Memories flooded in last Thursday as I looked at the photograph in the Wilmington News Journal entitled, “Throwback Thursday: Wilmington’s newsies.”
If you missed it, it was a picture from 1920 of 13 route carriers — boys with their bicycles and well-worn shoes and shoulder bags emblazoned with the words “News Journal.”
Many of the names of these young men were easily recognizable. I believe one of them may have been my father-in-law’s cousin. The name and age appear to be about right. If that is the case, we would have been related in a distant, round-about way, through marriage and in-laws.
I like the thought that we might be related, because about 42 years later, I became a newsie.
It was my first job; the first time I worked for a company that paid me for doing a specific task. At that time, Dayton had two newspapers – the Dayton Daily News and the Dayton Journal-Herald. The Daily News was the afternoon paper. The Journal-Herald was the early morning paper. I worked for the Dayton Journal-Herald.
Like clockwork every morning at 4:30 a.m. a large white truck would back onto our driveway at 95 South Maple Street in Germantown. A couple of large bundles of newspapers would be off-loaded just in front of the garage door. I was always up early, sipping a glass of milk, waiting for my bundles to hit the ground.
This was before the time of plastic straps. I had to use wire-cutters to break into the bundles. Then, I would sort them into even stacks of 55 each and load them into the canvas saddlebags that sat over the back wheel of my bicycle.
With my saddlebags balanced and 110 customers waiting, I would ride off into the darkness to start my morning deliveries. It was a large route that covered the western side of Germantown.
Today, most newspapers are delivered by car. The papers are rolled up, rubber-banded and tossed onto the driveway. That works just fine, but in the early 1960s, I would hop off my bike and slide the paper into the screen door or wherever the customer wanted their paper delivered.
Every Saturday was collection day. My customers knew I would be stopping. Many of them would have their money in an envelope behind a flower-pot, under the welcome mat or inside the screen door.
However, there were some who preferred to make their weekly payment by hand-to-hand exchange. I really liked that. It gave me a chance to chat with my customers, get to know them and make sure they were receiving the service they wanted.
Most of my hand-to-hand customers would usually say, “Keep the change.” I really liked that.
On mornings when it snowed and school was closed, the snow usually kept me from riding my bike. On those mornings, I would load my papers and sling the saddlebag over my shoulder.
Honestly, I really enjoyed those mornings. It would take four times longer to run my route, but walking in the dark, as the snow swirled around street lamps, was fascinating and fun. The exercise kept me warm and there were always a few customers who would greet me at their door with a welcome cup of hot chocolate.
Sunrise would welcome me home. Mom would have a nice, warm breakfast ready for me.
Delivering papers was a great job and provided me with my own spending money. I loved it. Within a year of getting my route, I went from 80 customers to 110 customers. The corporation awarded me their “Golden J” award for excellence in the delivery of newspapers.
My customers liked me, so did the Dayton Journal-Herald. I was proud of that. I guess I still am.
But, like any job, there were always a few things that were disappointing or just downright scary.
In those days, over 50 years ago, the paperboy had to pay for all of his papers, regardless of whether he collected from his customers or not. I quickly learned how to deal with those few customers who got weeks and weeks behind in their payments. Eventually, they paid what they owed or their delivery stopped; plus, they had me knocking on their door every day of the week. Either they paid, or I annoyed them incessantly. They usually paid.
But the scary part of being an early morning newsie, was having to deliver papers to the biggest haunted house in Germantown.
It was the Rohrer Mansion, built in 1865 by Robert Rohrer, a wealthy whiskey baron. Originally, the beautiful, brick home had three stories, 15 rooms and a large central stairway.
A hundred years later, the mansion was chopped into numerous small apartments. A few of my customers lived near the top of that winding, twisting stairway.
In the dark of the morning, my young mind would conjure up haunts, spirits and ghosts that lived in the dark recesses of that old mansion.
Several mornings, I can remember running from the door of the Rohrer Mansion with my heart beating madly as I gasped for air after escaping the clutches of a ghost or a goblin. OK. That might sound like an exaggeration, but to a 13-year-old boy it was as real as my bicycle seat.
I am proud to have been a newspaper boy. I still respect what they do and the dedication they have to delivering my paper despite the rain, sleet and snow.
Be nice to your newsie. They may not collect payment weekly, but when you get the chance, give they a nice tip. They certainly work hard and deserve it.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.