Once upon a time, city newspaper deliverers were called paperboys. It was a common job for junior high and high school kids who were looking for their own spending money. My brother and I had our own route that extended eight blocks up one street and another eight down on a parallel street. We had the route over 50 years ago, but I still remember some of the route, certainly some houses, all sorts of weather, and, of course, the finish line.
Our route was in the Riverside neighborhood of Missoula. The streets were straight and not at all like the neighborhood in which I grew up. This area was and is called the Rose Park neighborhood or ‘Slant Streets.’ This area was, according to historians, supposed to have been its own little town south of the river and street grids were developed to more or less follow the river. This never happened and so the neighborhood street grid is slanted in relationship to the streets in surrounding neighborhoods. My neighborhood has its own newspaper routes, but none were available when my brother and I got the job. We were lucky, however, to be assigned to routes that were perfectly straight and crossed only a few busy streets.
On this map, the reader can easily see where the neighborhood of the slanted streets is. Our paper route was in the neighborhood called Riverfront just to the north, but south of the Clark Fork river.
Wake Up: I wish I could remember when we had the alarm clock set, but it was early. Let’s say 5:30 AM. I was never very good about popping out of my warm bed, but my brother was. While I dawdled, he got dressed and went downstairs to wait for me. Sometimes, he had to go back up and wake me up. Sometimes, when I finally showed up, he was asleep wearing his double-sided paper bag and slouching in a dining room chair. Most of the time, however, we were up and on the way to pick up our newspapers.
Pick Up: The central pickup location for our route was in front of a store very near to where our route started. Many of the boys gathered at about the same time and we loaded newspapers into our pouches. Strewn on the sidewalk were bundles of newspapers, each identified by route number and the boy’s name. Attached to the bundle, we sometimes found envelopes containing instruction notices. Notes told us to cancel a delivery, hold a delivery, where to put the newspaper, and complaints that the paper was wet, delayed or missed entirely. Some boys preferred to fold their papers as they loaded their pouches, but we folded as we went. On Sundays, the paper was stuffed with advertisements, and other supplements and so the bags had to be hoisted on our shoulders with the help of others. This is until we got smart and learned to load while wearing the pouch. This system helped to make the weight distribution even.
Delivery: As I recall, our route started with an apartment building. It’s interesting to think that doors were not locked back then and so we would walk right in and deliver door to door on three floors. It was a nice way to start the route, especially on a cold winter morning when we would routinely warm on hands on top of iron radiators that hissed and moaned as hot water ran through their veins.
The rest of the route was primarily single-home residences. Each home had its own character, and each homeowner had a particular request about where the paper should be placed. The most common place was behind a screen door. On windy days, we placed newspapers under doormats, and on wet or snowy mornings, we were obliged to put the paper behind a screendoor. With each creaking door, I awoke many a watchdog!
Sometimes, people would be waiting at the door for the newspaper, and so hand- to-hand delivery was the order of the door. Very few of the homes had front yard fences, but even so, in those days gates did not require locks and entryway codes so a fence and gate were never a bother. Most of the time, delivery was a peaceful routine. My brother and I pretty much kept the same pace as he took one side of the street and I took the other. In any case, we kept an eye out for each other.
The end of the route was in front of a grocery store and then home was quickly found via a walk through a park, past the ‘church block’ where nuns and priests lived in their respective buildings and where the church and school lay.
Collections: Not only did paperboys deliver, but we also collected the fees for the service. Toward the end of each month, my brother and I would walk our familiar routes, usually at night to ring doorbells, and when the door would open, we would politely say, “Collecting for the Missoulian.” Often, this was the first time we saw our customers, for good or for bad. By this, I mean that the good customers always had their money ready and even gave a tip, while the baddies didn’t have any cash or couldn’t find their checkbook and would say something like, “I’ll be ready next month and how many months do I owe?” After we had collected enough to pay our bill (it took about a week or so), my brother and I hoofed it downtown to pay the bill in cash. After the bill was paid, the remaining profit went to us.
The Legacy: I have clear memories of the job, and yet some details have completely vanished from my memory. I remember, for example, the fun of being the first one to walk in fresh snow, and feeling the pouch become lighter and lighter as I progressed on the route. I remember that some houses seemed welcoming while others appeared menacing. I remember a big black labrador dog that jumped on my back as I walked away and I also remember the sound of rustling through thick layers of leaves on sidewalks. I remember the money, mostly quarters and special envelopes at Christmas that offered Christmas greetings and a tip of a few dollars or maybe even a five-dollar bill! I remember going to the bakery at the end of collections where my brother and I would buy our favorites: raised sugar doughnuts and maple glazed bars.