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


After dissolving partnership I returned to Columbus, replenished my stock, and started out alone. I took the first train out from the city and stopped about ten miles distant, at a small country village, and commenced operations. My success was gratifying. I walked through the country, peddling from house to house.

After my third day out, I came to a spacious looking farm house just at nightfall, and asked the lady if she would keep me over night. She said she had no objections, but her husband was prejudiced against keeping peddlers or agents, and she was sure he would object. I asked where he was, and she said he was away on a horse trade.

While we were talking he drove up with a handsome bay mare, and called his wife out to show her what a “bang up” trade he had made, adding with much ardor and excitement that if the fellow he had traded with was horseman enough to get the other horse to pull a pound he would do more than any one else had ever done.

I asked him to keep me over night, when he turned on me with a volley of oaths sufficient to color the atmosphere blue for some distance around.

I assured him, in the blandest manner possible, that I was no horse thief nor burglar, and that I had plenty of money and expected to pay my bills.

His wife reminded him that they had plenty of room, and as it was late he had better let me stay.

He then consented, asking at the same time if I was a good “story teller.” This of course gave me an “inkling” as to the best means of getting in his good graces. During the evening I lost no time in arriving at a point in our conversation where I could relate a few of my latest stories, which pleased him greatly. He became so much interested in me and my business as to propose to go into partnership with me, he to furnish the traveling conveyance and half the money, and I to do the selling.

His wife ridiculed the idea and laughed at his foolishness.

He then leaned forward in a very familiar, friendly manner, and took hold of a long neck chain I was wearing, and asked what I would take for that chain.

“Oh,” I answered, “I don’t want to sell it.”

“Well, but you would sell it, wouldn’t you?” he asked.

“A man would be a fool to refuse to sell anything he owned, if he got enough for it,” I replied, “but I have no desire to sell this particular chain.”

The next morning, while I was trading with his wife, he again mentioned the chain, and remarked that he would rather have that than all the jewelry in the box.

I said: “I should think you would.”

He then said: “Look here, young feller, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you that bay mare I traded for last night, even up, for that chain.”

I asked if she was sound. He assured me that she was.

“Well, then,” said I, “oughtn’t she to fetch two hundred and fifty dollars?”

“Yes sir, you can bet on that,” he answered, excitedly.

“Well then,” said I, “if you will throw in a saddle and bridle I’ll trade.”

“I have no saddle,” said he, “but I will give you a blanket and bridle.”

“All right, it’s a trade.”

We bridled and blanketed the mare, I delivered the chain to him and mounted, ready for a start.

“Now, young feller,” said he, “the trade is made and there must be no ‘kicking’ on either side. You agree to that do you?”

“Yes sir,” I answered, “I’ll never kick if the old mare dies in five minutes from now.”

“That’s right,” said he, “you’re a dandy, and just the sort of feller I like to deal with.”

“Well, I’ll bid you good day” tipping my hat.

“See here, one moment,” he yelled, as I had gotten well on my way. “Say! the trade is made and no squealing on either side. How much is this chain actually worth?”

“Well,” I answered, in a loud tone, “those kind cost me ten dollars per dozen, or eighty-odd cents each.”

He staggered and fell back against the fence. His wife yelled in a high pitched voice:

“Well there, John, you have been taken in for once in your life.” I raised my hat and cantered away.

I traveled on horse-back all day, and found it up-hill business, as it was difficult to mount and dismount, and very hard to carry my sample case and valise on horse-back.

That evening I arrived in a small burg where I put up, and determined to turn my horse out to pasture, until I could deal for a buggy and harness.

That night while in conversation with some men at the hotel, I learned that one of them was a carriage and wagon maker. I asked if he had anything in the way of a light second-handed buggy, which he could sell at a low price.

He said that he had one that he had just been repairing and it was all ready to run out. I prevailed upon him to take me to his shop and show it by the light of a lantern.

I asked his price which was forty-five dollars.

On re-entering the hotel, I took him into the sitting room and showed him my jewelry. He was pleased with it, and I asked him how he would like to trade his buggy for some of it. He said he wouldn’t care to take it all in jewelry, but if I had any good watches he would take one, and some jewelry on a trade.

I then showed him the watch I was carrying, and was not long in making a trade. I gave him a bill of sale for the watch and jewelry, and took one from him for the buggy.

I retired that night feeling that I had made fair progress towards procuring a traveling conveyance of my own. When morning came, my only desire was to deal for a harness. As soon as breakfast was over, I took my jewelry case and “hus’led” around among the business men, as well as at different residences in the town. I gave but little thought to selling goods, but inquired, wherever I called, if they knew of any one who had a harness for sale.

At last I called upon an old couple who were in need of spectacles. I succeeded in fitting both of them, when I suggested the idea of taking their old glasses in exchange for mine, and letting them pay the difference. The old gentleman said I would have to trust them for the difference, as they had just paid out the last money they had.

Almost the last thing I thought of, was to ask them if they knew of any who had a harness for sale, as I had become so interested in the spectacle deal.

“Why bless you,” the old man replied, “I have got a nice single harness up stairs that I will sell cheap.” He brought it down, and I traded the spectacles, a very nice pair of sleeve-buttons, and a handsome set of jewelry for it.

I was now ready to start with my newly completed torn-out, which I lost no time in doing.

I traveled in the direction of Kirkersville, where I arrived a few days later and promptly exhibited my horse, harness and buggy to my late partner and his acquaintances.

After a careful scrutiny of the turn-out, and a look at the goods I had left in stock, he remarked that “some one must have been taken in.”

I continued peddling for some time, meeting with splendid success on the average, with occasionally a poor day.

I never lost an opportunity of trading horses, and as a rule, preferred to keep trading for a better one each time where I would be obliged to pay boot, which I invariably manipulated so as to pay the difference in jewelry, instead of the cash. I also traded buggies frequently in this way, and in a very short time I was driving a first-class turn-out.

My early boyhood experience with horses had given me a fair knowledge of them, and the blemishes they were subjected to, which enabled me to pass reasonable judgment on them, when making trades.

My best deals were always made with professional horse-men, who generally seemed to think they had a “soft snap,” and I never attempted to convince them differently, except when I could do so at their expense.

Peddling jewelry and spectacles was the business I gave my special attention to for sometime, and it proved a very satisfactory one. With the exception of a few disagreeable features which are sure to attend any business of that nature, I found it very pleasant.

One day I drove into a small country village and stopped at a blacksmith’s shop to have my horse shod. While waiting, I happened to drop into a large general store, and very soon entered into conversation with the proprietor, who was a jovial, good-natured fellow. He told me his latest story, when I thought to try and amuse him with one or two of mine, which I was very successful in doing.

In a few moments I mentioned that I was in the jewelry business, and before I had time to ask him to look at my goods, he said: “Bring in your truck, let’s see what you’ve got, anyhow.”

I brought them in and began quoting prices. He began picking out and laying to one side. I was worried to know whether he expected to buy on credit or pay cash.

He kept picking out and I told another story. He laughed heartily and said that was “the boss” and laid out more goods.

Finally he said: “What are your terms anyway or haven’t you got any.”

I answered: “No, I have no terms, everything net spot cash.”

“What! Don’t you give any cash discount?”

“I never have given any yet,” was my reply.

“Well then, I suppose there is no use in my trying to get any.”

In a few moments he directed me to make out my bill, which I did on a piece of brown paper. It amounted to a little over eighty-two dollars.

I threw off the extra few cents and he paid me the cash, after which I receipted the bill.

This particular sale was the ruination of my jewelry business for the time being, but as will be seen, proved to be the key-note to a very successful business in after years.

Having turned wholesaler, I was wholly and entirely unfitted for the business of peddling. My thoughts were completely turned from the latter and absorbed in the former.

Although I readily understood that it must necessarily take large capital to conduct such a business, I yet determined to give it a trial with my little stock.

I therefore telegraphed for more goods, and began driving from town to town making a few sales to the merchants, but none equal to my first one. I never found another merchant so anxious to look at my goods, nor so ready to buy. However, I readily understood that I must be persistent in showing to them the same as I had always been at private houses, and in many cases more so. I came in contact with one merchant whom I failed to understand perfectly well.

I called at his store and found him reading the paper. After introducing myself and explaining my business, he simply said he didn’t want any jewelry.

“Well,” said I, “I don’t suppose you will object to looking at it, will you?” He made no reply. I then began laying my trays out on his counter.

After displaying them nicely, I stepped back to where he was sitting and still reading, and said to him: “I have them ready now, sir.”

He stepped behind the counter, gathered up the trays, piled them in a heap, stepped to the front door, pitched the entire outfit into the middle of the street, and returned to his newspaper without a word.

My first impulse was to “have it out with him, then and there,” but I suddenly thought of my stock in trade lying in the middle of the street, and “hus’led” to gather it up.

It took me a whole day to clean and re-card and get it in good shape, which work I did at the hotel, in the same town. I remained there over night and prepared for a new start the following morning.

The more I thought of the treatment I had received at his hands, the more I felt like having the matter settled before leaving. So after making all preparations for a start, I drove to his store, and just as I stepped from my buggy, he came around the corner from his residence and was about to enter the door.

I headed him off and said, “Mr. , I am about to leave this town, and before doing so, I propose to have a little settlement with you. Now, sir, you can have your choice of three things. Either make an apology for your beastly conduct yesterday, take a good thrashing or look my goods over in a gentlemanly manner. Now which do you prefer?”

At this I began laying off my coat.

He said he had no desire to look at my goods and didn’t crave a thrashing, and guessed he would rather apologize, which he did, and I went on my way rejoicing, and I dare say in much better shape than I might have been in, had he shown as much fight as he did meanness the day before.

On account of my extremely small stock I found it up-hill work to succeed as a wholesaler. My first large sale had so completely turned my head, that I was unable to return to my former successful plan of peddling from house to house and continued on as a wholesaler, wending my way homeward.

On arriving there I drove to the old farm, and with much pride related my experience and success to the folks.

My mother said she wouldn’t give fifty cents for all the jewelry in the box, and in all probability the horse would die or something happen to him sooner or later.

Mr. Keefer said he didn’t know about the jewelry, but one thing was sure, the horse and buggy were fine.

I saw the utter foolishness of trying to be a wholesaler, and began searching about for a customer for my entire lot of jewelry, whom I soon found in the person of a young man, whose note I took for two hundred and fifty dollars, and his father as signer, payable six months after date.

The next day I drove down town, and as was my custom after arriving home from a trip, my creditors were the very first persons I called on, and as usual, assured them that I was still alive and “hus’ling.”

I also showed them the note I had and offered to turn it over to either of them who would pay me the difference between its face value and what I owed them.

They said they would rather take my individual note for the amount of my indebtedness, which I gave, drawing interest at eight per cent., all of which footed up to several hundred dollars. Now I was ready for other business.