Friday, October 05, 2012

Guest Blog from Ray: Memories of Being a Paperboy

Our good buddy Ray Beimel in Pennsylvania wrote about being a paperboy for the St. Marys Daily Press in his youth. I hope that you enjoy it.

Delivering the Daily Press
In 1962 I got a paper delivery route. It was Route 13 of the Daily Press, the local newspaper. I had about 135 customers on the route that served George, West Oilwell, Benedict, Charles, Church above Benedict, Walburga, and School Streets. When school was in session I would walk home from St. Marys Parochial School, change clothes, and then walk down to the Daily Press building on Brussells Street. Papers were stacked on tables and the route number written on the top one. We carried the papers in a canvas bag that we got from the Press, a new one every 18 months. There was a trick to getting a stack into the bag that involved unclipping the flap, folding it back, setting the papers on top, and then pulling the flap over and out. Most days the Daily Press had 8 pages, as this was the capacity of the big letterpress style printing press. More about that machine later.

Most of the paper carriers showed up about the same time and like any group of boys, the bigger ones were a group apart from the younger. We tried to get in and out without getting any attention from any of the big guys. It was a long walk from the Press building to the first house on the route. Often enough I would stop at Widdie’s for an ice cream bar. I started at the bottom of George Street and worked my way up using the same pattern every day. It was necessary to cross the street several times and there was a side trip on West Oilwell Street. Benedict Street was the same way. But once at Charles Street, I went down one side and up the other. Back up on Benedict there was more street crossing and the same continued up Church Street. From Walburga on up, it was one side of the street at a time. The farthest point on the route was just shy of St. Marys Catholic Cemetery. I came back down Church to Walburga, went along that short street to upper Charles on the west side, and back down the east side. Thus Mrs. Opel, my great great aunt was the last customer. She did not like that. But somebody has to be the last one.

It was an interesting route through one of the older parts of town. There were lots of old German names. But it also included one of the few Jewish families, the richest man in the county, the owners of the Pepsi bottling plant, an eccentric “mad scientist” from Germany, at least 10 relatives from either Mom or Dad’s side, the legendary “Bulleye” Lenze, and a half dozen really cute girls I was way too shy to talk to.

Every house had its own place to put the paper. Most were between the screen door and the main door. But others had me put it on the rack below the mailbox, or in the mailbox. Dogs were a problem because there was only one on my route that liked paperboys. Leo Schneider’s big old collie would fetch the paper. He was cool. Ted Brunner’s Chihuahua would try to bite my ankles if he was on the porch. Annie Werner’s big German Shepherd tested the strength of her door every day. One day I opened her screen door to put the paper in and I realized that the inner door was open. The dog saw me and charged. I slammed the screen door and leaned against it, holding it shut in case the latch gave way. LeGrys’ little dog Clyde really hated the paperboy and would attack on sight. I left their paper at the next door neighbor’s house. The worst was Wittman’s German Shepherd named Herman. I left a big stick under the shrubs at Harvey’s and picked it up before approaching Wittman’s. I only needed it once but I was glad I had it. It was winter, the snow was deep, and for some reason I was trudging through the snow in the yard instead of taking the sidewalk. Herman was at the far end of his chain when he saw me. He ran and when he got to the end of the chain, his rotted leather collar snapped. He charged toward me. I whipped out the stick and fended off his attacks. My defense was aided by the deep snow which slowed him down a bit. Mrs. Wittman came to the door and yelled at me to not hit him. That admonition only got Herman a few more blows to the head. Somehow, someone got him restrained and I continued on my way. I was told later that Herman had bit 6 kids before they put him down. When I came down the other side of the street, I made sure I put my stick back into its hiding place. I never needed that again but it was good to know it was there.

Paperboys did their own collecting in those days. Some customers paid weekly, some bi-weekly, some monthly, and a few yearly. It was 42¢ a week. Many of the older customers paid that way. Old widows would leave a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and two pennies and their punch card on the steps or inside the door. They never missed and they never tipped. The ones that paid in person would give me two quarters and wait for me to hand back a nickel and three pennies. The more generous weekly payers gave me an 8¢ tip by saying “keep the change when they paid with two quarters. Depending on how many Fridays there were in a month, monthly paying customers gave me $1.68 or $2.10. These customers were more generous and most of them tipped. Each customer had a card to punch for their payment. Thus we had to carry a punch and a duplicate set of cards. Collection day really slowed down the process.

Saturday was the day we paid our reckoning at the Press office. Once you paid your bill, you could sign the paper that determined the order in which carriers got their papers. Thus it was desirable to get there early but the papers weren’t ready until later. The Daily Press at the time was an afternoon paper so it was nearly noon before you could start deliveries. Thus we had time to kill. Often we would stop at Rollick’s for a burger and fries. But that would not take up the whole morning. So there would be a bunch of boys hanging around waiting for their papers to be printed. There were the expected hazings, pranks, fights, and such. It was always a blessing when one of the older guys “retired” and we all moved up a bit in the hierarchy.

To get to the press room we walked past the offices in front into the composing room. It always smelled of paper, ink, and hot metal. There were 3 (I think) linotype machines and in summer we got there early enough to watch the operators at work. They typed the text on a keyboard and then by very intricate mechanisms, brass molds were lined up and then molten type metal was poured to make the lines of type, hence the name of the machines. They were fascinating to watch as they were dozens of moving parts, a pot of hot metal, a moving arm that returned the brass molds and lined them up for the next line. It was all cams and gears, not a bit of electronics. There was one that could read the punched paper tape that came from the Associated Press teletype.

On the other side of the room were the composing tables where the type was lined up and inserted into the big trays that went into the flatbed letterpress. The stereotypes for the ads and photos were put in their places. They were inked by hand with a roller and a proof was made that was checked for errors. If all was correct, a dumb waiter lowered them to the press room in the basement. After an issue was printed, the plates were returned to the composing room where type was removed and dumped into bins at the end of the table for melting again. Those of us who made lead soldiers would grab a handful every day. Type metal was a little different from lead, a little harder since it had antimony and tin in it. It was still mostly a poison though.
The press was a fascinating machine. It could print 8 pages at a time. At one end there was a big roll of paper four pages wide. After it passed over the type it was cut and folded and stacked. The papers were counted into piles for each route and set on tables. It was run by a large electric motor of the manual start variety. When it was time to start it up, Fatty Rebic the pressman, pulled a long lever toward him and the motor slowly wound up to operating speed. When it was running fast enough, he pushed the lever forward and the press would start turning out papers. By today’s standards it was very slow and it took a couple of hours to finish the press run.

Every once in a while, the paper would run out or would break. George Wegemer was the guy who was in charge and I remember him swearing at the breaks. After putting a new roll of paper it had to be fed slowly over a number of rollers before the press was ready to print again. We watched as Fatty jogged the press slowly while others fed the paper into all the right places. One day we were sitting there waiting and all of a sudden George yelled “Fatty, stop the press! Stop the press!” Once it was at rest, he jumped up onto the printing plates, ripped open the paper, loosened the key that held the type in place, and started tearing out a column, flinging the type every which way. Lee Gabler came down the steps carrying a new column and George put it in place. He climbed down and told Fatty to start it up again. I don’t remember what the breaking news was and I don’t remember what they did with the papers already printed. But I did get to see that in real life as in the movies, someone did yell “stop the press.”

The press was reminiscent of a steam engine as big rods run by two big flywheels provided the reciprocating motion to pull the paper over the type beds. It was fascinating to watch and I wish I had paid even more attention to it. Since the press was only capable of printing 8 pages at a time, the larger ad filled issue that came out on Thursdays had to be assembled by hand. All the employees that could be spared would be sticking the inserts in the day’s issue. These extra pages made the papers half again as big and that really strained the paper bag on Thursday. My route of 135 or so papers was one of the five biggest but it paled compared to Eddie Young’s route of 168 papers. His route started somewhere up on South Michael Street, so he had to hump the full bag up the hill before he could start lightening his load. We all hated Thursdays.
Of course, the paper came out 6 days a week, winter, spring, summer, and fall. No weather condition ever kept the paper from coming out and thus the paperboys showed up every day. Keeping the papers dry in a pouring rain was hard. Icy sidewalks, deep snow, bitter cold, dark of night, none of these deterred the paperboys. I know that sounds like the Post Office motto but it was true. In deepest winter, it was dark when I finished the route. In summer there were the distractions of kids playing wiffle ball, baseball, and other things. I would stop for those sometimes. And of course, being an avid reader, I would read the paper while I was walking. I was not a fast paperboy. I was reliable but slow. To alleviate this problem, my Dad came up with the idea of having my sisters do part of the route. Ginny and Sharon rotated which days they carried. We would meet on Mrs. Horvatin’s porch and split up the papers. The idea of a girl delivering papers was new in those days. The customers seemed to like the girls and I think they got bigger tips than I did.

One day in early September of 1963 the weather was particularly foul, rainy and windy. As I worked my way up George Street the wind got stronger and at every house the porch furniture was coming to greet me. The sky turned a strange looking yellowish gray and then the wind really picked up to the point where it was hard to walk. I didn’t know until later that a tornado had hit the northern part of town. Had I been walking faster and made it to the north end of the route near the cemetery, I would have seen the funnel cloud pass.
I can’t remember any of the linotype operators anymore. Lee Gabler and Tom Miller worked in the composing room. Fatty Rebic, George Wegemer, and Jim Anderson ran the press. Mary Gerg handled advertising, Babe Gerg collected our money. Jim Dippold and Jack O’Brien were the mysterious guys that never dealt with the paperboys. George seemed to be our boss and we were all pretty much afraid of him. We could watch the teletype machines clacking out the news, we could watch the linotypes in action, and we would be perched wherever we could in the press room and watched that machine running. On warmer days we would hang around outside, sometimes going down to the Elk Creek to get into mischief. One day a deer strayed into that part of town and we had “fun” chasing that around. Now I regret not exploring more because there was an old railroad siding there that led into the back end of the Jacob & Keller building which was Goetz Feed Store at that time.

On collection day there would be maybe a dozen and a half young boys walking around town carrying bags of cash with fifty or a hundred dollars in them and nobody thought this an odd thing at all. I can’t say it never happened but I never recall hearing about a paper boy getting mugged. We were totally unsupervised while roaming around the Press building or the neighborhood there on Brussells Street. We were given two extra papers each day and once in a while someone would stop me on the street and buy one. Often enough such a person would hand me a dime and expect three pennies back.

Years later I got to know Jim Dippold as I wrote a lot of press releases for United Way and articles for the Historical Society. Jim once told someone in my hearing that he liked my writing style and that I “could write for them anytime.” I was flattered by that but since he neglected the important part about the paycheck in return, I didn’t take that seriously.

Being a paperboy is very different today. The Press is a morning paper now. Not everyone gets home delivery like they did back then. The routes are smaller, often enough less than 70 papers. Of course, given all the advertising inserts in the paper today, a guy like Eddie Young would need a small truck to move 168 papers up South Michael Street. There is no collecting anymore. You get a bill from the Press once a quarter. Since I get home from work at 5, I only see a paper boy or girl delivering to the house once every 6 weeks or so. But it’s still winter spring summer and fall, rain or shine, walking the same route 6 days a week. But where we got 21% of the price of the paper, the carriers now get less so in effect we got paid more in the old days.

I did that for around 3 years. I learned a lot of things, including some insights into human nature that proved useful. I learned to be responsible with money, how to fit into a peer group, and when to beat a dog with a stick. I met a lot of interesting characters, got to see a lot of sleepy women in nightgowns when I collected on Saturday mornings. All these years later I can mentally walk the route and remember all the names and who paid how and where I was supposed to put the paper. I would call it a good experience. And I wish I had some video of that big press and those linotype machines.

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