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OMAHA, Neb. (CAP) - His gait was slow as he shuffled down the walkway back to his '92 Buick Skylark following his final sale. But for Scott "Willie" Lohman, there was no reason to hang his head, no reason for a heavy heart.
America's last door-to-door encyclopedia salesman had had a good run.
"Yeah, it's been quite a run alright - almost 40 years, in fact. A little rough in the beginning, but if I had it to do all over again, I'd do it in a heartbeat," Willie said of his start selling vacuums in the late '60s. But he knew he had a higher calling, and he hooked up with Encyclopedia Britannica in 1973.
"I always knew I was great at selling. You know, door to door seemed to be the way to go back then," Willie said, a longing for yesteryear apparent in his voice. "It was either encyclopedias or plastics. I still feel I made the right move."
The Encyclopedia Britannica was all the rage throughout the '70s and '80s - an easily accessible, 26-volume set covering a wide array of topics from Aardvark to Zygote and everything in between. And for a few dollars more, handy stickers that would alert the reader to follow-up information found in other four-pound volumes such as M, or Sa-St.
"Ahh, Sa-St - definitely, definitely my favorite book," said Willie. "I loved the challenge of trying to figure out if the entry for something like Johann Strauss would be in that volume, or pushed to the next one. It changed with every printing."
As the '80s wound their way into the '90s, encyclopedia sales seemed to hit a peak, and then came the crash. By 1995, half of all encyclopedia salesmen had been laid off. Sales continued to dwindle, and nobody really knew why.
By 2004, only Willie was left. His territory - North America. He's hung on since early last year, looking for that one final sale before hanging up the briefcase. And he found it this week at a church in Appalachia that believes electricity is the Devil's farts.
But at age 63, Willie still feels he has some good years left in him.
"I'd really like to keep selling. It's in my blood," said Willie. "I'm thinking of giving the newspaper industry a shot. Hopefully they'll give an old coot like me a chance."
No doubt they should, Willie. No doubt they should.
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