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Life as a paperboy

by David Uphoff

Many young kids from Minonk earned their first dollar delivering newspapers. Back in the early 50's my brother Daryle and I delivered the Pantagraph newspaper in the southeast quadrant of Minonk. Bob and Carol Veihman covered the southwest, Chuck and "Corky" Marshall covered the northwest, and Jack and Gail Cullen delivered the Pantagraph to the northeast side of town.

Getting up at 6:00 o'clock each morning to deliver papers was a routine I never adjusted to. Even to this day, if I get up before 6:00 AM I feel tired the rest of the day. It took me shortly over an hour to deliver the papers. It took Pantagraph carriers a little longer than the paperboys who delivered the Streator paper and Peoria papers in the afternoon because we were supposed to either insert the paper inside the mailbox or stick it inside the door. The other carriers were allowed to roll up the papers and throw them on the porch from the sidewalk. The Pantagraph carriers felt a little superior to the other paper carriers because they were expected to perform at a higher standard. Also, the Pantagraph was the most widely read paper in town.

Daryle and David Uphoff in 1954

The standards we had to live up to were enforced by our route supervisor from Bloomington, Woody Shadid. Woody had a real outward going personality and was a good looking guy. With his dark eyes and hair, his white Panama hat and white saddle shoes he looked like a real dandy. About once every two months he would come around to pay us a visit at our home to see how things were going. My mother would always enjoy visiting with him I think because he was such a charmer. Woody went on to higher positions with the Pantagraph and enjoyed a long and successful career with them.

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My day as a paperboy started out around 6:15 as I hopped on my old fashioned bike with the fat tires. As I headed east on Fifth Street towards the bank corner, I would catch the aroma of freshly baked doughnuts coming from the bakery run by Oral Lutjen at the southwest corner of Walnut and Fifth Street. Oral was blind but was still able to run the bakery with the help of his wife.

The papers to be delivered were wrapped in a bundle with wire that we had to cut with a special wire cutter provided by the Pantagraph. It looked like a large metal washer with 4 slots evenly spaced apart. I would put the slot over the wire and then twist to snap the wire open. Then I would try to stuff the newspapers into our big canvas paperbag that had the words "The Daily Pantagraph" in bright orange imprinted on it. The bags were really meant for carrying over your shoulder for walking paper boys. However, I would tape the straps to the ends of the handle bars on the bike. Every once in a while the tape would give and the bag would slide off the handle bars. By the way, we had to buy our bag from the Pantagraph, so we kept it as long as we could.

Each morning I could usually judge if I was ahead or behind schedule based on when I saw Eddie Gerdes deliver milk from his Sealtest milk truck to a certain house. If he got to the house before I did, I was behind schedule or vise versa. The amount of time it took to deliver papers was based on how big the paper was. If the papers were real fat, it would be hard to fit them all into the paperbag and it became difficult to steer the bike because the bag was hanging so heavy on the handle bars.

One of the biggest hardships to overcome deliverying papers, aside from bad weather, was the boredom or routine of the same thing every day. I solved this partly through my imagination. At the beginning of my route I would start to imagine a baseball game being played in which I, of course, was the star. I was a fanatical baseball fan when I was young and could name every player on every team in the majors. I would imagine that I was on the Cleveland Indians and we would be playing the Yankees. I would go through each inning making up each hit, strikeout, walk, etc. Of course, when it was my turn to bat, I would either hit a homerun or a based loaded triple. Eventually, I would win the game with a grandslam homerun in the bottom of the ninth that gave us a 20-19 victory.

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I would lose myself in those fanastic ball games and sometimes would forget to leave a paper at someone's house or would almost run into a car going down the street. When I would get home and someone had already called my mother to say that I forgot to deliver their paper, my mother would ask me if I was daydreaming again.

Often times a dog would meet me somewhere on my route and follow me the rest of the way. I enjoyed the company. One time a dog was with me when I was collecting and followed me onto the porch as I knocked on a customer's door. When the man came to the door and saw the dog, he drop kicked the poor thing half way across the yard. I hated that guy from that point on.

In cold weather the hands were the most difficult to keep warm. My brother Daryle and I carried a hand warmer that looked like a cigarette lighter. It contained butane gas I believe. It had a wick that you could light to get it to warm up. My brother still has his hand warmer from 45 years ago, a reminder of how hard it was to be a paperboy in cold weather. Our hands would be cracked and bloody from the cold weather after finishing the route.

Collecting was the worst part about delivering papers for the Pantagraph. Carriers for other papers could collect while they delivered the papers but I had to go on the route again each Saturday morning after delivering the papers to collect for the papers. The Pantagraph gave us a hard bound collection book that had a card in it for each customer. Each customer's card had 52 stubs, one for each week of the year. When I collected from the customer, I would tear off the stub and give it to the customer. So I knew each week which customers had paid. The paper cost 35 cents a week.

At the end of the collection route, I would take my leather pouch full of money to the Minonk State Bank to be counted and have a money order made out to the Pantagraph for the amount to be collected. Invariably, the president of the bank, John Danforth, would count out my money. I still remember how nice and friendly he was to me. He acted like he really enjoyed counting my money.

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The Pantagraph expected me to send them a certain amount of money each week for paper delivery. What was left over, was my profit or my wages. Therefore, if some customers didn't pay for the week, it came out of my wages, not the Pantagraph's. This was one of my first lessons in capitalism. Normally, I would make around $3.00 for my week's work. I estimated that I worked about 10 hours a week delivering papers so my pay was around 30 cents an hour.

To repay us carriers for our servitude, each year the Pantagraph would throw a big carrier party in Bloomington. The reason I remember it so well is that the meals were so good. It was one of the few times that I would eat steak during the year. I also remember the Pantagraph's circulation manager Willard Horseman who served as master of ceremonies. I am sure it wasn't easy to talk to a bunch of wild adolescents who were waiting to eat. But poor Willard would try to give us some words of encouragement and would thank us for being such good little boys. Willard would get snickers because of his name and also because he was trying to be a nice guy. And he was a nice guy. I read last summer that Willard is still living and is 95 years old and had celebrated his 70th wedding anniversary.

The best time for being a paperboy is Christmas time. Most of the customers would give me a dollar for Christmas or maybe some homemade cookies. The gift I remember the most, however, is a home made baseball that was sewn together by Charlie Menafee who lived on East Fourth Street. Charlie sewed it himself and I knew that he made it special for me because he knew I was a big baseball fan. I never used the ball but just kept it for the meaning behind it. Charlie lived with Lida Menafee for which the Lida Homes were named.

Looking back I now realize that being a paperboy was great preparation for the life ahead. It taught me responsibility and punctuality. I learned to accomplish my tasks in spite of occassional boredom or other adverse conditions such as bad weather. I also learned how to deal with people on a professional basis through my weekly collections. I am willing to bet that most paperboys went on to become successful citizens.