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Swedish Soap


In 1892 The Daily Argus’ “Fargo Town Talk” section covered small news stories generated from the local rumor mill. Business news, visitors to town, and jokes added light entertainment to the paper. One news-clip featured a tale told by the traveling salesman C.E. Runy.

Runy, like many traveling salesmen of the time, stayed at the Columbia Hotel in downtown Fargo. There in the lobby fellow travelers would congregate and socialize. Runy performed what could be understood as an 1892 comedy sketch, telling a tale about two Swedish train-hoppers and a bar of soap.

According to Runy, on this day in 1892 he boarded a Northern Pacific freight train from Hancock to Breckenridge, Minnesota. Also on board were 40-some transients illegally riding in the boxcars free of charge. The Northern Pacific brakemen expected to get some compensation for their surplus cargo and Runy volunteered to help them do so.

In the last car inspected Runy and the brakemen discovered two Swedish immigrants hiding behind some cases of lime. They asked the men to pay their fair or get off the train. The response was memorable to Runy, who thought “the Swedes handled the American language in the most humorous manner.” Runy’s colorful attempt to recapture their accents was printed in the Argus’ article, stating “vwe got no muny; vwe baane oom frum Nort Dacote und vork purty hard and gats no muny”

The brakemen were not satisfied with this explanation and insisted that they pay for their ride. Upon greater questioning Runy noticed that the two men were carrying a bar of soap. Thinking he could at least get some form of compensation he asked the men for the soap. They refused, stating the soap was very important and they would need it when they reached Minneapolis, where they planned to look for jobs. Confused at the profuse importance of one bar of soap Runy persisted. He asked for at least half of the bar of soap, breaking it in two. Surprised, Runy found a $20 gold piece. Upon greater inspection a total of $200 was found stored in that single bar of soap.

Runy concluded his story saying that from that day forward the two Swedes vowed to sever any future connection with soap. Whether or not it is to be believed, soap was a novel way to secure one’s funds before traveler’s checks.


The Argus Leader, August 22, 1892