The pre-dawn deliveries of my hometown newspaper these days really bear little resemblance to yesteryear. I thought about that recently when I lost one adult carrier, actually, driver, who wanted to spend more time with her kids, for yet another adult on wheels who turns into my driveway in an SUV most mornings before any rooster gets an inkling to crow, which is just perfect for this regular 5 a.m. riser.
Certainly, a nice upgrade with my current carrier is, instead of the old approach of heave it out an open window and see if the paper lands closer to the garage door than the street, the paper is always walked up and placed on the stoop right under the front door.
However, even with the improved landing zone of my news of the day, that still doesn’t quell the nostalgia I sometimes feel for the deliveries of bygone times, those times when newspapers came by way of boys done with school for the day or weekend.
So, in an effort to recall those courier days of yore, I went searching for someone who remembers what he used to do with 70 or 80 rubber bands before taking to the streets each weekday afternoon and weekend early morning.
Dan Dickman, as so often was the case, inherited his paper route from one older brother by way of yet another, and availed himself of an opportunity long before the child-labor laws allowed a boy to obtain a work permit to make $15 or $20 a week in exchange for some sweat equity, especially on sultry summer days.
Dickman, now a maintenance worker for Allen County, a position he also once held at St. Rose Parish, remembers both the appealing and the unappealing aspects of the job he held for six years, starting as a 10-year-old in 1969. He also remembers what made the job so different from today.
“Unlike today, when many people don’t even take the paper, back then, before there were so many other ways to get the news, almost everybody subscribed to the paper. It really was the first opportunity to see what was happening, especially the local news.”
And, for Dickman and so many other carriers, including childhood pals like Tim Trenkamp, Randy Bowers and Danny Huenke, the job provided the first exposure to the responsibilities that are intertwined with labor as well as the problems that sometimes lie therein.
Recalls Dickman, “Listen, that paper never took a day off, so I couldn’t either. While a lot of my classmates were headed out to play after school, I was heading home to rubber-band those 80 or so papers and start delivering.
“The weekday papers were lighter, so I could ride my bike unless it was too cold or snowy. Saturdays also were lighter papers, but Sunday editions were a different story! They were just too heavy for me to use my bike, so I walked the route.”
Dickman’s weekend days started early. While a lot of his classmates were sleeping in, he was up before six wrapping those papers and heading out. However, with those Saturday duties, there came some fond recollections for Dickman.
“Saturdays after my route, I’d head up to the old newspaper office on High Street to pay my bill and see what was left for my salary. I’d meet up with Tim, Randy and Danny, and we’d go over to Kresge’s for lunch at the counter and then go to Repp’s and Kerr’s to see what was new in the sporting-goods world. My, what pleasant memories.”
As for collecting, recalls Dickman, “I think everybody remembers those little perforated receipt squares in the 1960s and ’70s. Even though it was only 65 cents a week for the paper, we always had to deal with some deadbeats who didn’t want to pay on time.
“I mean I’d go collect and see someone through the window run to the back of the house and not answer the door. Some of them must have thought I was pretty stupid. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know what car they drove, and I’d walk right past that Chevy to get to the front porch!”
Dickman also recalls that canvas double pouch that, when fully loaded, made him feel more pack mule than human.
“Oh, yes, I could never forget that thing, a pouch in the front and in the back and a hole for your head. If it started raining, boy would that thing start to smell! As for the weight, once I had around 40 papers on each side, I was pretty well balanced, but, boy, even at that age, was that ever hard on my back, especially those Sunday editions!”
Despite the deadbeats and the predawn weekends and the those days when it seemed as if there were bricks in that smelly canvas pouch rather than papers, Dickman told me that he wouldn’t trade his memories for anything.
His job was a sign of youthful times and also one of a bygone era in the newspaper business, a time when there were boys wearing Kedds and, if the weather would permit, hopping on Schwinns delivering the news that now comes via adults who drive Toyotas.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.