JOHNNY'S JOURNEYS: SOUTHWESTERN CO. SUMMERS 1975-1980
"Johnny, I'd like you to meet a friend I worked with last summer. He will be in town tomorrow."
"Sure", I replied, not realizing that this was a job interview. My Delta Tau Delta fraternity brother,
Joe Newsom, thought I had potential as a door-to-door book salesman. Imagine that.
The district sales manager, Robert O'Reilly, spoke to a small group of us college students that
night at the Heart of Auburn motel. He explained about selling with the Southwestern Company and
what would be involved if we chose to sell books the next summer. It would be a full time job at 80
hours per week, and a full time commitment. I definitely need to talk to my parents about this.
This was a huge decision, but it was the way I wanted to spend my next summer. An opportunity
to travel was appealing, since I had never been north of Nashville, TN. Knocking on doors 80 hours
each week should help me get out of my shyness, as I try to make a good, friendly first impression.
I'll need to come across as confident and self-assured. It's a chance to run my own business. I'll work
by myself each day, with no one looking over my shoulder. I will succeed or fail, on my own. Wow,
what an opportunity to mature and develop as I leave my teenage years behind.
Since a salesman is paid only by sales commissions, that will be encouragement throughout the
summer. It is a very simple concept: the more you sell, the more money you make. Also, the more
money you save, the more money to take home at the end of the summer. There will be untold
challenges and unforeseen circumstances ahead of me. And how I react and handle them will help
me develop problem-solving skills. Now, that could be quite useful.
I received my "sales talks" at college and was instructed to read and learn as much as I could.
For several months, I tried to learn these sales talks, before arriving at Sales School in Nashville.
Spring quarter was soon over, and it was time to say good-bye to my family. Joe recruited me, so he
will be my student manager. Joe had a car for the summer so he picked me up at my house in Mont-
gomery that Sunday June morning. We were finally on the road to Sales School in Nashville, TN.
Sales School is where we are taught essentially everything there is to know about being a success-
ful door-to-door book salesman. It was held at the War Memorial Auditorium, which was opened in
1925 as a tribute to Tennesseans who lost their lives during World War I. The Southwestern Company
was founded in 1867. So, they have over 100 years experience to teach us. One of their mottoes
seemed to be: Be Teachable! There were about 500 book sellers in Nashville for our one week of sales
training. This will be an intense week of learning, with early mornings and full daily sessions. Any
spare time should be spent on learning our sales talks and reviewing our notes. The company holds 6
or 7 Sales Schools each May / June.
Joe and I were roommates, staying in an old hotel, near the state capitol. Our days started at 6 a.m.
We learned the importance of staying on a set schedule. "Time is money"...so do not waste any time.
Several speakers taught many of the finer points of selling. I took lots of notes, so I could review them
later. A positive mental attitude will be essential. Practiced my sales talk, then went to another meet-
ing. Listened to speakers, then practiced my sales talks again. I am part of the Education Division.
Our primary product is a two volume set of Webster's Student Handbooks. It is part reference
material and part dictionary. For children, we offer the Treasured Tales of Childhood. Also, we will
sell a Pictorial Bible Dictionary.
One morning, the first year salesmen were taught the "Bookman Song". It is a catchy little tune
that I would sing several times a day. "It's a great day to be a bookman, it's a great day, I know. It's a
great day to be a bookman, everywhere I go. Good-bye no and never. Good-bye doubt and fear. It's a
great day to be a bookman and to be of good cheer". This was usually followed with a hearty "I feel
healthy, I feel happy, I feel terrific".
On Friday morning, our featured speaker is Mr. Mort Utley. He is an insurance salesman and
inspires us with a tremendously motivational pep-talk. He starts by asking "How many of you are
here for the very first time? You are going to have the greatest summer of your life". Sure took lots of
notes while he delivered his talk to us. I jotted down "What you will one day be, you are now becom-
ing. It isn't what happens to you that's important...it's how you react to what happens. If you have the
right attitude and are willing to work hard, you can always make a comeback". He spoke about his 5
principles of success. Keep faith in God. Pray for daily guidance. Persistence: don't quit; manage your
time; self-discipline; strive to improve. There was a story about 1956 Olympian, Tom Courtney, and
his burning desire to win his race. I Wanna Win! And we all enjoyed the tale about two brothers (the
optimist and the pessimist)...Remember The Pony!
500 college students are excited to head out to our sales territories and take on the world. After a
week of curiosity, I learn that I'm going to Lima, Ohio. Joe drives most of the route as I continue to
read my sales talks and read over my notes. Hello Kentucky, haven't been to the Bluegrass State
before. We soon pass through Bowling Green. Later on, there is an exit for Mammoth Cave National
Park. I would sure like to visit that, some other time.
We drive around Louisville, and I'm still working on sales talks and sales school notes. Crossing
the Ohio River, I am thrilled to see Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. I have been a baseball fan of the
Cincinnati Reds since the first grade. Joe and I reach our destination for the night: Hamilton. This is
the headquarters for 3 other Southwestern salesmen, and there are 2 extra sofas for us tonight.
There is a little trick we learned in Sales School. Put a little money on the floor at bedtime. When
the alarm goes off the next morning, the money belongs to the first person getting to it. Well, there
was 5 dollars in coins in the middle of the room. When the 6 a.m. alarm went off, we didn't take time
to turn on the lights. Five guys dove onto the floor and coins rolled everywhere! That was such fun.
Just a few hours to go, as we continue our drive along I-75. Made it to Allen County and finally
into Lima. This will be "home" for me and Joe and Danny Blessing. Later this afternoon, we move in
to our headquarters. The three of us will be staying at the lovely old two-story home of Mrs. Mary
Smith, on Elmwood Place. She is widowed and has a couple of spare bedrooms. Rent is $10 / week.
On Sunday, we drive to Muncie, Indiana for our Sunday meeting. This will be our weekly routine,
after working Monday - Saturday. There are 40 of us bookmen in the Ohio-Indiana organization. Lots
of preparation, teaching and motivation from the experienced sellers, who will lead these weekly get-
togethers. Sunday lunch is something we look forward to. During the six day work week, we are
encouraged to eat inexpensively...to save money. Spend as little money as you can get by on. But we
will enjoy a good Sunday lunch.
On Monday, the 5:59 alarm clock starts my big day. Psychologically, we'll get a one minute jump
on the rest of the workers. Danny, Joe and I will eat breakfast every morning at the Tip-Top Cafe on
Main St. We will join (organization manager) Bob Hicks and his 3 recruits on most days. I glance at
my sales talks while eating. Study my map and soon Joe drops me off at Hope St. Thought that would
be a neat place to start.
Did I have butterflies in my stomach, before knocking on that first door? Oh yes. It wasn't that bad,
as I showed my books to the man of the house. No sale, but I had hope that I might be able to close
out a sale, even on my first day. And I did!! Think I made two sales on my second day. The middle of
the week was slow, but I finished with my best day on Saturday. Had a little bit of confidence, going
into my second week.
In essence, this was a FULL-time job. Our schedule is to knock on the first door at 7:59. and work
until 9:30 each night. Six days each week at 13.5 hours per day... 81 hours each week. For supper, I
would usually eat at the Burger Chef about 5 nights / week. It became my favorite place. I enjoyed
"The Works Bar" where I could add all the condiments I wanted to. Yum!
Joe and Danny had their cars, to work outside the city limits. I needed to find a bicycle, to pedal all
over Lima. After a few days of asking, I rented a bike from a man for $10.00. And I would return it in
September. It was rather old and had a large basket up front, to put my book sample case in. Perfect.
And indeed, I would ride my bike all over Lima. After two weeks, most of us were presented with a
Success Coin... the Southwestern Gold Award 75 Hours Per Week. B stood for Believe! On the back
of the coin: Integrity, Goals, Competitor and Teachable.
During my 3rd week, I was riding my bike across I-75, looking south. Wow, I sure am a long way
from Montgomery, maybe 700 miles. Never felt so homesick. Well, I've just got work through it.
Home will be there in 3 months. If I stay focused, my sales will increase and I will reach some of the
goals that I want to achieve. My work became more routine and I looked forward to Saturday nights.
I would always call my family to update them on the weekly activities. I am loved.
On Sunday morning drives to Muncie, IN we would drive through Wapakoneta, OH. The Arm-
strong Air and Space Museum is located here. It honors native son, and first man on the moon, Neil
Armstrong. Hope to visit this one day, and maybe meet Neil Armstrong.
After breakfasts, I would bike to my territory and chain my bicycle to a stop sign. I would write in
my little notepad the location. One morning after four hours of selling, I returned to my spot to fetch
the bike. It was not there. Six black teenage boys came to check on me asking "hey brother, what's
going on?" After explaining my predicament, "hey brother we can help you." I followed a few behind
a house to a storage shed. There were bicycle parts of maybe 100 stolen bikes. What a scam. I was
able to buy one for $10.00. It looked like it was made from three different bikes! What an adventure.
Another Sunday we drove through the rural areas, I noticed several miles of telephone poles. And
there were hundreds of telephone insulators with no phone lines attached. Decided to stop one
morning and attempt to climb one of the polls. Danny and Joe pushed me up until I could reach a
few insulators. Got two for my collection. That was exciting when two farm boys from a nearby
house came out to investigate us. We were soon on our way to the Sunday meeting.
One Sunday afternoon, after a team meeting and throwing a frisbee at a local park, Danny, Joe
and I decide to worship at a Wesleyan church. We figured since John Wesley founded the Methodist
church, we would feel "at home" here. Well, it was different. First time I've been to a church where
just about everybody was rolling on the floor. Just not what we were accustomed to. Still, it was good
to be in the House of the Lord.
In late July, Danny needed to return to dental school and Joe had a 4 week commitment with the
Air Force in Kansas. What about me? I would temporarily move to another headquarters in Findlay.
It is about 35 miles northeast of Lima and there are 3 Univ. of Florida students living there. After a
few days, and no sales, I needed to make a decision. So many people said I was the third Southwestern
salesman they had seen this summer. I will hitchhike back to Lima. Lots of territory I have not gone
to yet. And I met some of the nicest people, that would take me up and down the interstate.
My new roommate, Steve, wanted to try working in Lima for the day. He drove me down on a
Monday morning. Picked out our designated spot where he would meet me that night at 9:00 sharp.
After selling for a mere 13 hours, I knocked off 30 minutes early, but Steve was not there at 9:00.
At 10:15 p.m. I decided he just wasn't going to arrive. After a quick trip to McDonald's, I visited the
YMCA and inquired about a bed for the night. It was $7.00. Just thought that was too much for my
budget. Went back to my former house on Elmwood Place. Mrs. Smith was out of town. I pulled my
bike around to the back and climbed up the back porch and into the lounge chair. Not very comfy
without the cushions, so I just slept on the wooden porch. Woke up without an alarm clock and
pedaled on to the Tip-Top Cafe. It was time to work another 13.5 hour day. That evening, I rode to
see Bob Hicks. After telling him my story, he graciously let me sleep on the sofa at his apartment.
I sure enjoyed a hot shower that Wednesday morning, then put on the same clothes again. We went
to breakfast, then headed our separate ways. That night, I went to the interstate and easily caught a
ride north to Findlay. Couldn't wait to see Steve and ask what happened. Well, he had been a little
rude to someone... who called the police on him. Steve was told to leave Lima and not return. He
really had no way to locate me. Wow, another memorable adventure.
After four weeks of the round trips to Lima, Joe came back. We would be roommates again, after
he found a new place for us to stay on W. Market Street. I was gaining a little more confidence in my
abilities and sales continued to improve.
After the next Sunday meeting, Joe and I drove to Cedar Point Amusement Park. It is located in
Sandusky, OH on a peninsula, jutting into Lake Erie. Opened in 1870, it is the second oldest amuse-
ment park in the U.S.A. With 15 roller coasters, we could have stayed all day. On a clear day, we
could have seen Canada.
Being a Cincinnati Reds baseball fan, I tried to keep up with my favorite baseball team, 150 miles
down the interstate. And the Reds went on to win the N.L. pennant... and then the 1975 World Series.
My Reds beat Boston Red Sox in a memorable seven game series!
There are two selling weeks left for me. I worked hard and achieved my goal of having my "best"
sales week on the next-to-last week of the summer. I won the I Wanna Win award (indicating a strong
finish)! Before long, my regular selling days were over. I had been taking orders all summer, and
collecting down payments. My living expenses came from these down payment deposits.
My last week was when I delivered the books to all the folks who had ordered them from me. Had
to rent a car for the week. At my last Sunday meeting, I was presented with a metal and acrylic letter
opener. Embedded in it ... Southwestern Co. 1000 HOURS Nashville, TN.
When my last book was delivered late that Saturday afternoon, I couldn't describe the feeling of
euphoria. 13 long weeks... and I had survived. What an amazing opportunity for perseverance and
never giving up. Plus, one develops a tough skin when you have a smile on your face and somebody
tries to knock it off with a slammed door in the face. Yep, that happened 13 times. A church was
having a festival at a local park and I bought a few hot dogs and walked around with a huge smile on
my face. I kept thinking "I made it".
The next day, Joe and I packed and started driving south to Nashville. Any books that were not
delivered were turned back in to the company. ALL monies were then turned in and we sat through
a "debriefing" meeting. Our notebook was titled "Use it or lose it... or don't be a 90 day wonder".
So much we had learned during the summer, from schedules to rejection to showing the world a
positive mental attitude to handling several thousands of dollars. If we could utilize these skills when
getting back to college, that would be very worthwhile.
Time to go and clear our account, which meant getting our paycheck. We had the opportunity to
guess what our check would be. The better our record keeping, the more likely to know the amount
of the check. Some people couldn't guess within a few thousand dollars (pretty sad). Proud to say that
after paying all my expenses, I received my check for $2135.00. It has been a fairly successful
summer and I can't wait to see my family again in Montgomery. And school starts next week.
(At the Orlando Awards Banquet in January, I received the Gold Seal Gold Award for working 80
hours every week of the summer. And I was also presented the I Wanna Win Medal. It was quite
motivating and I'll set my goals higher for next summer.)
As I have returned to school as an "experienced salesman", the Southwestern Company has given
me the opportunity to recruit other college students. For the next eight months, I will hold meetings
and talk to numerous friends and acquaintances. Also, I'll learn my sales talks for my upcoming
second summer. And I find success. My fraternity brother, Mark Chester, decides to follow in my
footsteps and sell books with me.
It is now the third week in June as I arrive in Nashville on a Sunday, driving my own car. So
good to see several familiar faces again. Another five days of intensive training and meetings and
study sessions and more memorizing the sales talks. And I tried to help Mark as I trained him. On
Thursday evening I was told our organization would be selling books this summer in Indiana.
Mort Utley inspires and motivates us as we end Sales School that Friday morning. Then our
fellow salesman leave Nashville and head out across the country. That night we stay in a hotel in
Seymour, IN. After breakfast, Joe Newsom, Jim Inch and I arrive in North Vernon, IN. After knock-
ing on doors for a few hours, we find a nice two-story house to live in. Our landlady, Mrs. Amanda
Fishvogt, is a widow with a few rooms to rent. We each pay her $10.00 / week to stay there.
There are a couple of goals that I will work on. I plan on showing my books to 180 families each
week. That will average 30 demos a day. By achieving this, next summer I can carry the red, white
and blue Super-Star sample book case. Sales-wise, my best week last summer ($840) will be my
minimum sales goal this summer... And it happened. I sold over $1000 about 5 or 6 times during my
second summer. At 43% commission, that is $430 profit on $1000 in sales. With the minimum wage
at $1.65 per hour, friends back home who worked 40 hours would draw a weekly paycheck of $66.00.
Southwestern expects us to get up at 6 a.m. I tried that last summer. Here in Indiana, I will get up at
5:30 each morning. That extra 30 minutes will give me more time to read some inspirational material,
go over Sales School notes, write a quick letter to friends back at school or maybe send a postcard to
my family. Having a car this summer, I drove out into country and stayed away from the large cities.
One afternoon, I stopped at a typical, white, 2-story farmhouse to read the historic marker sign. As a
young girl, Hannah Milhous lived here. The family then moved to California and years later, Hannah
would marry a Mr. Nixon. Their son, Richard Milhous Nixon, would become 37th president of the
I enjoyed the freedom of driving out in the country, among the corn fields and farmlands. One of
my favorite locations was near Scipio. There is an old wooden covered bridge that crosses over Sand
Creek. Built in 1886, this red wooden bridge is so picturesque. Several times I would eat my lunch in
the shadows of this 90 year old bridge, under a shady tree.
Our room-mate, Jim, was developing a bad habit of not getting up in a timely fashion, i.e., 6:00.
Joe and I warned him for a few mornings, then threw a cold pitcher of water on him as he tried to
snooze. Jim never got up late again.
Mrs. Fishvogt decided that the three of us would have to move out. Don't remember the reason, but
Jim went to a headquarters in another city. We would only see him at our Sunday meetings, which
were usually held near Indianapolis. Joe and I paid for a hotel room for one week, on the outskirts of
After a long 13.5 hour Monday, I was already in bed at 11:00 when Joe came in. I told him that
Mark had called earlier. He lived in Bedford with a couple of first-year salesman. His two room-mates
had quit the book-field and left for Florida and home. Told Mark to hang in there and I would see him
the upcoming Sunday. Joe, my student manager from last summer, let me know that I had to go and
move in with Mark tonight. We're trained to not leave a first year salesman alone, or he would most
likely leave in a few days. First I said no, then I grumbled, then I packed my car and left. Had about a
90 minute drive to Bedford.
I kind of quietly knocked on the door at 1 a.m. Mrs. Kern cautiously opened the door. "Hi Mrs.
Kern, I'm Johnny from Alabama. Did Mark tell you that I was moving in tonight?" Of course I apoli-
gized for arriving so late. She was a lot nicer than most people would have been. And rent was $7
per week, plus she did our laundry for us.
Okay, I will now sell in Lawrence County for the remainder of the summer. Got a chance to work
in the city with Mark a few days later. But the rest of my time was spent selling in the country and
several small towns, one being named Popcorn.
Bedford is called the Limestone Capital of the World. There are several limestone quarries in the
area. In nearby Oolitic, limestone from that quarry was used to construct the Empire State Building in
New York City. Opened in 1931, it was the tallest building in the world at the time.
These past three years at college, my goal has been to get into Pharmacy School. I received a few
letters from home one evening. Included was a letter that I had been accepted to Auburn's Pharmacy
program. Was I excited the next day, July 11th? I was so enthusiastic, felt like being on top of the
world. Made an amazing 18 sales that day. Of course, that was the biggest day of my second summer.
Turns out to have been my biggest # of sales day in five full summers! Just an extraordinary coinci-
dence that in eleven years, July 11th would be my wedding day.
I soon worked my way down to the city of Mitchell. One afternoon, I knocked on the door of the
Williams family. Wanda worked on the Bedford newspaper staff and bought a dictionary / book from
me. She seemed intrigued by my southern accent (guessed I was from Georgia). Surprised that a
college boy would leave home and sell books 80+ hours a week. That next Saturday night, she and
her husband, Leon, invited me to their house for dinner. Told her I had to work every night until 9:30.
She said I would be expected by 9:45. Another couple had been invited and they were hosting a
foreign exchange student. How could I turn that down?
When my week ended on that Saturday evening, I looked forward to a wonderful home-cooked
dinner. Thoroughly enjoyed myself with some fine people. It was nice to relax for a little while, too.
So much good food and good conservation, I could have stayed half the night.
Mark and I were up very early the next day. Our Sunday meeting was held in Chicago, IL and that
was a 5 hour trip. About 200 book salesman from three states met that morning at a hotel near the
O'Hare Airport. After lunch, we traveled to Wrigley Field to see a Chicago Cubs baseball game
against the St. Louis Cardinals. I bought a ticket in the left field area of the stadium, where the
"bleacher bums" sit. It was fun! After Atlanta, this was the second major league baseball stadium I've
I had met a college student from Purdue earlier in the week. She had asked me out on a date for
today. Wanted to go exploring a few local caves. Went to the Sunday meeting in Chicago instead.
Maybe I'll have a chance to explore the caves of Lawrence County another time.
Mitchell became my favorite town to work in. Maybe it was the people, for most seemed very nice.
Strange to say, but it felt like I kind of belonged there. Made over 100 sales in and around Mitchell!
One morning I scooted onto the front porch of an elderly couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Grissom.
Spoke to them for a few minutes. Their son, Virgil, was Mitchell's most famous citizen. Virgil, or
Gus, Grissom was one of the original seven Project Mercury astronauts. He was killed in a fire during
a pre-launch test of Apollo I in Cape Canaveral, FL in 1967. Glad I got the chance to tell his parents
There is a Grissom Memorial museum at the local Spring Mill State Park to honor America's
second man is space. There are dozens of articles from Gus Grissom's space days, including a space
suit and the Gemini 3 spacecraft (the Molly Brown) he flew in.
At other Sunday meetings, as an experienced salesman, I was asked to participate and give a talk
about one aspect of sales or another. This helped me a little to get over some of my shyness. Several
times at our Sunday meetings, one of us would talk about the big contest: a free weekend trip to the
Bahamas. That was some kind of motivation for me. We would sing a popular Elton John song called
"Island Girl". And by golly, I had my best week of the summer for that contest. There was a trip to
Nassau awaiting me in October.
Having one summer of sales behind me, I was asked to work with my student, Mark. Spent several
hours one day with him in the city of Bedford. Not showing him any tricks, just trying to give pointers
for a little improvement. Then the next week, I got up quite early for a long trip to Kokomo. Another
first year salesman needed my assistance. And I made two sales that day.
On July 4th, 1976, our Sunday meeting was held in Indianapolis. Bought a souvenir edition of the
newspaper, as the U.S.A. celebrated its 200th birthday. I think I will keep this one. And I buy a few
postcards to send to friends back home. Our contest this week was the pie-in-the-face competition. I
was paired off against Joe. Since I outsold him, I proudly got to throw a pie in his face. The next
Sunday was revenge week. And by golly, I put another pie in my old student manager's face!
As the days go by, I fall into a routine, always trying to remain on a good schedule. The work day
is split into 3 parts. First shift from 7:59 until 1:00. Lunch time usually consists of a snack. Actually, I
like to drive to a little store and buy two Snickers candy bars. And to save money, I don't buy a soda
pop. Would ask for a drink of water at the next house that I would visit. Our second shift lasted until
5:00. At that time, we salesmen would look over our notepad for the day. Time to go back to houses
where no one was at home, or where we were asked to come back to. That last shift ended at 8:30 for
most sellers, but at least 9:30 for the more dedicated.
My sales manager made a commitment to write all of his students a personal letter each week. On
the July 12th letter he wrote "CONGRATULATIONS! OUT OF SIGHT! DYNAMITE! NOT ONLY
YOUR BEST WEEK EVER, BUT THE BEST REPORT IN YOUR ENTIRE ORGANIZATION".
You think I may have been motivated the next week? The July 21st letter congratulated me on being
the number ONE man in our group for two weeks in a row.
The weeks drifted by until it was time to make the deliveries again. Leon and Wanda Williams
invited me over for dinner, before I headed back to college. So nice to see them again and update
them on my adventures. Told them that I would certainly stay in touch.
My last day of book deliveries was on a Sunday. Only eight more families to see, then I would be
leaving for Nashville the next day. Then the unexpected occurred. Driving down a dirt road in a
heavily loaded down car, I broke the rear axle. Had to have my car towed into a service station in
nearby Shoals. Got everything packed on that Monday, since I couldn't do anything else. Finally got
the phone call Tuesday afternoon that my car was repaired. Quickly walked down several streets until
I reached the main highway and hitch-hiked to Shoals. Made my last eight book deliveries and then
back to Mrs. Kern's house to say good-bye and pack my luggage. Then started driving south. My
second summer of selling was over and I was on my way to Tennessee.
There were extra books to turn in, then have my "debriefing" meeting. One of my summer goals
was to keep more accurate records. When my account was settled, I guessed what my pay-check was
within $5.00. ($4175.80) That is almost double what my check was from last summer. Very few folks
receive this award. There will be a Tough Minded Businessman's Award statue I will receive next
January in Orlando, FL. Before leaving, I was presented with a bronze Success Is Growth medal.
There is an acorn on one side. One has to increase their sales by $3000 to win this.
Due to my car repair, I miss the first day of classes at Auburn's Pharmacy School. Reality sets in
and I'm a college kid again.
It is now October and time for a weekend in the Bahamas. Joe Newsom and Rick Evans ( from
Birmingham) and I fly from Montgomery down to Miami, FL. We join about 110 other Southwestern
Co. book sellers for a flight to Nassau. Wow, it is finally here, my first trip outside the U.S.A.
Half of us stay in a bright pink hotel, the Colonial British Sheraton. That Friday night, we all go to
Dirty Dick's Nightclub... Fine Entertainment Since 1910. After dinner, guests are encouraged to par-
ticipate in a limbo contest. "How low can you go?" I am proud to say that I won that limbo contest,
with over 75 people trying their luck. Then, the "professional" limbo dancers came out and put on a
show. Wow, I was amazed when the pole reached ankle level, and the native man and lady easily
went under it.
Looking out our hotel window the next day, I viewed a white light-house and the azure blue
waters. Sunbathing on the beach, some snorkeling, swimming in the beautiful blue waters of the
Atlantic and renting motorbikes. What a fun day. That Saturday night, dozens of us went to Paradise
Island to visit the casinos. More fun, and only lost a few dollars. It was Sunday before we knew it and
I just had to buy a souvenir straw hat. We were soon flying back to Miami. So pretty at sunset. Very
late arriving in Montgomery, then driving back to school. An amazing adventure...what a reward.
(At the Orlando Awards banquet in January, I pick up another Gold Seal Gold Award for working
80 hours each week. I pick up a Century Club award. After the Top 50 award, this is given to the next
100 highest salesmen. And that Tough Minded Businessman's award will look nice on my desk. It is a
nice pen on a white marble base, with a trophy type salesman on it. Also, I'll take the red, white and
blue Super-Star sales case with me.)
Made up my mind to come back for a third summer and beat last year's performance. Tried to
devote extra time each week to reading and learning my sales talks. During the week of June's Sales
School, I dedicate myself to the Super Star Sample Case. I will show my books to 180 families each
week. I'll let the "law of averages" help me increase my sales. I was not able to recruit any friends to
join me on the book-field this summer. Find out I will be living in Port Huron, Michigan.
Another summer on the book-field and another state to live and work in, the Great Lake state. My
former student manager, Joe, has graduated from Auburn and is now out working with the Air Force.
His friend, Hal Adair, will be my roommate this summer. Also, Dan from Florida will join us.
Time to knock on doors and find ourselves a headquarters in Port Huron. After about an hour, it
looks like we can stay with an elderly lady, Mrs. Helen Dobring. First, she wants her daughter and
son-in-law to meet us. Tiny and Dot Renaker bring along their 9 year old daughter, Dawn. She and
Dan play the piano together, while Hal and I chit-chat with the adults. Hey, they like us and we can
stay. As we look at a map, we see our new home is less than two miles from Canada!
Mrs. Dobring needs a day to get her house prepared for us. So, she contacts a friend from church.
We spend that Saturday night a few miles up the road at Lakeport. And their backyard gently slopes
down to Lake Huron! It may be June, but the water is icy cold.
Our first Sunday meeting was held in Pontiac, a suburb of Detroit. Most of our Sundays will be
spent here. Driving home after our mini-sales school, we pass the world's largest tire, an advertisement
for Uniroyal. With a car, I will be working outside the city this summer. Located at the base of Lake
Huron, this is a pretty city. Many nights as I drive home, I can see the lights of Sarnia, Ontario
across the river.
My second week, I have a student manager assignment. Being a 3rd year student, I'm asked to go
to Brighton and work with a couple of first-year students. These two girls are from Univ. of Florida.
After a full day, I drive to the home of a fraternity brother. Tom Cirigliano lives near Brighton. He
is out of town, but I have a very pleasant visit with his family.
After two weeks, most all of us receive another Success Coin, for working at least 75 hours per
week. And I am showing my books to 30 families a day. On schedule to win the Super Star book
case. Sells are better than last year, and I'm consistently one of the top sellers in our Michigan organ-
ization of 45.
Our landlady, Mrs. Dobring, asks us to call her "Mom". Sure, we can do that. Such a sweet lady.
One evening as we came home, she surprised us with a rhubarb pie! I had never had one of those be-
fore. And then, Hal and I find out that Dan has quit. That night, Mom tells us that Dan was returning
to Florida. The Southwestern Co. sends Marc Sharit to stay with us. He is also an Auburn student.
At a Sunday meeting in Ann Arbor, I had been paired against Lenny Chew for the pie-in-the-face
competition. At a small city park, I showed Lenny who was the better salesman for the week. He
wanted revenge. So, I just had to keep on improving. And the next week, I had the pleasure of
smacking Lenny with another pie!
One evening when I arrived home, Tiny Renaker was waiting for me. I just had to go and see the
boats. There is a Port Huron to Mackinac Island yacht race each summer. It is one of the longest
fresh-water races in the world, with over 200 boats entering the race. The first race was held in 1925
and it now covers about 290 miles. It was truly majestic to see so many beautiful boats.
Getting up at 5:30 each morning, Mom thought she needed to get up too and see us off each day.
Then she wanted to stay up until 10:30 to see us in. Well, she was not getting enough rest, and it was
decided that, for her health, we three boys needed to move out. They even found us another place to
stay. Seems like one of their church friends, Ken Willard, would let us stay in an extra room he had.
After the Sunday meeting was when we moved in with him.
One week later, Hal, Marc and I take Mom Dobring out to dinner. We drove across the Blue Water
Bridge and enter Ontario, Canada. We visit a Chinese restaurant and enjoy a fine meal. I remember
the message on my fortune cookie: "Your love life will be a long and lasting one". Such a fun time!
After another strong week, we had our Sunday meeting in Ann Arbor. Proud to say that I was the
number one seller in our organization that week. Got a chance to visit the campus of the University of
Michigan. It has the largest on campus football stadium in the country. Bought a souvenir tee-shirt.
The next week, I had another strong week in sales (and was 2nd in our group); and worked the
most hours with 86. After that Sunday meeting in Lansing, we all headed to nearby Brighton Lake to
do a little sail-boating. It was nice to kick back and relax for a few hours. Think this is the first time I
have been on a sail-boat. More fun!
As the weeks go by, I continue to receive the weekly letters from my Sales Manager, Mitch
Schrenk. He encourages me to stretch my goal and become one of the Top 50 Experienced Salesman
in the Education Division. Just thinking of receiving that nice plaque at next January's Seminar and
Awards Banquet in Orlando is the motivation I need. Sales of my books seem easier to come by. Of
course, each day threw different obstacles at me.
Working out in the rural area of south St. Clair County, I come across a historic marker. It was
adjacent to a train track and commemorated young Thomas Edison. He worked on the Detroit - Port
Huron train route each day selling newspapers. With his earnings, he bought a chemistry set. When all
the papers were sold, he would work on experiments. Rather interesting. I'll have to read more about
him when I have the time.
After a Sunday meeting in late August, our group drove a few miles to the beautiful Pontiac
Silverdome. In store for us this afternoon is a Detroit Lions vs. Cincinnati Bengals exhibition foot-
ball game. This was my first NFL football game! And the Lions won it.The next day, my sales mgr.
Mitch had invited me to come to his apartment near Detroit. His
wife, Rhonda, had prepared a wonderful spaghetti dinner for us. Afterwards, Mitch wanted to talk to
me about becoming an Organizational Manager for the following summer. What an honor, to be
chosen to lead a group of 35 - 50 students. Would I be able to do it? Wow, what an opportunity. I'll
sure have to consider this, since it will require a huge time commitment.
When I left the apartment the following morning, I'd only driven 4 blocks when my tire went flat.
Rolled into a service station a few blocks away. Could not get the lug nuts off, so I had to wait for 45
minutes for opening time. Okay, I've left Detroit and driving back to St. Clair County. Oh no, another
tire goes flat. I'm thinking this is my third summer and no flat tires until today, and I have two of
them. Get back to my territory and finish the day.
The next afternoon, a different tire goes flat on me. This must be some bizarre kind of record.
Fortunately, there were no more flat tires the remainder of the summer. That night I recalled my tire
troubles to Marc and Hal. Mr. Willard talked about his "scrappy" corn he was growing in the back
yard garden. We got a kick out of that.
Now is my favorite time of the summer: deliveries. The freight truck brought me "tons" of books
a few weeks ago. And I've now got a couple of weeks to unload them. And I'm pleased that over 95%
of my sales were delivered successfully.
Lots of driving ahead of me as I return to Nashville. I have increased my sales over $3000 from
last summer, so I receive a silver Success Is Growth medal. And it does look nice on the key chain,
next to last years bronze one. Oh, and I pick up my paycheck for $6720. This will certainly help pay
off some of the loans from the past four years.
Back at school, I look forward to another October trip to the Bahamas. I was not fortunate enough
to win the contest, but we could pay our own way. Decided to drive all night long from Auburn, AL
to Miami, FL. We joined about one hundred more book sellers and flew into Freeport.
Welcome to Bahama Islands. Spent a few hours that Friday night at El Casino. At the time, it was
the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere. There is just something about the atmosphere in a ca-
sino. Plus, it is mind-boggling to see so many people lose "big money" and not blink an eye. Hey, I
remember how hard I worked for my paycheck this past summer.
On Saturday morning, a boat took a large group of us offshore for some fine snorkeling. Other than
crystal-clear water, I watched hundreds of multi-colored fish and saw a few varieties of beautiful
coral. This was awesome!
After lunch, I had to visit the International Bazaar. I'll remember palm tree reflections in the small
ponds. Gorgeous. Opened in 1965, there are over 100 shops and restaurants from all over the world!
Such a lovely place to visit. I'm thankful for the opportunity to again visit the beautiful Bahamas.
(At the Orlando Awards banquet in January, I receive my third Gold Seal Gold Award for 80+
hours per week. I was proud to win a Top 50 Experienced Salesman Award, a Sales-Man Ship plaque
and poster and the Super-Star book case.)
What a disappointment, going to summer school. One of my pharmacy classes got the best of me
and had to be retaken during the summer quarter. If I had not spent the summer in Auburn, I would
have gone to Nebraska. Decided that since there were three full weeks between summer and fall
quarters, I would go and sell books in east Tennessee.
I drove from Montgomery up to Nashville and Mitch let me stay the night at his house. For a few
hours, I had my "sales school". The next day, I was on my way to Kingsport. Two college students
were leaving the book-field and I was able to move in. Our land-lady had a house full of antiques. My
bed once belonged to John Seveir, the first governor of Tennessee. An interesting old lady, she was
one of the first female post-masters in the state of Tennessee.
The countryside was green and pretty here in Rocky Top, but too many doors had already been
knocked on. Sales would be rather difficult. I'll just have to endure. On my first Saturday, I drove
down a long dirt road. A small creek crossed over it as I approached a house with eight children. All
the kids were in bathing suits in the creek having their weekly shampoo. That was a sight to see.
Another day, a 14 year old girl met me at the front door. This is the right age to make a sale, I
thought. Her dad come to see me. As I tried to show them my books he interrupted me. "Thanks, but
no thanks. She don't need no education. She's getting married next year". That made an impression.
After the Sunday meeting, our group travelled to Robbinsville, North Carolina. White-water
rafting on the Nantahala River. Very relaxing and fun. First time I had been rafting, the high-light of
my little summer in east TN. My two roommates and I were so tired as we drove back to Kingsport.
My sales picked up the second week. Another memorable experience was when I knocked on the
door of a 15 year old girl. She was absolutely beautiful... and then she smiled. She was missing 5 - 6
teeth when she spit a large wad of chewing tobacco from the front porch down into the flower bed.
She told me she had been chewing tobacco since she was six years old. Wasn't expecting that.
Went to our last Sunday meeting in Knoxville and said our good-byes. After the meeting, we
went to visit the Davy Crockett birthplace. Such a primitive setting as I take a few pictures. Would
like to come back again when I can stay longer.
My third and final week, I sold books around Jonesborough. It is the oldest city in Tennessee.
Founded in 1779, that was 17 years before Tennessee became a state. Five years later it became the
capital of the autonomous state of Franklin. Named after the founding father, Benjamin Franklin, it
was never recognized by Congress and was reclaimed by North Carolina in 1788. President Andrew
Jackson spent time at the Chester Inn as did President James K. Polk and Pres. Andrew Johnson. The
Chester Inn, built in 1797, was known as the finest inn on the Tennessee frontier. The Abolitionist
Movement also started here in 1820, with the publication of The Emancipator. The oldest surviving
building, from 1777, the Christopher Taylor House was relocated to the downtown area. Easy to see
why this has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
My last few days of selling were in and around Greeneville. Most tourists here will visit the tailor
shop of Andrew Johnson. He would later become U.S. Senator, Vice-President, then17th President
after Abraham Lincoln was killed in 1865.
For a day and a half, I make my deliveries, then drive back to Nashville. For only three weeks, it
is an unusually small paycheck. But I earned about $800 and met some interesting people. Glad I
At Sales School in June, I stay at the Admiral Benbow Inn. Their sign out front cheerily says
"Welcome Southwestern". And most of our meetings are held downtown at the War Memorial
Auditorium. As usual, this is a very intense week of sales training. From early mornings to late
evenings, take notes and practice my sales talks. With four different sets of books I will be showing,
we need to learn each sales talk, ...word...for...word... Repeat it so many times, that it becomes a part
On Thursday night, I learn that Greg Kynast (a Florida Gator) will be my roommate. I will return
to Michigan! We are moving to Traverse City. The next morning, I see a couple of guys wearing tee-
shirts from Michigan State. Find out from these two brothers that their parents live a few miles from
Traverse City. Serendipity.
Greg and I arrive in Traverse City on a Saturday afternoon. We marvel at the deep blue waters of
Grand Traverse Bay. Time to get out and find a house to live in. There are no leads ahead of time for
us as we just walk through neighborhoods, knock on doors and ask about an extra room.
On East 9th Street, no one answers the front door of one house, but I hear people around back. A
large family is gathered around a picnic table. "Sure am glad y'all saved some for me" as I introduced
myself to Don and Sue Garthe. Told them about me and Greg. With us selling books at least 80 hours
each week, we really just needed a place to sleep at night. And on Sundays, we would travel out of
town to a meeting. Bingo! We've got a place to stay this summer. Each of us shall pay $10.00 weekly
The Garthe famiy needs a few days to prepare for renters. We go and visit Dot Foster and her
husband, about 10 miles away. We had met their two sons in Nashville just yesterday. And we were
able to sleep in their basement for two nights. So kind of them.
Dividing our territory, I will work the eastern and rural areas of the county. Greg will work the
western area. It didn't take long to see how pretty this part of the state is. Very pleased to get back in
the swing of things, after missing a "full" summer last year. Made 27 sales my first week out.
My first letter from my sales manager, Mitch, arrived this week. He was going to climb the water
tower at the Southwestern Co. in Nashville and take out his binoculars. He would be scoping me out
in Michigan. As he looked for a trail of dust along the horizon, he was sure I would be smoking it up
After our second Sunday meeting in Grand Rapids, I receive my 4th Success Coin. On Sunday
evenings, we usually did our laundry. While the clothes are washing or drying, we would go and visit
an ice cream parlor. So good.
A few days later my personal letter from Mitch arrives. "How does it feel to be back on top again?
I'm proud to see that you were the number one salesman in the Michigan organization. Johnny Cobb
has to be one of the toughest men in America, working 84.5 hours".
Did I mention that this is pretty territory? I enjoy working near cherry tree orchards and lakes. One
of my customers told me that Torch Lake had been ranked #3 on a prettiest lake list by National Geo-
My July 10th letter from Mitch started out "Congratulations, Johnny, for putting in 88.5 hours and
selling 39 customers!" He encouraged me and Greg to raise the level of competition and become the
number one headquarters in Michigan this summer.
Almost made a huge mistake one night. I had not checked the gasoline gauge on the car. When I
noticed the yellow light, the only gas station in Rapid City was closed for the evening. I had stopped
there yesterday and bought some snacks. I sheepishly went to the house next door where the owner
lived. Told him my situation. He very kindly let me fill up the gas tank. Did I mention how nice the
Michiganders / Michiganians are?
After the next Sunday meeting, we come back through Traverse City, then drive on to the northern
tip of the peninsula. It separates the East Arm from the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. At the
waters edge is the Old Mission Lighthouse, built in 1870. I am intrigued by a sign. "You Are Now
Standing On The 45th Parallel, Or Halfway Between The North Pole And The Equator".
I am starting to enjoy these weekly letters from Mitch. "Johnny, Congratulations on BUSTIN' IT
LOOSE OUT THERE and CRACKING THE $2000 MARK". Said that this was National Bustin'
Loose week and proud that I had my best week of the summer, so far.
One day I was just having a tough time. A little after 12 noon, and still no sales. It was so hot, and
I was getting a little frustrated . Well, accomplish something positive. So I went and got a haircut. Did
that make a difference in my attitude? The next two houses I visited I made a sale! That put a big
smile back on my face.
After the next Sunday meeting, Greg and I drive to the Mackinac Bridge. Construction was
completed in 1957 on the world's longest suspension bridge. Including approaches, it measures five
miles long. The bridge crosses the Straits of Mackinac and connects the lower state to the Upper
Peninsula (or U.P.). In St. Ignace, we visit the Father Jacques Marquette National Memorial. This
French priest and explorer established Michigan's earliest European settlements. Hey, I lived on
Marquette Drive back in Montgomery.
The mostly conservative folks of the Upper Peninsula are tired of seeing too many tax dollars go-
ing to Detroit. There is talk of seceding from Michigan and becoming our 51st state, to be called
Superior. Now that was rather interesting.
The following Sunday, Greg and I were anxious to get back to Traverse City. It was time for the
National Cherry Festival. The Traverse City area is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United
States and has hosted a cherry festival since the 1920s. Such a huge crowd of people too. I enjoyed a
cherry tart and my first cherry milkshake. Tens of thousands watched as the Cherry Festival Queen
and her court were announced. As the sun set in the western sky, a full moon was rising in the east.
It was a perfectly beautiful end to a Sunday!
The following week I was working in the town of Mancelona. A high school girl came to the door.
I recognized her as being in the Cherry Festival court. And she bought one of my books. Neat. And by
chance, I saw her at the bank a few weeks later.
At our Sunday meetings, we start off with a little chant. Slowly and quietly at first, then it builds to
a crescendo. "To be enthusiastic, you gotta act enthusiastic". This is repeated many times until the
whole room is rocking. Then our Organization Mgr. recognizes our weekly work. All who put in a
mere 40 hours of work stand up. Who worked 75 hours this week, stay standing. Gradually increase
by one hour, and we slowly start sitting down. I was one of the more competitive in this category,
usually among the last 3 or 4 standing. Next, how many book demonstrations did we put in? The most
anticipated recognition was sales dollars. Who sold $500 worth of books this week? Most all of us
would stand. Then slowly increase, until we determined the number one salesman in our organization.
At the end of one meeting, it was decided that the student managers would be in a contest. Each of
us 8 experienced student managers would put up $20. The student manager who had the best week in
sales would claim the $160 the following Sunday. Greg and I pushed and encouraged each other all
week. And on that Saturday night, I made a sale at my last house. It 's such a fine feeling to make a
sale at the last house of the evening...to finish the week strong.
When I walked out the door at 9:27, I was quietly celebrating. It would be easy to write on my
weekly sales report that I knocked off at 9:30. What was three minutes, anyway? Well, I started to feel
guilty. I need to find another door to knock on. Need to find someone else on my list that I said I'd try
to come back and see. Okay, I found one a block over.
It was dark outside when I jumped upon the front porch. And this family had just finished eating
supper. "Come on in son. We probably won't buy anything, but you're welcome to have some water-
melon with us". He sure seems nice as I turned on my southern charm and wonderful personality. In
a little while, they were ready to see what brought this Alabama boy to Michigan for the summer. Of
course I gave them an enthusiastic demo. Bingo! They bought a $42 set of Webster's Student Hand-
books from me. Now I really felt great driving back to the house.
The next morning, Greg and I were asked to take the Garthe's daughter to Grand Rapids. When
we dropped her off at her destination, we were just a few miles from our Sunday meeting hotel. As we
settled into our meeting, we were all anxious to see who the top salesman was. Down to four, then
three, then two of us. Proud to say that I was the number one salesman by about $20. Amazing! As I
collected the $160, I was thinking of the previous evening. So close to quitting, 3 minutes early. Then
I thought about a phrase I'd heard. Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one else is looking.
As things happen from time to time on the book-field, Greg and I were finishing our territory in
Grand Traverse County. Mitch decided that the two of us would move about 65 miles north to
Petoskey. Did not make the Sunday meeting, as we had to find a house to stay in. No success as we
tried for hours, but Greg found us a lead. We went to the evening worship service at the local
Methodist church. Just before the benediction, the preacher introduced me and Greg to the congrega-
tion. He said that these two southern boys were looking for a place to stay for the next six weeks.
Soon, Charles and Dorothy Crosser introduced themselves. They had a nephew who had sold books
with the Southwestern Co. many years ago and would be glad to let us stay with them.
The Crossers were retired, but played tennis just about every morning. Also, Mr. Crosser had
dozens of books spread out on his dining room table. He was leading a Bible study on the Book of
Revelation. Such fine people!
There were several small towns for me to work in: Charlevoix, Boyne City, Boyne Falls, Walloon
Lake. I noticed an unusual/familiar name on a mailbox: Tanja. Found out a few months later that it
was the parents of one of my Pharmacy teachers, Jon Tanja. In East Jordan, I remember a sale to a
family with four children. When it was time for book deliveries, found out that the daughter, Darlene,
had taken a liking to me. I was invited to go to her high school football game that upcoming Friday
night. That was sweet. I thanked her but said I had to stay on schedule.
One of my customers gave me three small Petoskey stones as a souvenir. I had never seen these
before. These are roughly 350 million year old fossils with a distinctive six-sided coral pattern. I'll be
glad to add these to my small little collection of rocks.
Regular selling is over and now I've got about two weeks to make hundreds of deliveries. And then
it is over. Time to say my good-byes. Where did the time go? As I drive south through Cadillac, the
radio plays the song "Sweet Home Alabama". Time to turn it up loud!
Half-way to Nashville, I stop in Mitchell, IN. Leon and Wanda Williams have invited me to stay a
night with them. It's great to see my favorite Indiana friends again. And the next morning, we work in
a quick visit to Spring Mill State Park. Got to come back here again.
Checking out with the company in Nashville and I am hopeful that when all sales and monies are
recorded, I'll earn the Top 50 Salesman Award again. I have my welcome back meeting with salesmen
from all over the country, before we head to colleges in different directions. I have increased sales
from my 1977 summer, but not enough to win the gold Success Is Growth medal. When my account is
all settled, I receive a check for $6850. I will proudly take that back to Auburn with me.
(At the Orlando Awards Banquet in January, I receive my 4th Gold Seal Gold Award for working
80+ hours each week. I pick up another Top 50 Experienced Salesman Award (came in at # 48) and
by showing my books 180 times a week, I win the Super-Star book case again.)
I could have ended my school days by going during the summer quarter. Decided to make some
good money and go to the book-field one more time. As I finish my last quarter "on campus" at
Auburn, I have a special assignment for the upcoming Sales School. I will be on stage in Nashville
and give a presentation of the set of books we call the Home Adventure Library. This means that I
must give my sales talk "word for word" in front of 400+ students. That was pretty motivating.
Arriving in Nashville with spring quarter behind me, I get into a routine of all day meetings and
sales talk practices. I saw the two Michigan State Foster brothers. Told them about staying at their
house last summer near Traverse City. When it was time for me to give my sales talk on stage, I
personalized it. "This is what Dorothy Foster liked about it" I said as I looked right at her sons.
Thought that was a nice little tribute.
On Thursday night I find out I will be a New Yorker this summer. Our headquarters will be in
Auburn. Hey, that should be interesting. And on Friday, Mort Utley inspires us once again with the
same speech he has given, word for word, for over 15 years.
As the sales school ends that Friday, there is a caravan of cars heading to New York. Stayed that
night in Virginia. On Saturday, we drive into West Virginia and on into Maryland. Then I see the
Mason-Dixon Line. I enter Pennsylvania for the first time. I enjoyed driving through the Allegheny
Mountains. And now into New York. We have driven through some pretty countryside. I've been able
to take pictures of several "state" signs.
By the time Vern Dorsey (another Florida gator) and I make it to Auburn, we are just exhausted. At
10 p.m. we find a Methodist church parking lot. It was a rather restless night, sleeping in the car. But
I know we saved several dollars.
That next morning, we found two of our fellow Southwestern caravaners at our car. They stayed
the night adjacent to the church at a private residence. Don't know how it happened, or how they did
it. Now it was time for breakfast and on to Syracuse for our first Sunday meeting. After several hours
with more sales techniques being taught, it was time to go our separate ways and find a place to live.
With no strong leads, Vern and I and our other room-mate, Mike LaHaye (from Florida State) just
started walking the streets. After knocking on dozens of doors, Mrs. Irene Granger said we could rent
with her. A school teacher from Pennsylvania had been staying at her house the past 9 months. He had
left for his home just a week earlier, so she had an extra room to rent. However, she needed one week
to prepare for us.
That Sunday night, we stayed in the fellowship hall of the Methodist church. Adjacent to the park-
ing lot, we met the older lady who let our two buddies stay with her the previous night. She said we
were welcome to sleep in her basement for the upcoming week. Wonderful how things fell into place
Mrs. Lithgow Osborn was recently widowed. Her house had been the city library many, many
years ago. In her den was a certificate that honored her husband. He served as U.S. Ambassador to
Norway in the mid 1940s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's signature was on that certificate. Wow!
A little history here, folks.
As we move into Mrs. Granger's house one week later, we settle into our routine. Vern had no car,
so he worked in the city of 33,000. Mike and I had cars, so we worked outside the city limits, in the
countryside and small towns. Auburn is nestled upstate in what is called the Finger- Lakes region.
These eleven lakes are long and narrow and resemble fingers. Generally oriented on a north-south
axis, a few of these are among the deepest lakes in the country. They had been formed during the
previous Ice Age by retreating glaciers.
I started selling my books south of the city, around Lake Owasco. Each morning after breakfast, I
would drive down South Street. Two houses that caught my eye had belonged to William H. Seward
and Harriett Tubman. She was a major "conductor" on the Underground Railroad and was known as
"the Moses of her people". Who doesn't remember her efforts during the Civil War?
After two weeks of selling, I was presented my 5th Success Coin. Afterwards, several of us went
to tour the Syracuse University campus. And I saw the Delta Tau Delta house. Felt a little proud,
being there. It was such a pretty place. And I bought a souvenir bumper sticker: I Love New York.
Working in the rural areas, I came across another historic marker. "Millard Fillmore 13th President
of the United States, was born in a Log Cabin in the Adjacent Field January 7, 1800". I will have to
read about him after I return to Alabama.
One afternoon, I had the chance to tour the William H. Seward home. Such a huge library. Our tour
guide showed us the fireplace. The carpentry work was done by a young apprentice named Brigham
Young. That was before his Mormon days. As Secretary of State during the Lincoln and Johnson
administrations, Seward was best known for the purchase of Alaska in 1867 from the Russians. At two
cents per acre, Seward's Folly was one of the best land purchases in American history.
On another occasion, I was working around Fayette. I was able to visit the Peter Whitmer Farm.
On April 6, 1830 Joseph Smith and a few others founded the Mormon church...The Church of Jesus
Christ Of Latter Day Saints. So this is the log home where it all began. Interesting.
In the country areas are hundreds of farms. When there is extra food, it is usually shared with some
neighbors. I remember a few baskets of cucumbers by one mailbox. The hand drawn sign said to take
all you needed. Well, on that day, I had two fresh cucumbers for lunch. On another day, I ate two or
three tomatoes from a farm. And I enjoyed a couple of freshly picked apples for lunch on another
occasion. That saved money on my food purchases.
For a couple of days, I sold my books in and around the small village of Union Springs. Just had to
send a post-card of Union Springs to some of my best friends, Larry and June Carol Pullum. Larry
was a Methodist preacher in Union Springs, AL at the time.
I'm impressed by so much history here in Cayuga County. It was the ancestral home of the Iroquois
Indians. There is a historic marker designating a childhood home of John D. Rockefeller. Another
historic marker sign that I needed to take a picture of was in Waterloo, NY. It recalls the first Memor-
ial Day observation in the country, following the end of the Civil War.
After another Sunday meeting, Vern and I were driving through Elmira. In a city park, Samuel L.
Clemmons was honored. There was a Mississippi River boat ship captain's house where I peeked in
the windows. This was a tribute to Mark Twain. Vern had a tough incident a few days earlier. It was
a day of nonstop rain. Just a miserable day to be out. One woman answered Vern's knock on the front
door. No way she was going to let my friend inside her dry house. She told him that she would not let
his "dripping carcass come inside on her new carpet". That really hurt his feelings.
The Sunday meeting we all looked forward to was at Niagra Falls. A highlight was the boat ride on
"The Maid Of The Mist". We all donned raincoats. As the small boat approached the base of the falls,
there was a tremendous amount of spray being kicked up. What an awesome force of nature. After the
boat ride, there was time for us to walk across the border. Hey, I'm back in Canada!
On the way back home to Auburn, we pass the exit for Rochester. My great-grandfather was born
there in the 1800s. I smile when I tell people that I have a little Yakee blood in me. I won't have the
time to see the city on this trip.
One advantage of getting out of the city and selling in the country? I get to work close to the lakes.
I enjoyed looking across green farmlands and watching sailboats gliding by on the blue waters. In the
late afternoons the sun would glisten on the Lake Geneva. Very peaceful.
As I worked my way up to the northern part of the county, I came across what was left of the old
original Erie Canal. One afternoon I had my lunch in the shade, next to the banks of the old canal.
More history to read about at another time. And being a boy, I had to walk down to the bottom of it.
I am now at the northern tip of Cayuga County. The state borders one of our Great Lakes: Ontario.
I look across an apple tree orchard and see the vast expansive lake stretching out for miles. I feel
blessed to see so much pretty scenery.
We have a treat scheduled after the next Sunday meeting, a movie. Had been wanting to see the
movie "Urban Cowboy" and finally got the chance. In the past few years, we salesman had seen "Star
Wars" and "Rocky".
One evening when I came in, Mrs. Granger was watching the Republican National Convention.
She was quite a fan of Ronald Reagan. So I stayed downstairs with her and watched his acceptance
speech. He makes me feel patriotic.
As the summer turns into September, I have a trip I must take. Book salesman do not ever leave the
field, but I explained to my roommates. I drove to Syracuse that Friday morning. If the flight had not
been delayed 10 minutes, I probably would have missed my flight to New York. The next leg of my
trip was to Atlanta. Then the third leg was to Montgomery. My dad picked me up at the airport. Had a
reunion with the family, then on to rehearsals. My sister, Margie, was getting married that Saturday,
September 6th. No way I was going to miss that. She and Allen Reed were married at Perry Hill Meth-
odist Church. Then there was a lovely reception.
It was soon Sunday morning and I am flying back to Atlanta. Meanwhile, the newlyweds are going
to the Bahamas. The next stop for me was New York City. Glad I had a window seat, so I could see
the Statue of Liberty. Then, I was back in Syracuse. I looked at my map and thought, this may be my
only time to ever visit Cooperstown. So I drove east to the little village to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I was enthralled, as only a schoolboy could be. What a wonderful ending to a wonderful weekend.
Two days left to sell, then it's time for deliveries. Getting back on the bookman schedule with early
mornings and late nights. Got to deliver those books and finish the summer strong. My school buddy
from Auburn University, Mike Moore, had finished his deliveries one day earlier and caught a ride to
our house. Mike would be riding back home with me.
I had told Mrs. Granger that my dad was temporarily transferred from Montgomery. He would be
working with the telephone company in San Francisco and Oakland for maybe a year. And I planned
on going out to California to see him. Well, Mrs. Granger has a nephew that works in Sausalito, just
north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Told her I'd try to look him up. Hard to say good-bye to someone
who has been so nice to us.
As Mike and I leave Auburn, we've heard of Letchworth State Park. It is called the Grand Canyon
of the East. The Genesee River runs through here and there are three waterfalls inside the park. After
a trip to Niagra Falls, I have seen what the power of water (and glaciers) can do. It was interesting to
read that mastadons had roamed this area, maybe 10,000 years ago.
We drive through the northwestern tip of Pennsylvania. It didn't take long for us to reach Ohio.
After passing through the outskirts Cleveland and Akron, we're on the way to Columbus. Once again,
I am happy to see the Cincinnati Reds baseball park. Thought back to five summers ago when I
worked my first summer in Ohio. I would say I have been quite successful on this book selling job. I
couldn't have imagined the maturity aspect, how much I had grown and learned and experienced and
handled the unexpected.
It is dark as we enter Louisville. Time for supper as we find a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Being the
only two white boys in the place, we were asked "You're not from around here, are you?" I must say,
I had never been in a fast food restaurant before, where there was bullet-proof glass to protect the
workers. Seems like there had been too many shootings there the previous year.
We knew this would be an all night long trip. We arrive in Nashville about 3 a.m. and drive to
the back gate of our Southwestern Company. Several cars are ahead of us as we try to sleep for a few
hours. The gates opened at 7 and Mike and I are ready to start checking out. Extra books are bought
back by the company. Monies are turned in and we go to a couple of little meetings. Now it's time to
go pick up a check. I knew that New York was a tougher place to sell than Michigan. So I was not too
surprised that my check was about $4900. Down from last summer, but still very respectable!
Oh the joy of being home in Montgomery. One night here with my mother before driving to
Tuscaloosa. My pharmacy school externship starts tomorrow. The book selling days are officially over
as I settle into my final quarter of college.
(At the Orlando Awards Banquet in January, I was working with Eckerd Drugs in Mobile, AL and
could not make the trip. Several weeks later, Mitch delivered my 5th Gold Seal Gold Award for work-
ing 80+ hours per week. Also, there was another Century Club plaque for me. )
Fast Forward: 2013 I have had three or four Southwestern Company people knock on my door during
the past 26 years. But this is what I really enjoy: speaking to a group of college students at their Sunday
meeting. In 2010, I had the opportunity to speak to six students from Estonia. We met at the Holiday
Inn in Daphne. In September, as they were finishing deliveries, Janet and I served them all a chili
lunch at our house.
In 2011, about ten Lithuanian students met at the Comfort Suites in Saraland. I spoke for about 30
minutes. As their meeting ended, I accompanied them to lunch at a Chinese buffet in Mobile. A few
weeks later, I met two of the young ladies at the Waffle House in Daphne. I brought Happy Birthday
candles to place in a waffle. Ieva M. was celebrating her 20th birthday. And on their last day of
deliveries, I met and bought breakfast for Danute, Ieva and Vytautas at the Waffle House.
In 2012, another group of college students from Lithuania were meeting at a hotel in Daphne. Once
again, I gave them my best recollections of selling books for 5 summers. My outline today was about:
I.M.E.: Inspire, Motivate, Encourage. Afterwards, I suggested a Chinese buffet in Daphne. I got to
know the young men and women a little at lunch that day.
Janet says that being around these college students makes me "young-at-heart". I may just be
reliving my college days. With FaceBook, I have 24 new friends. And I continue to sing the
Book-man song each day.
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