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SOME EXPERIENCES OF THE YANKEE TRAVELING SALESMAN
WHEN it gradually dawned upon the country merchant that by dealing via the mails with responsible wholesalers and jobbers of the cities, it might not be necessary for him to spend a week or two several times a year going to "market," it incidentally became apparent to the wholesalers and jobbers in question that it might not be a bad idea to visit the merchant in his own store and stimulate his ambition to try out new goods of new styles and designs. The result was the development of a very unique type, the traveling salesman or "drummer."
Perhaps the most conspicuous of these tourists was the grocery salesman. It was necessary for him to interview his trade about every thirty days in order to keep designing rivals from stealing away his customers. As there was a profit in the business, the number of wholesale houses increased, and likewise the number of their representatives. There gradually developed a very intense competition for all kinds of trade.
The commercial traveler was necessarily a man of optimism and usually endowed with a capacity to endure much physical fatigue. It was lively work covering a good, fair sized territory every thirty days. Naturally it became increasingly difficult for a novice to establish himself in the face of such intense competition.
Hopeful Young Beginner
A young man who had acquired roseate views of the possibilities of making a fortune as a grocery salesman, started out to cover a new route. Visiting a group of towns in a certain state, he found the merchants were all exceptionally well supplied with everything he himself had to offer, but with courage unabated he kept on, believing that when he arrived at a nearby thriving town with several active dealers, his luck would change.
Reaching this town on a late afternoon train, he hastened to the most prosperous grocery store. The proprietor was just about to leave the store to "go to supper." He, however, paused to listen with a wearied air while the young man introduced himself, explaining that he expected to travel over that territory every four weeks from that time on and hoped to be able to serve him. The merchant finally spoke:
"You say you expect to come here once a month?"
"I do," was the hopeful reply.
"Well," said the merchant, with a twinkle in his eye. "I think you ought to do well; there have only been thirteen grocery drummers here today."
The young man's enthusiasm was somewhat dampened.
One of the bugbears of the New England traveling salesman who must cover his route at frequent intervals, is the midwinter blizzard. It often requires a good many card games to fill in the waits. These episodes are not without amusing details, but one of these unwelcome events developed little that was humorous.
Sick Engineer in the Next Room
Late one winter afternoon, two salesmen left a nice comfortable hotel in a little town because the path of duty led them to take a narrow gauge road up into the mountains. It was getting dark, had been snowing heavily all day and the wind was just beginning to take part in the program, frisking the feathery snow, here and there, just to show what an innocent thing a winter breeze can be. But when the train had gotten out of the way from the valley town and was making its laborious way up a steep grade into the mountains, the real force of the wind began to be apparent. The cars would rock back and forth on their narrow carriages, but as there was no record that they had ever actually capsized, everything was cheerful enough in the smoking car. After a few miles, progress began to be very slow, as drifts had accumulated on the track. Finally a trainman came through and said that "Jim" was in mighty bad shape and he didn't know whether he could stick it out to the end of the line or not. Certain questioning brought out the fact that "Jim" was the engineer who had a high fever and was almost delirious. The air became colder and colder and the wind increased. After several hours, however, the short run of thirty miles was accomplished and the two travelers started for the hotel. It developed, that the hotel was not ostensibly open for business, the proprietor having become peeved at repeated searching parties working in the interest of prohibition. One of the travelers, however, knew the ropes and led the way around through the back kitchen where the low browed graduate of a New York dive, who conducted the tavern, was found and he reluctantly agreed to provide rooms, though they proved to be absolutely without heat.
One of the travelers immediately went to bed, having the foresight to take his fur coat with him for extra covering, but he did not sleep well. The train crew had succeeded in helping the engineer through the drifts to the hotel and established him in a room adjoining that of the salesman. The rooms were communicating and although the door was closed, there was a wide crack at the top. All night long, under the faithful administrations of the local doctor, the heroic engineer who had stuck to his post and pulled his train through under conditions that would tax all the faculties of a well man, was battling for life. He proved to have an acute form of pneumonia. The night finally passed and the salesman was able to get out of town from which point he went to headquarters in a neighboring city to report. A few days later, being back on the job once more, he saw a funeral cortege coming from the railroad station. They were carrying the body of the engineer.
To the salesman who visits his trade at frequent intervals, life is chiefly made up of customers and hotels. The amusing experiences which every commercial man has are, however, chiefly associated with his various hotel homes. To be able to establish oneself for the night at a cozy hotel where it is allowable to call the clerk and the head waitress by their first names, provides relief from the intense mental concentration necessary in bringing various customers around to the salesman's way of thinking.
Happened in the Hotel Barber Shop
The salesman who takes frequent trips is, as before stated, eventually in a position to call everyone in a hotel establishment by their first names, the hotel barber being no exception. One such barber became very widely known to travelers because of his genial qualities and quick wit, as well as his efficiency in carrying on his trade. It was only the occasional visitor to his shop who failed to call him "Dan."
"Dan" not only enjoyed the popularity of the traveling fraternity, but was regarded with high favor by the prominent citizens of the town, most of whom were regular customers. While the atmosphere of the barber shop was cheerful, "Dan" was careful to make sure that there was nothing in that same atmosphere that would be in any way offensive to his more conservative clientele. With unusual skill he was able to give his shop a somewhat clublike atmosphere which of course helped business-
One day a very discordant element obtruded itself. A well-known, but not greatly admired, local citizen familiarly known to the villagers as "Hen" was having one of his periodical drinking spells. Rambling about in his customary aimless manner under such conditions, he suddenly made his appearance in the shop. A bank president was in the chair and another well-known citizen was "next."
"Dan" gave a quick glance at the intruder, who obviously had no business purpose in coming there, and detecting his condition at once, he told the inebriate man in bland but decisive terms that he better move along. "Hen" was not in a frame of mind to be reasoned with and showed no intention of moving out. He addressed his conversation indiscriminately to all who might be present, much to their annoyance. But "Dan" was equal to the emergency. Suddenly laying down his razor, he stepped quickly to his overcoat which was hanging on a peg and took from one of the pockets a leather pipe case. Wheeling about and pointing the pipe case at this astonished intruder, he said:
"You get out of here, quick; or I'll shoot you right in your tracks!"
"Hen" was no hero, drunk or sober, and he fled in consternation to the other end of the village.
Visiting the country stores of New England in wintertime, often provides startling contrasts in the way of hotels. The traveler who spends Tuesday night at a thoroughly modern commercial hotel in a town of 5000 inhabitants, can spend Wednesday night in a similar hotel, if he is traveling in summer via auto. In winter, however, he may find it difficult to arrange for these comforts.
Salesman Who Was Given a "Warm Room"
A salesman for a western firm who enjoyed the comforts of life, was quite disturbed one evening to find himself in a small mountain village and destined to stay over night at an old-fashioned hotel. This old-time tavern was one of the oldest buildings in that section of the state and much the oldest of all the hotels of that region. It was built of brick, with small windows and high window sills, the glass being small panes of the Revolutionary period. The sleeping rooms were but narrow cells leading off from a long, dark corridor.
The outdoor temperature was about 20 degrees below zero, and as this hotel had no steam heat, each room being. warmed separately, the salesman made a very vigorous demand for a fire in his bedroom. He was promptly assured by the landlord that he should have a fire and a warm room.
Stopping at the hotel was a traveling troop of Indian performers, the male members of which camped out in the old-time dance hall on the second floor. The salesman, who had not slept very well the night before, went to his room early. He found an old-fashioned box stove which was just beginning to throw out a genial heat. He felt very well satisfied with himself that he had made his demands known.
With the door closed, the temperature of the small room soon passed the genial stage. It became intense. The salesman therefore hastened to open the window, believing that a little 20 degrees below zero air would just about balance the overtime efforts of the stove. He found the lower part of the window sash so thoroughly fixed into a bed of ice that it was immovable. He therefore concluded that if he opened the door into the hall, it would make things about right. This he accordingly did and went back to bed. He was just dozing over when he heard a rustling at the door. He looked out into the dimly lighted hall to see one of the "bucks" belonging to the Indian encampment looking curiously into his room. He therefore concluded that it would be wiser to close the door, as his confidence in the absolute integrity of the members of the troop was not of the Fenimore Cooper type.
Having closed the door, the salesman then attempted to go to sleep, but it was impossible. He arose and opened the stove door and made a careful study of the contents. He found a large green chunk of wood well coaled over and apparently capable of sustaining an abundance of heat during the night. A high pitcher sitting in an old-fashioned bowl contained some water and the luxury loving traveler succeeded finally in slackening the fire to such an extent that he was able to get several hours sleep.
The hotel was of very considerable interest as a historical landmark, but it can be taken for granted that the picturesque history of this hostelry was not appreciated by the traveling salesman.
Modern conditions prevail with the country hotels of northern New England at present. Only a few winters ago, however, a salesman who opened a window of his steam heated sleeping room for air and then woke up to find the faucet in his room frozen, was promptly presented with a bill for damages the next morning by the landlord. It may be said, however, that this hotel is not typical. There are numerous country inns throughout New England which are comfortable in the coldest days in winter.
of the Itemized Expense Account
A veteran hardware salesman, named Ed Stone, made two trips a year among his wide circle of customers. He was genial, efficient and popular, and was regarded as a valuable asset by his employers. The oldest member of the firm, quite well along in years, was very prone to petty economies. Looking over some of the travel accounts of several salesmen representing the firm, he came to the conclusion that it would be well to have them itemize their expense accounts. As Ed happened to be at the store, he promptly advised him of the new policy- The salesman who knew the peculiarities of the old gentleman, assured him that it would be perfectly satisfactory to him to make out a detailed report.
Starting out the next week, about one of the first points to be reached was a small city where Ed had always been tolerably sure of a big order. The store was conducted by an old-time merchant who had been gradually pushed into the background by his aggressive and far less competent son. While there were whispers that the firm were heading in the wrong direction, their credit was still excellent.
So to the young man of the firm, Ed extended the fraternal hand, but soon found that "Tommy," the son, was not in a genial humor. Business was very poor, he was told. They had plenty of goods and would skip the usual spring order. Further parley seemed to promise no results, "Tommy" showing symptoms of irritability.
"Well," said Ed, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but I cannot see any reason why you should not come down to the hotel and have supper with me tonight. Like enough we will find a couple of the boys there and can have a game of whist."
After some persuasion, "Tommy" accepted the invitation, appearing at the hotel soon after the store closed, where he enjoyed as sumptuous a dinner as the ingenuity of Ed could devise. Later on they went to Ed's room, but there is no occasion for any further details, as everything which transpired can readily suggest itself to any normal imagination by the item which appeared in Ed Stone's expense account for that day.
To getting Tommy Wilson into a frame of mind so that he would order his usual spring bill of goods...............$20.00"
Shortly afterward Ed Stone's circumlocutions brought him near enough to the main office so that he ran in over Sunday and handed his expense report to the senior member of the firm. The latter looked it over with great interest for a few seconds and then turned to Ed:
"Why, Mr. Stone," said he. "What does this Wilson item mean?"
"I think," said he, "I'll have to leave that to your imagination."
The old man, who was a good citizen and a church man in regular standing, swallowed hard and said:
"Well! Well! I guess you need not bother to itemize your expense reports any more."
A great asset to the traveling salesman is individuality, especially if it is of the constructive type.
A bakery and confectionery firm had a star traveling salesman who covered a wide range of territory. Somewhat advanced in years, he gradually became afflicted with an impediment in his hearing.
There is often tragedy in some gradually developing infirmity like deafness, but it did not prove necessary for the firm who employed Henry S — to make any change. They were very well satisfied to let Henry stay on the job year after year, until he became quite an old man.
Henry always could be depended upon to get orders. Of course his success in quite a large measure was due to his friendly personality which made him cordially received wherever he went.
There are tricks in all trades and Henry became famous for one which caused many a smile, not only among the storekeepers, but the traveling profession as well. Whenever in doubt, because of defective hearing, Henry always assumed that his customer was talking business. A star feature of his line was a certain brand of homemade crackers.
"I don't believe I need any crackers today, Henry," said the storekeeper, raising his voice.
"Two barrels, did you say?" said Henry.
The merchant laughed and nodded his head. He knew he could get rid of them sooner or later and Henry was a thoroughly good fellow.
Old Man Who Was Inveigled Into a Poker Game
In a certain New England town, two hustling citizens bought an old hotel which with certain renovations and alterations, soon became an attractive resort for commercial men. And while new customers flocked to the old hotel, the old rural patrons also proved loyal and the hotel did a thriving business.
One evening three enterprising commercial men began looking about for a fourth partner for the purpose of going into retirement for a little tussle with the god of Chance; in other words, they were to play poker. No one turning up to take the fourth place, their attention was called to an elderly man with white hair and a long white beard, who seemed to be quite active for his years and, more as a joke than anything else, they invited him to take part in the game. The old gentleman in question lived on a farm and came from a very rural district, therefore according to the usual precedents, he should be expected to gasp with horror at the prospect of being decoyed into a gambling. game with three thoroughly up-to-date young travelers. Somehow he did not seem to be disturbed by what the game developed into soon after he had taken his seat.
The traveling men were well supplied with expense money and as they had naturally expected from his moderately prosperous appearance, the old gentleman seemed also to have plenty of 'funds. The contest lasted far beyond the time when the elderly gentleman with the long white whiskers might be expected to retire to rest, but he did not seem to be visibly affected by the late hours. The game finally terminated in time to give the commercial men two or three hours of very necessary sleep, after which they had their breakfast, negotiated various small loans to secure expense money and went their. several ways. The hotel porter, naturally cognizant of everything that happened in the hotel, tersely explained the entire matter in the following words:
"My Lord! Say, do you know that old chap with the white whiskers? He just cleaned those fellows out of every cent they had!"
To those who knew the "old gentleman," whose hair became snow white at a little past thirty and who carried that same luxuriant white hair until he was eighty years old, the above incident is but a glimpse of his many sided characteristics. He could be as generous with those who needed friendly sympathy as he could be merciless with those who attempted to overreach him.