Jackman, The beginning

Jackman Stories from Coast to Coast

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I was having a tough time maintaining a decent average salary.  Carpenter work just didn’t pay, selling life insurance was the pits, selling cars was good pay, but no time to play.  I lived with my girlfriend Donna.  Not saying she was high maintenance, but I needed every nickel I could make.

I worked the point one morning, catching “ups” at the car lot.  Five young men get out of an old Ford pickup.  I thought they were looking for the Parts Department at first.  Friendly fellows, they asked me if I was the boss man.  Then they started telling me they were looking for a couple second hand pickup trucks.  We found four trucks to their liking; they paid cash, around three thousand dollars each.  I asked them what they did for a living.  One of the guys said “We just drive a truck.”  They showed me a roll of hundred dollar bills and said “C’mon go with us and find out.”

The fellows told me to meet them at the Days Inn, by the airport.  I left work, then stopped by the house to pick up my girlfriend Donna, then drove to by the airport to check them out.

Their boss was, “Jumping Joe McDavid,” a part time race car driver, a full time racing fanatic, back at his home in Prentiss, Mississippi.  Come to find out, Joe considered himself a race car driver first, just doing what ever he had to do, to be able to afford to race.  The tool game offered him that.  Joe put me on, after he looked me up and down, he told me, that he “didn’t think I’d make it, but come on, I’ll give you a shot.  We’ll see what you’re made of.”  Joe had his crew at the Airport Days Inn, when I showed up for the interview, he told me to come on in, that they were playing Liar’s Poker, with hundred dollar bills.  I told Donna, to sit in the car out in the parking lot, while I went inside to check it out.

Joe McDavid was an intimidating fellow, he kind of looked like a linebacker with blond flat top haircut and he was well over six feet tall.”  As an act of intimidation, he would stand in your face while he was just having casual conversation, just to see if he could make you squirm.  When he talked to me, I felt a little like “Tweety Bird” talking to Sylvester the cat.  He would jump in front of your face then give you a hypothetical situation and ask you how would you handle that?  No answer was right or wrong, he just wanted to see how you reacted.  Joe had the guys in his room, practicing their pitch on me, one by one.  Joe loomed over me and asked “Do you think you can do that?  Let’s hear your pitch.”  Wow, I was taken by surprise.  I don’t think I impressed anybody, all the guys laughed, they told me to stay with it.  They said that if I would practice it enough, it would become second nature.

Donna really was a “high maintenance girlfriend.  To keep her I needed to earn lots of money.  This job sounded like the answer I was looking for, that is until I realized that lengthy travel was necessary.  Then it occurred to me, it might be exciting and new atmosphere might be what I needed.  She warned me that if I went out on the road, it might cost me our relationship.  I was willing to chance it, thinking that if I spent enough money on her, everything would be okay.

Orlando and the Orange Blossom Trail

The first town I moved to with the crew was Orlando.  I was broke when I left Jacksonville.  The first night, I slept on the floor of one of the other “new guy’s” motel room.  I stiffed a “7-11” for five bucks worth of gas, and then went to work my “territory.”  Territories were drawn up on a map and tacked to the wall of the motel room in Joe’s room, dividing the town up in sections, so that everyone can sign out for a particular area and not have to worry about someone else “riding and raping” your territory.

I signed out for the area right next to the motel, so I wouldn’t have to drive very far to get to work.  I hit five businesses in a row before I started getting any interest, then by number ten, things got better.  Number ten seemed interested, I was so broke and desperate that I told the boss man that if he wouldn’t get me fired and give me a twenty for gas, I would call up my boss and tell him the equipment had been damaged, some parts seem to be missing, if you’ll help me, I’ll help you.  He bought the whole truck load and I made $200.00 profit, plus a twenty for gas.  Only 10 am, I got Wilbur to load my truck again.  A “boss man” that I had spoken with earlier, asked me to come back after lunch.  When I got there, he wanted to know where I’d been, he’d been waiting for me.  I made it up to him by helping him get a good deal on the band saw, another two hundred in my pocket.

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Wilbur Scarborough holding the sign

I got Wilbur to load the truck back up for me, one more time.  Wilbur Scarborough was Joe’s brother in law.  Wilbur had a unique knack of being able to load the trucks by himself, feeling guilty, I would try to give him a twenty dollar tip, but most times he refused, but he would let me buy him a drink at the bar.  Since I was still riding on the five dollars worth of stolen gas, I went right back to the guy I sold a load to that morning, he bought another load.

I told him that we can’t tell the boss that this load is all damaged too, so he paid a little more, I made $700.  Wow, a whopping $1,100 for the day.  The next morning I went back to the “7-11” and told them that after I had driven off, I realized I forgot to pay for my gas.  That night, I had my own room.

Joe came by my room; he said that he wanted to take me out to eat.  It was just me, Joe and Old George.  George was a nervous sort of older fellow that seemed to like to wash his hands a lot.  We went to an Oyster House a couple miles down the road on the Orange Blossom Trail.  After about my third or fourth dozen oysters, Joe got up to go use the bathroom, soon after; George said he had to go wash his hands, only they didn’t come back.

Joe backed his hot rod Ford Super Cab to the front door, racing the motor and he started spinning the tires.  I knew what time it was then.  Here I had over a thousand dollars in my pocket, made three sales that day and here was Jumping Joe, wanting to know if I had enough guts to stiff a restaurant or if I was going to break weak and pay for every one’s meal.  I stood up and quickly walked to the door, left the restaurant in a hurry and dove into the back of the truck as he was peeling out, kicking gravel and dust up against the glass windows as we left.

Joe was fired up that night.  He started driving down the Orange Blossom Trail about 70 miles an hour, he was in a blaze of glory until that motorcycle cop flashed his lights, then Joe hit the nitrous switch and took off.  His truck had a genuine “Bittendorf” racing engine from California.  The bike cop couldn’t catch us.   No way.  I was terrified, riding in the back of the truck, atop of a pile of pallets, but I wouldn’t let on, no one could have heard me if I had screamed my head off.

Joe was so far ahead of this motorcycle cop racing down Highway 441 the main drag, that he stopped to pick up two guys in a navy uniforms that looked like they were in the middle of being mugged by a group of black thugs, at a bus stop.  I hollered at them and they just jumped into the back with me.  Then, here came the bike cop, siren wailing, catching up to us.  Joe took off again, driving over a hundred miles an hour, around cars, over the center section divider, in the emergency lane.  The two sailors were all for it, lying on their sides holding onto a pallet with one hand and flipping the bike cop the finger with the other, whooping it up, seems like they were pretty drunk.  If it hadn’t of been for that darn helicopter, we probably would have made it. They were waiting for us, right before we hit the Beeline Expressway.  Joe told the patrolmen that he never saw the bike cop; he told the officers that we were just trying to help the Navy dudes out of a tight spot.  Even though they backed us up, Joe went to jail.  Before they cuffed his hands behind his back, he handed me his roll.  I never counted it. He went in front of the judge and got time served   I gave Joe back his wad of cash, just the same way he handed it to me.  .  If this was suppose to be a test, well then, I reckon I passed.

A gal named Marie, had hired on with the crew in Jacksonville.  She said she had previous car selling experience, I don’t know why Joe hired her.  It was well after midnight when she knocked on my door.  Marie said she was broke and wanted to know if she could sleep on my floor.  I think I knew what she had in mind, but I was bushed.  I knew what it was like to be broke,  the wolf is barking at the door, you do what you have to do, to survive.  I let Marie sleep on the bed, I was so tired, I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor.

Jacksonville and the Pitch

          When I first met the crew, they were working on their “pitch”.  They had a canned sales pitch that they used, and if it was used in the right way, it worked for every body.  First of all, there were about 10 fellows, standing about the motel room, wearing jeans, with tennis shoes or boots and “Rock Star” T shirts.  They would take turns practicing their pitch, take criticism and give theirs.  They had all just gotten paid and were flashing their hundred dollar bills, playing liar’s poker.  Joe asked Ronnie Turner to let me hear his pitch, he said that “if you use it, you’ll make a sale within 10 people you talk to, it’s a fact.”

I remember that Ronnie had a wonderful Mississippi accent.  He could talk the talk.  “Is the boss man here?  Can I speak to the boss man?  If he isn’t there, you leave, say nothing else.  Go next door, start all over.” Is the boss man here?”  “Are you the boss man?  Boss man, Can you use a whole truck load of shop tools and machinery, brand new, less than half price, real, real, real cheap.”  Then he said,  “I drive a truck for ’em back in Carolina, I got sent out to do an inventory, he was way short, so my boss just said load it up, find what ever was left, load in on a truck and get rid of it for the iron and furburcating cost. Can you use it if you get it cheap enough?”

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If he says no, say thank him and leave.  If he asks “How cheap is it” make him say it again, “Yes I can use it if I get it cheap enough.”  That means no matter what, he’s going to make you an offer.  After he says yes, a few times, put him through the book.  We were selling the sizzle, not the steak.  The book was a catalog that we made ourselves, at the print shop, and we would jack up the price of the manufactured equipment, brand new, still in crates.   We had the 1-800 number to the factory scribbled all over it.  Then we would point out the metal cutting band saw and say, “He told me to knock two thousand dollars off of that iron cutter, and I could unload the whole truck full. (The saw list for $5984.00, actual coast $800. The Hoist $2784, only cost $400, the 50 ton press, $2984.00 cost $427), the 8 inch grinder, the 6 inch vise, all the air tools, socket sets, etc.  “Just make the check out to the company, Carolina Tool and Equipment.  Before I can unload it, you need to call the office on the “Watt number” you know, what don’t cost no money.  1- 800 sumthing or another, here it is, right here on the catalog, and don’t forget to get me a “release number” for my log book.     Once you got the man on the phone, it was pretty much a “done deal.” The lady on the phone (Rita) back in Carolina was a professional closer.  Once they made an offer, she would bump them up high as she could and ask us if that was alright, in a pre-arranged “code.”  She would ask me for my “Lot Number,” my cost would be hidden in that number.  Then we’d get a check, take it to the bank and swap it for a cashier’s check, take it back to the motel and get paid.

After about 6 weeks, on average I was making about $1,700 or more per week.  I took some skinny deals at first, eventually I got to making more than twice that.  Donna seemed to be happy with all of things I would buy for her, with my new found wealth.  I would try to be home every weekend.  I called my younger brother Gary up in Denver, Colorado, to see if he wanted to join up with us and work with me.  He’d been staying with Staff Sgt. Mike Bessent, a guy that we grew up with in Florida, who was stationed there as a Marine Recruiter.  Gary had broken his leg, slipping on some ice.  After I called him, he took his pocket knife and cut his cast off, he was ready to go.

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Gary in Mexico for the week end, after his first drop

Houston

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New Year’s Day, 1979.    We were staying at La Quinta, in Houston.  What a nasty, rainy day.    Everyone on the crew had quit except for me and Buddy Barnes and Ronnie Turner.  Buddy called his brother in law Jerry and I talked my brother Gary, into joining the crew.  Gary was amazed at all of the hundred dollar bills.  He rode out with me for a few days, I paid him about six hundred.  Monday comes around and instead of picking me up at the airport like he was supposed to; he took a rental truck with a load and dropped the whole load.  He sold the load and made a thousand dollars even profit.

That got to me, I was hot about it.  I had spent all of my money on Donna again.  I was coming back to work flat broke.  Remorsefully, I felt like half of that money should have been mine.  I jumped in my truck, ready to go make some pitches.  Wilbur had it loaded when he picked me up at the airport, once he realized that I was mad and fixing to go to work to get even, he got out of the truck and caught a cab back to the motel, like a scared rabbit.  Wilbur was a little strange.  He didn’t want to be a part of any “sales pitch.”  I headed out from the airport, dropped a load right around the corner and made one thousand and twenty dollars.  On my first pitch, well that made it alright with me.  I just had to prove to myself, that I was the top “dog”.

Buddy Barnes and I rode out together one day in the pouring rain.  It seemed like it rained every day in Houston that winter.  Along about 6 pm, we were still working and I spotted a man walking to his car.  We were in an underground garage; I asked him if he “knew anybody that could use it, if they got it cheap enough?”  We dropped our load to him for $3,984.00.

The next day, I worked alone.  Towards the end of the day, it was still raining; I hadn’t had any luck, when I got the idea to call the man back that we had sold the load to the day before.  I told him the other guy had gone on home and that I just had this load left to “distibulate,” then I was going home too.  “Could you use it, if I help you get it cheap enough?”

Miss Rita closed him out at $3,500.  Being by myself, I thought I had made a good “lick,” but Buddy went crying to Joe about it, saying it was “half his customer, he should get half of the commission.”  Buddy was a snake in the grass, I’ll tell you.  I thought that we were friends.  We sold cars together in Jacksonville.  After my first week on the road, I told him I was making good jack, so he joined on too.

Donna told me once again, that me being on the road wasn’t good for us at home.  I couldn’t quit.  I was having too much fun.  I flew her out to Houston, we fussed the whole time.  The next time I went home, she had changed the locks and was dating some guy at work, but that’s another story.

I started out in Jax, then Orlando, then Tallahassee, Xmas break, Houston, then San Antonio and Phoenix.  During the winters we worked southern states, because of the weather.  Gary took to selling tools, like a duck to water.  He was timid at first I thought but he turned out to be one of the best.  Gary had a soft way of selling that worked for him.  I bought Gary a Ford Super Cab in Jacksonville, we were going to drive out to Phoenix in it together but we went by Atlanta to party, while we were there Gary met Buck Owens’s son, Buddy Allen.  In just a few hours, they became good friends.  Buddy Allen and Gary flew to Phoenix, I drove the truck.

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The night I got to Phoenix with Gary’s new truck, he got drunk with Jumping Joe, got in a wreck and hauled tail to Bakersfield, Ca. where our granny Nellie, Dad’s mom lived.  He left his truck at a body shop there to be repaired, then flew back down to Phoenix, but had a layover in Las Vegas.  When I picked him up at the airport, he had two grocery bags full of nickels; he had hit the jackpot at the airport slot machines in Vegas.

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The bar maids at the Holiday Inn hated us for a while, because every time we would go into the lounge at the motel, Gary would take a bag of nickels to pay for the drinks with one fistful of nickels, then leave a tip with another.  “We had a fist full of nickels and a few nickels more.”  Poor girls, I guess they had to count those nickels, because we never did.  It rained in Phoenix that week.

Buddy’s brother in law Jerry Chapman had been working with us for about 6 weeks.  He never made enough money to pay his expenses plus save money for a plane ticket home.  Buddy asked me to take him out and show him a deal, so he could straighten out with the books and have enough money to fly home, to see his wife.

The tools on Jerry’s truck were looking nasty and rusty.  I think they had been on there for a month or more.  I told Jerry to stop at the auto parts store, so that I could get some spray paint.  Jerry’s tools were terrible looking.  I thought a little touch up paint would be in order.  Bad mistake.  The color of the spray paint was no where near the color on the cap.  I started spraying what looked like white and everything came out white or light gray.  Fine, that was $6.95 down the tube and no help whatsoever.  In fact, it’s more hideous now.  I told “Jerry never mind, lets go get rid of it.”  Since Jerry wanted money to fly home, I steered him towards the airport, for extra motivation.  As we were passing a sign that read “Long Term Parking,” I saw a man walking past.  He had on a bright red sweater and shiny gold watch.  Thinking that’s our mullet, I hung out the window of the truck, waving the guy over, just like I’m asking directions.  When he got to the truck I ask him, “Do you know anybody around here that might be able to use a whole truckload of brand new shop tools, machinery and stuff, if they could get it, real, real, real cheap?”  I showed him the equipment, told him our “distibulator” was painting it another color and selling it, without paying our boss.

This fellow jumped like a frog in a skillet.  “Yeah, how much, have you got any more?

Jerry and I followed him out to his place, a big shop in the middle of the prairie.  He told me that he made fireplace logs out of newspaper.   Since it gets cold in Phoenix during the winter and there aren’t many trees around there either, well, it was a good business.  I pitched him at two thousand off the saw, you get it all.  That would be $3,984.00.  Jerry looked like he was about to pee his pants.  He’s been riding around with it for almost two months and here I got the guy to offer $3,750.00.  The mullet didn’t want to give a check for that much money to a lowly driver.  He preferred to hand it over to an officer of the company.  After a quick call, Jumping Joe showed up in a taxi in just a few minutes.  Before our mullet would hand over the check, he asked Joe, “How do I know that you’re the Boss?”  Joe said “I’ll tell you what, let’s flip for a hundred.”  Joe took him 5 times in a row, before the guy said “Alright, alright, you’re the boss.”  We bought Jerry’s plane ticket first before we went back to the motel.  After we got back to the Holiday Inn, Jerry went in to clean up, to gather his things, happy that he was going home.  I was mad because I had to settle up with Joe, paying Jerry’s price for the tools.   Buddy was making an override on guys he brought to work.  Because the tools came off of Jerry’s truck, Buddy complained to Joe, that I had to pay Jerry’s price too.  That sucked, it really did.  I was the guy that hired Buddy.

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That got me mad, I asked Wilbur to put me a “King Kong” load on the truck.  He gave me a regular three piece load but three or four each, of all the little tools.  3 socket sets, 3 air impacts, 4 wrench sets, 2 Porto Power, 2 ¾ inch socket sets, two eight inch grinders and two 6 vises.  It was a real heavy duty load.  I went right back to that same mullet and told him this was the other load that a Mexican had given us a bad check for.  I told him Joe wanted me to show it to him, to see if he wanted make a reasonable offer?

He bought the load for $3,500.00.  When I got back to the motel, Jerry was still there, waiting for his flight later that PM.  Buddy had the audacity to ask Joe to give Jerry half the deal, wow, I was pissed.  “You mean he doesn’t do a darn thing and gets half?”  So, even though I was steaming, we settled up, Buddy took Jerry to the airport.

Once they left, I asked Joe, “Hey Joe, when we settle up, we just have to pay for the tools we sold don’t we?  I mean if I brought any of those tools back, since I’ve already paid for them, can I turn them back into the ware room and get cash?”

Ole Joe wasn’t following me at first, but when I took him out to my truck and slid the seat forward, there were all of the extra tools that I had Wilbur load on the truck.  It was over $700.00 worth.  I paid for them when I was splitting with Jerry, now that he’s gone, well?  I turned them back in and Joe cashed me up with the refund.  He told me that I “was one slick son of a,” well he just said I “was slick.”

One thought on “Jackman, The beginning

  1. Another winner. I can’t tell what I like most about this story. The narrative was tight – it moved almost as fast as Joe’s truck on the OBT. The description is vivid and peppered with a generous mix of sales slang (“mullet” – I am stealing that one) and country / colloquial expressions (“like a frog in a skillet,” “like a snake in the grass”) which give the readers a feel for the characters. Even the characters who are “off screen,” like Marie and Donna, are fully drawn. In the end, the dialogue is what really drew me in. You have a distinctive voice as a storyteller, and your characters speak authentically. The sales slang could be distracting, but it is such a part of the characters and their actions that it adds to their development and the action. It rings true and moves the story along. I really enjoyed this glimpse into a world I do not know. What an adventure!

    Like

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