, this sort of thing, you know, makes you whet your Barlow on your boot leg. I did thank the suspender man for the tip but I made up my mind that I was going to do business with Andrews anyway. You know there's lots more fun shooting quail flying in the brush than to pot-hunt them in a fence corner.
"After I'd sold my other man that night, I sat down in the office of the hotel. Andrews was still in the sample room, just behind the office, looking over goods. I knew he'd have to pass out that way, so I sat down to wait for him. It was getting pretty late but I knew that he was a night-hawk and if he got interested he would stay up until midnight looking at goods. After a little bit out came Andrews, his buyer and my other traveling man friend. He asked me up with them to have cigars. He was wise. Only that morning we'd had to double up together in a sample room in the last town. We were pretty much crowded but were going to 'divvy' on the space. The boys, you know, are mighty good about this sort of thing; but when I went down the street I learned that my man was out of town—I sold only one man in that place. So I went right back up to the sample room and rolled my trunks out of his way so that my friend could have the whole thing to himself. There's no use being a hog, you know. This didn't hurt me any, and it was as much on account of this as anything else that I was asked up to take a cigar where I could get in a word with Andrews.
"As the clerk was passing out the cigars, Andrews took off his hat. As he dropped it on the cigar case, he rubbed his hand over his head and said, 'Gee! but I've got a headache!'
"I picked up his hat. Quick as a flash I saw my chance. It was from my competitor's house. I could feel, in a second, that it was a poor one. Getting the brim between my fingers, I said to Andrews, 'Why, you shouldn't get the headache by wearing such a good hat as this. Why, this is a splendid piece of goods!'
"With this, I tore a slit in the brim as easily as if it had been blotting paper. Then I gave the brim a few more turns, ripping it clear off the crown. In a minute or two I tore up the brim and made it look like black pasteboard checkers.
"'The cigars are on me!' said Andrews, as everybody around gave him the laugh.
"I went up to my room soon leaving Andrews that night to wear his brimless hat. But I knew then that I could get his attention when I wanted it, next morning, about nine o'clock,—for my train and his left at 11:30. This would give plenty of time to do business with him if we had any business to do, as he was a quick buyer when you got him interested. I went into his store with two hats in my hand. They were good clear Nutrias and just the size that Andrews wore. I'd found this out by looking at his hat the night before.
"'I don't want to do any business with you, Andrews,' said I, 'but I'm not such a bad fellow, you know, and I want to square up things with you a little. Take one of these.'
"The hats were 'beauts.' Andrews went to the mirror and put on one and then the other. He finally said, 'I guess I'll hang onto the brown one. By Jove, these are daisies, old man!'
"'Yes,' said I, striking as quickly as a rattlesnake, 'and there are lots more where these came from! Now, look here, Andrews, you know mighty well that my line of stuff is a lot better than the one that you're buying from. If you think more of the babies of the man you are buying your hats from than you do of your own, stay right here; but if you don't, get Jack, your buyer, and come up with me right now. I'm going out on the 11:30 train.' This line of talk will knock out the friendship argument when nothing else will.
"'Guess I'll go you one, old man,' said Andrews.
"He bought a good sized bill and, as I left him on the train where I changed cars, he said, 'Well, good luck to you. I guess you'd better just duplicate that order I gave you, for my other store.'"
"That," spoke up one of the boys, "is what I call salesmanship. You landed the man that didn't want to buy your goods. The new man let him slip off his hook when he really wanted to buy suspenders."
"I once landed a $3,400 bill up in Wisconsin," said a clothing man as we lighted fresh cigars, "in a funny way. I'd been calling on an old German clothing merchant for a good many years, but I could never get him interested. I went into his store one morning and got the usual stand-off. I asked him if he wouldn't come over and just look at my goods, that I could save him money and give him a prettier line of patterns and neater made stuff than he was buying.
"'Ach! Dat's de sonk dey all sink,' said the old German. 'I'm sotisfite mit de line I haf. Sell 'em eesy und maig a goot brofit. Vat's de use uf chanching anyvay, alretty?'
"I'd been up against this argument so many times with him that I knew there was no use of trying to buck up against it any more, so I started to leave the store. The old man, although he turned me down every time I went there, would always walk with me to the front door and give me a courteous farewell. In came a boy with a Chicago paper just as we were five steps from the door. What do you suppose stared me in the face? In big head lines I read: GREAT FIRE IN CHICAGO in big type. The paper also stated that flames were spreading toward my house. I at once excused myself and went down to the telegraph office to wire my house exactly where I was so that they could let me know what to do. As I passed to the operator the telegram I wrote, he said, 'Why, Mr. Leonard, I've just sent a boy up to the hotel with a message for you. There he is! Call him back!' The wire was from the house stating, 'Fire did us only little damage. Keep right on as if nothing had happened.'
"My samples were all opened up and I had to wait several hours for a train anyway, so an idea struck me. 'I believe I'll fake a telegram and see if I can't work my old German friend with it.' I wrote out a message to myself, 'All garments on the second floor are steam heated. They are really uninjured but we will collect insurance on them. Sell cheap.'
"Armed with this telegram I walked into the old German's store again. 'Enny noos?' said he.
"'Yes; here's a telegram I've just received,' said I, handing over the fake message.
"'Sdeam heatet,' said the old man, 'Vell dey gan be bresst oud, nicht? Veil, I look ad your goots.'
"He dropped in right after dinner. I had laid out on one side of the sample room a line of second floor goods.
"Among them were a lot of old frocks that the house was very anxious to get rid of. When I got back to the old man's store, he was pacing the floor waiting for me to come. He had on his overcoat ready to go with me.
"'Vell,' said he, before giving me a chance to speak, 'I go right down mit you.'
"He was the craziest buyer I ever saw. It didn't take me more than twenty minutes to sell the $3,400."
"But how did you get on afterwards?" asked one of the boys.
"Don't speak of it," said Leonard. "The joke was so good that I gave it away to one of the boys after the bill had been shipped, and do you know, the old man got onto me and returned a big part of the bill. Of course, you know I've never gone near him since. Retribution, I suppose! That cured me of sharp tricks."
"A sharp game doesn't work out very well when you play it on your customer," spoke up one of the boys who sold bonds, "but it's all right to mislead your competitor once in a while, especially if he tries to find out things from you that he really hasn't any business to know. I was once over in Indiana. I had on me a pretty good line of six per cents. They were issued by a well-to-do little town out West. You know, western bonds are really A-1 property, but the people in the East haven't yet got their eyes open to the value of property west of the Rockies.
"Well; when I reached this town, one of my friends tipped me onto one of my competitors who, he said, was going to be in that same town that afternoon. There were three prospective customers for us and we were both in the habit of going after the same people. Two of them were bankers,—one of them was pretty long winded; the other was a retired grain dealer who lived about a mile out of town. He was the man I really wished to go after. His name was Reidy and he was quite an old gentleman, always looking for a little inside on everything. I didn't wish to waste much time on the bankers before I'd taken a crack at the old man. I knew he'd just cashed in on some other bonds that he had bought from my firm and that he was probably open for another deal. I merely went over and shook hands with the bankers. One of them—the long winded one—asked me if I had a certain bond. I told him I didn't think I had,—that I'd 'phone in and find out. I got on the line with my old grain dealer friend and he said he'd be in town right after dinner. I would have gone out to see him but he preferred doing his business in town. By this time I knew my competitor would reach town so I ate dinner early and took chances on his still being in the dining room when Reidy would drive in. I knew that my competitor, if he got into town, would go right after the old gentleman just as quickly as he could.
"After dinner I sat down out in the public square smoking, and apparently taking the world at ease,—but I was fretting inside to beat the band! My competitor saw me from the hotel porch. He came over and shook hands—you know we're always ready to cut each other's throats but we do it with a smile and always put out the glad hand.
"'Well, Woody,' said he, 'you seem to be taking the world easy. Business must have been good this week.'
"'Oh, fair,' I answered,—but it had really been rotten for several days.
"'Come and eat,' said he.
"'No, thanks, I've just been in. I'll see you after. I'll finish my cigar.'
"My competitor went in to dinner. About the time I knew he was getting along toward pie, I began to squirm. I lighted two or three matches and let them go out before I fired up my cigar. Still no Reidy had shown up. Pretty soon out came my competitor over into the park where I was. I knew that if he got his eyes on Reidy I would have to scramble for the old man's coin. So I managed to get him seated with his back toward the direction from which Reidy would come to town. The old man always drove a white horse. As I talked to my competitor I kept looking up the road—I could see for nearly half a mile—for that old white horse.
"'Well, have you left anything in town for me, Woody,' said he directly.
"About that time I saw the old man's horse jogging slowly but surely toward us.
"'Well, now, I'll tell you,' I said to him, 'I believe that if you'll go over to the bank just around the corner, you can do some business. I was in there this morning and they asked me for a certain kind of paper that I haven't any left of. If you can scare up something of that kind, I think you can do some business with them there. I'll take you over, if you like.'
"I didn't want him to turn around because I knew that he, too, would see that old white horse and that I'd never get him to budge an inch until he had spoken with Reidy if he did,—and the old horse was coming trot! trot! trot!—closer every minute.
"'Well, say, that'll be good of you. I hate to leave you out here all alone resting and doing nothing,' said he.
"'Oh, that's all right. Come on,'—and with this I took him by the arm in a very friendly manner, keeping his back toward that old white horse, and walked him around the corner to the bank where I knew that he would be out of sight when the old man reached the public square.
"Just as I came around the corner after leaving my competitor Richards in the bank, there came plodding along the old man. Luckily he went down about a block to hitch his horse. I met him as he was coming back and carried him up to my room in the hotel. I laid my proposition before him and he said:
"'Well, that looks pretty good to me, but I'd like to go over here to the bank and talk to one of my friends there and see what he thinks of the lay-out.'
"'Which bank?' thought I. Well, as luck would have it, it was the other bank. 'Very well,' I said, 'I'll drop over there myself in a few minutes and have the papers all with me. We can fix the matter up over there. I'm sure the people in the bank will give this their hearty endorsement.'
"As the old man walked across the park, two or three people met him and stopped him. My heart was thumping away because, even though the banker around the corner was long winded, it was about time for him to get through with Richards; but the old man went into the bank all right before Richards came out. Then I went over and sat down in the park. In a few minutes Richards came over where I was.
"'Say, that was a good tip you gave me, Woody, I think I'll be able to do some business all right. I want to run into the hotel a few minutes, if you'll excuse me, and get into my grip. Say; but you're taking things easy! I wish I could get along as well as you do without worrying.'