My First Business

Slam!! Bang!! Crash!! Thud!! I awoke with a start and jumped out of my bunk to find the door of our trailer wide open and Terry lying face down in the sawdust on the floor – passed out cold – his pockets visually stuffed with twenty dollar bills.
Terry ran a money wheel at the Bill Lynch Shows. And when I got tired of paying Soggy Read for standing in the rain during the first three gigs with the midway, Terry was clear. “You look like you could use a hand and I’d be happy to tag along wherever you are headed.” I told him I couldn’t pay him and he said it didn’t matter. As long as we were within walking distance of a bar or tavern with a pool table every night, he didn’t need to get paid. I shrugged as he climbed into the cab of my truck.
My brother and I bought the Cedar Signs business from a couple who had a little shack on the Cabot Trail. They sold about $5,000 worth of signs to the tourists during the summer, just enough so one of them could hire the other, making it possible to collect unemployment in the off season. We had bigger ideas. 19 years old, I convinced the Federal Business Development Bank to lend me $13,000 to buy a truck and build a trailer that would house a woodworking shop on wheels.
In May of 1977, while my brother readied the roadside shack in Cape Breton, I took to the road. That summer we sold hand routered name plaques at every clam bake, lobster carnival, farmers exhibition and county fair in the Maritimes. We would travel from one gig to the next at night, often after putting in ten hour days. While laid up at a campground in Yarmouth between fairs for a week, we built a collapsible front porch as a sales and display platform which folded neatly onto the back of the truck.
A string of young people joined up for short stints to take the orders while I carved the signs. The homemade trailer included four small bunks at the forward end and the sawdust would fly when our heads hit the pillows. Ivory soap was preferred as it floated. We would all pile into the truck to find local swimming holes for skinny dipping late at night. That summer was also filled with romance for me as we crisscrossed the three provinces. Gail’s unceasing sense of adventure created many fond memories for us all.
That winter Gail was further instrumental in our success. Not only did she staff one of the six displays we had in shopping malls between Sydney and Halifax but it was the apartment she shared with her sister that provided me with a fun-filled home base while my woodworking trailer was hooked up to a power pole behind the Halifax Shopping Center. It was a heady feeling when we closed the books after the Christmas rush was behind us. We had grown the business ten fold in our first year of operation.