Sketchy horse trading

It's a complicated thing to relate, but those of you who want another Clevie Bickford story can pull up your stools. The garage the Bickford boys operated not only took care of the numerous vehicles they used in their several enterprises but was available to the public with three excellent mechanics - Staples, Hatch, and Jones. It was also the salesroom for new and used items, and Bickford's Garage was the local sales agent of the Ford Motor Company. The Model T had moved along as our story opens, and the Model A was now current. Al Staples, mentioned above, came from a distance and brought his dinner in a bucket, and so was available at nooning to attend the office. When Lulu French, the bookkeeper, went home to lunch, Staples would come in to sit at her desk and answer the telephone, eating the while and drawing pictures of horses.

Nobody ever drew horse pictures better than Staples. He could take the stub of an old carpenter's pencil and put a horse on a cedar shingle so real that if you sucked through your tooth the animal would gallop away. But this artistic talent of Staples was limited to horses, and he used to say the only other thing he could draw was a pail of water. So he drew horses, never selling one but giving his pictures away until almost every shed and barn and tie-up and henhouse in miles around had a Staples horse tacked up, on shingles, wrapping paper, and cardboard. If Staples, as he would now and then, did a particular horse, like John R. Braden, that had its own bank account, it would likely get framed and put in a parlor. Just about anybody who went in for an oil change would come home with a Staples horse.

So Staples would sand-soap his hands just before noon, and as Lulu was leaving he would come in to take over. It would take him 10-15 minutes to eat, and then he would draw horses until he saw Lulu coming back. And one day as he was drawing a horse the telephone rang. Staples tossed his pencil down and said hello. Then he said, ''Just a minute - I got to find some paper.'' Then he said, ''All right - go ahead,'' and added, ''No, wait a minute, I got my horse pencil, I need another pencil.'' Next, ''There, let 'er rip!''

A voice on the other end began to read off numbers, and Staples carefully set them down - asking now and then for a repeat. The numbers went on and on, and Staples had quite a column when the voice said thank you and the line went quiet. Now Lulu was coming, so Staples took his horse picture, left the figures for Lulu, and went out back.

Lulu found the figures and went right to work. In those days Ford used to ship railroad freight cars of Fords to their agents as distribution was required , and an agent wouldn't know a car was coming until he got the bill of lading. Lulu assumed the figures left by Staples were the serial numbers and prices of a shipment of Fords, and it was her job to scurry around and get a check ready for the freight agent so the boys could open the car and unload. This had to be done swiftly, before demurrage set in. Clevie and Theo never paid demurrage. But Clevie and Theo were off somewhere in the woods, and Lulu couldn't scrape together enough cash for a deposit. She watched the clock creep up to four, when the bank would close, and she all but wrung her hands in despair. It was 10 minutes to five when Clevie came in, and Lulu told him he'd have to do something right away because Bo Fessenden, the freight agent, always locked up and went home at five.

''Well,'' Clevie says, ''only thing we can do is give him cash,'' and he opened his dinner pail and counted out the required number of dollars. ''Get his receipt,'' he called after Lulu as she started for the railroad station.

Well, I said it was complicated. There wasn't any carload of Fords that day. The telephone call that Staples answered was meant for the bank, and Sarah, the telephone operator, rang the wrong number. It was the daily report and quotations from the clearinghouse, and the bank wondered all day why it hadn't heard. First thing next morning the bank called the clearinghouse, and in a few minutes things were straightened out. Seems the telephone numbers were 442 and 224, Bickford being 224. By that time Bo Fessenden had sent the money to the railroad offices in Portland and, until it was refunded, Clevie for once ran short of ready cash.

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