The Duke of Orange

After my younger brother Duane passed away, Gary and I wanted to work near our homes in Jacksonville, so that we could be home every week end.  My nephew Whistle, his brother Glen and a high school chum, Wayne Taylor started working with us.  We started working all of south Florida, Tampa area, Orlando, Ft. Pierce, Jupiter, Vero Beach, Cocoa Beach, what we called the “Orange Basket.”

In the winter it was warm, a good place to be.  We took over a warehouse full of equipment in south Tampa near 301 and I-75.  It had been consigned to a Red Arrow crew that had grown old and had lost their motivation.  The warehouse was located near the winter home of Ringling Brothers Circus.  We drove pass the carnies and their travel trailers everyday when we went to reload.

The only guys from the Red Arrow crew that we could locate were Terry Hoeffer and Carl Wilson.  We found Terry down to his last dime in a run down house across from the circus winter quarters.  He had moved in with an ole gal that reminded me of the lion in the Wizard of Oz.  Except the lion might have been a little prettier to look at.

We knocked on the door asking for Terry, hoping that he had the keys to the warehouse.  He was asleep in a bedroom next to the front porch and he heard us asking for a “Jackman.”  The commotion must have woke him from his stupor, because he came to with the quickness, hollering, “Wait, I’m coming, don’t leave me, I’m coming.”  When he made it to the door he had his pants half way up, one arm in his shirt sleeve, boots in one hand and trying to pull his britches up and tuck in his shirt tail at the same time.  He was a sight for sure.  He looked like he had been on a two week bender, maybe more.

Terry was a lot older than the rest of us.  He had been living off the cash he earned on the last he drop he made, long since gone and just couldn’t get motivated to get up and go sell another.  He acted like he was sure glad to see another Jack crew.  He had the keys we were looking for.  We did an inventory and all the tools were there.  We looked at Terry in his disheveled state and wondered how does a Jackman get to be in this condition?

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Terry told us that one of the other guys on his crew had passed away, leaving just him and Carl.  Then he said,  “Oh Carl, we got to go find Carl.”  We went to the circus campground, there in a camper trailer, an open doorway, we found Carl sitting in the doorway with his feet sticking straight out, covered with gout.  He was glad to see us too.  The first thing he asked was “could Whistle go fetch him a hotdog?” from a near by vendor.

That was the thing about Carl.  He was a good old man but he just couldn’t get up and go any more, when it came to selling tools.  The whole crew had just “died on the vine.”  They were still good at killing a fifth of liquor.  I believe they practiced that every chance they could.

We told the fellows that since they hadn’t been selling any tools lately, we were taking over the warehouse and the territory.  We were staying at the Red Roof Inn on 301, next to the horse show.  (Some big time annual Equestrian event was going on).  My younger brother Gary was the new crew boss, he told them that if they wanted to work, they needed to be at the restaurant for the 7 am breakfast meeting.

Terry was there on time, clean shaven, fresh clothes and shiny boots.  He even looked a little younger.  He said that Carl wasn’t moving around too good but he was broke and needed to work.  He asked if one of us go by and pick him up.

Being a Jackman means you are part of a brother hood of sorts.  We didn’t know these guys.  We didn’t owe them and had been in direct competition with them for customers for years.  But here we were.  They were on their last ropes and looking to us with hope spread across their faces, expecting us to “rub their lantern and bring the genie in them back to life.”  I was like the band saw on the subject.  I could go either way.  Horizontal or Vertical I didn’t have a preference.

Gary was the new crew chief and he made his decision to try to help these guys.  It was up to the rest of us to back him up and make it work.  Terry wanted to work, he could work, he just needed to be around folks with a positive attitude.  Something we had plenty of.  He was broke, but if you give him a load of tools and point him in the right direction, he would work himself out of his slump.

Carl was an entirely different story.  Old age and countless bottles of “Ancient Age” had practically done him in.  He was too old and slow to move around any more.  A Jackman needed to be quick with his mind and feet.  He did have a truck though.  Our crew just had two trucks between us, with four people, so we made it work.  With Terry and Carl, we had four trucks.

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The game plan was to let Terry do his thing.  Gary or I would work with Carl every day until he cashed up.  He owed the company a little bit of money.  He had been on the road for three months, he couldn’t go home broke.  We took care of his debt the first day.  In the next two weeks, we put about three thousand in his pocket and sent him home to Jackson, Mississippi.  Next thing we heard of Carl, he was working at the factory in Traveler’s Rest answering the phone, helping Miss Rita and closing out deals for guys like us.

Gary and I had the death of our little brother hanging over us.  We just wanted to work and do good things with our time and money.  We prayed as a group every morning.  We held hands in the motel parking lot and Gary led the prayers.  Some of the folks staying at the Red Roof Inn for the Horse Show were in the next room, they got curious and a little too close.  We dropped them a load of iron and made about twenty five hundred dollars.  Praise the Lord.  We helped them put it in their horse trailer, then, we prayed with them and thanked the Lord for his help.

Terry was old school.  He was used to working shops and garages, selling an engine stand or a hoist here and there, with maybe a sack of wrenches.  Nickel and diming.   He had been at it for 20 years.  When he started the company was called Red Arrow out of Panama City, now we were Carolina Tool, out of Greenville, South Carolina. (Actually, it was Traveler’s Rest but close enough).  When we dropped a load, most of the time it was a whole truck load at a time.  That amazed Terry.  It was like “How do y’all do that every day?  Y’all sell a whole load at a time.”  It was almost like he had never seen it done that way.

We enlightened Terry.  We told him it was new and improved.  The company wanted us to sell equipment, not pieces of equipment but whole loads.  It took a lot of doing.  Old dogs don’t learn new tricks you might say.  It didn’t happen every day, but gradually he learned and came around to our way of thinking.  Terry worked shops and garages, but once he learned our pitch he started making big money, then he really went on a drunken spree again.  He’d buy a gallon of Old Age, pay his motel rent up for a week, find a prostitute and disappear for a few days.  He would come out of his stupor a little banged up, money gone, whore gone.   Old Terry, I miss him.  If we could have gotten to him sooner, it might have made a big difference.  I’ve been through that a couple of times.  Be so rich all of a sudden, you forget your priorities.  After a few months he went home to Tennessee cashed up and had a heart attack in his sleep.

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We had several guys come and go on our crew.  Older members of other crews wanted to work Florida in the winter, because it was warm.  So many crews working Florida that year that we had a hard time getting equipment shipped to us.  We ran out in Orlando.  Gary and Wayne Taylor worked the last load, while my nephews Whistle and Glen, and I volunteered to go Carolina to get some more tools.

We only had our two trucks on the crew at that time.  Gary made a deal with the factory to buy one of their old trucks.  My job was to take one of our trucks and go get the tools and the new truck. When we got there, we loaded each truck  down with three disassembled loads of tools each, plus a bunch of extras.  Extras were things like vises, socket sets, wrenches, grinders, port a powers, air compressors.  These were things we used to put the dressing on the cake.  We were selling the sizzle, not the steak.

The pickup truck we got from Carolina, was a green Ford Super Cab, with a 460 cubic inch.  It was a real work horse.  Not pretty, but sturdy.  Traveling back south again, the Super Cab lost a carrier bearing in the drive shaft on Interstate 95 in the middle of the night. Whistle and I went to get the new bearing.  We found the part at an all night truck stop.  Our problem was it had to be pressed on, so we needed a press.  We just happened to have a press, buried under all of that equipment.  We unloaded the truck on side of the road in the dark, made our repair, reloaded harem skarem in the dark and continued our journey.

When we finally made it back to Orlando, we had been on the road for 48 hours without any sleep, driving straight through.  When we arrived, the trucks look like they had been loaded during a tornado.  To make the necessary repairs, we had off loaded both trucks to get at the press and the socket sets.  When we reloaded them, it had been in the middle of the night.  Each truck was load with parts needed to put the tools together on the other truck.  We didn’t care about that we just wanted to get to a nice soft bed and worry about that stuff later.

It was early morning when we got back to Orlando and knocked on Gary’s motel room door.  I noticed that his truck was empty, so he and Wayne must have sold their load.  No sooner did Gary open his door, than Glen and Whistle hit the sack.  They just crashed on top of the bed, clothes and all,  they just zonked out.

Gary was full of excitement.  “Mike, Mike we got you all set up.  This guy we dropped our load to is a real mullet.  We made a lick on him.  The last thing he said was “Iffen y’all get anymore of this stuff come on back.”  I asked him why am I the one to take him another load.  He’s your mullet, why don’t y’all take it to him?  I was feeling kind of suspicious about this.  In fact, I was ready to push Glen and Whistle over, so that I could find a spot to lay down in.

Gary said “We can’t Mike, we told him we were going back to South Carolina, but you can go by and tell him you had this load sold to someone else with a bad check and the boss told you to go by his place with it.”

I was so sleepy, oh I was tired.  I was too tired to argue with Gary’s logic.  I just said “Tell me how to get there.”  When I pulled up to the man’s business in a mini-warehouse district, I saw a sign above the door, “Duke’s Drywall, Orange County.”

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This guy was easy, oh so easy.  Gary and Wayne had dropped a single load for $3,984.00.  No telling exactly how many loads I had on the truck, because it was disassembled and all jumbled up.  I told him about the black guy that wrote our boss the bad check, that’s why I needed to find someone who could write a good check this time.  I told him I thought it was about 25 thousand dollars worth of stuff, can you just call the boss and make him and offer?  At least that way, the boss will know that I’m working just in case I need any expense money sent to me.

The Duke agreed to do this, just to help me out.  Guess who answered the phone when I asked for the Boss.  It was Carl Wilson.  He was on the job.  He told the Duke his name was “Harold Strong,” that he had been having a fit with all the money he’s losing on that equipment.  First our “distributor” was selling out the inventory he had on consignment, then when the company sent some boys down there to do an inventory, they found out he was short on serial numbers and cash due the company.  On top of all that, he had sent a bunch of knuckleheads down there to pick up the equipment.  They didn’t know heads from tails or even which ends was up.  Carl asked the Duke to take a good look at me and asked him did it look as if I’d been drinking.

I had prepped the Duke and told him beforehand, that we lived in a dry county up in South Carolina and the boss thinks we spent all of our expense money on getting drunk.  The Duke laughed when he heard this and told him, no I was sober as a judge.  Carl asked him to take a look at what was on the truck and come back and make him an offer.  Meanwhile I got back on the phone with “Mr. Strong,” he wanted to know what my lot number was on my log book.  That was code for “How much do you have in your load.”

I couldn’t tell him exactly, because I didn’t know.. We had brought down six loads, half on each truck, a load usually cost about eighteen hundred.  Since we had the roadside repairs we didn’t match up, what pieces needed to go where, to match them up.  I knew that I had a little under $12,000 dollars worth on consignment altogether, so I told him my “lot number was 6,001A, (our code for $6,000. in my load).  When the Duke got back on the phone, Carl told him he could have it for $15,000 dollars even, but he needed a cashier’s check this time, to make sure it’s a done deal.

The Duke laughed at this figure, then told Carl that he could resell the tools if he got them cheap enough but they were unassembled and had grease all over them, like they had been used or something.  He told Mr. Strong that he couldn’t pay a penny more than $12,000 for the whole load, then he said he would make the check out to the driver, he can go by his bank and cash it.

You should have seen that cute little gal at the bank right by the Bee Line Expressway when she cashed that check for me.  She called Mr. Duke to be sure it was okay.  He told her something to the effect of “Oh hell yeah, cash the damn check.’

Fifteen minutes later, I was back at the motel.  Drained and dog tired, but I was happy and cashed up.  Ready for some shut eye.  Gary was grinning from eat to ear.  He said “I knew you could do it Mike, he was your kind of guy.”  I didn’t care about all of that, I just went over to where Glen and Whistle where snoozing on the bed and started throwing hundred dollar bills every where, in the air, on top of them.

Just happy as I could be.  I had tried to get them up to go with me, I guess their sleep was more important, speaking of which, that other bed was looking mighty good to me.  Just as I spread out on top of the bed and my cheek touched the pillow, Gary came back into the room.  He said “Oh Mike, you got to go back.”  Some of the pieces we need to put the other equipment together is missing, it must have been on the other truck.  Oh man!  You got to get up.

I told Gary to relax, I thought that I could handle it, tired as I was.  I drove back over to the Duke’s and found him trying to assemble some of the equipment, but he was missing some pieces.  I told him that I had found Gary and Wayne at the rest stop on the Interstate.  They were passed out from drinking all night.  I found the rest of this stuff on their truck that they were supposed to be hauling back to Carolina.  I knew that he was the only man in Orange County that knew what to do with all of this equipment.  I mentioned that he probably didn’t want any body around these parts trying to sell this equipment cheaper than him did he?

He took me into a bigger warehouse and showed me a pile of dry wall equipment that he had just bought from Italy.  It was stacked to the ceiling.  He said it might take him a while, but he could sell every bit of it.  Then he turned to me and asked what could he get it for, he needed it he guessed, but only if he could get it cheap enough.

Carl took it easy on him this time, after he asked me my lot number he said “Since you’ve been helping us out, just write the man out a check for ten grand and it’s yours.  The Duke asked him if it was okay “to make the check out to the driver.”

You should have seen the face on the girl at the bank this time.  She asked me what was I going to do with all of this money?  I told her, “I’m going to Mexico this week end and spend it of course.”  I believe that I could have snapped my fingers and she would have loaded up.

No, I know you think this is the end, but the last thing the Duke said to me was, “well if you find any more of this equipment, let me know.  I want to be the new distributor for Orange County.

Buddy Barnes had been working over in Melbourne that morning.  He called in to the office to sweet talk Rita, just like he always does, she’s normally our closer.  She told him that I had knocked some one’s lights out over in Orlando, maybe he might want to get over there and see if I could help him sell what was on his truck.

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When I got back to the motel thinking, “finally I get to sleep, thank God Almighty I get to sleep at last,” but oh no, there was Buddy Barnes in the parking lot.  He had three bumper jacks on the back of his truck. He’d had these jacks for over a month and couldn’t sell them, the company was putting pressure on him to pay his tab.  I knew what was expected of me.  I had an adrenaline rush going on I reckon.  I told Buddy to scoot over and let me drive.

Buddy looked like he was bi-racial.  He told every one that he was white. I knew his family, we had went to school together, Me, Buddy and Gary.  Buddy was in Gary’s class at school.  I told Buddy I was going to sell his tools for him, I didn’t want any money, but he was going to have to play along and “don’t get upset if I say something you don’t like.”

Once again I pulled into the Dukes.  That look of bewilderment on his face I’ll never forget.  I said “Thank God I caught you before you went to lunch.”  I told him that this black guy here worked for the old distributor, he was suppose to be out selling this equipment and giving his boss the cash.  I told him that I was driving up 441, the “Orange Blossom Trail” when I passed that topless bar with the airplane sticking out of the top.  I saw this guy’s truck loaded down with tools.  He was inside getting lap dances while he was suppose to be working.

The Duke was eating it up.  You should have seen his face.  He asked me if this equipment was for him and I told yes it was, “we can’t have every Tom Dick and Harry out selling our damn equipment.”  I told Mr. Duke that if he could use it, we’ll just give it to you for the iron cost and fornicating.  You know, what it cost to build it.  The Duke asked me about the fornicating part.  I told him that’s what Mr. Harold said.  He said he was tired of messing with it.  Just write me out a check for $2,500 and we’ll unload it.

The Duke didn’t mention anything about bringing him by anymore “found” equipment this time, but after I went to the bank to cash that check, guess who was waiting for me outside, sitting in the front seat of the truck?  It was the bank teller, she was grinning from ear to ear.  She looked at me and grinned some more and then she said “Vive Mexico.”

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