“Jim,” I hissed. “Krieghoff! Krieghoff!”

Bargain hunters Jim and Greg discover that honest folk are always getting gypped

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, June 12, 1948.

“We’ll stop,” announced Jimmie Frise, “in this next town and grab a sandwich.”

“Jim, we haven’t got time!” I protested vehemently. “We’re half an hour late now.”

“It won’t take five minutes,” reassured Jim. “I’m hungry.”

“Jim,” I groaned, “please be reasonable. The auction sale starts at 2 pm. It’s nearly one o’clock now, and we’ve got a good 50 miles yet to go.”

“Won’t take five minutes,” said Jim, comfortably patting the steering gear.

“It’ll take more than five minutes, just to find a parking space,” I growled.

“Not in this next town,” declared Jim. “They’ve got parking meters. Plenty of room.”

“Do you want those Krieghoffs, or don’t you?” I demanded bitterly. “How do you know those paintings, won’t be the very first thing auctioned off?”

“Aw, you don’t know country auction sales,” com- forted Jim. Things like paintings and ornaments come last of all. In fact, we’ll probably have to sit around. on the lawn until six or seven o’clock tonight before they get around to the junk.”

Junk!

Last night, an old auntie of mine had telephoned me to read a little notice of an auction sale being held on the old Masterton farm back near the village where she had spent her girlhood. The little country weekly paper reported the notice of the action sale of the implements and household effects of the Mastertons, the last of whom had died.

Among the items listed were “framed pictures.”

“When I was a girl, Greg,” said my old auntie, “old Mr. Masterton – that’s the grandfather of the one who died last month used to be famous for the paintings he bought. All over the county. And I distinctly recall that four of his paintings were by this fellow with the Russian name…”

“Krieghoff?” I cried.

“That’s the name,” said my auntie.

Which accounts for Jimmie and me being en route, in the middle of the week, to a remote village to attend an auction sale. Kreighoff was a Polish artist who made Canada his home in the 1840s and painted the rural Canadian scene. Today, little paintings of his a foot square sell for $1,000 and $2,000. His larger paintings can’t be bought for any price. They go to National Galleries.

“Jim,” I warned, “you’re a very foolish guy to set a sandwich up against four Krieghoffs.”

“If they are Krieghoffs,” said Jim, “there will be buyers from all over North America there. And we’ll have about as much chance of getting them as of flying to the moon. Those guys will bid thousands.”

“Look”: I reasoned grimly. “My old auntie just happens to remember something from her girlhood. Do you suppose any of the Mastertons know what they’ve got? There hasn’t been a Masterton interested in pictures for three generations. I bet those paintings have been up in the garret for two generations, to make way for Varga calendars and Petty girls.”

“There’s always a chance, of course,” agreed Jim. “Krieghoff painted an awful lot of pictures. Some of them are lost. Others keep turning up now and then.”

“Look, Jim,” I pleaded. “Get cracking. Put on some speed. Let’s whip through here…”

“Sandwich,” said Jim.

We were coasting into the outskirts of the small town.

In a moment, we were entering the main street business section, and the neon sign of a cafe shone redly ahead in the bright noon day. The street was pretty solidly lined with parked cars. But I noticed at once the parking meters. A car length distant from one another, the meters were sturdy small poles, four feet tall, on the top of each of which was a meter, the shape of a piece of pie. In red, the word “Violation” showed on the meter until, on your parking your car opposite a vacancy, you put a nickel in the slot, turned the knot and the word “Violation” disappeared. And you had one hour to park for your nickel.

Not far from the cafe, on the opposite side, Jim found a vacant space and whipped into it. I put the nickel in the meter and turned the knob.

“You didn’t need to put a whole nickel in,” admonished Jim. “You can put one cent in, and that’s good for 10 minutes. We’ll only be 10 minutes.”

“I’ll gladly pay a nickel,” I assured him, heading across the street, “for this five minutes!”

We dashed into the cafe. We found two seats at the front counter, and by a special way of smiling at the waitress, we caught her eye and gave our quick orders, a ham sandwich and a glass of milk each. She hustled away.

“Those parking meters,” said Jim, relaxing, “are great idea. They have revolutionized the whole parking problem in these small towns. In the old days nothing could deter the local merchants from parking their own cars in front of their shops. Then, all the kids used to park half the day. And farmers from out of town come in for one of those rambly, easy-going, long, chatty shopping trips; and park all day: smack in the busiest part of the street.”

“They’re a good idea, all right,” I agreed, glancing back in the cafe to see if the waitress was in sight with our sandwiches. We could hear sounds of laughter and gay conversation from behind the kitchen partition.

“There’s quite a racket to them, too,” said Jim. “When you see two or three vacant spots, get out and glance at the meters. Some of them have still half an hour to go. Somebody else put in a nickel and only parked half the hour. So you pop in there for free!”

“Heh, heh!” I said. “What some people will do for half a nickel.”

“You don’t get rich any other way,” assured Jim. “Look out for the nickels and the dollars will look after themselves.”

“Unless,” I suggested, glancing up at the cafe wall clock, “you buy Krieghoffs at five bucks and sell them for 2,000!”

The clock said 1:12.

Our waitress came swishing from the kitchen, but with no sandwiches.

“Look,” I called, “we’re in a terrific hurry…”

“We just run out of ham,” explained the waitress soothingly. “One of the girls has just popped across to the store for some.”

“But, look, what else have you, ready!” I cried. “We’re late for a very important…”

“Now, now, the ham’ll be here in a minute,” scolded the waitress prettily.

It was exactly 1:17 when the sandwiches and the milk were slid before us.

It was 1:21 when we faced the cashier. It was 1:22 when we bounded across the road to our car and found a parking ticket summons fastened to our windshield wiper.

“What’s this?” exclaimed Jim, examining it.

“For violation of the parking limits,” I read aloud. We looked at the meter. In red, the word “VIOLATION” stared at us.

“But look here,” expostulated Jim. “We haven’t been 15 minutes…”

“Come on, come on,” I snorted, opening the ear door. “Argue about it later, but let’s get cracking.”

“Now, hold your horses,” backed Jim. “We’ve got to look into this. How do we pay it? How much are they going to soak us in this gyptown?”

A passerby, in best small town spirit, overheard our heated discussion and came to Jim’s aid. “Something wrong?” he asked.

“We put a nickel in this meter, not 20 minutes ago…” began Jim.

“Is this the meter you parked in front of?” asked the townsman. “Sometimes the local smarties, when they want to park, just push a car a little way ahead and so occupy a paid-for space…”

He nimbled back one car and looked at the meter.

This one,” he smiled, “has 40 minutes still to go.”

“You mean the guy who owns that car,” I gritted, “just shoved us forward and took our space?”

“And then the town cop,” explained the local, “comes along and sees you parked in front of a violation meter.”

“What’s this ticket going to cost me?” demanded Jim.

“A dollar, I think,” consoled the townsman.

“Where’s the cop?” shouted Jim indignantly.

I was starting to perspire all over.

“Jim!” I commanded sternly.

But Jimmie was off down the street to the corner, where he could see the town constable in conversation in the shade.

It was 1:30 when Jim returned to the car with the policeman. He was a very genial policeman.

“I know the man who owns this car behind you,” he said, “and he’s a very honorable man. He wouldn’t do a trick like that.”

“Is his wife honorable? Are his kids honorable?” countered Jim. “How do you know who’s driving the car?”

“I don’t think anybody would do a trick like that,” said the cop. “Not in this town. What I think is more likely, you gents were a little longer at your lunch than you imagine.”

“We were not!” I declared hotly. “We are both witnesses to the fact that shortly after one o’clock, we deposited a nickel in this parking meter…”

“In A parking meter,” corrected the constable.

“Jim,” I hissed. “Krieghoff! Krieghoff!”

“If you want to be rude,” said the cop, “you can come up to the town clerk right now.”

“Can we pay you?” said Jim reaching to his pocket.

“I don’t accept fines,” said the policeman stiffly. “Go up that side street half a block, and you’ll see the municipal offices. Go in there…”

“Can’t we mail it?” I wailed.

“Yes, you can mail $1 with the ticket. It says so, if you’ll read it,” snorted the constable.

“I HATE being taken for a sucker!” said Jim, sliding in to his seat beside me. “I’m going to run around and fight this out with the town clerk or the JP.”

“Not now, Jim,” I pleaded. “On our way back.”

“This town will be closed up by the time we pass down,” said Jim firmly.

And despite my sighs, groans and muttered curses, Jim drove around to the side street, spent five minutes finding a parking spot on this non-metered street: only the main street is metered. And it was 1:40 when he left me to go into the municipal offices to fight the good fight for human rights and justice.

It was 2:10 when Jim came out, red and exhausted, to find me white and exhausted, glaring in the car.

Jim had lost. The clerk had said that Jim should have put his brakes on and locked the car, if he didn’t want to be shoved ahead from his paid meter.

“What kind of a world is this?” begged Jimmie.

“Anything for a nickel,” I muttered.

Which reminded me of the Krieghoffs.

We arrived at the Masterton farm at 3:15. The auctioneers were still out in the barnyard, working on the implements and barn fixtures.

Out on the lawn were piled all the domestic treasures of the Mastertons of three generations. Chairs, sideboards, tables, mattresses, beds, chinaware. Ladies of the county were circulating amidst the piles, appraising. There were about 15 pictures, including oval framed enlargements of gentlemen in sidewhiskers and ladies with set jaws. There was a steel engraving of “The Stag At Bay.” But there were none that even remotely resembled Kreighoffs.

I asked a knowing-looking lady if there were any Mastertons in the crowd. She took me over to an aged gentleman who was a brother of the late owner of the farm.

“Yep,” he said, “there was a bunch of oil paintings once. Stacked up in the attic they was. Pretty dim little things, about so big. Dim, and dark. Not much to look at. Dirty, I guess they was.”

He held his hands out to show how big they were. Exactly Krieghoff size.

“What happened to them?” I said hoarsely.

“A feller selling patent medicines came by here, Oh, maybe 15 years back,” said the old-timer, “and my brother traded him all them pictures – there must have been a dozen of ’em in the garret – for two large bottles of sciatica liniment.”

“The pictures,” I swallowed, “for liniment.”

“Yeah, ye see,” said the old timer, “when you get sciatica, you ain’t much interested in art.”

“Somebody,” said Jim, as we headed for the car, “is always getting gypped.”


Editor’s Notes: Cornelius Krieghoff is best known for his paintings of Canadian¬†landscapes¬†and outdoor life.

“Up in the garret” is slang for “up in the attic”.

Alberto Vargas and George Petty were well known in the 1940s for their pin-up art, often available in calendars.

The parking meter was invented in 1935, but must have been not well known enough in 1948 requiring Greg to explain what they were and how they worked.

5 cents in 1948 would be 68 cents in 2023. $2000 would be $27,250.

Sciatica is pain going down the leg from the lower back.