It always pays in all cases to be fair. The idea of taking advantage of someone else generally is a boomerang and most frequently ends to the detriment of the person seeking to take advantage.
One reason that I was deterred and had great hesitation about entering the fountain pen business was that I handled a little two-dozen case of Waterman pens that set on top of the show case; and out of our annual business, our pen sales really amounted to nothing. After we started manufacturing and began to drive for the higher-unit sale, the Waterman Pen Company took unquestionably the wrong view. While they had probably 85% of the fountain pen business of the United States and all others had only 15 divided among them, the Waterman people when we put our Lifetime pen on the market for $8.75 began to advertise that $2.75 would buy as good a fountain pen as money could buy. This, of course, made it more difficult to market a higher-priced pen when the oldest reliable company advertised in this manner, It shows how little incidents in a business come and go.
In the year 1920, which was a year of short depression, one of our competitors had slumped in business to only a little over one million dollars. It looked as though things were pretty bad for them. But a salesman from Seattle, Washington, came to the factory when the Proprietor was in Europe and Asia drumming up foreign business and touring the world, and wanted a colored pen made up. As we get the story, he went into the basement and discovered some old red rubber that the factory were afraid to use because it was brittle, and red rubber is progressively brittle: the older it gets, the more brittle it gets. He had some of this red rubber made up in a red lacquer barrel with black tips on it and took it out and to his surprise it sold like wildfire. We can’t touch for the authenticity of all the details of what we heard, but as we heard it, when the proprietor learned what they had done, he ordered them to discontinue making the red pen because the breakage would cause them a severe loss. But by the time he got home, their business had been so rehabilitated and the pen was selling so wonderfully well that it brought their business up many fold.
Our Company at that time was working on an indestructible pen. But we also needed a colored pen, so we hired one of the chief engineers of the country, Mr. Hazelquist, to develop Casein so that we put out a cherry-red pen. We told him, though, not to bring it to
us until he was sure he was right. At the end of eleven months he brought us a beautiful product that took a high luster and that had every prospect of being a splendid success. We took them out and sold them by the thousands, but this was in the wintertime and by having a great many men out on the read, we put out thousands of these pens. When hot weather came in the southern countries, the Casein expanded and the rubber sacs all dropped out and the pens were of course worthless. We had to call all of these pens in and stop making a colored pen, which was a great blow to us at that time.
It shows how a few mistakes can almost ruin a business, The average/has no conception of what a task it is and what a responsibility there is on industry. Industry is making thousands of decisions a day. If they make 500 decisions correct and make ten wrong, they are broke, So if the Government and the men in the Government really knew business and knew the burden that business assumes, they would be more responsive and sympathetic to the great effort of the great majority of American industry, instead of picking out the 5% that are queer and have done wrong. If they would leave the 95% alone that are honest, industrious, and really patriotic, it would be an entirely different picture from what it now is.
We were also working on pyroxylin. We decided on a jade pen, but the DuPont people and the Pyroxylin people told us it was impossible to make pens out of pyroxylin and that this jade pyroxylin was made in cakes like cheese and that it would take it several years for the center of it to cure sufficiently and that it would shrink. The first ones of these we made up shrank so, although the bands were counter—sunk On, that it dropped off in a few weeks from the shrinkage. I went East and got permission to go into one of the factories. I found out that it was six months before they could drill this jade rubber. As the men worked by piece work, their drills would heat when they drilled it when it was less than six months! old. I got a solution to cool the drills and we found out we could drill it in a little over 30 days by using the solution to keep the drills cool. Instead of drilling the cap and leaving a plug in the end, we drilled it clear through. Then we could blow lot air through it and shrink it in a short time and the ends of the barrel and the cap after we had shrunk them, In this way we shrank them as much in $0 days as it would take several years to shrink the old ways
We told the four pyroxylin makers; DuPont Viscoloid Co., Fiberloid (now a division of the Monsanto Chemical Co.), Celluloid, and the Nixon Nitration Works, that if they would give us the exclusive right to two colors, all shades of red and all shades of green, for two or three years, we would spend a million dollars to change the fountain pen industry over from rubber to pyroxylin and that we would give each one of them one-fourth of our business. We finally entered into a signed agreement with all of them, We found, however, that the DuPont Company broke their contract immediately and sold the Parker Pen Company the lacquer-red color and called it burnt orange, It was our intention then to bring suit against the DuPont Company, Their general counsel, Judge Laffey, when we went to see him admitted that they had violated their solemn contract. He frankly said: «Why does this company have a legal department if they don’t consult it when doing things of this kind and breaking a contract?». We have to be sued by your or the Parker Pen Company. We understand that your business is increasing, and you probably couldn’t show the court that our breaking the contract has caused you much damage. If we stopped the other fellow, he could probably show great damage.» He spoke the truth, for our business had been growing so rapidly, it would be impossible to show damage; but still that shows what business concerns will do under certain circumstances and how they will fail to live wp to their solemn agreements. In about two years, however, we changed the fountain pen industry from rubber to pyroxylin, with the exception of one company. Now, probably 90% of all fountain pens are made out of pyroxylin.
We had one other experience that was very severe. A young man came along and sold us a formula for ink and worked with us on it. We made it up. It seemed like a wonderful product. It would wash from the hands and the clothing, but was permanent on paper, We tried it cut in cur offices and had about 200 different people try it – all with the same result, that it was a splendid writing fluid. However, we tried it out where the fountain pens had never had any other writing fluid except ours in them and as long as that was the case, it was a wonderful fluid. But as the base of it was Prussian Blue and as 85% of all other inks had an aniline base, when you mixed Prussian Blue writing fluid with aniline, the Persian Blue would precipitate and separate and our writing fluid was no good. As 85% of all inks were of an aniline base, when we got into manufacturing our writing fluid on a large scale, complaints came back by the thousands because everybody that took on our writing fluid probably ad some ink with an aniline base in their fountain pens and when ours was mixed with it, our fluid separated and was no good. We had to stop manufacturing writing fluid for over a year and had to go to the dealer and have him break up and pour out all the writing fluid we bad sold him and then refund his money to him, which we did willingly.
We started all over again and developed what is now called Skrip today, the best writing fluid, we believe, in the world. Even though the dealers had had this bad experience, they remembered the fact that we didn’t ask them to take the loss and that we had refunded their money willingly. But still we had pretty slow work of getting our writing fluid on the market again. Only after we conceived the idea of selling it in 100-pound shipments and paying the freight, did we actually make headway. Then when the dealer bought a 100-pound shipment he would have enough of our writing fluid to make a splendid display and as it was a wonderful fluid, it then began to take hold rather rapidly. In a very few years it was the leading two-ounce seller on the market, and is still the leader today. The fact that a dealer had so much on hand he didn’t know what to do with it, he would put it up in pyramids on his counter and with an attractive package this created a great deal of additional sales. We then changed our policy a little bit and the jobber salesman began to sell in small quantities, and our sales began to drop. We have now come back to the 100-pound shipment and the sales have come right back up to where they were formerly. The plans on which you merchandise and the plans on which you create dealer interest, are the ones that succeed, especially in a specialty article.
When we entered the fountain pen field, the total annual sales were about three million dollars: this was caused by the different companies selling pens priced from $2.75 down. We have continually worked and urged and maintained our prices and worked for a higher-unit sale until now the total annual fountain pen sales are between 30 and 40 million dollars. We discovered that the gift business of the United States is about $1,200,000. We saw an opportunity to increase again the sale of gift sets, as 80% of all fountain pens are sold for gifts. When we had done a wonderful business on $9.75 and $10 pens, we then wondered how we could further increase the higher sale; so we decided on a beautiful gift box that would go only with the pen and pencil set, and by using the Rule of 4 and the Profit-Sharing-Plan for the dealer and urging it for years, we were again enabled to increase the dealer’s sale in many cases from $10 to $15.
There is a very erroneous thought in the country, that the lower you make prices the more men you employ and the more you increase sales. This is true only to a certain extent. Whenever an item is brought down low enough in price to be within the reach of the masses, then the lower you bring the price the more you will reduce wages and injure business. If everyone built only a one-bathroom house, the plumber would soon out of business. But if you get everyone to build as good a house as they can afford to build, it increases business, it increases the sale
of plumber, it increases the electric business, the plumbing business, and expands employment in general. If we are to employ all the workers of the United States who want to work and will work, we mist quit destroying jobs and begin in the near future to create more jobs.
The public has a definite duty in this matter, A certain percentage of the people are producers, a certain percentage middlemen, a certain percentage white collar workers — but we are all consumers. As consumers, if we purchase the best article we can afford to buy, there will be no trouble about everybody’s being given employment. If the Government will leave honest private industry alone and let them initiate the many conveniences which will be conceived and allow inventors to receive the reward of their inventions so that they will continue to create new things, that will keep on expanding industry and there will be no trouble about employment. It isn’t over-production we are troubled with; it is under—consumption, If every child had all the milk he needed and if every person had all the nourishing food he needed, we would have hardly enough to go around.
If the consumer does not do his full duty, then there is too much money hazarded away. I don’t mean to say that people ought not to save for a rainy day but hoarding and saving for a rainy day are quite different. If a person goes into a store and buys a dollar watch which the labor receives the lowest pay when he could afford to buy a $50 watch, then the Government in order to keep people employed must take away a large portion of the $49 and give it to the unemployed, many times to sweep leaves across the city streets, and on which probably 40% is wasted through Government mismanagement, if the purchaser had bought the $50 watch – the watch factory already had the machinery and equipment -— then most of the additional 49 dollars would go to employing food mechanics who made this watch and making them good Americans by having employment. The purchaser in the latter case would be out very little more money, for he would be giving good mechanics employment at good wages and thus help make good American citizens out of them; while in the former case he would be out the same amount of money, but would be helping to make people hoodlums by forcing then to sweep leaves across the city streets. Therefore, it is very important that the people be educated. If our democracy is to continue to live, everyone must do his best to help make the best Government and as private citizens and consumers, they must do their utmost to expand employment.
A political democracy probably cannot succeed in the long run, for it rewards the man who does the worst job. It rewards the man according to his political pull and the number of votes he gets, but not according to the good job he does. If a democracy of merit could be established where the good deeds were rewarded and the bad deeds punished, we would have a much better government. There is a system which would take long patience and a world of training that could be adopted, but it would take too long to outline it at this time.
There is a great deal said that is erroneous about technology about the labor—saving machines causing unemployment, As far as I have investigated, the contrary is true. I have gone to many companies which are very successful. They have brought many labor-saving devices into existence and in every case they have increased employment and wages many fold, Take the case of the Eastman Kodak Company. About a year ago I was in Rochester, New York, with Mr. Lovejoy, the president, and we were looking down from their main office building at a construction crew working on an addition to the building. Mr. Lovejoy said: «Do you see that crew at work?” I said: «Yes.» «That crew has either been building a new factory building or an addition to a factory building for the last fifteen years; they have never been idle during all that time,” I said to him: “How many men did you have fifteen years ago?» “About one thousand.» «How many do you employ today?» «Fifteen thousand.» «How do your wages per man today compare with your wages per man fifteen years ago, approximately?» «I would have to go to the figures to find out definitely, but I’m quite sure that it would be two or three times as much per man as it was fifteen years ago.» Here is a very reliable and wonderful firm which has put in hundreds of labor-saving machines and still they have multiplied their number of employees by 15 and their wages by 2 or 3.
Take our own Company, for instance. Twenty-six years ago, we had seven people working for us. The prevailing wage for girls in Fort Madison at that time was from $3 to $5 per week. In the last 26 years we have put in many labor-saving machines until today we have between 1,000 and 1,100 employees. We have labor-saving machines where one girl does the work that 30 people did before in smoothing pens. Still, instead of the girls’ getting from $3 to $5 per week, they get many many times that amount now. Instead of working in a little crowded room, they are working in an air-conditioned factory. Most of them have employment 12 months in the year.
No one has bad to buy our product, but we have continually preached for the public to buy the best they could afford to buy. When the value of gold was changed to $35 an ounce, we lost 15 cents on every dollar pen we made. But we believe that the public is entitled to a dollar pen if we could make it, The man who can afford to buy only a dollar pen is entitled to the best he can buy for one dollar. Under the system our employees worked, they would receive a smaller wage for making the dollar pen. We therefore felt that it would be better for us to take a loss rather than have them work for less money on the dollar pen.
Let us see what happened when we sold the dollar pen. Our wages were lower, the volume of our sales was lower, the salesman who sold the pen received less wages, the salespeople of the dealer who was operating on the profit-sharing plan received less wages because they did not get a bonus for selling a dollar pen, and the customer who bought the dollar pen got the best dollar pen he was able to buy and which he was entitled to.
No one had to buy the $10 pen. When a desire was created in the customer’s mind to buy a $10 pen, and he could afford to pay $10 for a pen, immediately the wages in the factory were raised, the wages of the salesmen were raised, the dollar volume of our Company increased, the dollar volume of our retailers increased, if the dealer was operating on the profit-sharing plan the salaries of his salespeople increased, Now, was it fair to the customer who paid $10 for his pen? We maintain that it was, for the $10 pen would outlast ten $1 pens; and instead of having ten cheap pens, the customer would always have the best pen there was to use. If we made only $1 pens, we wouldn’t expand employment because wages would be too low. But when we make $10 pens, our factory workers take higher wages so that they are able to spend more money; and the Spending of more money makes it necessary for more people to be employed to make the articles that the higher wages allowed our workers to buy. Therefore, in making the higher-unit sale, you not only raise wages but you expand employment – which is an endless chain.
If the Government would leave honest industry alone and leave private initiative that is constructive alone; if the Government would let industry expand and increase the unit sale which in turn increases wages and employment; and if they would preach to the consumer to buy the best he can afford to buy, we would soon have an annual volume of business of ninety billion dollars. When we reach the ninety billion
dollar mark, everybody can have a job at good wages, In this scheme of things we must take the producer into consideration, the middleman into consideration – in fact, everyone into consideration – and be fair to all. Lots of people will agree that jewelry is a luxury and is unnecessary; but if we would destroy the jewelry business, we would throw thousands of people out of work and these people whom we had thrown out of work would have to go on relief. The more jewelry, the more clothing, the more of every convenience that is sold, the better and happier and more prosperous this country will be, Whenever we tax the people who build fine homes and who own large estates so heavily that they must close them down or must dispose of them altogether, we throw many people out of positions who have been hired to care for these homes and estates and force them to take Government relief, The quicker this country reverses itself and lets alone everybody who is creating an honest job and encourages him to do so, instead of trying to take everything away from those who are creating honest jobs and giving the money to the Government to wastes, then we will be on the road to real prosperity.
In my early life, I believed everybody to be honest and trusted and took everybody’s word, But when I sold pianos and got the farmers’ notes which were almost universally good because we looked them up to see that they were, I took notes to the bank and borrowed money on them and left the notes as collateral security. When the notes were paid, the bank was supposed to credit the amount that was paid on the notes against our note, AS there was considerable collateral above our note and there were many thousands of dollars’ worth of those notes as collateral, and as I knew that the banker claimed to be a great friend of mine and knew how hard we were struggling to make a living and a little money, I just. assumed that he was thoroughly honest, and I failed to make a list of the notes. As my Sister was working in the bank at the time, I thought that everything would have to go perfectly straight.
I had sold a piano to judge S. S. Carruthers and had taken a note against Johnny Langenstein, blacksmith and wagon maker, to the amount of $300 for payment of the piano, One day judge Carruthers passed the store and came in and told me that Johnny Langenstein had paid his $300 note that day. The next day I happened to be in the bank and asked my sister to let me see our note and she did, and I found that this $300 had not been credited on our note but had been paid to this banker friend of mine. I asked her to go and see if the books balanced on that day. She came back and told me the books balanced. I called my banker friend and asked him about it. He said he forgot to credit it on the note, but I said: «How could your books balance if you forget to credit it on the note?» I told him to give me these notes so that I could list them and keep track of this matter myself, and that looked very bad to me.
I was dumbfounded to think that a man who was rich and who claimed to be such a great friend and who knew the circumstances would do such a thing, I resolved from that day on to make my contracts and my dealings so everyone would have to treat me fairly; for I knew if I could make everyone treat me fairly, I believed I could trust myself to be fair to the other fellow. No matter how honest I thought a man was after hat or anyone I was dealing with, I made the deal Just so that they couldn’t possibly dishonest with me. I believe that is the way that everyone should deal. An honest person doesn’t mind being watched, and a dishonest person ought to be.
In selling pianos, we came across many peculiar circumstances and became quite well acquainted with all the inner workings of the life of the average family to whom we sold pianos and organs, We used to have competition from a firm by the name of Leyhe in Lancaster, Missouri, who were quite active in the piano business. Mr. J.J. Ethel was working for us at that time. He took a piano down toward the Missouri line. The next day he came back and wanted me to go with him, as the Leyhe were up there giving him a pretty strong fight. We had our long wagon that would hold two organs or one piano. Even though he had failed to sell the one organ that he took the day before, we took two more as we had two more prospects, and went down the next day. We didn’t get home until four o’clock in the morning; however, we cleaned up the sales of three organs in that one day.
The last one was a rather peculiar sale and it will show how families get disturbed over the buying of an organ, We reached the home of Byron Lamb, who was pretty close with money and a quite wel to do farmer, but he wanted to spend his money generally for the things on the farm and didn’t worry so much about the musical education of his family. Mrs. Lamb urged Mr. Lamb very hard to buy this organ. Finally, about midnight after she had gotten angry at her husband and had gone upstairs, we sold him the organ. When she found out that he had bought the organ, she got more angry than ever and came downstairs and said he couldn’t buy it. If he would buy the organ, he would harp about it the test of his life and that she would rather not have an organ and have him harp about at. It took all, the ingenuity that Mr. Ethel and I could muster.
We got them separated in separate rooms, John talking to one of them and I talking to the other, Finally, about two o’clock in the morning we got them to agree. So we were fully ten miles from home and we had just about spent the night making this last sale, but we felt pretty good over having accomplished so much in one day.
People of today can’t imagine that it would take us two hours to go ten miles; but if they could have seen some of the roads of those days, they would have considered five miles an hour a wonderful pace. I have seen in the town of Bloomfield four horses hitched to an empty wagon with virtually no load at all and the mad collected in between
the spokes of the wheels until there was a solid mass of mud from the hubs of the wheels to the tires, mot a spoke visible and the mud widening out to the width of the hubs, In those days the circuses all came over land, I can remember very well Robinson’s Circus that was delayed on account of mud and coming, I believe, from Fort Madison to Bloomfield, Iowa. They travelled in the night. When they would get stuck in the mud, they would get an elephant, and sometimes two of them, and put them behind the wagons and they would virtually lift while the teams were pulling the wheels out of the mud hole. It was our job then to carry water to the elephants and help in one way or the other to get a ticket into the show, How we put up with the clay roads in the spring of the year when the frost went out of the ground is almost a miracle, for the wagon tracks would wear so deep that the hubs would come down to the ground in some places. Business would be almost at a standstill until the frost got out and the mid dried up.
In my observations during the last fifty years, I have found that as a rule men make their money in their own businesses which they attend to and universally their losses are in some outside investment which somebody else manages. If business men would just make it a rule to invest their money in their own businesses or in something that they can watch very closely and have control over, or invest their money in good dividend-paying stocks that are listed on the stock exchange and where you get an audited report quarterly or semi-annually and where if there is any change in the condition of the business they can immediately invest in old and tried dividend-paying stocks that have been paying dividends for a long period of time and have a record of sound management, while in the new enterprises the prospects look as good but they are untried and quite a gamble.
When bicycles, along back in ’94 and ’95 became the rage, I endeavored to get in on the ground floor so that we could make some money out of the bicycle business. I finally went to Ames and Frost in Chicago who manufactured the Imperial bicycle and contracted to buy $125 bicycles. By agreeing to buy 50, I got a jobber’s price of $50 and I sold the machines for $100. I had sold 49 of the machines and had one left, I had used this machine a little for a rental machine, The price broke al] at once and in ’95 machines that were selling at $125 dropped to $25, but I was fortunate enough to have sold every one of the bicycles except this one machine. I was very anxious to get rid of it.
A young man by the name of Sammy Harnett whose credit I knew wasn’t very good but whose father was a rich farmer down by Savannah in the southern part of the county, bought my last bicycle. I sold Sammy this bicycle for $35 and took a regular mortgage note that allowed attorney’s fees, but I failed to record the lease note, Sammy got on his bicycle one day and rode down to Lancaster, Missouri, as he lived about half way between Bloomfield and Lancaster. A clothing man down there saw him with the bicycle. As Sammy owed him for clothing, the clothing man levied on the bicycle, and took it, sold it, and collected for his clothing. As it was in Missouri, I had no recourse.
This young Sammy was rather a sort of smart aleck. Quite sometime after the clothing merchant had taken his bicycle away from Sammy, he came into the store. As he had sold a bunch of hogs, he had a big roll of money. At the time, I was waiting on a customer selling a watch. Sammy just walked up to me and pulled out this roll of money and said: «Do you see that?» «Yes.» «You will never get a damn cent of it!”. Then he stuck the roll of money back into his pocket and strode out of the store.
Well, it was rather laughable, but I took the note to John Scarborough, an attorney; the note had several years interest on it and we added the attorney’s fees, We sued and got judgment and took a transcript so that if his father did pass away, any land that he inherited, it would be a lien against it. Several years later, I don’t remember just how many, I noticed in the paper that his father was very sick and was expected to die. Sammy, of course, began to think that I was going to collect the money in full if his father passed away. He came into the store one day and asked me to figure up that mortgage to see just how much he owed on it, I did. That $35 bicycle, the interest, attorney’s fees, and all the costs amounted to $85, Sammy said: «I will give you $65 for the notes» I said: «It is your note.» He paid me the $65 in cash. In 4 few days his father was much better and got well, and I had the $65, I don’t remember when he did pass away, as I moved away from the county before that time. But it did pay me to follow this through. So I finally wound up my bicycle business with a good fine profit; but for years they were as dead as a door nail and you could buy them from $15 to $20; the bottom was clear out.
As we were having a great deal of patent litigation, our stockholders became very disturbed with any announcement of patent litigation. Things were going along rather serenely, when one evening the paper came out with an announcement that the W. A. Sheaffer Pen Company were sued for one million dollars by Brown and Bigelow Company of St. Paul, Minnesota on a pencil patent. We had no idea or notice in the world of this suit and it naturally scared the bankers nearly to death, especially Mr. Brewster and Mr. Joe Pollard. I called Frank Brown over the phone and had him go to Washington, D. C. at once and make a thorough search of pencil patents, which he did. As soon as he made it, he cataloged it and sent it to me and told me we had them licked to a standstill. Brown and Bigelow were probably worth twenty million dollars and I knew that even if we won the suit, it would be a terrible strain and would cost us a lot of money and time away from the business.
When I got the search, I resolved to go to St. Paul and have a talk with Mr. Bigelow. Bigelow was the same man who later was sent to a federal prison for false returns on his income tax and while in prison he became very friendly with another prisoner. When they were both out of prison, he took this other prisoner to St. Paul and finally made him manager of the company, and at this time he is virtually owner of it, The men who really made the business were almost ignored and treated very unfairly.
When I called a conference and told our folks what I intended to do, they thought I was crazy. They said, «If you have them licked and you go up to St. Paul, they will say: ‘’why did you come up here if you really have us licked?» But I believed that I could convince them that they could be beaten in this law suit; and by convincing them of this fact, thereby save both of us lots of time and money. If they wanted to, they could fight for years and make it very uncomfortable for us at that time. So, I got on the train and went to St. Paul.
They had a very wonderful plant outside of St. Paul. I met the superintendent, Mr. Christofecht. He informed me that Mr. Bigelow wasn’t in. I told him what my mission was and his answer was just what everybody said it would be: «If you have us whipped, why didn’t you stay home instead of coming to us?» I told him that I didn’t believe they wanted to waste a lot of money and we didn’t either, and I felt sure we would win this suit, He said: «We have our own patent attorney whom we employ by the year and it would not cost us as much as
it would you.» I said it would cost them plenty. I said: «It will cost us both a lot.» He said, «Would you mind if I sent for our attorney, Mr. Fisher, and let him look over your search?» I said: «No.» He brought the attorney over to the room. I said to Mr. Fisher: «Have you a cross patent in your file?» He began to look and look and finally he found one; but as he didn’t have his papers in good condition, he did not make a very good impression upon Mr. Christofecht. I said: «But you haven’t the right cross patent.» I just reached in my Little folder where they were all indexed and said: «Read this.» As I watched him read it, I could see how surprised and hyw red he got; but he was pretty smooth. After he read it through, he said. «I don’t see that decides anything.» «I said: «Yes, I think you do.» He and Mr. Christofecht went out into the other room and had a long conference. When they came back, they said; «Did you say you wanted to see Mr. Bigelow?» I said: «Yes, that is whom I came up to see.» ‘They went out again and must have; telephoned Bigelow, for after a while they came back into the roam and said; «You can see Mr. Bigelow at ten o’clock in the morning.»
At ten o’clock the next morning, I went into Mr. Bigelow’s office and he said: “Just what do you want? I told him that I wanted him to withdraw his suit and pay his attorney’s cost. He said: «What do I gain by doing so?” «You will save thousands of dollars and an awfully good licking. If that is not enough, go ahead.» He said: «Do you know what our plan is? When we find out that a younger concern takes out a patent, we bring suit, whether our patent will win or not. We keep it in the courts until we wear them out on account of the great expenditure.» I said: «It’s a damnable policy!” Do you think you can wear us out?» He said; «I don’t know. You have had a pretty good record of fighting.» He went out into the other room, and with Mr. Christofecht and Mr. Fisher, they had another long conference. When he came back he said: «If you will give me this search that you have, I will withdraw the suit and pay our attorney and you pay yours.” «No,» I said, «I won’t give you the search. Whom do you want to use it against?” He said: «I want to use it against George Kraker.» I said: «He is about the only man in the world I would Iet wou use it against.» So we settled our case.
I had told George Kraker when he tricked me that if he would decide to be an honest man, I would let up on him; but be had never told me he would give up his dishonest ways, so I lent this search to Mr. Bigelow so that he could bring a patent suit against George Kraker. Later I understood that Kraker last a lot of money to the Minnesota Pen Company and there were some circumstances that it is not necessary to relate here because I can’t prove them. But it showed by going to St. Paul, I avoided the starting of a suit that might have lasted for over a period of four or five years. But it was a dubious undertaking and locked as though it would be almost impossible to accomplish anything with a man like Bigelow.
There came a time in our business when we wanted to make our holders and as Julius Snell was a fine man, I tried my best to buy his little holder factory on Franklin Street in New York City and move him and his family to Fort Madison, Iowa. I prevailed on him in every way I could, but I couldn’t get him to come. He afterwards got some men to go in with him and put a pen that they had on the market. They failed and lost all of his money. I was very sorry indeed to see this because he was a fine type of man and thoroughly honorable.
When the war broke out in 1914, he had only been making holders for us about a pear and a half, but I become attached to him. He came out to Fort Madison one day and told me that his aunt in Paris had sent him and his family round-trip tickets to come and see her and that he would be back about the first of August. He said he couldn’t go unless I would agree to keep his payroll going for those two months. I told him I would do it, as we took most of the holders that he made. The war broke out the last of July and tied him up in France so that he couldn’t get home. Times got very bad at home and we were pinched for money. I had gone down and kept his factory going three days a week and kept his organization intact. When he came back and found out that they had been running only three days a week, he said: «Why didn’t you keep my factory running six days?» I told him that he ought to be thankful for those three days because I had taken all the money to do that. He afterwards found out how difficult it was and was sorry that he had said anything. We then organized our own holder factory and, of course, he eventually lost our holder business.
There then came a time a little later when we wanted to make our gold nibs and it was a very important thing that we get the right man, ‘There were only three men In the United States who were the type of men I would have. One was Tommy Moore who managed the gold nib department of the Boston Safety Pen Company of Boston. Another one was Mr. Aiken who was 82 years of ages. The third one was Winfield Kay of Kay and Smith, Jersey City, New Jersey.
I went to Boston and wasn’t there a week before I had an agreement with Tommy Moore to move his family to Fort Madison, as the Boston Safety Pen Company had been bought by the Wahl Pen Company of Chicago, Illinois: so I wasn’t taking Moore away from his old employers.
At the end of the week everything, I thought, was already. He came to me the next morning and said, » I have decided not to go.»
I then got on a train and went to Jersey City, Kay and Smith had a gold nib factory at the back part of a hardware store. They were making gold nibs to ship to France and gold nibs had to be a special 18k. nib or they could not be received into France. The French government had put a clamp down on purchasing gold nibs as the war was in progress and Mr. Kay and Mr. Smith were having a pretty hard time. I had learned that Mr. Kay was a very honorable man and I had decided to get him to move to Fort Madison if possible. I went in and talked to him about it, Said: «There is no chance in the world. Mrs. Kay won’t go.» I said: “How do you know she won’t go?» He said: «The Swan Fountain Pen Company wanted me to go to Toronto, Canada, and she wouldn’t go up there. She has so many friends in the catholic church and is so happy with her friends that she wouldn’t think of leaving them.» I said: «Let’s go out to your home and let me talk with Mrs. Kay.» We went out and in a little modest home we found Mrs. Kay down on the floor cutting out dresses for their two little girls. She was a very fine little woman. I told her what I had come to talk about, but she told me very firmly that she wouldn’t go to Fort Madison and leave her friends, I said: «Let’s not talk about it anymore now, but Thursday night you and Mr. Kay and your two children come over to the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York City and have dinner and talk this over then. You don’t have to go to Iowa if you don’t want to.»
This was on a Monday. I went back and asked Mr. Kay: «How much money are you taking home a week?» Only $25; probably less from now on» “Then when you present your arguments to Mrs. Kay, you tell her if she compels you to stay in Jersey City she must accept smilingly and willingly whatever you can make wherever she compels you to stay; and if you come home with $15 a week, she must be satisfied with it.» I didn’t care to take Smith with me, but Kay wanted Smith to come also. «What will we do with our factory?» «I will buy it and I will pay you invoice price for it. (I didn’t know what machinery was worth as we were not making gold nibs, but I knew he was thoroughly honest.) I will start you and Mr. Smith in at $40.00 a week each. I will sell you $5,000 worth of Sheaffer Pen stocks that you can pay for out of the profits you will receive on this stock, provided you stay with me, If you give up your job, you give up the stock.»
Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the Kays came over to the Vanderbilt Hotel on Thursday evening and they began to ask questions. The children were also there, I said: “Well, we will not talk a lot until we have had our dinner.» I found that people were always in a better mood after they had had a good meal. We had a very nice dinner. Mrs. Kay asked me: “Are there any catholic churches in Fort Madison?» I said; «Yes, we have three large catholic churches.» Mrs. Smith asked: «Do you have any moving picture shows in Fort Madison?» I said: «Yes, we have Mary Pickford and Marguerite Clark with every picture,» Even though Mrs. Smith was a church member, I could see that she liked the bright lights a little bit. Mrs. Kay said: «You know, we have a peculiar situation in our family. Mr. Kay is a strong mason and I am a strong catholic.» I said: «I believe we can handle that situation. As Father Zaizer formerly was a Presbyterian minister, he ought to be able to handle a mason and catholic together.» They both laughed and seemed to think that it might be a good arrangement. The children wanted to know what kind of schools we had, and I told them. I said: «You can have daddy home at noon as well as in the morning and evening. You can have nice grass in your yard (they had no grass in their yard in Jersey City) and a nice place to play.» Of course, I made it as it was. Finally the decision was to go.
After they moved to Fort Madison, Mrs. Kay afterwards told me she cried for nearly six months; but after she had been there a few years, you couldn’t have hired her to go back. But Smith’s wife, after she was in Fort Madison for several months, wanted to go back to the bright lights. Mr. Smith gave up his $5,000 worth of Sheaffer stocks and went back, Mr. Kay stayed. I understand that Mr. Smith is working today for about $35 a week. Mr. Kay bought more stock and stayed with us and trained nearly everybody in our gold nib department. He was one of the most loyal men I never knew. He was one of the most prominent citizens in Fort Madison and was a member of the City Council nearly continually for ten or fifteen years. He passed away about six months ago. We cancelled at different times about $9,000 that he owed on the stock he bought. We arranged to have his widow out of debt after he passed away and with an income of $200 a month. (we feel that it was our duty to make this arrangement on account of the great loyalty of Mr. Kay.) This arrangement leaves Mrs. Kay comfortably fixed and with several thousand dollars in money and with a permanent income of $200 a month.
Many peculiar circumstances came up in selling musical instruments, There was a family by the name of Killwilling down by Killwilling, Missouri. Everybody had tried to sell them an organ and had failed. We took a very fine organ with a large canopy top, and John Ethel and I went down and tried our luck with Mr. Killwilling. His answer to us was: «Go into the house and if you can sell Mrs. Killwilling, I will sign the note.» We went into the house and after a very hard time we sold her the organ and took in her old organ as part trade. We took the old organ out and put it in the long piano wagon, which was so long that it was hard to back out and turn around in some small places. Mrs. Killwilling came out and said: «We have decided to trade back.» John Ethel became so excited that in turning the wagon around, he turned it over and mashed her old organ. We righted the wagon and drove away. John kept locking back as if he expected to see the sheriff coming after us with a shotgun. When the note became due, Killwilling paid for their organ without any trouble.
In this case, it shows how you can be fooled by a customer. Ab Downing, the superintendent of the county farm, was a very shrewd and a very close trader, I had never made any profit on hardly anything I had sold him over a period of many years. His son was studying to be a music teacher and they had decided to trade their Packard organ which I had sold them without profit for a piano, I didn’t have the kind of piano I wanted to take out. It was at the time that Kincart and O’Neill were in the neighborhood and I heard that they would be there a certain day. I had ordered my piano from Chicago and if I waited until the freight train got into Bloomfield, I couldn’t get out there until the next day and Kincart and 0’Neill would be there and we would have a bad fight on our hands; and I knew with this shrewd trader there would be nothing in it for either of us.
I telegraphed the superintendent of the KC road, whom I knew very well, and I got permission to stop the train out near the county farm, I backed up to this freight car and slid it right out of the car and put it into our piano wagon and went over to the county farm and wanted to put it in the house. Ab Downing said: «No, if you say it is a good piano, I will take your word for it, providing you will take in a team of horses that I have and the organ.» I felt sure that I was going to have to make a big cut and I prepared for it. the boy and his wife didn’t like the thought of giving up their driving team because they went to town a great deal and lived about five miles out of town; but Downing said: “You either put in the team, or no trade.» I didn’t know whether I was getting skinned on the horses or not, but I had a good
profit on the piano. To my great surprise, Downing didn’t ask me to take one cent off. I put the piano in the house and took the term to town. As I drove into the livery barn, a buyer stepped up and offered $122.50 for the team that I had just allowed $125 for; so I got within $2.50 for what I had allowed for the horses and made up for some of the sales that I had sold him virtually without profit in the 20 years before. I never yet could understand why even on a dollar article he would whittle down to the last penny, while on the highest ~ priced article he bought it sight unseen and never asked me to take a nickel off the price. But after that, he soon changed back into his former position and I had to sell him stuff without profit if I sold him.
As the bottom of the depression arrived in 1932 and hundreds of people were out of work, everyone, although he might be nearly broke himself, as long as he had any money his thoughts were about giving men work, We had built our home on High Point, Fort Madison, Iowa. As we passed back and forth between our home and the business district, we saw a large hard maple tree on the north side of the road on the north hillside which belonged to Will Hitch. This tree stood out alone in the field; it was beautiful in symmetry and was approximately 100 years old.
I had had a fine elm tree on the west side of my home which was about 2 and half feet in diameter and probably about as old as the large hard maple tree in Will Hitch’s field, But the Davey people came along and persuaded me to let them work in the tree. They had first worked on the trees in the parks down town; those very trees they worked on developed elm blight, but I didn’t know that when they began to work on my elm tree. When they came to High Point the second time to work on the elm tree, it was looking as beautiful as IT had ever seen it. I told the Davey people that I didn’t want the tree disturbed, but they persuaded me that they ought to do a little trimming. In sixty days after they had worked on it, the tree was dead.
I inquired of them whether or not they sterilized their tools. They told me that they didn’t. In other words, they did with their tools as they went from one section of the country to the other what the doctor would do if he operated on a patient and failed to sterilize his instruments and then operated on another patient with these same germ-laden instruments. It was inconceivable to me that a great organization like the Davey people who travelled over the entire country working on all kinds of trees would fail to take the precaution of sterilizing their tools when they worked on a healthy tree. It Seemed to me that the spread of elm blight was greatly hastened and made much worse because the Davey people failed to sterilize their tools, for the tress which died first were always the ones they had worked on first, The trees in the country which they did not work on didn’t show Signs of the blight until several years later, But finally the blight Spread to nearly all of our good elm trees. I never let the Davey people work on another of my trees and told them that they had killed the only trees which were worthwhile to work on.
As I was so anxious to have a good shade tree on the west side of the home, I began to think of moving and transplanting this large hard maple tree in my yard. I knew nothing about moving trees and I could not seem to find anybody who had moved a tree, the dirt ball of which would weigh over 35 tons. The Davey people said that they had equipment to move dirt balls weighing up to 35 tons. Finally I entered into a contract with two men; one, a house-moving man who lived west of Burlington, Iowa; the other, a man who moved heavy machinery and big engines and lived in Burlington, These two men went together and contracted for a given sum to move this hard maple tree, but with the one condition that I had the privilege of digging the sides of the dirt ball and that I had to cut it loose from the ground.
When I began to dig into the ground, I found that this tree had a spread of roots of. between 50 and 60 feet. The tree was about 54 feet across and about 65 feet high. The roots ran parallel with the top of the ground and about 18 inches under the top. I dug a dirt ball 32 feet across and went down about 6 feet. The tree sat on a northeast hillside. As the power lines from the Keokuk Dam which furnished light and electric power to the city of Burlington, Iowa, had to be gone under and as we had to raise the tree about 8 feet to get it on the house-moving equipment, we had to raise the electric wires to permit the tree to go under them. We also had to tie the top of the tree down about 8 feet. As I said before, I dug the dirt ball 32 feet across, but I didn’t realize that a ball this size would weigh: approximately 150 tons; wherein, if I had dug the dirt ball 27 feet across the weight would have been only about half or 75 tons.
The men asked me just how I was going to cut the tree loose from the ground without putting their timbers under the tree. I told them to give me a day to think about it. Finally, I discovered a way to cut it loose from the ground by putting only inch boards under the tree. I had wanted to discover this way because I wanted to make a new contract for them to cut it loose from the ground. When I went to them for a new contract, they told me that they would have to charge me as much for cutting it loose from the ground as the former contract, that is the contract had to be doubled. I told them that I would agree to this.
They then began to cut the tree loose from the ground, but without putting a tub around the dirt ball, They had begun to tunnel under the tree and I saw that someone was going to get hurt. So I got some three-quarter-inch cables and turn buckles, sawed boards and put a tub around this tree and drew it very tight with these turnbuckles so that the dirt ball was held very firmly together. Then we had to put a roof over it so that the dirt ball would not get wet. We had from 20 to 60 men working on the tree from November until the 15th of February.
They hoped that the ground would freeze, for they felt that they could move the tree much easier. They had put thirty-two 12 x 12 timbers under the tree and had it loose from the ground and had it jacked up even with the top of the ground with their moving equipment under it. But when they undertook to move it with a hoist engine, they broke the cables and couldn’t move it an inch. They had 64 hickory rollers under it, but it was so heavy it mashed litle flat places on the rollers; and in order to start it there had to be a great force to get the rollers out of these little flat places.
The men came to me about the middle of February and said they were broke and that they had spent all their money and could not go any further. I told them to go ahead, for I would take charge and pay them fair wages, which I did. I had to put ten men behind the tree with truck jacks. We had to lay 50 feet of two-inch oak flooring on top of the ground and then six-inch oak track for the rollers to go on. Every eighth inches we moved the tree, we had to put in eight rollers. It took about twelve men under the tree all the time to keep in the rollers. If I didn’t stay there constantly, the men wouldn’t work in unison and whenever the men started to pull, the cables would break, with forty men working, it took about two hours to repair the cables, If the cables would break, it was a matter of over $40; so I had to be there to signal the ten men to use their truck jacks to jack the rollers out of the flat places or to start them and then the engine to pull in unison. In that way we could get it started; but every time it stopped, we had to go through this process all over again. Invariably, when I went to the Factory, the breakage would occur. We finally jacked it up and pulled it up the side of the hill and got it over into Will Hitch’s field.
I had to get the tree in the ground by at least the 10th or 15th of April so that I could put water on it because it would have to have a world of watering order to grow. When it was over in the middle of Will Hitch’s field and what frost there was in the ground was coming out, I got a weather report that on Saturday night there would be heavy rain which might turn into snow. I knew with this plowed ground soft that if we got in the md our chances of getting this tree out of the field were very slight, This was on Thursday, as I remember, and I told the men that if they would get that tree over on the cement road by Saturday night, I would give each one of them a $10 pen; there were forty men, The men really wanted those pens and they worked very hard.
We had another power line which we had to go through. We got the tree by four o’clock Saturday evening right up against this power line, I then told the men to go home and come back Monday morning. On Monday morning we had to have about sixty men there; as the Keokuk men bad to be there for the power lines; the telephone men had to be there for the telephone lines; and the Fort Madison electric men had to be there On account of their lines. I had to cut these wires and I didn’t want to keep people out of heat and Light longer than thirty minutes. The next morning it rained very hard and then turned into snow.
We had about six inches of snow on the ground on Monday morning. Sixty men came and we worked from eight o’clock until half-past nine getting the snow and everything already to start. The first thing that was done each morning was the building of a fire in the boiler by the engineer am hour before the men began to work as a rule. I paid no attention to this part of the work. After we had shoveled for about an hour and a half and were ready to start, I told the men to get ready to cut the wires. Just as they were about to cut the wires, the engineer said: «There is no fire in the boiler,» I said: «Why haven’t you a fire in the boiler?» He said: «The hose was frozen.» I said: «Why didn’t you thaw it out and tell me two hours and a half ago?» He had no answer, I guess I swore quite considerably. I finally sent them all home because it had begun to turn warmer and rain again.
In about an hour the contractors came down to the office and said they were going to quit. I asked them what the matter was. They said that they didn’t like the way I talked to them. «You liked the
way I talked to you about as well as you treated mee. I had sixty men working there for an hour and one-half and your engineer and fireman have always had a fire in the boiler and they knew how important it was this morning to have everything ready. To go two hours and a half without saying a word to me about the boiler seemed like perfect nonsense. They got Just what was coming to them,” They said they were going to gut. I said: «You have about $500 worth of equipment under the tree. How are you going to get it out? You can’t cut the tree up to get your equipment out. If you want to save your equipment, you will have to move that tree to its destination.» They went out and went into a huddle and came back and said they would go back to work.
In a few days they came back, and we moved the tree over ready to put it in the ground. I had a hole dug for it 70 feet across and 8 feet deep. The question was how to lay that ball of dirt down into that hole. I found that I could save money by burying the timbers under the tree instead of taking them out. I forget exactly what I had to pay for the timbers, but it was between three or four hundred dollars. Then it took thirty jack screws on a side at one time to let each side of the tree down. There had to be thirty men on these jack screws. We built a trestle across the hole and then we built another trestle at each end of the tips of the timbers. I tried to find out Just how much loose dirt would settle with a weight of 150 tons on it; but I couldn’t find any railroad man or anybody who could give me the least idea. When we finally let the tree down on the soft dirt, it was very important that we get it at the right spot. So we had our trestle loose at each side of the tree and we filled the center under the tree which was several feet above the top of the ground full of dirt. Then we began to take out the jacks and let the tree down about one foot each time, We had to leave the south side of the dirt ball four feet higher than the north side because in its original position that was the way it grew. When we got it down in the ground, the ground was about level and the south side of the tree stood out of the ground about two feet; we had to fill in the other side about two feet in order to have the tree stand perpendicular.
When we let the tree down for the last time, the great problem was to get thirty men to turn the jacks and jerk them out before the tree settled into the ground. We lectured the men quite a while and had them practice doing it a little before we got to the last spot.
Fortunately, the men turned those thirty jack screws and jerked them out just as the tree was settling down; if they hadn’t gone this, we would have had to jack the tree up again in order to get them out.
When we finally settled the tree into its final place, we were approximately where we wanted to be. It was almost perfect. We surely had splendid luck in that respect. I am enclosing two pictures of the tree with this article; one taken before the tree was in the ground; the other, taken about forty days later when the tree was out in full leaf.
The thing which really saved the tree was my decision to leave the timbers underneath the dirt ball, I ran a one and half inch pipe down between the two center timbers and put a «l» on it and ran it out on top of the ground. When we wanted to water the tree, we could turn on the pressure and fill the ground down below the tree full of water; and when the water began to ooze out the top of the ground, then we knew it was thoroughly soaked. I don’t believe it would have been possible to get the water down deep enough into the ground and to water it enough if we had not left the timbers under the tree.
While I had started out on this undertaking to give men work, it looked as though for a while I would be the fellow who would be seeking work; for the panic was getting steadily worse and I had spent thousands of dollars moving the tree. I have never told the exact amount spent on the tree and I guess there is no reason for doing it now. At this writing the tree is living, and this is being written seven years later. You can get some idea of what an undertaking it was from the picture. Needless to say, it was one of the hardest jobs and one of the most baffling I had ever undertaken.
After nearly fifty years of merchandising and working to increase the unit sale and to sell the better merchandise which cost the customer more, I became very interested in an investigation, About five years ago when I was in California for the winter, I went to an annual Iowa picnic that was held in Lincoln Park. They had each county of the State of Iowa laid out in the same position that it was located on the map. I took Mrs. Sheaffer with me and went to Davis County. As there were over 100,000 people at this picnic – almost all of them were retired Iowa farmers – I no more arrived in Davis County than some retired farmer would come up and say to me; «Are you Walter Sheaffer?» I would say: “Yes,» He would say: “Here’s a Hamilton watch I bought from you 45 years ago, It is still running perfectly.» As I stayed there for quite a long
time, one retired farmer after another would come up and make the same inquiry and invariably would pull gut a Hamilton watch and tell the same story that it had been running perfectly for 45 years. While selling them a watch from $14 to $25, instead of selling them a $3.95 watch on which we would lose 30 cents, we not only paid the mortgage off on the jewelry store but we also benefitted the farmer and sold him a watch which would last him a lifetime and would keep good time during the entire period. It proved conclusively that constructive merchandising is just as beneficial to the purchaser as it is to the merchant. We had filled this county full of good watches on which we made a fair margin of profit, In the other counties the jewelers tried to compete with Montgomery Ward and sold the people watches which were cheap, and as a result of doing this they were put out of business and their customers were not benefitted.
This experience in retail selling was one of our reasons when I entered the fountain pen field of making every endeavor, we could to make the best merchandise we knew how to make and charge a fair price for it. By so doing, we benefitted the person who purchased it, the salesperson who sold it, the dealer who bought it and sold it, the salesman On the road, our factory employees, and our Company – a continuous chain of expanded employment and better wages. If the consumers of the United States, and that means everyone in the country, could oat realize the great good they could do to humanity by purchasing the best articles they could buy, instead of the cheapest; after a while they would realize what a benefit it was to employment and to our country in general.
I found that there are many factors in a business that make or unmake a product. Sometimes a product of quality fai7s on account of peculiar circumstances. Some years ago the Mason Hammond Company devised a tuning pin. A hole was bored in an extended flange and the pin was put through this hole with threads on it and then a cap to it was put on the top, so that in tuning the piano you could Just turn this nut down and draw the string up just as much as you desired. This did away with pin slipping and pianos getting unduly out of tune.
The piano tuners, of course, did not like this device and they did not know how to handle it well. As the string was drawn over an agraffe bar in pulling it up, unless the key was hammered very hard the string had a tendency to sharpen after the tuner left. On account of the
propaganda put out by the tuners, this piano company had to go back to the old system of tuning, which was net nearly so good.
Probably one thing which helped to cause the trouble was that if they had a roller agraffe bar in which the string would rum over a roller instead of being drug by friction over a bar, this tendency would not have occurred. i sold pianos of this make years ago which would stay in tune for a year if they were properly tuned and the string properly hammered with the key while tuning, So many good things, if they are not properly explained and if they are not properly developed, do not succeed on account of propaganda. Of course, there were thirty or forty makes of pianos using the other tuning arrangement and so the preponderance of evidence was against the new system. But after selling pianos for years out in remote places where tuners were not handy, I found this new system, if properly adjusted, to be the best system that was ever invented.
After having moved the big tree at Fort Madison and after having moved our first on the hill because the earth had begun to slip off, we thought we had set our new home far enough back so that it would never be bothered by any slides. The Burlington Railroad had taken a steam shovel and had dug away the base of the hill after the Keokuk Dam was built instead of rip-rapping when they had plenty of ground on the river side of their track. The dam had made the Mississippi River into one large lake and the banks along the track washed continually. They let it go until the river had washed the banks up to the track. Then they thought that the easiest place for them to get dirt to fill in along the river side was to dig away the base of the hill. It would have cost the railroad no more to have rip-rapped the banks before they washed back to the track than it did now to dig away the base of the hill and fill in along the river side, This digging away the base of the hill started slides from the bottom. In the freezing and thawing and in the wet weather, the hill began to sluff off at the bottom and in time if sluffed clear to the top. One early morning thousands of tons of dirt slid off just ag a passenger train came along and knocked the train into the river. Fortunately, the river was shallow enough so that no one was killed.
The railroad then began to dig away this dirt. I got hold of the assistant chief engineer, C. L. Persons, who was a very fine man and a very square man, to stop digging away the base of the
hill, I explained that that would simply let that much more dirt come down and eventually would come back and take the house. We drove steel sheet piling—some of it 45 feet long — and then we put dead men back 50 and 60 feet — dozens of them — and put angle irons and railroad irons In them. Then we attached copper-welded cables 7/8″ thick to railroad irons outside the sheet steel piling at a great expense. But the freezing and thawing when the ground was wet caused the steel cables to break because of the tremendous hydraulic pressure built up.
One very dry year we had to dig down 30 feet and take out our front yard. We got approximately 1200 feet of three-foot corrugated culvert three—-feet in diameter. We electric welded ends in them and made them from 10 to 40 feet long. Then we left about a foot between and tamped dry dirt around them and put in another 2000 feet of cables. We put in dead men that were 4 feet thick, 15 feet high, and 18 feet long. We doubled the amount of cables to them. We filled from 30 feet down in the ground to within 5 feet of the top of the ground with these corrugated culverts, with only 1 foot between of dry dirt. Then we put a roof of asphalt over this dry dirt and sloped it back toward the house so that no water would run over the hill. We put a six-inch layer of asphalt and then we put six inches of sand on that and led it down to a twelve-inch tile that was down im the ground about 8 or 9 feet and which drained back several hundred feet i Into a natural drain and slough that ran into the river. Then we put over 4 feet of dirt on top of this sand. This finally solved the problem. We had no hydraulic pressure because the little corrugations on these three-—foot pipes came next to one another and it kept the dry dirt from pressing out, The pressure was straight down. The ground never froze in there because there was, 2/3 air down there which kept it from freezing. The asphalt roof kept it from getting wet, except the four feet on top. It has never moved a particle in the last five years since we did this. The railroad engineers and everyone else gave up and sail it couldn’t be done; but Paul Hunicke who was our maintenance man made the suggestion and the minute he made it, I saw that it was a capital idea.
Our front year cost almost as much as our house. But the tree and yard and the grass are doing well. We have a little opening in there and the dirt is aps as dry there in the wettest of weather as it was the day we temped it. We have turnbuckles on these cables now so that we can tighten them up if there is any stretching of the cables; but I believe as long as the sheet steel piling lasts – and we have covered it with good preservatives – that the front yard will hold, If any of the future generations occupy this home and happen to see this record, we hope that they will keep up the preservation of the piling, This record is written so that they will understand what is in the ground and how to handle it.
In those frontier towns there was a great change as the country settled up. My father told me that in the early settlement of Bloomfield back in ’54, there was only one well in the town which furnished living water. He said that the well was 90 feet deep and everyone had to go to this well to get their living water. He also said that you could fish in the little cricks at the edge of town, which are perfectly dry today. Out on the prairies in the cricks, there were little water holes in which there were plenty of sunfish; but today they have no water in them at all.
When they began to plow the ground, it made a great difference in the water supply. Instead of the water running off, it soaked into the ground a great deal; for now you can dig down almost any place 20 or 25 feet and get a good living well.
The records show that there isn’t as much difference in the severity of the winters as it would seem. But when I was a young man, I saw it snow and blow until a crust would form so that when you rode in a sleigh with a team of horses over a stake and rider fence, the crust would be so hard that it would hold the team of horses up. The winters, it seemed to me, were much longer that they are now. At any rate, it wasn’t unusual in the early days to have the snow stay on all winter. While we have just as heavy falls of snow now as we had then, the snow today does not seem to stay on and the winters seem to be more broken up with warm and cold days, instead of a steady cold as it was in years back. At any rate, in the last 20 years I have not seen a crust of snow on which you could drive a team of horses without breaking through.
April Fools Day in those times was quite a day. In the jewelry store we, of course, had soldering instruments. We would take a time and solder a good-sized nail on one side of it and then drive it on the sidewalk in front of the store. As cement wasn’t much in use those days, all the sidewalks were made of wood, As there was nothing visible to see but what it was just a dime lying there, it was very laughable to see the people come along and reach to pick it up only to find that it was fastened very tightly. Some would get angry and kick at it with their boots and, of course, scuff them. But it furnished a world of merriment for the people who were watching in the store.
My grandfather, a practical joker, was retired and came into the store every day. He was a very fine type of man; but like all practical jokers he enjoyed playing jokes on other people and not have jokes played on himself. S.S. Carruthers, an attorney, and I always planned to get a practical joke on him the first of April if we could, but we almost run on of things to do. In February there was a terrible blizzard and the papers were full of it, far it was one of the worst blizzards we had ever had. We saved this paper and preserved it in nice shape. When “April 1” came, we pasted a little slip showing the date «April 1» over the February date of the newspaper. My grandfather came down to the store and picked up the paper and read what a terrible blizzard they had had in a certain part of the country. He called us all around and got everybody he could get to listen to him read the story of the blizzard aloud. After he read for quite a while and looked up and saw us all laughing, he caught on. He said his by-word «Oh squint!» and threw the paper down and went home and stayed all the rest of the day.
It was the custom in those early days for shows to come and stay a week in a town, as the expense of travelling was considerable. In order to induce people to come to the show, Monday night would be «ladies’ free night.» As my means were very limited, Monday night was the only night I could take my girl. I got the nickname for a while of «ladies free night,» but still I had to stick to «ladies free night» or stay home.
To show the difference between the customs of today and 50 years ago; when we had our dances 50 years ago, the dances began at eight o´clock and generally quit at midnight. It is hard for the younger generation to conceive of such a thing; but the reason for it was a very important one. Most of the people had work to do and had jobs and had to take care of these jobs to the best of their ability. So by commencing by eight o’clock -and generally only on Saturday nights- and quitting at twelve, they were enabled with the Sunday rest to tend to their jobs as well as ever.
But the ridiculous thing today is the way the young people do. Most of them who have a job go to a dance at ten o’clock and stay until the early hours of the morning, and then they are unfit for their
jobs the next day. There is no sense to it and no logical reason for it. It is just simply a bad custom, for they could get just as much enjoyment from eight to twelve as they could from ten to two or three in the morning and be in much better physical condition and be fair with their employers.
I remember a very funny thing that happened to a fine old fellow by the name of Jake Damuth. He made hoop holds to go around barrels and worked up quite a business and generally sold his hoop holds in Ottumwa, Iowa, which was about twenty miles away. One day he went over and collected $1,900 for his sale of hoop holds. They counted him out the money and he went over to a little counter at one side away from the cashier’s window and counted the money over several times. Finally, he went back to the cashier’s window and said to the person who had given him the money: «Do you correct mistakes here?» He was informed that after he left the window, there were no mistakes corrected. «Well,» he said, «I just (he spoke broken English) wanted to know, for you gave me $300 too much. As you don’t correct mistakes, I will keep it. I thank you.» And with that, he went out the door much to the chagrin of the paying teller.
Then there was old «Stormy» Jordan, who owned a fine saloon. In the early days he had a sign over his saloon which said: «The Road to Hell.» It was a notorious place and was known all over southern Iowa. When anyone went in and asked for the best he had, he would invariably hand him out a glass of water. He was a peculiar character and pretty hardboiled, but he was strictly honest.
After moving to Fort Madison and out on the eight-acre place, I had a great deal to do. I employed Frank Rider, an old Bloomfield friend and bachelor, to build a fence for me, Frank had the habit of drink a bit too much. When I came home in the evening, I saw that Frank was a little tipsy. I sighted down the fence and saw that it was about as crocked as a drunk man would walk. While I was looking down the fence, Frank looked up at me out of one corner of his eyes and said: «That fence isn’t very straight but it is helpful stout.» It was stout enough, but it was so crooked we had to tear it down.
One of the most interesting things I ever did was inbreeding Light Brahma chickens. I found that by inbreeding and introducing new blood through the female that you could get the color and the size of the birds almost uniform. There is a prevalent opinion that inbreeding deteriorates the quality of the stock. That has come probably by the monarchies of Europe intermarrying. Where there is inbreeding and there is a deficiency on each side, of course that increases that deficiency; and that is what happened to the monarchies. But inbreeding in stock and chickens, if it is done by selection, you can increase the size and the vigor and the markings very materially because each one is selected for the purpose of increasing perfection. Seven of the finest and most uniform and best Light Brahmas ever produced were from the mating of a brother and a sister. The seven chickens scored an average of up above 93 and were all uniform. When you think of quail, prairie chickens, and wild animals, the reason why they do not deteriorate is because only the strongest ones live and the weaker ones are weeded out, and they are very uniform; of course, there is inbreeding in the flocks of quails and wild birds of all kinds. Most breeders of cattle practice it, but they do not tell the people they are selling the stock to that they do because if they did, they wouldn’t be able to sell their stock for improving other herds at so good an advantage.
In one of our different trips on the Sheridan River fishing, we had many things come up. As I was very near-sighted and had to wear my glasses at all times, even when I was swimming in the river, I was practically helpless without them. When I went down to dive one time, I came up without my glasses and we couldn’t find them. I had to go back to camp and sit on a log and not participate in the fishing, etc. until I could get another pair. This other pair was 20 miles away and most of my time that year was spent waiting for the glasses. From that day until this – and that is probably 40 years – I have never gone without an extra pair of glasses in my pocket, and it has come in handy many a time.
It was always my duty when we were seining to go behind the seine. You had to have a good diver and a pretty good swimmer. Those were the days when we had hooks in front of our shoes instead of eyelets so you could lace and unlace a shoe very quick. They got the seine snagged in a very deep hole and I went down to unsnag it; it was snagged on a big tree. The hooks on one of my shoes caught on the seine; and whey] would pull one hook off the seine, the other hooks would catch. I stayed under almost too long trying to get my foot free; finally, I took off my shoe and came to the top. When we finally got the seine loose and puiled it up, the shoe was still sticking to the seine, This was a pretty close call, but 3¢ didn’t stop the seining or the diving.