Read CHAPTER VII of Twenty Years of Hus'ling , free online book, by J. P. Johnston, on


I was anxious to go to Chicago, but was a “little short” financially, and asked Mr. Smith to give me a job on the farm. He asked if I could plow. I assured him that I was a practical farmer, and he then hired me at one dollar per day.

He had a sixty acre field, in which his men had been plowing, and after hitching up a pair of mules instructed me to go over in the field and go to “back furrowing.”

I wondered what the difference could be between back furrowing or any other furrowing, but rather than expose my ignorance, said nothing, preferring to trust to luck and the “mules.” As there was no fault found, I must have struck it right.

Mr. Smith made a practice of visiting his men and inspecting their work, always once and often twice a day.

He gave me orders to go to breaking up a new piece of ground, which he had recently finished clearing, and which of course was a hard task.

One day he came to the field at noon, and after looking the work over, instructed me to take the “coulter” off before I commenced work again in the afternoon, adding that it would be easier for the mules as well as myself.

I looked the plow over carefully and wondered what the “coulter” was. After dinner I began work, hoping that some one might come along who could post me. In this I was disappointed. Realizing that there must be something done before Smith visited me in the evening, I decided he must have meant the wheel at the end of the beam, and consequently took it off and waited his coming.

When he arrived he looked at the plow a moment and said, in an impetuous manner:

“Where is that wheel? I thought I told you to take the coulter off.”

“Well, I did,” I quickly replied. “I did take the coulter off, and as it didn’t work well I put it back on, and thought I would take the wheel off.”

“Where is the wheel?” he asked. I pointed to a stump some distance away, and said:

“It’s over there.”

He said: “You take that coulter off and I’ll get the wheel.”

“No,” I said, “you take the coulter off; I am younger than you and will go after the wheel.” And before getting the words out of my mouth was half way there. When I returned he was taking the coulter off.

I worked eleven days, and after receiving that many dollars left for
Chicago, where I had an uncle residing.

He gave me a cordial welcome and said I was just the lad he wanted to see, as he had traded for a fruit stand the day before, and wanted me to take charge of it.

The next morning he took me to the stand, which was a small frame building size, about eight by ten which stood on the northwest corner of Halsted and Harrison Streets.

This was a very slow business, and too slow to suit me, yet I continued to run it about three months, when by repeated losses on decayed fruit, and the too frequent visits of relatives and friends, we found the business in an unhealthy condition and lost no time in looking up a buyer, which we were fortunate in finding and successful in getting a good price from.

After receiving my share of the profits, which was about enough to pay my expenses back to Ohio, I decided to go there.

On arriving home, my mother said she hoped I was satisfied now that I couldn’t make money, and that I was only fooling my time away. She said she had told Mr. Keefer just how that fruit business would end.

I took Mr. Keefer to one side and explained just “how it all happened” and how the fruit all rotted, and how my relatives and friends helped themselves. He said they ought to be ashamed and it was too bad.

I borrowed a few dollars from him for incidental expenses, until I could “strike something.”

My mother wanted to know what I expected to do, and said I needn’t ask Mr. Keefer for money, because he shouldn’t give me a penny.

Of course I could give her no satisfaction. She finally said was going to take me to a jeweler, with whom she had talked, and have me learn the jeweler’s trade. I disliked the idea and rebelled against it. She was determined, however, and compelled me to accompany her.

The jeweler had a talk with me and told my mother he thought he could make quite a mechanic out of me.

I thought I was destined to stay with him, until my mother happened to leave the store for a few minutes, when he asked me if I thought I would like the business. I told him no, I knew I would dislike it. He said he wouldn’t fool his time away with a boy who had no taste for the business, and so informed my mother.

I returned home with her, and that evening she and Mr. Keefer and myself had a long conference.

We talked about the past, and my mother suggested all kinds of trades, professions and clerkships, all of which I objected to, because I would not work for some one else.

Mr. Keefer said he believed I would strike something “yet” that I would make money out of.

My mother said she couldn’t understand why he should think so; everything had been a failure thus far.

He explained his reasons by reminding her that with all my misfortunes, not one dollar had been spent in dissipation or gambling, but invariably in trying to make money, and with no lack of energy.

I remained idle a few days until the few dollars Mr. Keefer had loaned me were spent, when one day I called upon a friend in town. Kintz by name, who was engaged in the bakery business.

In conversation with him I learned that he owned two watches and wanted to exchange one of them (a small lady’s gold watch) for something else. I asked him to let me carry it and try and find a customer for it.

I called that evening on the night telegraph operator, Andy Clock, and bantered him to trade watches. He owned a large silver watch and gold chain.

“How will you trade?” I asked, showing him the lady’s gold watch.

“Oh, I’ll leave it with you.”

“You ought to give your watch and chain and ten dollars,” I said.

“I’ll make it five.”

“Let me take your watch and chain a few minutes.”

“All right,” he answered.

I immediately called on Mr. Kintz and said: “John, are you willing to give your gold watch and five dollars for Mr. Clock’s silver watch and gold chain?”

He replied by simply handing me five dollars. I then returned to Mr.
Clock, made the trade and also received from him five dollars.

Although the amount I made was small, it came in a very opportune time, and afforded me much satisfaction, as I argued in my own mind, that if I was able to drive those kind of trades in a small way, while young, I might be able some day to make similar deals on a larger scale.

The next day, when I met Mr. Keefer, I explained how I had made ten dollars. He laughed and said: “Well, if they are both satisfied I suppose you ought to be.”

The next Sunday after I had made the trade, several of the boys, including Mr. Kintz, Clock and myself, were sitting in the hotel. I was reading a paper when Mr. Kintz and Clock began a conversation about the watch trade, when Kintz remarked:

“If that gold watch had not been a lady’s size I never would have paid any difference on the trade.”

“Did you give any boot?” quickly asked Clock.

“Why, I gave five dollars,” answered Kintz.

“The dl you did; so did I,” replied Clock.

They immediately demanded an explanation, which I gave, by declaring as the “middleman” I was entitled to all I could make; and this was the universal opinion of every one there, including the landlord, who insisted that it was a good joke and well played.