By John Rheinberger, Guest Columnist
I enjoyed reading Jack Mohr’s column on being a Stillwater Gazette paperboy a half century ago (May 2, page 4). He rekindled many of my old thoughts, because was a Gazette paperboy during the same era.
My contact with the Stillwater Gazette started on a rainy Sunday morning in August 1960. That day I called Ned Easton, (the publisher/owner) at his home on Olive Street and told him that I was interested in getting a paper route. I had previously had a Minneapolis Star route with my brother Frankie in 1959. At that time I was 10 and he was 8. Gazette carriers had to be 12, so my intent was to get an early start by quickly getting on the “waiting list.”
These were choice paper routes. They seldom changed hands and often went for years with one delivery boy. The newspapers were delivered in the evening, Monday through Friday, with none on holidays. Delivery was simple. Every house took the paper with the exception of say only one or two houses within a block. The paper was small. It had six or eight pages except for the Christmas and New Year’s editions, which added another six to eight pages, all which were ads for the “season greetings” from various local merchants.
On Wednesday, April 12, 1961, at about 3:45 p.m. Phil Easton (Ned’s colorful son and a former Merchant Marine sailor) called me and said that a route had just opened and to come immediately to the Gazette Office. I lived at the corner of Olive and William, and immediately ran down the Myrtle Street hill to the Gazette (then located at the corner of Myrtle and Second Streets). Tom Johnson, who’d had the route for two and one half years, was giving it up. That evening he started to teach me the route. After two more days and a Saturday collection experience, the route was mine.
My route (Route 4) went up Myrtle Street from the old Gazette building to Sherburne Street. It went one block off on each side. It had about 93 papers, which was about average for the 20 routes or so that existed. It took an hour to deliver.
The job’s only fringe benefit was a free paper for my family if the Gazette’s hand counter, Frank Giossi, got the number correct as he counted them for each carrier. Frank was in his 80s and worked afternoons at the Gazette.
We collected once a week and had to pay our bill by the following Wednesday. The weekly cost to the customer was 25 cents. We paid 20 cents, and if we paid our bill on time received a 3 cent discount, which meant that we made 8 cents a week per customer for five days of delivery and a collection. This was a time when minimum wage was about $1.15 an hour. My weekly bill was $17- $18 a week. Phil was the best guy to pay your bill with since he usually undercounted all the change and bills from the collection, and you left with his mistake.
There were occasional tips. During the period I received maybe 15-20 cents in tips per week. The Stillwater American Legion was my best tipper, especially when Will “Catfoot” Carroll managed it. He often not only gave a tip but a couple of candy bars besides. Christmas tips were good. They amounted to between $25 and $35 a season.
The experience had some downside. Some people would skip (move or otherwise) without ever paying me. This meant that I ate the loss. Additionally, since the Gazette would not be delivered on holidays that fell during the workweek, a couple of people would only pay 20 cents, because they didn’t get the paper on, say Thursday, July 4. Again the loss was mine. Overall the losses were probably between $75 and $100 for my tenure.
Further, during this period winters were very cold. They were similar to this past winter. Dogs too were often a problem since they disliked the burlap paper sacks we used. However, if people didn’t tie up their dogs, we simply quit delivering the paper which at that time scared them into compliance since it was about the only news source they had. Occasionally, we would have to replace our paper bags, which cost us “out of pocket” $3 from the Gazette.
The route had its upside. It allowed me to have an hour of free time each day were I could embellish in free thought. Falls and springs were enjoyable. The route gave me a license to meet many people whom I might not otherwise have known. It included contact with three centenarians, which was an unthinkable age at the time.
Being 12, the route was a life-changer. It taught me how to save money. I learned how to invest in the stock market, which has carried me on for life.
I had my route for six and half years. I got it at the end of sixth grade and gave it up two days before I left for college Sept. 8, 1967.
During that time I passed almost 150,000 newspapers. I still see some of my old customers and say hello. Even though a half century has passed, I occasionally have a nightmare about my Gazette days, which usually relates to failing to deliver the papers that day or missing the house of a customer.
John Rheinberger is a Stillwater resident.