My wife was reflecting on what might have happened to us. “What if we had never met,” she mused. “What if we had never been brought through the failure of our own plans? We probably never would have found the way to abundant living—the joys of right living! Think how drab and dull and empty our lives might have been! How grateful we ought to be!”
WHY This Is Written
Yes, our lives have been eventful, exciting, filled with action, effort, unusual experiences, travel. There have been problems, reverses, chastenings, persecutions, sufferings, but there has been success, accomplishments, happiness and joy! We have been kept busy. We have really lived!
So, let me repeat, this autobiography is being written in the hope that these unusual life experiences may bring inspiration, encouragement and benefit to many.
I have been greatly influenced by the tremendous impress on my life that resulted from a triple reading of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. After reading that, I sought to learn by the experiences of other successful men.
And so it is in the hope that this story of my own life may be a means of bringing to many, in inspirational and interesting manner, the very same usable help that other biographies brought to me, that this is written.
Learning Magazine Makeup
For one six-month period, during the first two years on the Journal, I was given the job of “making up the magazine.” That is, of taking all of the galley proofs of articles, proofs of all the ads, and pasting them in a dummy magazine the way each issue was to be designed.
During this six months I was given a desk out at the Successful Farming plant in their composing room.
I learned, as the publishers of the Journal knew, that a smaller-circulation magazine can have its publication printed each month in the plant of a larger magazine, or some large-operation printing establishment, at less cost than operating its own printing plant. The reason is obvious. The presses turn only one or two days a month on a single smaller publication. To keep all the machinery idle, besides printers, most of the month is to tie up capital that is not working. It doesn’t pay.
This lesson was of very practical benefit in our present activities. For years the Plain Truth has been printed by large commercial printing plants in the United States and abroad.
Beginning about 1945 or 1946 we did operate our own small printing shop—first with one Davidson duplicator press, then with two, and later with three larger, but still comparatively small Miehle presses. They did our minor printing only—booklets, letterheads and such things.
All these earlier experiences were precisely what was needed to build, later, the worldwide activities of today.
Coddling a Temper
One rather dramatic incident occurred at the Successful Farming printing plant. It contains a lesson worth, I think, the telling.
The foreman of the printing plant at Successful Farming was an old experienced printer named Ed Condon. It seemed to me that printers were, in those days at least, more profane than any class of men. Perhaps it was because, in the days of hand-setting all type, a printer often would “pie” the type—that is, it would slip out of his hand and fall in a jumbled mass, whereupon every single letter of type would have to be sorted out, put back into the case and then set all over again. It was a severe test on patience. Mr. Condon not only could “cuss”—he also had a temper!
The only thing wrong with Mr. Condon’s temper was that he made no attempt to control it. He was proud of it. He pampered it. He bragged about it.
One day he “flew off the handle” at me for some reason I no longer remember. He raved, swore, shouted, called names. I left the composing room and returned to the Journal offices. Mr. Boreman either went out or called him on the telephone. He received the same treatment—only more violently. He then went into the office of our publisher and editor, Mr. W. J. Pilkington. Mr. Pilkington called Mr. Charles E. Lynde, then general manager of Successful Farming. He asked Mr. Pilkington if he would have Mr. Boreman and me come to his office.
When we arrived, Mr. Condon was called into Mr. Lynde’s office.
“Ed,” said Mr. Lynde sternly, “we cannot have our good customers insulted. You may either apologize to Mr. Boreman and Mr. Armstrong, and also give me, and them, your word of honor that this burst of temper will never be repeated, or you are fired on the spot.”
Ed Condon humbly apologized.
“May I say a word to Ed?” asked Mr. Boreman.
“Ed, you’re a very competent printer, and a fine and likable fellow—except when you let loose a burst of temper. I’d like to give you a little advice as a friend—for we like you. I’ve noticed that you have bragged about that temper of yours. You’ve been proud of your ability to lose your head. You’ve nursed it along as if it were your baby you love. You’ve never tried to control it. Now a temper is a mighty good thing—as long as it is under perfect control and directed by the mind in good judgment. When you learn to control it, then that’s something to be proud of! You’ve just been proud of it in the wrong state of action, Ed—that’s all that’s wrong.”
Mr. Condon took the advice—he had to, standing in front of his top boss. He said he’d never thought of it that way, and thanked Mr. Boreman.
Perhaps some of our readers never thought of it that way. Mr. Boreman’s advice was very sound! Never let tempers get out of control!
Becoming the ‘Idea Man’
After about 1½ to 2 years of training in advertising copy writing and layout, selling advertising space, office work in dictating and letter-answering, and composing room makeup with the Merchants Trade Journal, I was put on a new and unique activity.
I have never heard of anything like it. I became the Journal’s “Idea Man.”
This was the most unusual training and experience of all. I was now transferred into the editorial department under Ben R. Vardeman, associate editor. Also, on this job, I was kept partially under supervision of Mr. Boreman.
Mr. Vardeman was a tall, dignified man who was author of a book on the principles of retail salesmanship, and a Chautauqua lecturer. Also, I believe, he had written a correspondence course on retail salesmanship. He wrote most of the articles that composed the reading content of the Journal.
The editorial and reading columns of the Journal were devoted mainly to ideas that had been successfully used by retail merchants in increasing sales, speeding up turnover, reducing costs, implementing principles and methods of business management, training of personnel, improving public relations. Also they put emphasis on community betterment and chamber of commerce activity.
This reading material was not written out of theoretical imagination. The Journal maintained an “Idea Man” who traveled all over the country, visiting stores in all lines, discussing problems and methods with merchants, checking on community and social conditions. The actual experiences of successful merchants, as sought out and reported by the “Idea Man,” were written up by the editors into article form in the magazine.
I was equipped with a hotel credit letter and a large postcard-size folding camera. The credit letter authorized me to cash checks, or write out and draw drafts on the Merchants Trade Journal, up to a total of $100 per week, ample in those days to cover traveling expenses. A book of instruction in photography was given me. I had to learn to take pictures of a quality worth publishing.
Expense Account Troubles
I was allowed a reasonably liberal expense account, but no extravagances or luxuries. The Journal expected their men to stop at leading hotels, but I always took a minimum-price single room if available. Breakfasts were nearly always taken at the lunch counter, lunches at the coffee shop or lunch counter, but the evening meal quite often in the hotel’s main dining room.
I had not been out long before I put down on my expense account: “Ice Cream Soda—“ and “Movie—“—or whatever the prices of those items were in those days. Mr. Vardeman was meticulously careful of details. He frowned on these expense items, and was about to disallow them, when Mr. Boreman came to my rescue. He urged Mr. Vardeman to let it go, this time, saying that he, Mr. Boreman, would write me proper instructions about these expense items.
“Next time, Herbert,” Mr. Boreman’s letter advised, “put any little items like that down included under ‘Miscellaneous.’” So after that the occasional ice cream sodas and movies were bulked together into one item, called “Miscellaneous.”
This is an incident that I had forgotten. But just at this juncture (written February 1968), in order to refresh my memory on one or two other incidents as I had come to the writing of this stage of my experiences with the Journal, I called Mr. Boreman by long-distance telephone. This expense account incident was one of two that he remembered vividly after all these years. He seemed to enjoy immensely reminding me of the incident.
This incident reminds me of an experience Benjamin Franklin related in his autobiography. During the Revolutionary War all people were required to contribute for the purchase of gunpowder. The Quakers of Pennsylvania found it contrary to their doctrine and conscience to do this. Yet they wanted to be loyal. So they solved their dilemma by contributing money for “corn, oats and other grain.” The “other grain,” Franklin explained with a chuckle, was gunpowder!
The other incident that Mr. Boreman recalled to my memory was the time I “discovered” a most remarkable and practical invention being used in a grocery store. It was only a few days after I had started on my first trip. I was still pretty “green” on this job of recognizing good ideas used by merchants.
It was a vegetable rack, with water dripping down slowly over the vegetables. Now this was not only ingenious, I thought, but a most practical idea. It attracted attention, and kept the vegetables fresh. So I carefully took several camera shots of it, as I remembered it. But as Mr. Boreman remembered it, I hired a photographer to come and photograph it for me. Enthusiastically I sent in a glowing report of my new discovery.
There was, apparently, quite a reaction in the Journal office when this report, with pictures, reached them. It seems that their laughter almost shook the building down. Groceries had been using this type of vegetable rack for many years—but never having been in the grocery business, and being new and inexperienced in my “Idea” job, they somehow had escaped my attention. I thought I had made a wonderful new discovery. This demonstrated again that most of us learn, not by observation, but by cruel experience.
The first “Idea Man” tour took me to New York State and back. This trip started in November 1913.
I must have visited a number of towns across Iowa and Illinois, but the first that comes back to mind, now, is traveling across southern Michigan. I remember staying overnight at the Post Tavern in Battle Creek. My mother had been an ardent Postum drinker, but I had never liked it. Here at the Post company’s own hotel, however, I was induced to order their specialty, iced Postum with whipped cream. The way they prepared it, it was so delicious I have never forgotten it. It seems to me that Mr. C. W. Post was still alive, and that I saw him either in the hotel lobby or in the dining room.
I remember stopping off at Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. Probably I went south from there, making stops at Toledo, Fostoria, Upper Sandusky, Bucyrus, Mansfield, Wooster, Massillon, Canton, Alliance and Youngstown in Ohio.
Next, I entered Pennsylvania, with Franklin as the first stop. By this time I was feeling so sluggish, I hunted up an osteopath in Franklin. I had occasionally taken osteopath treatments, not as a medicine for any sickness, but more to take the place of an athletic “workout” at times when I was not getting sufficient exercise. At this time I thought a treatment might make me more alert and help the sluggish feeling I was having to fight.
“Well now,” said the osteopath, “I’ll be glad to give you a treatment and take your money for it if you insist, but I can tell you something without any charge that will do you a lot more good. Quit eating so many eggs!”
“Why,” I exclaimed in surprise, “how did you know I’ve been eating a lot of eggs?”
“By your color and condition of your liver,” he said.
He explained that I had a somewhat torpid liver that would not readily assimilate an excess of eggs, corn or peanuts. Some people seem to be able to eat eggs every morning for breakfast without harm. I found, from this osteopath’s advice and subsequent experience, that my liver is apparently different. I can eat eggs occasionally without harm—but I must avoid eating them regularly. I have found that lemon juice seems to be the antidote. Accordingly, ever since that experience in Franklin, Pennsylvania, I have eaten sparingly of eggs, and taken generously of lemon juice. If I may seem to have some fair degree of energy, vitality and physical stamina, it is largely due to being careful about diet, among other things.
I mention this because some of our readers may be suffering from the same inert sluggishness, feeling dopey and drowsy a good deal of the time, caused by the same kind of liver. If so, try eliminating the eggs, corn and peanuts for a while, and start drinking lemon juice every morning before breakfast (without sugar).
The Niagara River Lesson
Next I went north, stopping at Oil City and Titusville in Pennsylvania, and on to Buffalo. I spent December 25, 1913, at Niagara Falls. I shall never forget that first visit to Niagara Falls. There had been a silver thaw, then a refreeze. All the trees glistened in the bright sun like millions of brilliantly sparkling diamonds, especially over on Goat Island.
This visit to Niagara Falls allowed me to leave the United States for the first time in my life—walking across International Bridge into Niagara Falls, Canada.
There was an experience on Goat Island I shall never forget. I had walked up the island, away from the falls, some little distance. The Niagara River is very swift at that point. Out in the river I noticed one huge rock. It seemed like a great, insurmountable barrier standing in the way of the swift on-rushing waters from above-stream. To me it was like the insurmountable barriers that frequently confront us—that threaten to stop us in our progress. So many people get discouraged and quit.
But not those waters!
The waters of that river swirled around the great rock, struck it head-on and splashed over it. One way or another the waters got past it, and hurried on to their destination—the falls, and then down the swift rapids of the river on into Lake Ontario. The waters didn’t lie down. They didn’t become discouraged. They didn’t quit. They found a way around the impassable barrier, and on to their destination.
I decided that if inanimate, mindless elements could surmount and find a way past obstacles, so could I. This experience has often come back to mind when the going has gotten tough, or when I was tempted to become discouraged and quit.
While at Niagara Falls I went through the Shredded Wheat plant. They had many visitors, who were taken through the plant on guided tours. At the end of the tour the guests are served shredded wheat the way the factory serves it. Always before it had tasted like straw, or a miniature bale of hay to me, but the way they served it—with sliced bananas and rich cream, and with a wonderful cup of coffee—it was simply delicious.
Visiting Elbert Hubbard
Having a Sunday layover in Buffalo I was able to indulge a personal adventure and pleasure. On two or three occasions I had met Elbert Hubbard, world-famous writer, author, publisher and lecturer. Hubbard edited and published two national magazines with a literary flair—the Philistine and the Fra. He himself managed to write most of the contents.
Elbert Hubbard was no shrinking violet. He readily admitted to possessing the largest vocabulary of any man since Shakespeare. In his own ranking of American authors from the days of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson, he “modestly” rated himself number one. When the dictionary contained no word to fit his need, he coined a word that did. He wore semi-long hair, a great broad-brimmed hat and an artist’s bow tie. He hobnobbed with the great and the near-great, wrote them up in flattering rhetoric—for a price befitting his superlatives.
He wrote A Message to Garcia, which, next to the Bible, sold more copies than anything ever written in that day.
For a few years now, I had been reading Elbert Hubbard regularly. I read his “stuff,” on my Uncle Frank Armstrong’s advice, for style, for flair, for vocabulary and for ideas in philosophy—though my uncle had cautioned me against absorbing without question his philosophies and ideas of religion. Hubbard was an agnostic. He seemed to possess a deal of wisdom about men and methods and things—but he was utterly devoid of spiritual knowledge.
And now my opportunity came to visit this noted sage at his famous Roycroft Inn and Shops, in East Aurora, New York, a short distance south of Buffalo.
The morning was spent at the inn, browsing around among books and booklets and copies of the Fra and the Philistine. After lunch at the inn, Elbert Hubbard came in. He remembered me from former meetings in Chicago and Des Moines on his lecture tours.
He led the way out on the wide veranda, and started throwing the medicine ball around. As I remember, there were four of us—Hubbard, his daughter Miriam, not far from my age, and another guest. Once I caught Hubbard napping, and socked him on the side of the head with the big medicine ball—and daughter Miriam soon returned the compliment, jolting me with a lollapalooza. It was fun.
Next, Fra Elbertus, as he liked to style himself, piloted me and the other guest on a tour of the Roycroft shops, where artistic and quality printing were done. Along the way, he picked up a deluxe leather-bound copy of A Message to Garcia, inscribed my name in it with his autograph, and presented it to me; and a little later, inscribed in the same manner, he gave me a copy of his American Bible.
When my mother heard that Elbert Hubbard had published a new Bible of his own, she was gravely shocked—until I explained. Hubbard’s own explanation was that the word “bible” simply means “book.” It comes from the Greek biblia, and by itself has no sacred meaning, merely designating any book. Of course Hubbard’s American Bible was intended as an agnostic’s answer to the Holy Bible, which he regarded merely as the literary and religious writings of the Hebrews.
Since the Bible is composed of a collection of various books written by various men, combined into one large book, Hubbard had assembled together a selection of writings of outstanding Americans, including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Emerson and Lincoln—and, of course—Hubbard! A faint insight into Hubbard’s rating of the value and importance of the writings of these Americans may be gleaned from the fact that slightly more than half of the whole book was filled with the writings of all other American writers combined, while the writings of Hubbard alone filled almost half of the entire book!
Somewhere, through the years since 1933, these two books personally autographed and presented by Elbert Hubbard have become lost.
Happiness out of WORK?
Returning to the inn, Hubbard called out: “Everybody down the basement!”
Here I was put to work, beside Mr. Hubbard, wrapping large scrubbed Idaho potatoes in tissue paper, for packing in “Goodie Boxes.” The Roycrofters at that time were advertising in their publications as deluxe gifts these “Goodie Boxes,” which were attractive wooden boxes filled with choice vegetables, fruits, nuts and other “goodies.”
As Mr. Hubbard and I chatted away, he began suddenly to chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” I queried.
“I was just wondering what you really think of me,” he mused. “You visit me as my guest. I charge you full price for your lunch. I try to induce you to stay overnight as a paying guest in my hotel. And at the same time I put you to work without wages.”
“Well, who,” I asked, “was that self-admitted great philosopher who said: ‘Get your happiness out of your work!’?”
That pleased him. It was his own quotation, oft repeated in his magazines.
I continued, “I was trying to decide what I really think of you once, and I asked a Unitarian minister who reads your stuff whether he knew what your religion is. He said he wasn’t sure whether you have any, but if you do, he was quite sure it originated in your pocketbook.”
“Ho! Ho!” roared the Fra gleefully, and then he quickly replied. “Well, anyway, I get away with it, don’t I?”
After perhaps an hour of this “getting happiness out of our work” we adjourned to the music salon of the inn on the ground floor. Sunday evening concerts were frequently held in this room, which contained three Steinway grand pianos. By this time, midafternoon or later, several other guests had arrived. Hubbard ascertained that three of us played the piano. We compared notes and found only one tune all three could play from memory, the waltz “The Pink Lady.”
So, with Elbert Hubbard leading like a maestro with great gusto and sweeping arm motions, the three pianos rang out while those assembled sang or waltzed.
As we broke up, Hubbard again urged me to stay overnight, but I had to be on the job early Monday morning, so caught the late afternoon train back to Buffalo.
Sent to Interview Henry Ford
From Buffalo I continued on east to Rochester, Syracuse, Rome, Utica. I may have stopped off at a number of towns and small cities through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois on the return trip. I do not now remember whether I did this, or returned on a through train to Chicago, and then directly to Des Moines.
I had been scheduled to continue on to Troy and Albany, New York State, but on January 5, 1914, a sensational news story broke in Detroit. The Ford Motor Co. raised basic wage rates from $2.40 per 9-hour day to $5 per 8-hour day. It was banner-headline front-page news nationwide.
On that day I reached Utica, New York, and the Journal editors telegraphed me to go immediately to Detroit and interview Henry Ford. They wanted a story on this labor bombshell based on a personal interview by a Journal representative.
The $5-a-Day Plan
Arriving in Detroit, I registered at the Hotel Statler—no, on second thought I believe this was before the Statler was built and I stopped at the Hotel Tuller—and took a cab out to the Ford Motor plant, located at that time in Highland Park. There was a many-storied office building in the front—I believe fronting on Woodward Avenue, with the large factory buildings to the rear.
Stepping up to the receptionist desk, I stated my mission and asked for an interview with Henry Ford.
“Mr. Ford,” replied the receptionist, “is not a difficult man to see, and if you wish I can arrange an interview for you, but if it is information about the new wage plan you want, I can tell you that Mr. Ford himself really is not as familiar with all the details of it as Mr. John R. Lee, head of the sociological department. You see, this whole new plan was originated by Mr. Lee, through his department. He presented the plan to Mr. Ford and the board. They looked into it and approved it, but that’s all. They simply turned it over to Mr. Lee to administer through his department. He’s the man who has all the facts about it.”
I was there to get the facts, not to glorify my vanity by being able to say I had gained a personal interview with a man as famous as Henry Ford. I said that I would prefer to talk to Mr. Lee.
I remember well my opening statement and his reply.
“Mr. Lee,” I began, “you are now paying the highest wages in the automobile industry—or perhaps in any industry. I’d like to get all the facts about it.”
“No, Mr. Armstrong,” he replied, “we do not pay the highest wages, but on the contrary we pay the lowest wages in the industry!”
“But,” I stammered, “don’t you now pay a standard minimum scale of $5 per day, and don’t the other factories pay only about $3.50 per day?”
“Quite true,” smiled Mr. Lee, “but still, we are paying the lowest wages in the automobile industry. You see, we don’t measure the actual wage by dollars paid, but by the amount of production we receive per dollar paid. Our sales volume is by far the largest in the industry. This has made it possible for us to install an assembly-line system of production. The Ford cars start at one end of this production line. As they proceed along this line, each worker adds his own part. At the end of the line each car is a finished product. In this manner we are able to set the pace of production. As each car unit goes past each man, he is required to complete his part in the assembly of the car within the time limit before it has moved past him. You see, we actually set the pace at which each man must work. There can be no stalling, no loafing on the job, no slowing down. We gear the production speed of each man to a high level of work per hour.
“We pay some 43 percent more dollars per workman per day, but we get 100 percent more production out of each man—and pay only 43 percent more money to get it. So you see, we actually pay the lowest wages in our industry for what we get from the labor of our men.”
“Well if this plan pays the Ford company so well, why don’t the other motor companies adopt the plan?” I asked.
“They can’t,” said Mr. Lee, “on their present volume of production. But of course if and when they get their sales volume up to a level that will make possible the assembly-line system, they will naturally come to it.”
“How about labor unions?” I asked.
“Oh, we have nothing to do with them. Our men are free to join the union if they wish, but there’s no point in their paying out labor union dues when they already receive 43 percent above union scale. We don’t recognize the unions in any way, nor will we negotiate with them. As long as we pay so high above union scale, we are simply not concerned with them.”
I learned that Mr. Lee’s department actually checked into the very homes of employees, and regulated their living standards, thus keeping their men at peak efficiency for turning out extra-volume production.
“But,” I pursued, “don’t your employees object to this interference and regulation of even their private home life—and also to being forced to keep up such a stiff pace of work?”
“The whole answer to that is economic. Of course they have to work harder, and submit to certain of our regulations even in their private family lives—but enough men are willing to submit to these conditions in return for receiving almost half-again more pay than they could obtain elsewhere.”
There, as I remember it after 60 years, is the story of the $5-a-day wage plan that was such a sensation in its day.
But its day came, and has gone. Other automobile factories did expand into the assembly-line production system, and then the Ford company found itself on a level with other companies so far as the labor situation was concerned. Ford fought off union recognition and negotiation for many years, but finally was forced to bow to it.
Mr. Lee insisted on driving me, himself personally, back downtown to my hotel. The cars of the company officials were parked in a wide breezeway between the office building and factory. He took me into the factory for a glimpse of it. As we returned back to the breezeway, we saw Henry Ford himself about to step into a car some 20 feet away. Mr. Lee asked me to excuse him for a moment, saying he had something he wanted to speak to Mr. Ford about. So I did see Henry Ford but did not meet him or speak to him.
How Christ Is Creator
Much later, after my mind became opened to biblical understanding, this experience came back to mind forcibly as an illustration of how the Bible represents that God Almighty is the one supreme Creator, and yet everything that exists was created by Jesus Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16).
In Ephesians 3:9 it is stated that God created all things by Jesus Christ. Henry Ford was, while he lived, the manufacturer, or maker, of the Ford cars. But when I visited the Ford factory, I saw Mr. Ford standing there in a well-pressed business suit. It was his employees who were doing the actual work of making the automobiles. They did it for him—at his command. And they did it with tools, machines and electric power!
In like manner, God is supreme Creator. But He delegated the actual work of the creating to the One who became Jesus Christ—to the “Logos,” or the One who was the Word—the Spokesman. But He, Christ, utilized the power of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 1:2, we read that the Spirit of God moved or was brooding upon the face of the waters. He, Christ—the Word—spake, and it was done! (Psalm 33:9).
Write Your Autobiography as You Go!
At this point I am constrained to offer the reader some advice on how to write an autobiography. Don’t wait until you are 65 to write it. Start writing it at age 3 or 5, and turn it out on the installment plan—as you go. Write it while the events are fresh on your mind. Of course you’ll find this method has its drawbacks, too. You won’t know at the time which events will stand out in later life as important or interesting, and probably you’ll write down about 50 times as much as you’ll finally use.
But I find that trying to write the whole thing in retrospect later in life is rather frustrating, too. A lot of things begin to seem all jumbled up. I was sure, when I started writing about these “Idea Man” trips, that the very first one took me west as far as Grand Island, Nebraska, south through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, east through Louisiana and Mississippi, then north through Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. I started to write it that way, but found it wouldn’t work out. Then it came back to mind from somewhere in those mysterious recesses of memory how the first trip was the one into New York State and back. So that portion had to be rewritten.
Even now, it seems I must have started on this “Idea Man” work earlier than I had remembered, and that the period spent on the magazine “makeup” at the Successful Farming composing room was spent somewhere in between these editorial trips. In any event every effort is being made toward accuracy, and this account, as you are reading it, is approximately accurate.
One reason why I am mentioning the names of most of the towns and cities visited on these trips is that the Plain Truth has readers in all these places, and I have felt it might add a certain interest to those particular readers to know I had visited their towns. I think that in most of them I could still name the hotels where I stayed.
Becoming an ‘Early Bird’
The second “Idea Tour” began a few days after returning to Des Moines, early January 1914. It took me to Atlanta, Georgia, up the Atlantic Coast to Virginia, and back across from there. I do remember some events from this tour, and a few may be worth recording.
On this trip I traveled some days down the Mississippi River on a large river steamer.
I went first to Davenport, Iowa, making stops in search of ideas at Iowa City and other towns along the way, and traveling by riverboat to Muscatine, Fort Madison and Keokuk, Iowa, where the boat was lowered through the locks of the big dam; then terminating the riverboat mode of transportation at Quincy, Illinois. This riverboat travel was quite intriguing at the time.
The itinerary next took me across Illinois to Springfield, Decatur and Mattoon, and to Terre Haute, Indiana; then south to Vincennes and Evansville, then Henderson and Hopkinsville, Kentucky. At Hopkinsville, I remember, I was assigned to the “Bridal Suite” of the hotel, of which the hotel employees seemed effusively proud. It was a large room, rather old-fashioned, but dolled up in a manner the staff thought quite distinguished. There were stops at Clarksville and Nashville, Tennessee, and then a night I well remember at the Patton Hotel in Chattanooga.
At this time I was sleeping so well nights that I was having a fight with willpower to awaken and get up mornings. Everything I had read about the lives of great and successful men on the subject indicated that all such men are early risers.
There’s the old saying: “The early bird gets the worm.” Not that I desired worms, but I did want to be a success. A successful man must discipline himself. I had determined to establish the habit of being an early riser. I could not always depend on hotel clerks getting me up by a call in the mornings, especially in smaller town hotels, so I had purchased a Baby Ben alarm clock, which I carried with me.
But I found myself drowsily turning off the alarm, turning over, and going back to sleep. I was becoming determined. At the Hotel Patton, before retiring for the night, I called for a bellboy.
“You going to be on duty at 6 in the morning?” I asked.
“Yassuh, Ah’ll be heah,” he assured me.
“Well then, do you see this half-dollar on the dresser?”
His eyes glistened. The usual tip in those days was a dime. A half-dollar was a very extra-special big tip.
“You pound on my door at 6 a.m. until I get up and let you in. Then you stay here until you see I am dressed, and that half-dollar is yours.”
You may be sure I didn’t roll over and go back to sleep at 6 a.m. next morning. This system worked so well I kept it up until the “early-bird” habit was established. This was one more example of having to put a prod on myself, to drive the self to do what ought to be done instead of giving in to inclination or impulse.
This trip was started in early January, immediately after the New York State trip. In Iowa we had worn gloves in the winter, kid gloves for dress. In Atlanta it was too warm for kid gloves. I’m not at all sure, now, that any gloves were needed. We never think of wearing gloves in Southern California, and it is not noticeably colder in Atlanta. Probably the main incentive was to “look sharp,” rather than cold hands, but I bought taupe-colored silk gloves with three stripes of black braid trim on the back. If vanity is the main ingredient of human nature, I had my share of human nature. I suppose a peacock feels about like I did.
In Atlanta I stopped at the narrow but very tall Wynecoff Hotel—the hotel made nationally famous by a terrible fire several years ago. I remember I went there because it was “fireproof.”
Starting back north, stops were made in search of merchandising ideas at Gainesville, Georgia, and then Greenville, South Carolina. Near Greenville was a famous rustic-fenced ranch. A Sunday was spent there, and with other traveling men the day was spent going out to this unusual ranch. I still have a picture or two taken at the place.
Then on to Spartanburg, South Carolina; Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina; and Lynchburg, Virginia, from which point I turned back west, stopping at Roanoke, then Bluefield, West Virginia, and on to Ironton and Portsmouth, Ohio. Next stops were made at Chillicothe, Columbus, Springfield, Piqua, Dayton, in Ohio.
You Can’t Taste Smoke
Next, another Sunday layover was spent in Richmond, Indiana. On the mezzanine floor of the hotel a Sunday afternoon argument ensued between five or six traveling men.
One of the men made the ridiculous and outlandish statement that no one can taste smoke. The other fellows laughed at him.
“You’re crazy,” exclaimed one. “Why, all the cigar and cigarette manufacturers advertise that their brand tastes better!”
“Sure,” answered the “crazy” fellow, “but it isn’t true. You only smell the smoke of tobacco—you can’t taste it!”
He offered to prove it. We went to the cigar counter and bought about three sets of cigars, two of each exactly alike, then returned to the mezzanine. The first doubter was asked to put the two identical cigars in his mouth, one at a time, lighting only one of them. Then he was blindfolded, and one of the other fellows held his nose so he could not smell. The lighted cigar was then put in his mouth.
“Now tell us which cigar I put in your mouth—the lighted one or the one not lighted. Go ahead, puff on it. Tell us which cigar you are puffing on.” This was the challenge of the “crazy loon.”
The guinea pig gave two or three big puffs.
“Aw,” he exclaimed, “this is silly. Why should I puff on this cigar? It isn’t lit. There’s no smoke coming out of this.”
The blindfold was jerked off his eyes, and he was amazed to find himself puffing out smoke like a smoke stack!
The experiment was tried on two or three others, with cigarettes as well as cigars. All of us were convinced that you can’t taste smoke—but then, you probably will say we were all crazy! Nevertheless, from that time it has been difficult for me to believe any manufacturer’s brand of cigarettes “taste better,” for the simple reason I became convinced they don’t taste at all—they smell! I mean that, literally!!
After visiting Muncie, Anderson, Indianapolis and Lafayette in Indiana, I went on to Chicago and back to Des Moines.