The Traveling Salesman
In reading through my grandfather’s manuscript, my initial thought had been that it was pretty lucky that my great-grandfather had been able to secure money for both passage across the Atlantic, and then train fare from New York City to Sioux City, Iowa, for Grandpa.
“Whereas my railroading started in 1907, it was preceded by five years of the dirtiest occupation imaginable. It was the period of working as an apprentice in the tin shop of Uncle Julius. This was the Sioux City to which I came as a fourteen-year-old boy, with a few sentences of English, a German grammar school education and a burning ambition to become a railroader.”
[As noted in the first post, kids raised in Grandpa’s time did not dare question the directives of adults, so railroading was put “on hold”]
“‘Julius Eidt—Tin Shop.’ That is what the sign on Uncle Julius’ business stated. Our work consisted of stove repairing, cleaning and polishing. We also made chimney tops and various tin work such as bread pans, milk cans, roasting pans, gutters and spouts. Our work day was ten hours, from seven in the morning until six at night, with an hour off at noon.”
|Grandpa took us to Disneyland. That's all I know...|
[Today fourteen-year-old boys are normally eighth graders; in 1901 fourteen-year-old boys did not necessarily attend school]
“The stove work was unbelievably dirty what with the air being so full of the powdered stove polish you could hardly see across the room. We were always spitting black, never quite cleaning out the lungs. Protective masks were unknown to us. If I did this to my men today, I would go to jail.The shop was located on Pearl, just above 5th Street, which was the edge of the “red-light” district. Any stairway below 5th Street led to a gambling house or a “whorehouse”. There were about a dozen such houses that Uncle Julius had the monopoly on the stove work. The larger ones had about twenty rooms, each having a small stove, about twelve inches in diameter and three feet high. They were used pretty hard and needed lots of servicing.”
[In paying Grandpa’s passage over-I assume it was Uncle Julius-Julius would have known he would have Grandpa’s services for five years and that would have been a sound business expenditure. Fortunately, Grandpa saw the light.
|Auntie Anne with the four of us|
Like my first post, in which a premonition by my great-grandmother, resulted in an abrupt shift in Grandpa’s future, a conversation-this one with a traveling salesman-accomplished the same goal.]
In grandpa’s words:
“That is where I first learned about “houses”, when Spencer Gaskell enlightened me about birds’nbees stuff. Spence was one of our stove polishers who came to work in early fall and worked until March, when he went to drive a span of mules up into the Dakotas, riding a canvas-topped wagon, selling various cure-alls and medicines, some times helping to deliver a baby.”
[The fact that Grandpa calls Mr. Gaskill “Spence” at one point, tells me that Grandpa was comfortable with him, and therefore more likely to listen to sage advice. That aside, how casual was that reference to delivering babies? Can you imagine the modern woman going into labor and being thrilled to see…the traveling salesman, to deliver her baby?]
Grandpa continues, “Mr. Gaskill is at least partly responsible for my long life, when he advised me to “get t’ell ou of this mess” (meaning the stove polish and dirt-laden air) He did me the greatest service. I had a spot in my lung the size of a silver dollar which had been diagnosed as T.B. Not until Dr. Boislinier examined me in St. Louis and found it to be “foreign matter” could it be properly treated and removed.”
It all sounds so casual and yet, had Grandpa not followed Mr. Gaskill’s advice, it is highly unlikely I would ever have even met my grandfather.
He would have been dead long before I was ever hatched.