Monday, June 26, 2006
Consider This for June 26, 2006--Delivering Newspapers
My sister Janet in Iowa sent me an e-mail this past week about how the newspaper in Fort Dodge was going to do a series celebrating the 150 years of publication. 150 years? My goodness, that is a long time. They had already been in business for 96 years when I was born.
They had asked if there were any former paper carriers with interesting stories about doing their paper routes over the years.
I responded with a couple of paragraphs and then was contacted by the person who is writing a book on the subject.
I will share it with you first, but don’t mention it to anyone in Iowa.
On my Schwinn bicycle, I delivered the Fort Dodge Messenger in Rockwell City when I was nine and ten years old. I had about forty customers and was one of about five carriers.
When I was in a journalism class in college many years later, the textbook had the front page of the Messenger as an example of a good layout.
The Messenger covered several counties in northwest Iowa and was the sole source of local, state, and national news. It published every day but Sunday.
I remember riding my bike in snowstorms and coming home with frozen pants and coat. My mother would have to thaw them and me out. I had a problem losing the "extra" paper that I was expected to sell to non-subscribers. I finally caught a man taking it out of my bag in front of the local tavern. Apparently he had done that for a long time. I think I made a few cents per paper, so losing one a day was a great loss.
I also remember that I actually put the paper in the mail slot or opened the screen door to place it on the sill or on the floor. Today my paper normally ends up in the middle of the road in front of my house. The carrier drives by at a high rate of speed and throws it out the window. When it snows I often never find it.
I learned a lot from my carrier route. I have been a public servant and an elected official for the past 46 years and know that the lessons I learned then are still relevant to me today.
One was rejection. When there were contests to get new subscribers, I would ask people to subscribe, and most found it very easy to tell me no without qualification. I was a police officer for many years, and I think that I never had any problem speaking to people because of the early rejection as a carrier.
Collecting money provided a big lesson. Many times customers would not answer the knock at their door on collection day. They would string me out as long as they could. I would change the day and the time of day to "catch" them at home.
I don't remember the name of my boss from Fort Dodge, but I do remember that he would pile everyone in his car to talk to us. He chain-smoked, and I still remember having trouble breathing during those impromptu meetings. It was not his fault, but I went on to smoke for almost forty years. When I quit and then was around someone else who was smoking, I remembered his car and the very thin air I had to breathe.
In 1952, during the Stevenson-Eisenhower presidential election, I put signs on the sides of my paper bag with the word "vote" on them. I was not asked to do that by any adult but thought it was important that people vote. I have been an elected official for the past 29 years as a town council member, county coroner, county commissioner, and state representative. I tell that story a lot as I talk about the importance of voting.
My hometown did not have a daily paper. There was and still is a weekly paper called the Rockwell City Advocate. It was mailed and not delivered, but it had a lot of local news in it. You could even find out what people had to eat at their Sunday dinner.
Our competition was the Des Moines Register, the morning paper, and the Des Moines Tribune, the evening paper. We all picked up our papers at the town square at about the same time. The boys and girls carrying the Des Moines papers were elitist, while we were all common and middle class (at least in my mind).
In my office at the state capitol I have a photo taken by my mother of me and my Schwinn bike with the canvas paper bags on the back. It gets a lot of comments, especially from people who know good bikes.
I remember specifically that there was a front-page item on every paper called the “Daily Chuckle.” What a nice way to start my paper route each day.
Running a paper route was like having my own business. A lot of responsibility for someone so young. But then look how I turned out.