Chapter V. The Midnight Alarm

"Now tell me, if you will, what the routine of the work on an advance car is," said Phil after he and Billy had sat down beside the tracks.

"It would take all night to do that, but I'll give you a few pointers and the rest you will have to pick up for yourself. In the first place an advertising car includes billposters, lithographers, banner men and at least one programmer."

"Sounds all right, but it doesn't mean much of anything to me," laughed Phil.

"The billposters post the large bills on the billboards, and anywhere else that they can get a chance, mostly out in the country and in the country towns. In places where there is a regular billposter, he does that work for us. Any boards not owned by a billposter, or a barn or a pigpen or a henhouse on the road is called a 'daub.' At least two tickets are given for every place we put a piece of paper on. These tickets are numbered and signed. Now, if a fellow out in Kankakee, we will say, should chance to tear down the bill, when he presented his ticket at the gate on the day of the show, it would be refused. He'd pay or stay out."

"But how would they know he had taken down the poster," questioned Phil.

"Checkers follow along at intervals and check up every piece of paper we put up. We send the record of our work to the car back of us and they in turn send our and their reports to the car behind them."

"It is a wonderful system, indeed," marveled Phil.

"Yes. To go back a little I will say that this is a 'scout car' or what is known among showmen as 'the opposition car.' It goes only where there is trouble, where there is opposition. For instance, more than half a dozen shows are coming into this territory, this season, and it is up to us to cover every available space with our paper before their cars get on the ground."

"But will they not paste their bills over yours, over those you have already put up?"

"They seldom do. It is an unwritten law in the show business that this is not to be done."

Teddy had come up to them in time to hear the last remark.

"I thought there wasn't any law, written or unwritten, in this business," he said.

"You will find there is, young man. Then, to come to the lithographers, as I think I already have told you, these men place small bills in store and shop windows, giving tickets for the privilege the same as do the billposters. One man goes ahead of them and does what we call 'the squaring,' meaning that he enters the stores and asks the privilege of putting up the lithographs. In most cases the owners of the places object, and he has to convince them that it is to their advantage to have the paper in their windows."

"I didn't think there was so much to it, but I think I should like that work. I'll be a squarer," decided Teddy.

"The banner men put up what are called 'banners,' cloth signs. These are tacked up in high places and the banner men have to be good climbers. They fill their mouths with tacks, points in, heads out. They use magnetic hammers."

"What's this, a joke?" interrupted Teddy.

"It is not a joke. The head of each hammer so used is a magnet, and is used to pick the tacks from the mouth of the banner man. The tack sticks to the head of the hammer and is thus ready to be driven. An expert banner man will drive tacks almost as rapidly as you could fire a self-acting revolver."

"That is odd. What does the fellow called the programmer do?"

"He takes the small printed matter around, and drops it on doorsteps and in stores. When we are making a day run with the car he drops the printed matter off at stations and crossroads, or wherever he sees a man. Following us come route-riders."

"What are they?"

"Men who ride over the country routes to see whether the billposters have put up the paper indicated on their reports, or thrown the stuff in a ditch somewhere. After them come checkers, one after the other. This is Car Three, as you know. Car Two follows about two weeks behind us, and Car One comes along a week ahead of the show. What are you going to do?"

"Mr. Snowden said I was to go out with one of the men on a country route."

"Then you come along with me, unless he directs you differently. I can give you pointers that would take you a long time to learn were you left to pick them up yourself. Don't say anything to him about it unless he speaks to you, but prepare to go out with me early in the morning. I have a big drive tomorrow, some fifty miles, and you will get all you want for one day's work."

"Yes; that will be fine."

"What is your friend here to do?"

"I am the paste-maker," answered Teddy with a sheepish grin. "I make the stickum stuff for this outfit."

"A nice job," jeered the assistant manager. "You will get all you want of that work in about thirty minutes. The Boss must certainly have a grudge against you. You will be hanging around the car all day, however, and if the Boss is away any you will have a chance to get forty winks of sleep in the stateroom now and then."

"No; Teddy is not here to sleep. He is here to work."

"Yes; everybody works around here but Father."

"Is the work the same on the advance cars of all shows?"

"All circuses, yes. We do things just the same as the fellows did them forty years ago. Nobody seems to have head enough to do things differently, and goodness knows some modern methods are necessary."

"How long have you been on this car?"

"Four years; this is my fifth season here."

"Why, that is exactly the time we have been with the Sparling Shows."

Billy nodded.

"I saw you work last season. You are a bird on the trapeze, and ride--whew, but you can beat anything I ever saw on bareback! I knew I had seen you before when you came in this evening, but I couldn't place you. I remembered after a little. Say, Phil, I'm glad you handed it out to the Boss this afternoon."

"And I am very sorry. I don't know what Mr. Sparling will think of it. Still, I had to do something. I saw right away that he had made up his mind to treat us badly. What time do we pull out tonight?"

"Twelve o'clock, I think. And speaking of that, it is time to turn in."

The three entered the car. Mr. Snowden already had turned in, his end of the car being dark and silent. Most of the billposters also had climbed to their berths near the roof of the car, and some of them were snoring heavily.

"Do they do this all night long?" questioned Teddy.

"Do what?"

"Roll logs!"

"Well, yes," laughed Billy; "they are pretty good snorers, all of them. Do you snore?"

"I might, on a pinch. I don't know whether I do or not. I am usually asleep when I snore. How about it, Phil, do I snore?"

"Not when I am within punching distance of you."

The boys undressed, got into their pajamas, and after considerable effort managed to climb to the top of the pile of paper, where their blankets had been spread for them by the porter.

"Not much of a bed, is it Teddy?" laughed Phil.

"The worst ever!" agreed Teddy. "How I'm going to stick in that bed when the car gets under motion I don't know. I wish I was back with the show."

"Never mind, old chap. We have had things pretty easy for the last four years. A little hardship will not hurt either of us. And I know we are going to like this life, after we get more used to it. What time do we get up; do you know?"

"No, I don't know anything about it. I guess in time for late breakfast," answered Teddy grimly. "Good night."

In a few minutes the Circus Boys were sound asleep. They did not even awaken when, about midnight, a switch engine hooked to their car, and after racing them up and down the railroad yards a few times, coupled them to the rear of the passenger train that was to pull them to their next stand, some seventy-five miles away. A few minutes later and they were rolling away. The road was a crooked one and the car swayed dizzily, but they were too used to the sensation to be in the least disturbed by it.

An hour or two had passed when, all at once, every man in the car was suddenly startled by a blood-curdling yell and a wild commotion somewhere in the darkness of the car.

"What is it?"

"Are we wrecked?"

"What did we hit?"

This and other exclamations were shouted in loud tones, as the men came tumbling from their berths, some sprawling over the floor, where a lurch of the car had hurled them.