The Art of the Deal: Getting a Good Trade

Tales of pursuing good trades can be humorous and entertaining.

Striking a deal

Buying cheaper than an item is priced is an old American tradition.

Illustration courtesy Library of Congress

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It’s known by several names: bartering, trading, horse trading or just plain old begging. After all is said and done, you tried to buy it cheaper than it was priced. That is just plain old American tradition.

A good trade is one where both parties walk off thinking they beat the other in the transaction. Here are a couple that stand out in my memory.

Two cattlemen in Colorado started early one morning trying to arrive at a price on some livestock. As the day wore on, they worked through a complete package of Day’s Work chewing tobacco, broke for lunch and began whittling on sticks found beneath the shade tree where they were sitting.

With little progress made by 4 p.m., one broke out a pint of whiskey. By 6 p.m., the Day’s Work and whiskey were gone and they were down to about $100 difference on a $3,000 trade.

As darkness approached, neither moved on his offer until one man misjudged and sliced a finger deep while whittling. The other loaded him up and rushed him to the hospital, where stitches were needed to close the wound. As they left the hospital, the wounded man held out his good hand and said, “Since we burned your gasoline getting here and back home, I’ll take your offer and say we got a trade.” Neither lost face in the final deal.

While standing by at a garage sale once, I witnessed the following trade. A man was looking at a rusty, old electric iron that he knew did not work. It was tagged at 25 cents. He carried the “piece of junk with history” to the lady who was selling it. “Ma’am, could you take a little less for this old iron?” She looked him square in the eye and said, “Mister, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you are that cheap-minded, I will give you this iron for free.”

The man’s mouth fell open in surprise and he looked stricken. “Ma’am, that’s cheap enough and I got the money, but I promised my old daddy on his deathbed that I would never purchase anything without trying to drive down the price,” he said. “He said he would return and haunt me.” The lady frowned in thought and pondered the dilemma. “I know the price is free,” the man continued, “so would you give me a dime just for hauling off the iron? That would clear me with my old daddy.”

The lady thought for a moment. “I am not going to pay you a dime to haul off a free iron,” she said. “Your old daddy can go to hell!” The man responded immediately. “How did you know where he was?” Still not a hint of a smile from either on the ridiculous trade and conversation.

Finally she spoke. “I will not pay you a dime to haul off the iron,” she said. “However, I will pay you a dime if you leave and don’t return.” He smiled, held out his hand for the dime and shook her hand to finalize the deal. Then both sat down on the edge of the porch and laughed until tears came to their eyes. I still don’t know whether they knew each other or not, but it was worth it to hear two talented traders at their best. FC


Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; email: trewblue@centramedia.net.