Chapter Eight-Line’s Variety Store:1907

I occasionally took the little boys 2-1/2 miles down the Bid Four tracks to the Vermilion River to fish. Winfield’s short legs could make it, but Francis I had to pull most of the way there and back in his little pull cart for emergencies.

We organized a men’s class in Congregational Church, with 40 business men in the class, and the number and character of the membership made it more than a token assembly, for we had some lively discussions pro and con. Lou Barrett was the teacher. One day we were mulling over a biblical portrayal of the serpent being condemned to ever after slivering on his belly for some alleged transgressions. Arthur Smith, a 6-1/4 foot blacksmith asked if the snake theretofore had walked on his tail? To that poser Lou side stepped a direct answer. In the large massed photo we had taken of the group, Marvin Hibbard, at one end of the group, and I at the opposite end, each with a handlebar moustache, like guardians. The last talk I had with Marvin, it appeared that most, if not all the members except he and I had passed.

When I was building my new block I turned right into the work same as other workmen. One hot day, in hoisting those heavy blocks to the second floor, I got sunstroke and came down off the scaffolding and into Wunderly’s saloon around the corner and ordered and drank a stiff glass of whiskey. Frank looking at me in wonder, but thinking I knew what I was doing. They got me home somehow, I don’t recall the particulars, but while Daisy got my feet into hot water I snoozed off the only drunk I ever had with no after results.

When local option was a voting issue, our class marches down the main street in a body. However, New London always had saloons during our residence there and it was said adversely by those who favored them, that that was the reason it was such a good business town.

One time I found a half-filled mail sack on the tracks near the road crossing adjacent to the boom alongside the tracks from which the fast mail trains grabbed it. I often took the railroad cut off on my way home from the store. I delivered the sack to A.B. Pond, the postmaster, who was quite perturbed by the incident, for no reason that I could see. He was not responsible unless it was for carelessly hanging the sack. The ground area about the mail crane was replete with rings torn off the sacks in grabbing at high speed that we were not supposed to gather, but not with standing we acquired quite a collection.

The two principle industries in town were The Stilson Manufacturing Co., and The C.E. Ward Company, both rival manufactures of lodge regalia. The Ward Co. was an offshoot from the Stilson parent company, and they became bitter rivals. A.B. Pond, the P.M. was related to the Ward concern by marriage, and therefore the big volume of extraneous mail that came with no individual address, Pond threw to the Ward Company. This naturally engendered hard feelings and a lot of jealousy, and so Stilson packed up and moved to Anderson, Indiana, and took a good share of his considerable help with him, and I couldn’t blame him. That was one of the reasons that impelled us to leave New London.

Before they moved, George Jarrett, an employee in the wood department, wanted to buy a toilet set from us, and to trade some of his handiwork for same. He was authorized to use for himself odds and ends in lumber, too small to be utilized in the regular factory items, and to make them up in spare time in the company workshop. He made us a rugged oak footstool and a fumed bookcase, both of which we have moved from place to place and have today.

We organized a Chamber of Commerce, with E. M. Stilson president, Mayor Ralph J. Smith secretary, and C.S. Line treasurer, with nominal membership dues. We didn’t operate many months, however, for lack of activity, though made efforts, and so disbanded and returned the monies collected pro rate, which had not already been spent.

I just recently came across as advertising circular that I issued in 1907, called Store News, fall, 1907, the Buckeye Exchange, C.S. Line, Proprietor, New London, Ohio. From which I quote at random from among the many hundred items listed, some of which are unknown and not made at this time.

All popular copyrighted bound books, 50¢; 1000 paper novels 10¢ each; 2000 sheet toilet paper 10¢, 3 for 25¢. In the country sanitary facilities were as yet not too far developed, our farm patrons depended upon Sears Roebuck catalogues, and some of the early pioneers, corn cobs, I speak in particular of my grandfather Smith, from personal knowledge, mucilage and past 5¢ a bottle, crimped wire hair pins, per bunch 1¢; hat pins, white or black 1¢; black pants buttons, per gross 5¢; slate pencils, per box 1¢; large red or blue kerchiefs 5¢; shoe strings, 1¢ pair; fire shovels 5¢-7¢-10¢; coppered tacks 1¢; spiral stove hooks 5¢; 50-pound spring balance scales, 15¢; paring knives 5¢ & 10¢; Dover egg beaters 10¢; clothes pins, package of 36 , 5¢; cedar faucets 10¢; rolling pins 10¢; straw cuffs per pair, 3¢; Vaseline per bottle 5¢; Waterbury alarm clocks 95¢; quilting clam paper set, 20¢; axle grease best grade, wood box, 10¢; common tooth picks, 3¢ per box.

We could buy the spring mousetraps in original cases from the factory to sell for one cent each. We carried a full line of Street and Smith paper novels at 10¢ each. On one occasion when I was out, Mayor Smith came in and looked over the shelf and picked out a copy. He told Mary he was out of change and would she trust him. He was a perfect stranger to her, but that made no difference and she said no dice, but in a very polite terms. The mayor was a pompous, self-opinionated chap, very dignified and important, and took exception to Mary’s refusal. He later took it up with me, implying that his honesty had been questioned, etc., but I mollified him by explaining our undeviating rule of cash, and clerks had strict rules to obey them.

I didn’t cite the circumstance to him, but will to you; of a like minor experience I had had in Linesville. A young farmer came in one day and bought a 10 quart tin pail for 10¢ and then proceeded to fill it up with small items until the total added up to 71¢, whereupon he handed me 70¢, but I reminded him that the sum was 71¢. He said O.K., if that was the way I felt about it, and handed me back my merchandise and I gave him back his 70¢ and he walked out.

In the three states in which I have done business, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, spread over more that 40 years my cash policy has resulted in a total loss under 25¢ I estimate. There are occasions when the rule must be abrogated to fit circumstances.

I was up to the attention of occasional crooks, as are all merchants. One time as impressive salesman came in to start me in the newsstand business, of selling magazines, etc., a branch of the trade that fitted in with my business and I had often resolved to try it out. This seemed the opportunity. He represented the New York Co., I had never heard of them. He said the first order must be cash in advance, to show good faith until I should have established a credit, which seemed reasonable. The terms etc., seemed to fit my requirements, but I had always been self-warned to beware of anyone demanding money in advance. So, I said to the salesman, this has all the earmarked of a fraud, but you look too high caliber of a man to be engaged in any shady business and I am going to take a chance, and accordingly gave him a check for my first shipment, $5. I afterward found that he hot-footed it right out on the street and cashed the check with the local Adams Express Co. agent I became suspicious right away, and wrote the New York News Co., after a few days and heard nothing from my promised shipment. I got a reply away with notation thereon addressee unknown, and that ended that. I found he had victimized merchants all up and down the line of the Big Four, but he would have had to make a good many deals at $5 per to make day wages to say nothing of risks involved.

While on the subject of crooks, I will tell about an experience I had in Linesville, but in this case the whole town was taken in. A promoter came around and collected $3 from each dealer in town, for a farm auction he was doing to hold 3 or 4 weeks hence, at which time we would benefit by increased patronage that would accrue by reason of the crowd that would be attracted to town that day. The principal sucker was the Herald, on the free advertising in the paper a d the handbills that they struck off, all of which would be paid for from the commissions the day of the auction. The day arrived, but no auctioneer, but farmers lead their horses, cows, and brought in their not wanted farm equipment for the big day, but all we got was the good laugh, and charge the nominal loss to experience.

Another swindle involving $30 or more, did not get far with me. It consisted of a shipment of crockery from The American Queesware Company of East Liverpool, a nonexistent concern operating under the recognized brands of the Knowles Co. of East Liverpool, a reliable concern. There were 50 potteries in East Liverpool, the center of the industry in the whole world. This salesman for the fake concern took my order, all in the clear he thought, but I had protective guarantees of which he knew nothing. When the cask came and Fred and I opened it, there was only about 2/3 of the merchandise ordered in it. The lot was sold as package number so and so, and the thing was worked so adroit that not one person that was victimized could prove it. I refused payment and they threatened to sue, so finally I told them to go ahead and sue, that I knew I had taken precautions to make myself safe. When they were at last convinced that I did have the goods on them, they offered to settle for a sum 2/3 of that originally demanded. Then, with the letter in hand, I knew I had them, so I sent them a check for $5 less that their last offer, to pay me for the time and worry of combating them. The check was made: payment in full, and they accepted it. My only mistake was paying them so much, or, in fact, anything at all, for no court would have found for them with the proof of fraud I held. I was glad to rid myself of the thing I took the easy way. They victimized the whole area there about to the tune of $200,000 and the victims, though knowing they had been taken could do nothing about it. I felt the out come evened up the auction deal. The merchandise itself was O.K.

My family and I made a number of pleasure and semi-business trips from New London. You see, until the onset of World War I, greener pastures for us was never on a sure, self-supporting basis and we were constantly looking for improvements. So, we investigated any prospect. It was so in two trips to Bluffton and Wadsworth. Billy and I took another trip to see the owners of two stores that were for sale. They were in the same predicament as we, and we would only be jumping from the frying pan into the fire, and so no deals resulted. The family and I had some nice long buggy rides and tackled walnut trees along the routes with the permission of the highway frontage owners. On one trip to Norwalk we got a big bag of nuts. On one trip, Daisy and I took our boys and four of Myra’s children via Northern Ohio Railroad to Akron, to see The Barnum and Bailey Greatest Shows on Earth. The conductor thought they were all my boys, and a man with such a family should be favored, and so he compromised by assess if a half-fare Indiana, to the George A. Morris Co., a wholesale concern, who had been trying to interest me for a long time. They couldn’t match my N. Y. buying connections.

Post cards had by this time come to be one of our main stocks in trade; and with stock supplied by Allie from the east, I had some good supply houses in Cleveland. New against some of the older and larger boys. Daisy and I made a buying trip to Bluffton, London was the center of the ferret raising industry; and the C.E. Ward Co. had just built their new factory. I went out to Farnsworth’s ferret farm to photograph a family of the little fellows, and, along with the Ward plant, sent the photos to Germany, to be processed into colored post cards, that could be added to our collection to be sold at 1¢ each.

Each night, as I went home from the store, I passed the picture show, admission 5¢, which was among the first, in this infant industry, to open its doors in a small town.

We did quite a business with Tracy-Wells, in Columbus, and, at the urging of their salesman, Daisy and I, with the boys, went down there to inspect the plant, and, incidentally, tour the Ohio State Penitentiary.

The local brick and tile manufacturing plant had imported quite a number of Negro families from the south to work their machines, and this engendered more or less friction among laid off white workers, wherein, before we left New London, the racial issue had become quite a problem. About this time the Central High School burned, though this had no connection with the racial friction. It was the only school the town had.

Though the loss of the Stilson factory was a severe blow to the economy of the town, it soon recovered and resumed its former rate of growth, until, at the present it has forged ahead of both Linesville and Girard.

The George A. Bowman Company, of Cleveland, was an important unit in our wholesale supply houses, and on several occasions I was invited to join their staff at conventions, or for short cruises promoted by them for the benefit of their dealers. The Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Co (D. & C.), was an important lake carrier in those days, with their palatial steamers, the City of Cleveland and the City of Detroit. The line has long ago been put out of business, with the coming of the automobile age.

One of the best friends we made in New London was Charlie Post, a very important citizen, president of the city council, civic minded, an inventor, with a small machine shop, bun by himself and his son, Stanley, but a dreamer and theorist, rather than a practical business man. I was associated with him in various enterprises, one of which I will take up and describe in a latter installment.

Being always civic minded in whatever community I happened to be located, I was elected to the city council for two terms, and it was during my regime therein that we paved the four main streets radiating form the central public square, and re-naming the streets respectively North Main, East Main, South Main, West Main, to replace the provincial names Clarksville, Brighton, Ashland, and Fitchville, for adjoining towns to which the roads led. We also, installed corner signposts with street names in enameled letters, which I furnished, at cost, and Posts younger son with a horse and wagon located and erected from the master plan. When I went back to the old town in 1957, the 40-year-old pavement was as durable as ever, with only a coating of tar cement laid over the brick to prolong its life. It was later in that era that some unhappy citizen made a complaint against the council for mixing private business into public affairs; for instance, I furnished the street signs at my cost. The Posts made a profit installing the street signs. Ralph Smith, the town mayor, conducted his insurance business from the mayor’s public office, rent-free. It looked at one time as if we might be all indicted, but it got hushed up before any drastic action. Our acts were unlawful; not-with-standing they were in the public interest. In a small town, responsible men can be had to run its affairs only because they themselves have been successful in private business.

My wife, looking over the preceding pages says I have left out one of the most interesting human-interest stories and insists that I include it. It concerns the controversial racial issue in New London. An old Negro who did menial jobs around town lives there with his family. He had a lovely daughter named Ruth who had graduated from the high school before we came there. Her father wants her to have every educational advantage and send her to college at Oberlin. She was mastering in teaching. When the colored contingent were brought from the south, there were enough children to fill a sizeable room, so the kids were segregated into to one big room under the particular direction of one teacher, who was to give her undivided time to the group, exclusively. Ruth was put in charge.

By this act, though in the direct interest of the children, they, or their parents, thought they were being discriminated against, and so objected having a colored teacher over their kids and made such a commotion that Ruth was forced to give up and a white teacher substituted, not nearly as qualified as was Ruth. Ruth thereupon went south where she intended to teach among her own people and make a place for herself in life. She was there turned down also, because the patrons demanded a white teacher; and Ruth was not accepted as an integral part of the community, either white or black, and in discouragement wilted away and died, more from a broken spirit than from physical causes.

As stated, this was fertile area of clay and black soil, but the spring mud was awful and even rural carriers had to make their trips by horseback several weeks each spring. We again got the urge to move with our sights fixed on Southern Michigan this time. I am going to interrupt that consummation however, for the insertion at this point of automobiles.