Paper Boys

This Missourian paperboy is in our driveway on Kingsway Drive, but I’m not sure who he is. He doesn’t look big enough to be my neighbor, Eddie Ailor. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

They were ALL paperboys back in those days. In fact, I remember seeing a condescending story in the newspaper trade magazine, Editor & Publisher,” about a GIRL who actually carried papers in some town or another. “With her interest in newspapers,” the story said,”she could grow up to be secretary to the publisher some day.” Even in the 1960s, I knew that was the wrong thing to say.

The sad thing is that there are very few “independent contractors” of a young age throwing papers these days. The switch to morning papers means that deliveries are made early, early in the morning, instead of in the afternoon when kids are out of school for the day. Paranoid parents wouldn’t want their kids out on the street after dark and knocking on the doors of strangers.

And, let’s face it, my first paper route paid me $2.50 a week as a sub working for another kid. That was for delivering six days a week and collecting for the paper on Saturday morning. Things got better when I got my own route – I made about 24 bucks a week – about half as much a week as a paperboy as I did as a Missourian reporter, but I had to have a couple of kids working for me and I still had to be out in all kinds of weather. That’s a lot of work for not much money.

Better than flipping burgers

These guys are at the gas station where we picked up our paper. I think it was a Gulf station on Kingshighway south of the Food Giant. Names come to mind, but I’ll let you tell me who they are.

I remember those canvas bags well: when I got my route at age 12, I had to carry my bag crossed across my chest like the boy on the left to keep it from dragging the ground. The piece dangling down by his leg was designed to fold over the papers on the inside of the bag to keep them dry when it was raining. On good days, you’d put one or two unfolded papers in the back of the bag, then put the rain cover over the top of them. That would give some shape to the bag and made it easier to carry.

I can’t think of any job today that a 12-year-old kid could do that would teach him (or her) that much about business. Dad made me keep a complete set of books tracking all of revenue and expenses, customer by customer. I would have been happy to count the number of receipts in my ticket book when I started collecting, count the number left when I finished and multiply the difference by 30, 35 or 40 cents to figure out how much of the money in my pocket was collection money and how much was tips. That wasn’t good enough for him.

You learned the responsibility of being on the job six days a week (or finding a kid to sub for you); when I got my own route, I learned how to sell the paper (growing my route from 90 customers to 300), and I learned how to recruit, hire and fire the kids working for me. Labor relations became very personal and important: you couldn’t mistreat your workers or they’d start thinking about how little they were being paid and quit.

The hills got steeper

You can say what you want to about erosion, but I found that the hills had gotten steeper over the 50 years between when I was riding up them on my single-speed Schwinn and when I tried it on my modern touring bike with low, low gears. It’s hard to believe that I rode up those gravel roads carrying a bag of papers that weighed about half as much as I did.

13 Replies to “Paper Boys”

  1. My sister tried delivering papers for a short time. Mom and I helped her give the papers the ‘Fold’ that made them stay together while being thrown. I don’t remember why she quit but it was fine with me. I didn’t get anything for helping other than that ‘Warm Fuzzy Feeling’ you’re supposed to get. The Post Dispatch boy had a cart with steel wheels that you could hear rumbling down our gravel street long before you could hear him yelling “Paper!”

  2. You were our paper boy on LeRoy! I thought you were so cute! Lila and I had Spanish class together and were friends in high school…she was a year younger. I always liked her sense of humor! I love to read your articles and the reponses!

  3. To this day when I am in a restaurant that wraps the silverware and napkin, I take the paper off and do the “fold”. It has been an “icebreaker” and caused some interesting conversation. Sometimes the people I am with want to learn the “fold”. As of yet, I haven’t found anyone when I folded the little paper in front of them, tell me “Oh you were a small town newspaperboy”.

    You could sail the paper right up on the porch! It seemed like the paper bag was about as big as we were. It seemed that almost everyone I knew delivered papers at one time or the other.

  4. Might be Eddie Ailor. I only remember him from high school, however. Nice guy. I believe he went on to be a doctor, but much later published a book of photographs. Small world.

  5. Ken,
    I was a sub for Wesley Welch, and we had the downtown delivery route. I forget, 80 or 90 papers. I believe the paper cost was 30 cents a week. It was sometimes very hard to collect. I could hear the radio playing in a house, but they wouldn’t answer the door. We had a receipt book and when someone paid, we would tear off the ticket, a little larger than a stamp, and gave give to them. At one time, I worked for Stroms News. Stromie, as we called him, would have me to take a cart of Globe-Democrat or Post Dispatch papers and walk down Broadway yelling ” Get your Post and Globe”. On Monday, I would go to Strom’s and clip the papers we didn’t sell. It was mainly the date on the front page we would clip, and the paper companies would give him credit for the ones we didn’t sell. I thought I would pass this on.

    1. I had a few folks who were slow to pay, but I got around that by setting my route up to pay a week ahead. I don’t know how The Missourian would have felt about that had they known, but when I signed up a new customer, I had them pay for two weeks up front, then kept billing them weekly.

      If they tried to dodge me, I’d show up at odd hours until they got tired of hiding. If someone was slow, I’d give them a couple of weeks grace, but then I’d cut them off.

      I loved PIA (Paid in Advance) customers. They’d pay the paper, then the circulation department would send us a receipt page with no coupons marked PIA. They’d give us credit on our weekly paper bill for it and we wouldn’t have to knock on the door.

  6. WOW! Talk about triggering memories! I worked as a sub over in the Rodney Vista area for one of my neighbor friends who was the regular. I had forgotten about the FOLD, but as soon as reading Dick’s post, I grabbed an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper and immediately folded it into the tri-fold that made those puppies sail from the street all the way up to the door! It took a little practice but once one developed the swing, one could nail the porch every time while rolling no-handed on the bike out in the street.

  7. great article and pictures and I still catch myself folding throw away paper. I delivered papers on north street and up around washington school for a couple of years and would send my little brother charles james dressed in his little cowboy outfit up to collect and they would pay him when I could not get them to come to the door

  8. I used rubber bands to fold the papers…My paper route started at Masters Drive and included Timberlane, Allendale, Cape Rock Drive and Brookwood. I remember struggling up the Tlapeks yard in a solid sheet of ice. After getting to the top, the girl (I can’t remember her name), said “why don’t you just walk up”? I liked the PIAs as well, but the most fond memories were the annual party. I remember your brother coming over to my house and telling Bruce that the Missourian workers were on strike, so they went down and helped out. The Wednesday papers were the heaviest until the Sunday morning paper came along.

    1. Dad brought me some real fine wire that I used to wrap around the papers before rubber bands became common.

      I’m going to have to shoot a video of the way we folded papers. The way you did it depended on the size of the paper: up to about 12 pages, you would folk it across the short dimension of the paper. If you got to 14 or above, you had to do it the long way because you couldn’t bend the paper without tearing it.

      A Saturday 10-pager was almost as bad as a Wednesday 36-pager. Both were prone to coming apart in the air, spreading pages to the wind like a covey of quail. A 12-pager was just about perfect for me.

      If you didn’t like a customer, you’d “burn in” the paper by giving it a long, skidding spin down the driveway. It would tear up the front page (and some of the underlying pages, if you were good) enough to be annoying, but not so much they’d call in a complaint.

      I wonder who came up with that fold? I worked at some papers that used an alternate, much less efficient fold that didn’t hold together nearly as well.

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