Rob Pettersen runs that shop and a music store just down the street, but he also spends a lot of time on the road selling postcards, greeting cards, CDs, and vinyl records to stores from Los Angeles to Seattle.

Ron McCloud, the owner of Dunsmuir Hardware, is a cheerful purveyor of pots and pans and nuts and bolts, ready with a quip or a joke when he’s handing over merchandise to a customer. But he gets a little wistful and downright solemn when he talks about one subject: how the internet has replaced the traveling salesman.

Gone are the guys who came in with cutlery, tools, and lightbulbs, all of which he now orders online. Gone also are the jokes they’d tell to break the ice and boost sales. The sporting goods and key salesmen were especially good joke tellers, McCloud remembers.

Now McCloud taps out his orders on the computer, “and the computer doesn’t tell jokes when you’re ordering paint,” he noted.

“Those traveling sales reps, they were almost like an extension of your family,” said John Kennedy, owner of Sportsmen’s Den in Mount Shasta. “They’d come in and ask if my son was still playing baseball, if I was still coaching football. With ordering on the computer we’ve lost that personal touch.”

It just so happens, though, that right next door to McCloud’s hardware store, in a shop chock full of antiques, books, and colorful postcards, presides one of the last of the West Coast’s traveling salesmen.

Rob Pettersen runs that shop and a music store just down the street, but he also spends a lot of time on the road selling postcards, greeting cards, CDs, and vinyl records to stores from Los Angeles to Seattle.

He’s portly, gregarious, and a born salesman. As a kid growing up in Germany (his father, an employee with the U.S. Department of Defense, was working out of Heidelberg) he sold gummy bears to the kids on the school bus, and, later, vinyl rock records to his teenage friends. As soon as he could get a driver’s license, he was transporting whiskey and cigarettes from an Army commissary to sell across the border in France.

When he came over to the United States and settled in LA in 1981, he began importing thousands of CDs from Europe and sold them to stores all over the country.

Pettersen grew to love the traveling life, sometimes staying on the road for six months at a time. With his engaging personality and colorful stories about life on the road, he made friends with the owners of mom-and-pop retail outlets all over the U.S.

“After awhile I had friends in every city, folks who’d help me when I was down, who’d loan me the cash I needed when I was out of gas, or whom I’d help when they were short on cash –never an invoice, never a late fee. I’d take post-dated checks, or just say ‘pay me when you can.’”

One of Pettersen’s road trip buddies is Terry Currier, the owner of Music Millennium in Portland, Oregon. He’s been in the music business there for nearly 50 years.

“Over the years we’ve only had two guys selling music out of their cars,” Currier said. “The other guy gave up a long time ago. Rob’s an adventurer. If this were the 1800s he’d be doing it in a covered wagon.”

With all that time on the road, there was no room for marriage or children, or even a long-term live-in relationship, although he’d occasionally take a girlfriend with him on his road trips.

He was on one of his trips, on his way to Portland, when winter conditions forced him to stop for the night in a small town near Mt. Shasta. He’d never paid much attention to the big mountain before, but when he opened the curtain in his Dunsmuir motel and looked out his window he was awestruck.

His sister Kirsten had already bought some property in McCloud, and soon he too was looking for a place to live in the Mt. Shasta region.

He found it in the old high school in McCloud, settling down in the 2,000-square-foot former band room.

“The move saved my life,” he said. “I was a pretty heavy partier in LA.”

Sitting in his main street shop, which doubles as a coffee shop/social hub, he said, “I may not be able to have a family any more, but down here I'm finally finding what I'd call an extended family. I'm learning the importance of community after all those years on the road.”

But at 65 he’s hoping to retire this fall by selling his two main street businesses.

He’s not so sure he wants to retire from the road, though, from his role as “the last road dog.” He tried awhile back to switch to online selling to his mom-and-pop stores, but the proprietors wouldn’t go for it. They wanted him to keep coming through their doors, he said, telling his stories.

So he may make a few more trips, not so much for the money but to keep the tradition going.

Music store owner Currier is convinced he’ll be seeing Pettersen at least a few more times up in Portland. “It’s in his blood. He has a passion for the road, for the record stores, and for the music.”