More Missourian Memorabilia

Post delivery problemsThis email came from The Palm Beach Post this afternoon. That’s the place I worked for 35 years and the paper I still subscribe to (although I’m beginning to wonder why).

The Post was letting me know they were sorry that I might be experiencing intermittent delays across their digital products and website. They were working on fixing it, I was assured.

REAL carriers could fix their problem

Missourian collection bookNot long after getting that email, I ran across my old Missourian collection book. That gave me a quick fix to The Post’s digital delivery problems: hire a bunch of 12-year-old kids with memory sticks to go door-to-door updating “breaking news” reports, just like we used to pitch papers in puddles in the Old Days.

This was one of the earlier, and best collection books. It was made of a canvas-covered Masonite material with a heavy spring that clamped the top and bottom of the book over the sheets of yellow receipts you’d tear out and hand your customer. A later version was green and made of far lighter materials. It didn’t hold the receipts securely and would fall apart in a short period of time.

The cover has a number on it. I’m pretty sure my route number was 31 or 31A, so I’m going to guess that’s a 31, even if the number doesn’t look like it is complete.

Newspaper Boys of America, Inc.

Missourian collection book 2Inside the book is a notation that “This is a special Binder No. 9807 (?). Newspaper Boys of America, Inc. Indianapolis, Indiana.”

Dad must have filled in the ID info: it’s pretty much faded away, but I recognize his distinctive handwriting (meaning that you could read it, as opposed to my pitiful scrawl) and his use of green ink.

A quick Google search indicates that the Newspaper Boys of America, Inc, is as gone as paperboys are today. One of the few references I could find was for an N.B.A. Handbook for Newspaper Boys (second edition published in 1932) that was going for $175 in “near fine” condition. I didn’t have one of those, and if I had, my destructive younger brothers would have trashed it like they did my comic books.

I ran a photo of my carrier bag a few days back. The next trick will be to do a video showing the unique way we folded newspapers in the days before rubber bands and rolling.


My Missourian Carrier Bag

Southeast Missourian carrier bag 03-01-2014_2087I was shuffling boxes in my storage shed behind the house to make room for stuff that was overflowing my office when I opened a box that contained some stuff I could throw away without hesitation. Wadded up in the bottom of the box, though, was what might have been my first Southeast Missourian carrier bag.

I’ve been wracking my brain to remember the guy who hired me as a substitute carrier for the whopping pay of $2.50 a week for six days of delivery and collecting on Saturday morning. I think his name was Bob, and I was impressed at how together he seemed to be. He didn’t spend a lot of time teaching me the route: we walked it one time on one afternoon, then he handed me the collection book and said, “Don’t miss anybody.”

So short the bag dragged the ground

At 12 years old, I was so short I had to carry the bag cross my chest like a bandolier to keep it from dragging the ground. That might be why the bottom has a big hole in it. The bags had a long piece in the back that would fold forward to TRY to keep the papers from getting wet if it was raining. You can see it hanging down behind the bag.

Bob passed the route on to Jerry Collins. Houses were starting to pop up all over the place, so eventually the route was split and I got one of my own. I started out with about 90 customers and grew the route to around 300, which meant I needed to find two subs of my own. After paying them and buying the papers from The Missourian, I was making about $24 a week, half of what I made as a Missourian reporter.

I’m sorry that kids today don’t have the opportunity to carry papers like I did. I learned responsibility, how to keep books, customer relation skills and salesmanship. That’s a lot for a kid who hadn’t hit his teens yet.

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.