By Norris Chambers

             There are many operators of scams who are willing to take your hard earned money and give you very little in return. This practice isn’t a new vice. When Clifton and I were growing up such meanness was hiding in the shadows and waiting for innocent suckers. Most of the magazines of the day had many pages of classified ads where it was easy for a scammer to slip in an ad to separate the reader from his hard-earned cash. There were many legitimate ads in these sections, but sometimes it was not easy to separate the good from the bad.

            My first fleecing cost me twenty-five cents, or the price of a prime ‘possum hide. The little ad pictured an impressive looking tube and the explanation explained that it was a “see through tube” that made it possible to see right through opaque objects. This sounded like a great addition to a growing collection of amazing things so I mailed my quarter with my request for the “see through” tube.

            Eventually the scientific marvel arrived. It was nothing but a cardboard tube about eight inches long and an inch in diameter. The printed instructions indicated that you should hold the tube beside the opaque object and look through it with one eye, being careful to keep the other eye open. I tried it and it worked. I could apparently see what was on the other side of the ruler I held up. I soon discovered that I could do the same thing just by folding my right hand and looking through the folded palm. The other eye was focusing with the one looking through the fold and I was apparently seeing through the ruler. I could have made my own “see through tube” by rolling a sheet of paper and applying a little flour paste to keep it round and firm! I felt a little foolish for falling for the scam.

            Another popular mistake was ordering an “ant and insect killer” that was guaranteed to work or your money back. I didn’t order this one but I found out from a hapless victim what it was. When the miracle arrived it was nothing more than a small, square piece of hardwood and a nice gavel that was also made of hardwood.  The instructions were brief and simple. Just place insect on execution board and tap firmly with gavel. Generally a second tap is not needed.” The device worked well but was too slow for practical use.

            For many years very small ads in magazines displayed a picture of a pigeon and explained how the reader could make big money raising and selling squabs. I had never heard of a squab and had no idea what they were talking about. I sent for their free literature and discovered that a squab was a young pigeon and was considered quite a delicacy by many choosey diners. There was a constant demand for them by upscale dining establishments and they were willing to pay well for suppliers who could raise and deliver the young birds. I was sure I could raise the birds but I lacked the necessary capital and was a little doubtful about the big demand they mentioned.

            There was the advertised project outlining the demand for “frog legs” by certain fine restaurants. It was easy to take their frog breed and produce the finest legs available in a very short time. Our stock tanks were full of “bull frogs” that grew big legs and made croaking sounds like mad bulls. I had never heard of anyone eating their legs and declaring it a delicacy. But maybe their frogs were different. Once again my investment account could not have put me in the frog leg business. I also had my doubts about being able to sell the legs to restaurants.

            Another small advertisement that appeared often was the one explaining how the reader could establish a business raising and selling fishing worms. Sportsmen were in dire need of the fine fishing worms that the grower could produce and make available to fill the need. Of course Clifton and I knew about worms for fish bait and we had no trouble finding all we needed by moving a shovel or two of dirt in the horse lot. It had never occurred to us to sell worms. We thought that fishermen either dug their own worms or seined for their own crawfish and minnows. The ads said there was an established wholesale market for dried worms. When I checked on this market I found that there was a market for the worms, but it took many pounds to make any reasonable amount of money. Our ‘possum hunting company decided not to add dried worms to our product line!

            There were also legitimate mail order offerings. A few years later I used mail order ads to promote several profitable enterprises. I sold everything from domino counters to crystal radio kits by mail. I always delivered useable products at attractive prices and if I ever had a customer who was dissatisfied I was not aware of it. Was the mail order business a lot of fun? Any time you open an envelope and see money inside it you are in the midst of a fun-fest!