By Norris Chambers

             My Cousin John was a few years older than I. He was the oldest of four children, two other boys and a girl. We attended John’s graduation ceremony at the little country school a few miles across a pasture and a couple of creeks and listened to the encouraging speeches. I especially admired the fancy robes and flat hats worn by the graduates.

            John was a typical farm boy who had done his share of plowing, hoeing, ‘tater digging and steer wrestling. But he was determined to find a different source for his livelihood, much as Clifton and I did a few years later. Actually, very few of the old farm boys and ‘possum skinners continued as farmers when confronted with the necessity of fending for themselves and their families.  John’s graduation came in the middle of the depression and finding employment was not much of an option.

            A few days later we heard that John was attending a business school in the county seat. He was learning book-keeping, typing, shorthand and related subjects. It was a speedy course and in a few months he graduated again – this time as a bona-fide office expert. John did not go directly to a good job, as expected. There just weren’t any openings for a well qualified office expert. But John kept looking.

                        Soon John did as most of the depression victims did. He turned to the WPA, a government program that was offering employment to deserving workers and directing their labors to building roads, bridges and other improvements in the country. This was a great program for those who were without employment. The number of days that a person could work was determined by the size of the family and immediate needs. The pay was only $15.00 a month for a single worker without a family to support.

            John soon discovered that he could double his work time and his pay by marrying Susan, his school sweetheart. They married and lived in a little shack on her family’s farm and settled down to make good use of the $30.00 a month that he earned building fences. When their first daughter was born it became evident that they needed a better income. John decided he might like being a country peddler. We had seen several of them come and go and they always seemed to have business. But stocking a traveling store would take considerable capital and that was not readily available. I suggested that maybe a grocery store would let him take fast moving merchandise and sell it, especially if he took it to an area where the store did not have customers.

            There was a town about twenty miles east of us that had two large grocery stores. A large section of the country depended on these stores for the things they couldn’t produce on the farm -  coffee, sugar, flour, meal and so forth. My dad knew Mr. Andrews, who owned one of the stores, and he took John to see him. Mr. Andrews thought it was a good idea and offered to help him pick the fastest selling items and give him a nice percentage on his sales. He would start the project with his old Chevy sedan and progress to a trailer or truck if the business justified it. When they left the store he had the back seat area and the trunk loaded with what they hoped would be fast selling merchandise.

John’s Handy Store, as he called it, was an instant success. Since the prices were about the same as a town store a purchase from John often made a long trip to town unnecessary

            Clifton and I helped him build a large trailer. The sides of the trailer opened and revealed the stock of often needed groceries. We even equipped it with a large sign on each side identifying it as the “store that comes to you!”  We even added chicken coops on the back so he could trade for chickens. His customers liked this service since chickens were more plentiful than cash.

            John ran the successful business until the large national armament program started in preparation for our obvious entrance into the big war. After the war John moved to west Texas and found a good job working in the oil fields. The grocery route probably would not have worked any more because most of the poor farmers of the thirties lived in town where jobs were plentiful.

            With all the talk about another big depression perhaps you should start construction of a nice peddler’s trailer. Think of all the fun you could have building it and operating it! John might even help you design it since he is still going strong in his middle 90’s!