Monday, August 24, 2009

Delivering the Lincoln Star Newspaper

(This article follows an article about how I became a paperboy.)

Three daily newspapers -- The Lincoln Star, The Lincoln Journal, and The Omaha World Herald -- were delivered by paperboys in Seward. The Lincoln Star and The Omaha World Herald were morning newspapers, and The Lincoln Journal was a weekday afternoon newspaper. The Star and Journal newspapers were owned by the same parent company, and the paperboys who delivered those newspapers had the same route manager in Seward. I delivered The Lincoln Star.

Peter Kolb, who lived at the other end of Faculty Lane, delivered the Herald, and my brother Steve substituted for Peter when the Kolb family went out of town. (See that Herald route list in this Flickr set.) Eventually Steve and my next brother Tim became a Lincoln Star paperboys too. My sister Tricia delivered the Lincoln Star into coed dormitories on the college campus.

A few boys in town delivered a newspaper called Grit, which was not a local, daily newspaper but rather a newspaper published for the entire USA a couple times every week. Grit advertised for paperboys in boys' magazines like Boy's Life. Grit printed articles with good news and practical advice, and it eventually went out of business.

The Lincoln Star newspaper routes in Seward were managed by Austin and Josephine Neihardt, who lived on the edge of downtown on Seventh Street next to Seward's water tower.

A bundle hauling truck drove from The Lincoln Journal/Star printing and distribution facility in downtown Lincoln to Seward early every morning, and then delivered Seward's bundles to a covered area along the back wall of the Seward Post Office. If the Neihardts were waiting when the bundle hauler arrived, they could receive the bundles directly from the truck into the back of their station wagon. (One morning the truck was very late due to a late press run, so my brother Steve bicycled to the Neihardts' house and was present when the truck delivered the bundles of newspapers there.)

The newspapers arrived in separately prepared route bundles that were bound with wire. Each bundle had a top bundle cap that was labeled by route number so the paperboy could identify his bundle.

The Neihardts loaded the bundles into their station wagon and drove to each paperboy's home and threw the bundle onto the yard. I often heard the bundle of newspapers hit my yard at about 5:30 a.m. and heard the Neihardts' car drove away. I got up, dressed and walked outside to prepare to deliver my route. Since my bundle was bound with wire, I had to cut the wire open with a wire cutter and throw the wire into the garbage. (On one occasion I got into trouble because a wire I had left in the grass wrecked the lawn mower of Alan Meyer.) Then I counted the newspapers and put them into my paperbags.

The paperbags were a pair of large, canvas pouches that were joined by a long, narrow, canvas neck. The paperboy would wrap the neck around the middle of his bicycle handlebar, and one pouch would hang down from each handle.

Paper boy with paperbags over bicycle handlebars. Image taken from

We Lincoln Star paperboys (and, I think, Omaha World Herald paperboys) all wrapped our paperbags around our bicycle handlebars. (Paperboys who delivered Grit wore their paperbags over their shoulders.)

I delivered about 20 newspapers. I think the number varied from about 17 to 23 during the course of my career. On weekdays the newspapers were thin and fit into the paperbags easily. On Sundays the newspapers were thick, and 20 newspapers filled the bags rather fully. (See a couple of my route lists in this Flickr set.)

I rode a one-speed bicycle that my Dad had bought me, used, soon after we moved into Seward. During my last year as a paperboy I rode a three-speed bicycle that I bought used.

It was dark every morning when I began. In the summer, the sky was turning light as dawn approached, but in the winter it was very dark for a while. I had a small generator attached to my bicycle's rear wheel-frame. As I rode, the revolving tire turned a mechanism on that generator, which lit a red light on the rear of my bicycle and a white light on the front. The street lights provided enough light for me to see where I was going, but the generated lights enabled car drivers to see me.

My route started just west of the water tower -- just west of the intersection of Seventh Street and Jackson Avenue. According to Mapquest, the trip from my house on Faculty Lane to the start of my route was about nine-tenths of a mile. After my family moved out to remote North Columbia Avenue, the trip from my home to the beginning of my route was about a mile and a half.

My route covered an area from Seventh street on the east to Forteenth Street (the swimming pool) on the west and from Bradford Street (the block north of the water tower) on the north to the south edge of town. Looking at the area on Mapquest and tracing the route within that area, I suppose that I traveled about two miles within my route area. So, the total distance I rode my bicycle was about a mile from my home (on Faculty Lane) to my route area, about two miles on the route itself and then about a mile from my route area back to my home -- a total of four miles. After my family moved to remote North Columbia Avenue, the total distance was about five miles.

My route ended at about the intersection of Eighth Street and South Street (a block south of McKelvie Road, which was Highway 34). My last customer was the Pollock family -- the father was Seward's sheriff, and one of the sons was my classmate Robert Pollock. From there I would ride through the town square on the way home. At that time of the morning, the smells from the bakery dominated the town square, so I often stopped to buy a maple bar in the bakery.

I suppose the entire trip took about an hour and a half on a normal morning. In the early part of my career I would leave at about 5:30 and return home at about 7:00. Gradually, I left later and later, so by the end I was leaving after 6:00 and returning after 7:30. Eventually I got so bad that I had to rush to get to band practice at school by 8:00, and some customers complained that I delivered the newpapers too late.

There was one old guy who lived toward the end of my route and who often sat out on his porch in the mornings when the weather was nice. He always tried to engage me in a conversation for as long as he could, talking about nothing. I didn't mind talking with him for a while, to be polite, but if it was on a day when I didn't have school. Otherwise I rarely had any contact with my customers while delivering the newspapers. (I will write about collecting money from my customers in my next article.)

There were a few homes with barking dogs, and some of those dogs did not get used to me even though I came every morning for four years. On one occasion a strange dog that was running wild bit me on my thigh. A man saw the dog bite me, and he took me to the hospital, where the wound was treated. The bite punctured my skin, but since the bite was through my jeans, the doctor figured that no dog saliva got into my body, so I did not have to get rabies shots.

I often encountered John Garmatz while he was delivering his own route. We would stop and talk. There was one other paperboy I often encountered, a public-school kid, and we would stop and talk too.

When the wind blew, it seemed that the wind always blew against me. When I was riding from my home to my route area, the wind blew against me. And then when I was returning from my route area to my home, the wind had changed direction and blew against me then too.

In the winters, delivering my route was painfully cold. I hated to go out into such cold, windy weather so early in the morning. I would get out of bed, dress and go lie down next to the heat vents along the floor in our house, trying to store up warmth before I went outside. I would wear two socks one each foot and two gloves on each hand. Sometimes by the time I returned home, I was crying because my fingers and toes hurt so much from the cold. I would rush into the bathroom and hold my fingers under lukewarm water for five minutes.

When it was snowing or raining heavily, one of my parents would drive me around on my route in our car. A couple of the roads at the south end of town (around the egg plant) were not paved, and they became quite muddy after a rain or after snow thawed. I would get mud stuck in the spaces between the tires and fenders of my bicycle and would have to push the mud out of those spaces with a stick every block or so.

One pleasure I had from delivering my paper route was that I saw the sun rise every morning. On some mornings when the weather was nice, the sunrise was beautiful, glorious. All the birds began singing as the sun rose. I would think to myself, surely there is a God, because our world is so wonderful at such moments.

I delivered most of the newspapers onto the front porches or into the area between the screen door and the front door. Most people on my route had front porches. A couple customers lived in apartments without porches and also without screen doors. Some customers had special wire holders or boxes next to their front doors. I did not roll up my newspapers with rubber bands, and I never threw the newspapers onto the customers' properties. I placed every newspaper carefully.

One morning I remember well was August 6, 1962, the day after Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bed. I had not known that news until I opened my newspaper bundle and saw the headline. I hurried through my route, eager to spead the news to all my customers. I placed each newspaper as artfully as I could on each customer's porch, imagining the impact the headline would make on each customer. (I have no such vivid memory of delivering my newspapers after the assassination of President Kennedy.)

Toward the end of my paperboy career I sometimes had problems with absent-mindedness while delivering my route. I could deliver my entire route without thinking about what I was doing. Sometimes I would end with one newspaper still in my paperbag, and so I would have to wrack my brain to re-think which house I might have missed, and I would have to back-track to a house to see if I had left a newspaper there. There were a few times when customers complained I had not left a newspaper at their home.

I ended my paperboy career in eighth grade, because then I was able to get a job washing dishes in the college cafeteria.

The boy who took over my route was the younger brother of two sisters who were in our eighth-grade class for a couple months. These sisters had got into some trouble with the police because of their promiscuous behavior, so they were enrolled at St John School to straighten them out. After a couple of months, as I heard, the police caught them one night with some men in a car, and so the two sisters were sent away to a juvenile-detention facility. Anyway, a few weeks after these two sisters disappeared from my eighth-grade class, the time came for me to teach a new boy to take over my paper route so that I could quit. The new boy lived in a house on North Columbia Avenue, between my family's house and the school, so I went into his house a couple times while I was waiting for him to get ready to go with me. He was a few years younger than me, maybe in about fourth grade. As we talked while delivering the route, I learned that he was the younger brother of those two sisters and that they no longer were living in the home. I did not ask him for any further details about his sisters' problems, and he did not tell me.

After I quit my own route, I substituted a couple times for other paperboys who had to leave town for a week or so on family vacations.

For many years after I ended my paperboy career, I had bad dreams about that experience. The dreams were about me forgetting to deliver newspapers to customers or about me promising to substitute for another paperboy for a while and then forgetting to do so. I still have these dreams sometimes, although more than 40 years have passed.

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