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Patterson Got the Most Out of Life

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on April 4, 1992


By Roz Young


            I wish the sales supervisors who tell their crews of telephone salespeople to begin every call with,"How are you today?" would take a lesson from John H. Patterson.
            By now we all know when the telephone rings, usually at dinner time, and a strange voice on the other end wants to know how we are, we all know that somebody is going to try to sell us electric light bulbs for the blind, tickets to the policeman's ball or perhaps a time-share condominium seminar in Florida. We are expected to reply "Just fine, thank you," and be in a receptive mood for the sales speech. Some souls who answer "And who wants to know?" or "I'm feeling perfectly terrible" and go on to describe their ailments are breaking the rules of the game.
            In 1868 when 25-year-old John H. Patterson graduated from Dartmouth College, he came back home to Rubicon Farm, where he had been born. He found that there were no jobs available in Dayton for a young man with a liberal arts college degree and no experience.
            He found a job as collector of tolls on the canal that ran through Dayton. The pay was $800 a year. Out of it he had to pay $200 a year rent for the toll building and $100 for incidentals - fuel, light, stationery. That left $500 net income or $10 a week for a 24-hour-a-day job.
            It wasn't enough to live on. He needed to find some business he could operate from the toll office to bring in a little more money. So he painted a sign on the side of the toll office: Coal and Wood.
            He could take orders from friends for coal, buy the coal and have it delivered and charge a little extra for the service.
            He hung a slate on the office wall. When somebody ordered coal, he wrote the order on the slate. Then he bought the coal and hired a man to deliver it.
            His business grew but he was always short of money because he had no capital. Many times he lacked ready cash because his customers had not yet paid their bills.
            He had no bank credit, but he did have personal credit and whenever he needed money, he borrowed on his word alone.
            One of his favorite principles was if he went to a man to ask him something, he would state what he wished at once without any preliminary palaver.
            One morning he needed $500 at once. He put on his hat and went to the office of George Phillips. He walked through the door and when Phillips looked up from his desk, Patterson said, "I want to borrow $500 until Friday."
            Phillips nodded and said to his clerk, "Write Mr. Patterson a check."
            When he handed the check to Patterson, he said, "If you had not asked for this money the way you did, I would not have given it to you. If you had said, 'Good morning, Mr. Phillips. How do you feel this morning and how is business?' - I would have said 'Business is not good and I can't lend you the money.' Always be brief. And be sure you pay the money back on Friday."
            Life is too short to waste words.
            I wish the telephone solicitors knew that.
            And they called it Rubicon
            "I live on Rubicon Road," a reader wrote. "I have heard that John H. Patterson named his farm Rubicon because he was a great admirer of Julius Caesar and patterned his life after him. Is that true?"
            Not at all. Col. Robert Patterson, John's grandfather, who bought the land and built his homestead on it - the one that still stands on Brown Street at Rubicon - is the one who named it.
            After Patterson bought the farm, the former owner sent an oxcart and driver and men with shovels and pickaxes to dig up trees, shrubs and flowers and cart them to his new property. This made Col. Patterson angry. He felt it wasn't fair. When he paid for the farm, he paid for the plantings, too. When he saw the cart coming back for more trees and shrubs, he walked down to the stream which formed a boundary of the land, stood there and said to the driver, "You tell Mr. Cooper that this is the Rubicon, and I don't want his ox team ever to cross it to take anything more off this farm."
            And that's how it came to be called Rubicon Farm.
            There's a good story about why NCR is built on the old Rubicon Farm grounds instead of in downtown Dayton where John Patterson first wanted to build it, but that's for another time.