It was early April in the year 1955. Less than a month ago I turned twelve and I was just starting my first real job. I’d had other jobs of course, Billie White and I sold snow cones one summer. I spread coal ashes on some sidewalks in our neighborhood when things got icy, and shoveled sidewalks after snowstorms. I even went to Frank’s Market for Mrs. Holler on occasions, she was always running out of milk or butter or something when she was baking. She lived two houses up the street, so I was convenient. That was always worth a dime or fifteen cents. But these were not real jobs, no boss, no regular schedule, and most of all no regular money. This job was for real, I was on my first day as a paperboy for the Philadelphia Bulletin. I would now have to show up on time, have a boss and get some real money.
On the day I started, It was a Monday, I hurried home from school, dropped off my books and stuff, said hi to my grandmother, she watched me, my mother was off at RCA working. My parents had been divorced for about ten years and my dad and his family lived in Connecticut with his new family. I’ll gather some stories from there later, there’s lots of them.
My rendezvous point to pick up the papers and to meet the Branch Manager was exactly a half mile away, a short peddle for this speedy rider back in those days. With my Vertigo and such it would be a disaster for this old man today. The newspaper company rented a garage behind the Audubon Bakery on Merchant St. All the paperboys met there to get their papers each day. We had a teenager about sixteen as our Branch Manager. His name was Allen, Big Al was what everyone called him.
I remember that first meeting quite well. As I pulled up near the garage, I laid my bike down, along with ten or more others and walked into the garage. My buddy Stan was there already, he got me the application to fill out and have my mother sign. My mother thought I was too young at first, but I convinced her, with help from Grannie of course that I could handle the job. I mean, how hard is to peddle a bike and fling a paper. “Come here kid” shouted big Al” and I ran over to a large table he was standing behind; the other kids were just hanging around, I didn’t notice any papers anywhere.
Big Al had a couple of printed papers from the Bulletin about delivering the papers and collecting the money and paying your bill each week. Most of the money collecting was done on Saturday mornings. We delivered all the supplements for the Sunday paper on Saturdays. By doing this it made the thick Sunday paper a little lighter. These were the comics, advertisements, Parade magazine and such. I also had another official looking document to take home and have my mother sign. I was given my route assignment list, it had the customer’s names, address and, what paper they got on what day. Some only got the Sunday edition. I also learned I would have forty seven customers, a few more on Sundays. Big Al gave me a Canvas Bag, an official Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper bag. Hey, I was now “Hot Stuff.”
Al explained how to collect the money, we would turn in the money on Mondays. The Sunday edition cost the customer .25 cents, the weekly 5 cents a day or .30 cents for the week. I would quickly learn that some customers weren’t very reliable at bills, others would always paying their give you a tip. I had one house where the man would always say, “I only got a twenty kid, you got change? I finally got smart and said I would take it a half block away to the store and get change for him. After that he had the right money, never a tip though. Later I would learn, if I hung around until Christmas, I’d see big money. Once finished with me, big Al dismissed me and told me hang with the rest of the crew until the papers came.
Big AL would become a good friend to most of us over time. He even escorted us to a few Philadelphia Phillies games back in the day. The Bulletin provided the tickets. They were the worst seats in the stadium, but who cares, we were kids. On those trips we took a bus and two subway rides and a walk up Lehigh Avenue to get to Connie Mack Stadium. Del Ennis, #14, was my Philly favorite back in those days. After twenty years in Connecticut I never grew to love the Red Sox. I always had a second love though, yep, it was the Yankees. I still root for them today.
Back to my first Boss and first real job. I remember practicing how to fold the paper and tuck in into it’s self so you could throw it from your bike. If it was a real thick paper we would use a rubber band to keep it together and throw-able. Most houses back then had porches. We would ride the sidewalk and fling the paper to the porch. A miss would require a stop and fetch and get it onto the porch. Sometimes a bad fold would leave the paper to the whims of the wind, (ouch!) That was like rounding up a flock of chickens. These little things made for little more time to finish the route, back in the day.
There were a few hazards in this job I need to make you aware of. People walking on the sidewalks caused you to divert to the street or someone’s lawn. A raised sidewalk lifted up by a tree route not diverted, could bend a tire rim and give you a flat tire. If you had to walk the bike and carry the papers to complete your route, it was a struggle. This event happened several times over the three years I had my route. Keeping an eye out for backing up cars was a must. I can’t forget the cold, the wind, ice and, snow. On a few foul weather occasions my mother would be my chauffer, what a treat that was.
So, the streets I delivered on were the intersecting streets to the west of Merchant St. Another route covered those to the east. My route ended a block from my house, it was quite a treat knowing when I delivered that last paper I was almost home. A few of those street names were, Audubon, Ave., Wyoming, Oswego, Central, Cedercroft and, Payson Avenues. Thanks for the help remembering goes to Google.
“Trucks here” someone shouted as a Box truck backed up to the garage. One of the older kids climbed into the back, checked the Route paperwork the driver gave him and began tossing bundles on to the garage floor. If I remember right, there were twenty-five papers to the bundle. I was told to grab two bundles, open one and deposit three in a large box on the wall. Makes sense to me, forty seven daily customers, leave three for someone else. Those papers in the box would help make up other routes. A kid with 53 on his route would take my 3 to complete his count.
Some of the guys stayed in, or right outside the garage and started folding their papers. Stan said, “follow me.” Stan and a few other guys went up Atlantic Ave. to the foot bridge over the railroad tracks. We would use the covered area under to two sets of stairs that led to the bridge over the tracks. I was to learn during lousy weather this was a great place to stay dry while folding.
On Sundays the paper was delivered early in the morning. The routine on Sundays was to go to the Audubon Diner, get a donut and cup of coffee to go, and return to the railroad overpass for the fold. There was a lot of talk while folding. Up coming, baseball was starting, did you hear about the fire last night, or, how about that accident on the White Horse Pike.
Audubon was divided in two by the white Horse Pike. There were two grade schools, #2 School on our side of the pike, #3 school on the other side. There was quite a rivalry in town between the two. All us paperboys at the Merchant St garage were #2’s. Guys from #3 school got their papers on their side of the Pike. That White Horse Pike could be dangerous to cross, especially if you didn’t cross at a traffic light.
For the first few days of delivering the paper I would have to use my route address ‘s card that I made up and pinned to my bag. My first Saturday, which started about nine am, was for collecting. I learned quickly that some would pay and others wouldn’t. I had a book I kept for the payment info that I made up myself.
Some customers would pay on Fridays, some Monday and some almost never. I learned to trick a few of these folks from time to time and find them on off days. On a few occasions I had to borrow a buck or two from my mother to pay my bill. I had a book I kept for the payment info that I made up myself. I learned quickly about keeping records, “If it’s not written down it never happened.” I still keep books today, I journal something daily. I’ve been doing that for years, I even write a Blog on the internet from time to time.
If you went on vacation you had to find your own replacement, and Stan and I covered for each other. When one of us was gone the other would have a double route. Stans route began where mine ended so it was really convenient. Collections were kind of a long day, but we were young, and we survived. We were delivering right around 100 papers when we did both routes.
Fall would turn into winter and the days got shorter. Cold rain, wind, ice, and snow would add adventure to our flinging papers. When you think about it, we were kind of like Postmen. On most days our papers were delivered by 3:00. When there were delays it was often dark when we started. I rigged up a flashlight with Electrical tape to my bag and had a reflector stapled to the back of a soft cap I wore. I’m still here, so I guess they worked.
I had to give up my route after three years when we moved to Wildwood, NJ. I would have several jobs there, one renting Beach Umbrellas and one as a Busboy in a restaurant. I’ve always had a job, sometimes two, and a lot of Boss’. I remember some and there are others that I don’t. I will always remember Big Al, my first boss. For the life of me I can’t remember his last name.
I enjoyed this post. Boys delivered my parents’ papers, and I wasn’t aware of some of the drawbacks. You really worked for your money.