The Saga of The Toenail Ridge Shortline
Written Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Uploaded Sunday, January 31, 1999
Oh! What a tangled web we weave......
Every now and again even a car salesman will meet his match. (It's a matter of fact that it happened twice in the sixties and again in '79.)
Alfred Chance Rockefeller (no relation) was- at his stage of life- at the pinnacle of his art in selling cars to anyone and everyone.
Jeb Dunk was a blacksmith, deriving his living from nailing hot bits of metal onto the feet of two ton draft stallions.
Think about that.
While Gugenheimer listened with gaping mouth to the extolling of intricacies by Rockefeller (no relation), Dunk hunkered down on his haunches and inspected.
He peered at the chassis, eyeballing it end to end for straightness.
He looked in the radiator, first unscrewing the ornate brass cap, then inserting his finger into the murky water therein and tasting it from the tip of his finger.
He lifted the wing sides of the hood, testing the elasticity of the rubber and canvas belt on the fan.
He squeezed the hoses, jiggled the trembler coil box, wiggled the spark plug leads.
He sat in the driver's seat and turned the steering wheel, he depressed each of the three pedals in turn, he swung the advance and retard lever on the steering column through its full arc.
If it was capable of having hands laid on it, Jeb laid his hands on it.(Ah! If only Mahalia had been so close to hand!)
And all the while Alfred Chance Rockefeller (no relation) continued his spiel to Ebenezer Gugenheimer, although with an increasing feeling of unease as he detected from the corner of his eye that the so-called new Model T was being subjected to a more detailed examination than is conducted the first time the new bride's nightie goes up.
The automobile was in good condition, no doubt about that, and the most intense examination would find nought wrong.
But that same intense examination would rapidly dispell any comments Alfred had made about the vehicle being in unused condition.
And then, with one of those rare flashes of brilliance that occur all too rarely in the span of human existence, the same intensity of insight that led Archimedes to leap from his bath shouting "Eureka!" on solving the problem of density, the same intensity that struck Newton at the same time as the apple, the brilliance that elevated Einstein above his compatriots, Rockefeller (no relation) had the answer!
He invented the demo!
The brand new car that is lent to prospective purchasers so that they can become beguiled by the smell of the new leather,
.....so that they can see how much room the kids in the back seat are going to be able to fight over,
.....to see how responsive and powerful that brand-new, tight, un-run-in motor is when thrashed to within an inch of its life as soon as the car is out of sight of the dealer.
... low mileage, (although that's pretty academic when the car doesn't have an odometer anyway...)
... carefully nurtured during its initial break-in period, (with emphasis on the word 'break'....)
... still under full new car warranty, (although in an era when that meant, if it makes it off the lot, then it's your problem, that didn't carry too much weight....)
... subject to every service that the dealer could provide prior to purchase......
"Tell you what I'm gonna do, gentlemen," said Alfred. "This fine example of automobile manufacturers art, this exemplary motor-car, this pinnacle of mankind's inventive ability, is the finest means of transportation available and can be sold today. Not tomorrow. Today! And why today? Well, gentlemen, let me elucidate the reason therfore, this fine machine has been used by yours truly to show other fine folks just how good a vehicle that fine American Mr. Ford produces, and since I myself have in fact driven this powerful and luxurious automobile to convey my very own family to church and Sunday meetings, why, I am prepared to make an offer that is not within my power to repeat hereafter. If I sleep on this offer I'm about to make to you, why, I'd wake in horror tomorrow morning at how much money I'd allowed to be lost on this magnificent carriage!"
Blacksmiths have a lot to do with horses, and with men who use horses. On occasion they even buy and sell them.
Horses don't have odomoters either, or in fact, until they have quite a few years under the belt, they don't have too many other ways to determine their general condition.
So it takes a might skilled man to be able to appraise the worthiness and condition of a horse, and it takes a very skilled man to be able to sell the left-overs at a profit.
These highly skilled men were called horse-traders.
Jeb Dunk had been know to buy a lot of old paints and sell some pretty fine thoroughbreds over the years, often with these purchases and sales taking place on the same day.
With the result, while Gugenheimer strained to plant his money on the table before some undeserving person stole this wonderful Model-T Ford out from under them, Dunk glared under the brim of his hat at the car salesman while the thought ran through his head "Don't male-bovine-excrete a male-bovine excreter."
"How much." he said.
"Why, sir! Such a trifling sum...."
"Let me point out that this paragon of vehicular...!"
"Why just this afternoon I've had three offers....!"
"C'mon, Ebenezer." drawled Jeb as he rose and straightened his coat."Seems this feller don't understand good plain American when it's spoke to his face. We'll find someplace else." And with that he stepped towards the street.
"But such a car!" stuttered the cooper.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" stammered Alfred Chance Rockefeller (no relation), as he deftly stepped into their path. "I can see that I am dealing with astute and worldly....""I'll give ya $120 for it "said Jeb.
"Sir! Why this car is worth over $350 new! Um...$320?"
The cooper opened his mouth and shouted "We'll take .....!!!""Our money elsewhere " concluded the blacksmith.
"My good sir! The qualities of this automobile!...."started Alfred.
"Would be better enhanced if they were told in truth and in plain talk!" finished Jeb."Ebenezer, this here feller has tried to sell us used goods at the price of new, he's tried to tell us that this here vehicle is in perfect condition and unused! Well, I'm tellin' you and in front of him that he's a crook and a liar and if my Pappy was here he woulda taken to him with a horse whip! Mister!" he spat, spinning around and standing nose to cravat with the salesman (we have mentioned that Jeb stood five feet nothing in his Cuban heels, haven't we?) "I got a good mind right now to go get me a police feller and bring him back here and watch him run you in for practicing fraud without bein' a lawyer!"
Alfred Chance Rockefeller blanched, he staggered backwards a step, his breath gasped, his hands quavered.
Alfred Chance Rockefeller owed considerable gambling debts to various members of the local constabulary and did not cherish the image of himself in their tender charge down at the stationhouse.
"Why, sir!" he trembled."You have surely made an error in judgment! Why, I am honest as this day is long and to prove it I'll accept your last offer for this fine example of....er...for this car. Er, $250, was it, sir?"
"$200" snapped Dunk." Ebenezer, pay the man."
And with that he spun on his heel and stalked over to the Model-T, where he ensconced himself behind the wheel."Hey salesman!" he yelled. "Turn the starting handle on this contraption and we'll be on our way and good day to you!"
"Jeb, my friend, can you drive one of these things? "asked Ebenezer Gugenheimer after he had clambered in beside his friend and business compatriot.
"Dunno," said Jeb. "Ain't tried before, but I watched one or two bein' pulled into my shop for this and that and Lord, if that fool Rod from up the four-ways can drive an automobile it cain't be THAT hard!"
And with that the pair jounced out into the street in downtown Portland and pointed their vehicle in the direction of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge.
And in the sales office Alfred Chance Rockefeller gathered his personal belongings from his desk and prepared to leave the thriving metropolis, knowing that any future he may have did not lie in the immediate vicinity.
He owed money to Mr. Ford in Detroit, to sundry gambling colleagues all over town, to his landlord for the lot, and of course, the people who had originally purchased the car he had just virtually given away hadn't been paid yet either.
Perhaps it was time for him to journey to new vistas, to pursue a new career, hopefully in some occupation that did not require so much hard work in the way of sheer salesmanship. Why in the newspaper only the other day he had been reading of golden opportunities for gifted young men in the new field of life insurance......