The world’s best tractor salesman is making a triumphant return! Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor: Botts Begins is a collection of short stories originally published by the Saturday Evening Post during a time when conventional wisdom suggested that machines were going to save the world. In the series, the Earthworm tractor is a modern marvel constantly performing previously unthinkable tasks. The outlandish sales tactics of self-proclaimed master salesman Alexander Botts consistently backfire, but, in the end, he never fails to close a deal! For the first time, the full collection of more than 100 stories – including original illustrations and five stories that never appeared in the Post – is available through Octane Press.
In this excerpt from “Secondhand Stuff,” originally published in 1928, Botts visits a promising new prospect only to discover she plans to sell back her badly neglected tractor to the company by using their own sales points. With the reputation of the Farmers’ Friend Tractor Company at stake, Botts scrambles to find a buyer interested in bringing the old machine back to life. This excerpt is printed with the permission of Octane Press. To learn more, visit here.
The idea which came to me this morning was a good one. I remembered that some time ago in Albany one of the salesmen of our company had told of a call he had made on a Mr. George Anthony of Fort Henry, New York, which is just across Lake Champlain from here. It seems that Mr. Anthony had been interested in getting a secondhand tractor. He had been offered an old Army ten-ton which is still in our Albany warehouse, but for some reason had not taken it. If this Mr. Anthony still wanted a secondhand tractor it occurred to me that I might be able to get him to make an offer on Mrs. Watkins’ machine. If I could get him to offer a couple of thousand I might possibly talk Mrs. Watkins into taking it. It was worth trying.
Accordingly, I rented the same car which I had yesterday, drove down to Lake Champlain, crossed on the ferry, and about the middle of the morning reached Mr. Anthony’s farm outside Port Henry.
Mr. Anthony turned out to be a young man of pleasant personality, and we were at once on a very friendly footing. It appeared that we had both been in the artillery during the war and had both been most favorably impressed by the tractors which were used to pull the guns.
“Yes, sir,” he said, “I drove one of those artillery ten-tons for several months in France. They are the finest tractors ever made. I’ve often thought of buying one secondhand to use here on the farm.”
“You would rather do that than get one of our new, improved machines?”
“Absolutely. I want exactly the same model I drove on the other side.”
“I understand one of our salesmen offered you one last year.”
“Yes, he had one at Albany he wanted to sell me for five hundred dollars.”
“What was the matter?” I asked. “Was the price too high?”
“No,” he said, “the price was too low. I didn’t even go down to look at it. I knew that if he was offering it as cheap, there must be something the matter with it. I want a machine that is in fairly good shape.”
At these words I began to feel that my visit was in vain. If this bozo wanted an expensive machine, I could accommodate him fine, but I wasn’t so sure about the “fairly good shape” business. However, I decided not to give up without a struggle.
“I have exactly the machine for you, Mr. Anthony,” I said. “It is across the lake. If you will get in my car, I will drive you over to look at it.”
“Fine,” said Mr. Anthony, “I would like nothing better.”
After telling a couple of hired men what to do while he was gone, and saying goodbye to Mrs. Anthony in the house, he climbed into my car, and we drove down to the ferry. After crossing to the Vermont side and getting a few sandwiches at a hot dog stand, we finally reached the Watkins farm shortly after noon.
One of Mrs. Watkins’ hired men took us out to the barnyard, and as he showed us the machine, I will admit that my heart sank within me. In my enthusiasm over the possibility of making a sale I had forgotten what a truly horrible looking mess of junk this tractor was. For a moment I was speechless, but Mr. Anthony at once began to talk.
“Yes, sir,” he said, “this is the genuine article – exactly the same kind of bus that I used to drive in the Army. I used to hate the Army, but now I look back and I know that them were the days. And this is the finest model tractor that was ever built.”
“It might have been worth something once,” said the hired man, “but it’s pretty old and rusty and dirty now.”
“All that rust and dirt don’t amount to anything,” said Mr. Anthony. “What counts is the machinery inside.”
“Most of that machinery is just throwed together,” the hired man went on. “The road commissioners we got it from said it was sort of built up out of the best parts from a couple of old wrecks of machines as the government gave them.”
All this time I was trying to signal the hired man to keep his mouth shut, but he was too dumb to understand. Fortunately, Mr. Anthony was so busy looking over the machine that he didn’t pay much attention.
“This certainly takes me back to the old wartimes,” he remarked. “It’s just like meeting an old friend. I haven’t seen one of these machines since I got my discharge.”
“The compression is awful weak,” said the hired man helpfully.
“As soon as I put in new rings and grind the valves,” said Mr. Anthony, “she’ll be as good as new. I can hardly wait to get started overhauling the old baby. These motors are so accessible and handy it’s a pleasure to work on them.”
“A couple of them radiator sections leak pretty bad,” said the hired man.
“That’s all right,” said Mr. Anthony. “Those sections are removable. I’ll take them out and solder them in no time at all. Can we start up the motor and see how she sounds?”
“We can try,” said the hired man. He primed the cylinders and gave the crank a few flips. Nothing happened.
“Here,” said Mr. Anthony, “you don’t know how to handle this thing. Give a chance to an old-timer that knows his business.”
He climbed up onto the tractor. And while he was priming the cylinders again and adjusting the spark and throttle levers, I got the hired man off to one side. There was a nice pick handle in the corner, but although it would have been a public service to beat in the top of this yokel’s empty head, I decided to use more conservative methods. I gave him a dollar on condition that he would go out behind the pigpen and stay there. He went.
I have repeated all of the hired man’s conversation, because the dollar I gave him is entered on my expense account, and I wanted to make it clear that this was a necessary expense.
When I got back to Mr. Anthony, he was spinning the crank with great energy, but no results.
“She’s all right,” he said, “only she hasn’t been used for a long time, and of course she’s hard to start.”
He rested a minute, then took out the spark plugs, filed and set the points, squirted oil in the cylinders, put back the plugs, filed the breaker points on the magneto, cleaned the distributor brushes and finally spun the crank again. This time the machine gave a feeble bark, and after a few more spins of the crank it started up with a roar. It hit on only three cylinders, it poured out clouds of blue smoke, and it rattled and clanked and knocked in a manner that was fearful to listen to.
But it ran. Mr. Anthony grinned happily, sat down in the seat and drove around the barnyard. The transmission gears howled, the tracks flopped loosely over the sprocket, and the whole machine shook and vibrated as if it was going to fall apart. After a short drive Mr. Anthony brought it back and shut off the motor.
“When I get these transmission gears adjusted, and the tracks tightened up, and the motor overhauled,” he said, “she’ll be practically as good as new. How much did you say they wanted for this machine?”
“Four thousand dollars,” I said, speaking in a casual, offhand way.
“I suppose,” said Mr. Anthony, “that the terms will be the same cash-on-delivery proposition which was described in the letter which your company wrote me when they offered me that other secondhand machine?”
“That is exactly what I had in mind,” I replied.
“Sold!” he exclaimed. FC