READ ALL ABOUT IT
By Ed Stout
There is a classic country song that begins with the line, “I sell the morning paper, sir. My name is Jimmy Brown.” This, however, is not about my all-time favorite running back. Instead, it’s a few random paragraphs about my time delivering Dayton’s morning paper, The Journal-Herald (“JH”).
As many of you will remember, there were two general circulation papers in Dayton area, the Dayton Daily News (“DDN”) and the JH. The DDN was the preferred route for several reasons. First, more people subscribed to that paper. As a result, it was easier to deliver because virtually everyone on the street “took” the DDN. It was also more lucrative both because of the number of customers and the fact that it went to press seven days a week (afternoons except on Sunday, which was a morning paper). The JH, on the other hand, was a six day a week morning route, with fewer customers. Still, it had its advantages in that you got your papers done first thing in the morning, which left the afternoons free.
The DDN route was harder to get but obtaining a JH route wasn’t easy. You had to prove yourself in some ways. There were basically two ways to prove yourself. You could be a “sub” or you could “hawk” papers. Being a sub was a hassle because there were a lot of different routes to learn and you couldn’t really plan on anything. Also, there were horror stories of DDN subs who spent two years waiting before being offered a route of their own.
There is one thing I need to say right here and that is having a Dayton Shopping News route was not a way to prove you were route-worthy for either the DDN or the JH. The Shopping News was an advertising circular that was “delivered” once a week to all houses in the greater Dayton area. The Shopping News route consisted of being paid $1.25 to “deliver” 10,000 or so “papers” once a week. Suffice it is to say that many of those papers didn’t get delivered. For example, I have seen the creek behind Loos School dammed up with Shopping News that were merely dumped there. So instead of being a plus on one’s resume, as it were, a former Shopping News route was a black mark. As far as the DDN and JH distributors were concerned, you simply couldn’t overcome the presumption that you, like many of your brethren, were a creek dumper.
So with that background in mind, early in my 8th grade year, I got word to someone, I can’t remember who, that I wanted a JH paper route and I would be willing to “hawk” papers. Before long, a JH General Manager contacted me and said that in a couple of months there would be a sixty-some customer route available in my neighborhood. He went on to say that if I was willing to get up each morning and hawk papers on the street, he would consider me for that route. I agreed. So for two months, I went to the northwest corner of Nottingham Road and North Main (in front of the Frisch’s and across from the Parkmore Drive-Ins). There, I would hold a paper out (maybe shake it a little bit) as cars driven by factory workers who were en route to Delco or NCR would proceed along North Main. Every once in a while, one would stop, hand me a dime and I’d give him a paper. I’d stay there over an hour and usually sell about thirty papers. It was not much money but I did it long enough to prove myself to the distributor. As a result, I was given a sixty customer route east of North Main between Redwood Street and Nottingham Road.
For the next two years, about 4:00 each morning, I would
go to Dean Morey’s (FHS ’65) house. His mother, a kind but no-nonsense woman
who I knew only as Mrs. Morey, was in charge of the neighborhood JH paper
boys. Papers came in at 3:45 and she expected you no later than 4:30. I
would usually get there shortly after 4:00 a.m. and she would count out my
papers, then I was on my way. At first, I rode my Schwinn but I soon
discovered I could do it just as fast by walking, except that is on
Thursdays, when the papers were simply too heavy to carry.
The bare minimum for a JH route was about fifty customers. Otherwise, it simply wasn’t worth getting up in the morning. As mentioned, I had sixty customers to start and eventually built up to around eighty. It would take me approximately an hour and a half walking around in the dark to deliver the papers. But that wasn’t the end of it. You also had to collect. Some customers were kind enough to leave the weekly payment in a mailbox or milk box. (It is incredible to me that I lived in a time when delivering these papers I could see Meadow Gold or Borden’s milkmen on their daily routes.) But most customers would not do this and I had to go around weekly to “collect.” Sometimes there were these kind of conversations:
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
“Collect for the Journal Herald.”
“Son, didn’t my wife already pay you?”
“I think she told me she did, I’d better check. You come back next week.”
If those kind of conversations took place too often, that customer was cut off.
Dayton used to get cold in the early 60’s, and the weather was often a problem. The thing I remember most is the snow and the crunchy footsteps in the dark. I also remember the magnificent display the Dayton bus system put on. You will recall that Dayton had electric buses. (One FHS student referred to them as “yellow bananas.”) When a snow or ice storm hit, the power lines would freeze. As the bus came down its route, the long pole connected to the power line would give off blue flames. It was a beautiful sight to see. In the dead of winter I wore a dark wool mask with only my eyes visible. In other words, I looked a lot like a bank robber. If it was really cold, which was often the case, the dark mask would freeze and turn white by the time I’d finished my route. I resembled a refugee from a Green Bay Packers title game.
I can’t remember delivering papers in the rain but I’m sure I did. (I think the psychological term for that is “blocking.”) The Dayton Journal bags had a flap that would cover the papers and they had an oil coating which served to repel the rain. I clearly knew nothing about Gore Tex, NorthFace or Patagonia but somehow I managed to keep both myself and the papers dry.
Today, if an 8th grade boy walked around for an hour and a half in the dark in a city, his parents would probably be reported to social services. But I did that every morning without any harmful consequences. I do recall one time that I was really scared. I was walking on a little side street between Nottingham Road and Castlewood Drive. It was pitch dark, as Dayton wasn’t known for putting in a lot of street lights. I was approaching a house where I knew a man had committed suicide. Then, for the first time in my life, I heard the terrible screech of cats mating. When I heard it, I jumped – I had no idea that what I was hearing. After a moment of sheer terror, it occurred to me that it was merely a couple of cats having fun. Still, I’ve never forgotten that moment.
I kept the route for about two years. As I remember, I made roughly $10 a week. I do recall that I opened a savings account at Citizens Federal Savings & Loan in the Northtown Shopping Center. I saved approximately $140. Eventually, by the time I finished high school, the entire savings was gone. I probably spent it on Gant shirts and the like.
Most of my papers I folded and threw on customers’ doorsteps. There is an art to folding a newspaper and based on the paper I currently receive every morning, I think it is a lost art. The paper must be folded into thirds from the open side to the closed side. The final fold is placed inside the closed side. The most important thing, however, is a paper is folded from the side and not from the top. The paper I receive every morning is very, very difficult to read because it is folded from the top. Also, my current paper is folded in a rubber band. Mrs. Morey and the JH didn’t give us rubber bands; we were expected to fold those papers. With a properly folded paper, you simply didn’t need a rubber band. Moreover, a properly folded paper could be thrown a long distance with great accuracy.
It’s been nearly fifty years since I first began that route. I know that Dayton no longer has the JH. I’m not certain if the DDN is delivered in the morning or the afternoon but I expect that things are done differently now. I know that I can read the DDN, or the Washington Post for that matter, with a click of my computer mouse. Even more amazing is that I can click on my Kindle e-reader and the New York Times comes to me magically through the air. One final thought - each morning when I finished my paper route, I’d go to the Mister Donut on North Main and for 20 cents, I got a chocolate milk and a peanut donut. I’d have to wash my hands first though, because after delivering those papers, my hands were black.