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Phil Sugg's Struggle With a Mighty Machine

It's a safe assumption that Clevie Bickford never heard of William Wordsworth. Or, from the ridiculous to the sublime, that William Wordsworth never heard of Clevie. But if poetry does have its origin in emotion recollected in tranquility, think to what heights Wordsworth might have soared on wings of song had he a few memories of Clevie to recall. Consider that sonnet where the world is too much with us, and much as it has given us, it lacks Clevie. Pertinent is the time Clevie got rid of the Fordson tractor.

The Ford dealership in our town was a good property, and Clevie and his brother, Theo, handled it with profit. Every so often a freight car of Fords would come, and Lulu, Cleveland's wife, would telephone Phil Sugg, who taught school but moonlighted as a car salesman for Bickford Bros., and she'd say, "Phil, new cars!"

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Phil could sell anything, almost. Along in the 1920s or so, Ford Motor Company introduced the Fordson, a farm tractor. We still had millions of farmers who agreed no machine would ever replace the horse, and while this proved not so, the Fordson was still ahead of its time, and it had some bugs. It had great steel traction wheels, and sometimes it would climb up on those wheels under its own torque and work woe on the farmer up on the seat. This fault was to be corrected, but the possibility lingered in the bucolic mind.

At the time, Ford shipped a freight car of assorted vehicles to the dealers, and a dealer didn't always know just what he was getting. It might be two-doors, four-doors, runabouts, coupes, wee pickups, and - heaven forbid! - a Fordson tractor. Phil Sugg, supersalesman, was unnerved to find a Fordson in this new lot. Clevie told Phil, "You're the salesman! Heap o' luck!"

At this late hour, I do not remember what a new Ford sold for. I do have in my scrapbooks somewhere a clipping from the Youth's Companion that offered the runabout for $235 FOB Michigan, but that was the Model T toy and was not considered suitable for heavy family needs. It had no starter, magneto lamps, and you stepped out while the gasoline tank under the one seat was being filled (five gallons of gas and a quart of oil for $1). The Fordson tractor was more expensive.

Every afternoon after school let out, Phil Sugg went looking for customers, and he was authorized to decide how much to allow for a "turn-in." Take a new car with an asking price of $550, and here in Maine it was no trifling matter to deal with a man who thought his old Ford, with 375,000 miles (guesswork, the speedometer had gone around several times) was worth $400 on a turn-in. Phil sold a great many Fords, and probably every one of them had substantial turn-ins, as Maine went in those happy times.

But the Fordson tractor was a white elephant, a Jonah! It wasn't something to drive a distance, so Phil would fetch prospects to the Bickfords' garage and demonstrate it in the street. Not the best way. Phil got the big ha-ha every day, and the Fordson was still in the inventory. The Bickfords had to pay for it, because prompt payment protected their lucrative dealership, so every evening Phil got the same question, "And what about the tractor?"

It was this turn-in business that did the trick. As a last attempt, Phil went up beyond Kettlebottom, past Jack Burns Hill, and beyond the big Caesar's Swamp.

He went into the dooryard of Gridley Gerhardt, and Gridley bade him to come in and sit a spell and get the kinks out of his pins. "Nice to have somebody stop by!" says Gridley. "What'd you say your name was?"

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Phil said he had a brand-new Fordson farm tractor he could sell at a fine trade, and while most farmers were in straightened circumstances and too old-fashioned to want machinery, he believed Gridley Gerhardt to be forward-looking and prosperous. Would he be interested?

Clevie and his brother, Theo, and their mechanic, Duddy Jones, were sitting in the garage office, and just about to lock up for the night, when Phil came in. Phil said, "I sold the tractor!"

Theo said, "You didn't!"

Clevie said, "Good boy!"

Duddy said, "I'm speechless!"

Clevie said, "Who bought it?"

Phil said, "Gridley Gerhardt."

Clevie said, "Who's he?"

Duddy said, "A nut up by Caesar's Swamp."

Phil said, "He's the one!"

AND this is a moment when Wordsworth should have known Cleveland Bickford, so he could recollect him in tranquility and turn out some sharp verses. Because Clevie always kept the world in mind, and got gladly and spent cautiously, and always wanted what was his'n. He said to Phil, "Did you get the money?"

Philip said, "Well, yes and no. I got his turn-ins."

"Which is what?" asked Clevie.

"Now, take it easy," said Phil. "I got it, but we've got to work it out. For one new Fordson, Gridley Gerhardt is paying Bickford Bros. one used manure spreader, 25 bushels of green mountain potatoes when dug, 10 empty beehives, shook for 30 apple crates, two bucksaws, a barrel header, one four-foot single horse Buckeye mower, $10 Canadian, a scythe and cradle, a Kineo four-cover biscuit baker, hacksaw, bread mixer, emery wheel, three jackknives, six bundles Rural New Yorker, blueberry rake, a set sad irons, quilting frame, six team bells, a lot in Woodlawn Cemetery, two-dozen brown nest eggs, and $40 Yankee."

The world was too much with Clevie. He said, "So what be I about to get from all this?"

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