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


The next day I called Mr. Keefer to one side, informed him on the quiet about my shortage of seventy-five dollars and suggested going to the bank and borrowing about a hundred dollars, as it would be necessary for me to have a few dollars to “sort of bridge me over” till I could get on my feet again. He said he guessed that would be all right, so we borrowed the money.

The next day I received a very affectionate letter from my girl and started forthwith for Michigan, arriving there in time to escort her to the last and grandest ball of the season, at an expense of more than half the amount of my last loan.

I was very anxious to get married at once, but being a little short financially, concluded to postpone it a few days at least. A couple of days later I received a letter from my uncle, A. S. Johnston, who was then living at Three Rivers, Michigan, and who had previously started me in the fruit business in Chicago. He informed me that he was general agent in Southern Michigan for C. H. & L. J. McCormick’s reapers and mowers, and if I would come there he would make me their local agent at that place.

Bidding my girl an affectionate farewell I departed, and arrived at my uncle’s with forty cents in cash and six dirty shirts.

On my way there I fell in company with two gentlemen traveling together, one of whom was selling horse-rakes and the other threshing-machines.

I explained to them that I was on my way to Three Rivers, where I expected to become an agent for my uncle. They then remembered having met him somewhere on the road, and one of them suggested that I might also be able to sell horse-rakes and threshing-machines. I told them I had thought some of putting in a few later on. They then became anxious to have me take the agency for their implements, but as I had in my mind the goods of other manufacturers which I believed had a better reputation, I hesitated about handling theirs.

They became very much interested and urged me to let them send on consignment a car-load of horse-rakes and four threshing-machines. I finally consented on condition that they prepay the freight, which they agreed to do.

I informed my uncle of my intentions of starting in the agricultural-implement business. He asked how I expected to do so on forty cents capital.

I answered that all I needed was a sign over some good shed, and a boarding house where they would be willing to wait till after harvest for their pay.

Sign-painting had been his trade, so he said he would furnish the sign, and I could live with them until I got returns.

That afternoon I arranged to have the use of a vacant lot which was in a good locality, and as soon as possible erected a sign as large as the broad-side of a barn, which read as follows:


In less than two months I had several thousand dollars’ worth of all kinds of implements, which had been consigned to me, freight prepaid.

I very soon made the acquaintance of a young man who owned a good horse, which he kindly offered to loan me to canvass the farmers with. I then began looking about to find some one who would loan me a harness and carriage, when my attention was called to the advertisement of a lot of carriages to be sold at auction that very day. I called on the owner and told him I needed a carriage, and asked what the terms of the sale would be.

He said a note payable in one year, would be acceptable from responsible parties, and then asked my name. I said: “I am J. P. Johnston, the agricultural man.”

“What! the man with the big sign across the street?”

I replied: “The same.”

“O, well,” he said, “your note is good.”

I bid in a fine carriage, giving my note, which, by the way, was paid in less than six months. I then borrowed a harness and began a general raid on the farmers, and succeeded fairly well.

The only unpleasantness I experienced in the sale of implements was that of a check-row corn-planter, which was new to the farmers in that section as well as to myself. I, of course, assumed to know all about it, when in fact, I was unable to in the least comprehend the method of operating it, even after studying the directions carefully, and committing them to memory so as to give a glowing description of it and its great advantages.

One day a farmer came driving up to my “office” in a great hurry and informed me of his intention to buy a corn-planter, and stated that he had a piece of ground all prepared, and asked me to go and show him “how the thing worked.” Of course there was nothing else for me to do but to go. So we loaded one on to the wagon and started.

Arriving at the farm we hitched one of the old mares on and started for the field, when I very soon learned that the farmer had a much better idea of the “machine” than I did. But in order to make him conscious of my importance it was necessary for me to oppose him in many things, some of which were no doubt injurious to the job.

After he had set the stakes and drawn the line across the field, we were ready for a start. I was to hold the “machine,” and he to drive the horse. As we were about to start he suggested that I had better take off my coat, vest, boots and stockings, and roll up my pants. I did so.

The wisdom of this move will be seen later. The old mare started on a gait equal to that of the “deaf drover” over the rough roads. I held tight to the handles, making lofty jumps from one step to another, sinking into the plowed ground almost to my knees each time. Before we were half through the field I was in a profuse perspiration, and had succeeded in knocking one of my great toe-nails entirely off, which afterwards laid me up for two weeks. When we reached the other end he looked solemnly at me and said: “By gosh! you can run like a racehorse can’t you?”

“Yes,” I replied, almost out of breath, “and you are no slouch yourself.”

I then took a comfortable seat on a fence-rail and asked him if that was the fastest horse he owned. He answered: “No, by gosh, I own one that can out-trot this one.”

“Yes,” I said, “but trotters won’t do here. We must have a running horse to do this right.”

After skimming over a couple of acres which took but a few minutes, we concluded to make an investigation to see how evenly the kernels were being distributed.

Although it seemed to us that we were using up a large quantity of corn we found but few hills containing more than the average number of kernels.

Of course we only examined along the line opposite each check, having no thought of finding any corn between them.

I then suggested that he finish it alone, as I must return to town to attend to important business.

This he agreed to and I left at once. In about ten days he drove up in front of the office and beckoned me out, when he said:

“Get in here young man, I want to show you something.”

I climbed in the wagon and he started for home.

On the way he asked me how long I had been in that business, adding that he “didn’t suppose I had ever worked in a shop where they made corn-planters.”

I assured him that my time had always been too valuable for that.

He said he “supposed so.”

When we arrived at the corn-field he drew a long breath and said:

“Now sir, you have done a deal of blowing about your old check-row corn-planters. As you see, this corn is high enough to judge, and if you can find a single row in this whole field, I’ll buy you out.”

I admitted that there were no rows, and said to him in a confidential way: “My dear sir, I supposed you understood that this machine was intended to sow broadcast.”

“Broadcast the dl!” he replied, and flew into a rage, declaring he would sue me for damages. I then said to him as I motioned towards the house: “Come inside, I want to show you something.”

He followed me in, and I took an old slipper and a woolen sock off my foot, and without unwrapping the toe, said, pointing to it: “Sir, if I have that toe taken off, I shall be obliged to compel you to pay for it.”

His wife, a silly-looking mortal, stared vacantly for a moment and then said: “I can’t see what use he would have for the toe, if you did have it taken off.”

We then compromised, he agreeing to stand the results of the corn crop, and I the consequences of the sore toe. As soon as a new nail grew out, I made a trip through the country, and brought up one Saturday evening at Bronson, where “my girl” lived.

I couldn’t give up the idea of getting married, and as my prospective mother-in-law quite agreed with me that it would be the best thing to do, we lost no time in arranging matters. The marriage took place the following week, and I immediately returned to Three Rivers with my bride.

We remained but a short time, until my uncle expressed a desire to become interested in the business. I then turned it all over to him, as I felt it was too slow to suit me. I had been there six months, and left with about that many hundred dollars.

We proceeded to Ohio, and explained to my folks “just how it all happened.” My mother said “she couldn’t see how I had managed to live so long without a wife.” Mr. Keefer said “he’d bet it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

My mother wanted to know what next, and how I expected to support a wife and pay my debts, when I had never yet shown enough ability to support myself?

I frankly confessed that during my courtship I absolutely forgot that I owed any one, and that it seemed to have been a secondary consideration with me.

However, I called on all my creditors, and, after showing them a nice roll of money as evidence that I had been “hus’ling,” I received their sanction to my investing the money in jewelry, and going on the road as a wholesaler. I then opened correspondence with a firm in Chicago who had been recommended to me as headquarters on jewelry, arranging to call on them in a few days. They informed me that five hundred dollars would buy a fair stock, to start with.

We returned to the home of my wife’s parents; and the day before I was to start for Chicago, her father, who was engaged in the grocery business, called me one side and explained that he had become involved, and that the money I had would bridge him over; and if I would put it in his business and help him run it he would give me half the profits and board myself and wife.

This I consented to do, and had no sooner settled down to business than his creditors began crowding him, and in a very short time the business “collapsed.” The only thing I had from the wreck was an old billiard-table which he turned over to me. As I had had quite a sad experience in the billiard business only a year before, I now thought I saw my only chance to get even. I therefore rented a room and opened a billiard hall.

This was a regular bonanza, for about three weeks. Indeed, too much so, for then, to my regret, the “City dads” passed an ordinance prohibiting the running of billiard rooms. As I had commenced housekeeping about the time I opened the billiard room, and had gone in debt for my furniture, I found myself in a sad plight. The sale of the outfit enabled me to pay but a small portion of my indebtedness.

I was now stranded, and ready for something else, but was completely non-plussed to know what to do next. Of course I realized by this time that I had a wife, and a “mother-in-law,” and it began to look as though there must be some genuine “hus’ling” done.

About this time the whole country thereabouts was thrown into the wildest excitement over the supposed mysterious murder of Almeda Davis, for which a young man named Bunnell was arrested, tried and acquitted. Deputy-sheriff Dennis, who made the arrest, came to me the next day after the young lady’s death, and asked me to write it up for some of the leading City Dailies. I agreed to do so, and to always give him a good “send off,” if he would furnish me with the minutest facts during the whole case. He did so, and I guess would be surprised to learn that I made more money out of that trial than he did, if it was a new business to me. But it made us a comfortable living until about the middle of winter, when I decided to move back to Ohio. Before arranging to leave, I called on my creditors at Bronson there were five of them and explained my position. They each agreed that I could do nothing there, and might better make a change, and that they would gladly wait till I could make a raise before asking or expecting me to pay.

We then proceeded to Ohio, arriving home “broke,” where I explained to my folks “just how it all happened.”

My mother said she thought I had done splendidly “for a married man.”

Mr. Keefer said “It did beat the dl!”