Old Sam, Bentonville, Arkansas
One day I was looking back through my collection of old business cards that I had accumulated over the years, one brought back a story to mind. My brother Gary and his wife Rae lived in Hardy, Arkansas (You have probably seen Erik Estrada on TV doing commercials). It was a good central location to work out of. You could leave out in any direction, headed somewhere to go work and if your luck was any good, you would be bound to hit a prosperous area, sooner or later
Every time we drove up from Kansas City, heading home, we usually went through Bentonville. Most of the time, we were either empty (without a load to sell) or it was after dark, too late to “pitch.”
As we headed out one morning to go work, we drove towards Dallas. Gary had bought a hand accordion over the week end and as I drove, he practiced. Lovely, just lovely, I’ve got to drive all the way to Dallas, listening to this? We drove through Ash Flats, down towards Pocahontas. I was driving and gritting my teeth, when I came up with the idea to go work Bentonville. It wasn’t that far and I could sure use a break from all of that screeching.
Gary was wearing a pair of overalls that day. We noticed a sign that read “Andy’s WELDING.” The door was opened to the shop, the house was next door and the yard was full of grazing goats. Gary got out of the truck and trying to be funny, he imitated Aunt Bee, from Andy of Mayberry. He hollered out, imitating her voice, “Andeeee, Andy.” I almost split a gut, it was so funny. No one answered, no one came to the door, no dogs barking, just the wail of the radio, coming from the shop.
We were kind of leery about the situation. It seemed like we were in an Alfred Hitchcock movie or something. We both walked to the open door of the shop, not seeing anybody, I hollered out “Hey, anybody home?” One of those darn goats had climbed atop the hood of my truck and was licking dead bugs off of the windshield. The old goat turned to look at me and he bleated out “Naaaahhhhhhhhh!”
Right around the corner from the welding shop, located on the main drag through Bentonville, was the Bentonville Casket Company. Since we were here already, we figured “Why not? Let’s pitch ‘em. When we pulled in, the main boss wasn’t there, the one that signs the checks. We told the foreman that “we had a truck load of brand new tools and machinery that we had to dispose of for our boss, back in Carolina. Repo’d, brand new, selling it for cheap, just call ’em and make an offer.”
The foreman told us that his boss wasn’t in but he had a friend named Sam that owned a five and dime store nearby and that he was building a new store because business was so good. He thought that his friend Sam would be interested in our stuff and he had the money, he could write our boss a check for all of it and the check would be good. All he wanted out of the deal was one of those brand new socket sets.
Hearing that, we got excited. No, we didn’t mind waiting. The foreman called his buddy Sam, who said he’d be with us in a few minutes, he was trying to open a new store. He was just down the street, right next to his Five and Dime Store. While we were waiting for him, the main boss to the casket company returned. He showed some interest, we put him through the book, but when his foreman told him that he had called Sam and that Sam was on his way to take a look, the boss of the casket company deferred his interest to Sam. Let Sam take a look and see what he has to say.
A white box truck pulled up to the place and an older gentleman got out. He was wearing a straw hat, the kind with the green visor built into the brim, a sweaty white shirt with a pocket protector full of pens and pencils. The foreman introduced us; he told me that if Ole Sam was to buy this stuff, he wanted us to make sure that he got that socket set for a “Bird Dog Fee.” I asked him which truck was his. I would lay it on the floorboard when no one was looking.
Mr. Sam looked our truck load of tools over, he spoke with the foreman and the business owner and then he came back to us. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he asked us “Do y’all work for Bobby or do y’all work for Billy?” Shocked as we were, I tried to stay in character, “Oh no, we work for their sister Miss Francis. She owns the company now.”
Sam said “That figures, I told them boys not to spend all their money on race cars, that they would loose their ass.” We told him that Miss Francis sponsors David Pearson (Race car Driver) over in Greer, that Billy was “Jet setting’ and that Bobby was raising Beefalos and building car dollies.” Sam looked at the ground and spit, while he was leaning against the truck. He told us that he had been in the Army with their Dad Clint back in the war. I said “Do you mean Mr. Flint?” He laughed and said, “Yeah, I was just checking you out.”
We got back to talking about the tools at hand; I asked him if he could write our boss out a check for these tools? Sam said “Goodness no. I can barely write a check for a hundred dollars. Sure, I own a lot of stores and buy and sell a lot of merchandise, but my wife don’t trust me with no check book. If I buy something it’s either cash or send me a bill and I never carry more than a hundred.”
About this time old Sam pulled a card out of his pocket protector and started scribbling on back. He said that he was drawing a map to his warehouse, he even wrote down his personal phone number. He told us that “This guy here won’t buy nothing, his business is so bad he can’t pay attention and that his foreman is so dumb, he can’t poor piss out of a boot, without getting his feet wet. He told us that he wanted all of the little tools, like the wrenches and grinder and the vise etc. He wanted us to meet back at his place in about an hour. He gave me the card, got back in his box truck and drove off. The faded letters on the side of his truck read “WALTON’S Five and Dime.”
As he drove off, I was holding Sam’s card in my hand, when the owner of the casket company walked up to us and said, “Well, what happened, what did he say?” The foreman was right behind him, all ears, I guess he had his mind on that free socket set. I showed the boss man old Sam’s business card and told him “You must have friends like I got. He said that you don’t have the money to be able to afford this stuff. He wants us to meet him back at his “wareroom” in an hour. He wrote down directions for us on the back of his card, just in case we get lost, he gave us his personal phone number.” Then I handed the card to the business owner to read for himself.
The man took a look at the card, turned it over and read the back of it. He hesitated then said “Yeah, you’re right. That does it, back the truck up over there and unload it and I’ll get you a check.”
So, all in all, it turned out to be a pretty good day. We dropped our load. I guess you could say we dropped on our first pitch, because the two old goats don’t count. I’ve thought about it a few times and I sure would have liked to see the expression on the foreman’s face when he opened the door to his pickup and instead of finding the half inch socket set like I promised, he got a slightly used, second hand accordion.