A look at
Minonk's past
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by Barth Weistart

I began delivering papers in the summer before starting first grade. Of course the route was three blocks long and consisted of 10 papers. My mother even walked the route with me once to be sure I knew what I was doing. My 10 customers were part of my brother Jerry's larger Route No.80 of the Streator Times Press. The first lesson I learned was that one got paid for delivering papers. That knowledge didn't come right at first but after collecting several times I asked what happened to the money. After bargaining I started receiving wages of $.05 every couple weeks when I would ask for it. Actually I didn't have much use for money. It was 1942 and the war was on. Many things were rationed and a kid not long out of diapers hadn't yet figured out what he needed to buy. I guess the only thing I can say about it was that it got me out of the house.

My route size grew as I did until in the fourth grade the route became mine and my brother was off to more serene employment. The route started out covering most of the area east of the Illinois Central tracks and north of third street. After a couple of years through influential pressure the City was divided into four routes. We ended up with the northeast area which was all customers north of a line starting from the IC tracks east on Fifth Street to Maple Avenue and then east from Maple Avenue on Sixth Street to the edge of town.

The papers were brought to Minonk by the Doodlebug and left at the Santa Fe station. If we were heading to the station at the same time the Doodlebug was arriving, we would try to get the baggage compartment employee to toss us our papers before reaching the station. Once in a while they would especially if the Doodlebug had to stop and wait for an Illinois Central train to pass. We felt we got a jump on the other carriers and the route seemed to go faster those days. Gandy Dancers (track repair crews) often rolled into the station to end their day as we were waiting for our papers. We always had questions to ask each other. One Italian gave me the nickname ‘Tata'. He said it meant father since I was always so serious. In later years, I found out it also meant father in Polish. Station master Stephenson kept a tight grip on his premises. We had to ask to use the waiting room even on exceptionally cold days. He would check our feet to see we had no snow that would melt all over his floor. If there were customers in the waiting room, the paper boys couldn't sit on the same benches with them. We weren't suppose to talk and if there was no room we stood or sat on the floor away from the customers.

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The route started on the north end of Oak Street with the O'Gorek house. Louise (Barth) and Jack O'Gorek lived next door for a time. Louise was my Aunt so collection was easy. Two houses south was a miners' house. Here single miners would live together to save on money. It was a necessity if one was to live on the wages of a miner. Zupansics were next. They were good people and always friendly. When my brother Jerry was nine and preparing to deliver papers he purchased a red ‘Flyer' bicycle from the Zupansics. The bike was his pride and he was able to deliver papers in style.

On the north corner of Oak and Eighth was another miners' house. This house was unpainted and had a porch in need of repair for as long as I can remember. I often wondered why the house wasn't torn down because it was such an eyesore. In contrast, W. G. Sutton lived across the street. Whenever I would step inside his house to collect for the paper or mowing his lawn, I would marvel at the woodwork and staircase. Such grandeur! It was out of place next to the miners' house across the street or our house across the alley (we five brothers shared two bedrooms). But you know, when I returned to Minonk the miner's house and our house had been renovated and were still standing and the Sutton house was torn down. I guess it's the ‘box of chocolates' theory– you never know what life has in store. Mr. Sutton was held in awe since he owned the coal mine and was my father's boss for a time.

The Sutton garbage always contained many blue bottles with the name Milk of Magnesia imprinted on the side. The folks said Mr. Sutton had a bad stomach and that was his medicine. I guess if you are important you have more worries. That's one thing we never had to worry about in our family.

Just before the corner of Oak and Sixth Streets was the Stachewicz house. I remember what seemed like a lot of kids and a mean rat terrier dog. The paper was to be delivered to the side door and that's where the dog waited. One would throw the paper, hop on his bike, and beat it out of there. Many times the dog was too fast and would hang on to your pant cuff. What a sight peddling down the street with the small dog tearing at your pant cuff. I won't even go into what happened if my bike was out of commission or I had to knock on the door to collect. Collections sometimes waited a week until the dog was safely in the house. Then one day the unthinkable happened. This rat ‘terror' had pups. My brother Jim was walking home from grade school and the Stachewiczs gave him a pup as a present. And-- And mother let him keep the dog. I was out voted. Little Pepperonia or ‘Peppy' as she became known was the delight of the family. I believe each one of us boys became closely akin to Peppy sometime or other in our lives. The dog was a companion to my dad after we all left the house and went our ways. Peppy lived until she was killed by someone speeding on Eighth Street.

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In the next block I delivered in later years to Babe Smith in the Woodford Hotel. I know there were other customers in the Hotel but somewhere along the way I was ROBBED - of memory. If I ever catch who did it you can bet I'm going to get it back. I delivered to the next house south whose porch and door were next to The Minonk Cleaners. Chucky Barth ran a presser next to a window. He never subscribed to the paper but would always watch for the paperboy to buy an ‘extra' copy. I explained that it would be cheaper to have a subscription but he wanted to do it his way. I could never figure out why he would pay me the extra money– but maybe he had. Thanks!

Emma Lynch who ran the Minonk Coal office for WG Sutton also got a paper. She would often question whether or not she had already paid. In those days we carried a card and punched the weeks as paid. I would have to show her the card was not punched and she would pay. Across Fifth Street on the north side was the Turley Equipment building and upstairs was an apartment. Access was up a long stairs (and I mean long stairs) on the alley side of the building. In summertime in perfect conditions I was leery of the climb. I did it once in winter in a snow storm but after that refused. We made an arrangement, if the steps had snow or ice the paper was left under the steps in a can. I never figured out how the tenants made it up an down those stairs. The rent must have been outstanding.

In the next block of Sixth Street was the Baptist Church and next door the parsonage. I delivered papers to Pastor Oltrogge and his wife. Forty years later my firm was asked to audit the Arizona College of the Bible. The president asked me where I was from. I told him I was from a farming community in Illinois called Minonk. He exclaimed, "There really is a place named Minonk" and then called in one the colleges staff. It was Mrs. Oltrogge. She was extremely well liked at the school. In fact, the school built a new library and named it ‘The Oltrogge Library'. Another Pastor family at the Church was the Dahlers. Doug Dahler was one of two boys in the family and was in the same grade in school as I. Many years later, I learned his brother was Pastor of a church in Phoenix. I called him and found out Doug lived in Texas. A guide for pastors leaving the Minonk Baptist Church is to head for Phoenix because you're going to end up there anyway.

At the Catholic Church, the sisters house was located on Maple and the rectory on Sixth Street. Three of the sisters were nice and would often take time to talk with me. The fourth sister was short in her demeanor. One of the younger sisters told me several times that the fourth sister was ok and that her presentation was just her way. Every Halloween the sisters would fix apple cider and invite me in for a glass. After two glasses I felt obliged to turn down the offer for more and they readily accepted my decision. The priest lived in the rectory.

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Collecting for the paper was always different. Sometimes he would answer the door and pay with few words, other times his house keeper would pay me, and on occasion I would be asked into his library which was to the left inside the front door and he would invite me to sit down and talk.

Further east on Sixth was the Manley house. Mrs. Manley was a Gold Star mother which meant her son had been killed in the war. She invited me in several times to see his picture and tell me how I reminded her of her son. It was awkward for me because the war was still on, many were dying, but being young with life before me I hadn't yet considered death. I have considered it since. War is a travesty on the people of any country. People are caught up in something they don't want, they didn't start, and they are the ones who will suffer the effects. Even with that in mind I feel that because of people who misuse their power, wars are inevitable. If a country is at war all citizens need to support their troops fully. Mrs. Manley had a life long effect on me. Whenever I think about delivering papers or discuss the Second World War, I first think of Mrs. Manley and her unhappiness over losing her son.

I was not a strong reader starting out in school. Cat and Dog would often mess me up. General Patton straightened me out. I started reading articles about him roaring across Europe and his mad dash to the Battle of the Bulge. And as exciting- The Red Ball Express and how they would try to keep up with Patton. Sometimes they would pass Patton's tanks and be waiting for him. Starting out I didn't understand every word but when I got home I would ask mom what the words were and what they meant. Without TV you had to use your imagination as to what was going on and I did. When I saw the movie ‘Patton' I was surprised how close they followed my imaginations.

The end of the Second World War was the biggest paper day we had. On VE (Victory in Europe) day the papers were so thick I had to go back and pick them up 4 times because I couldn't carry any more. VJ (Victory in Japan) day was not quite as bad. I only had to go back once to get those I couldn't carry. By this time papers were being brought to Minonk by truck and dropped off at the post office. Papers were being delivered to other towns by truck and someone felt it would be cheaper to switch Minonk from the train service.

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The Gaisfords lived east on Sixth Street. They were really nice people. They would inquire about my family and would invite me in to warm up on a cold winters night. Bert Ridge lived at the end of Sixth Street. When I was trying to sign him up to take the Streator Times Press, he insisted on talking to some one from the Streator office. I passed the message on to Streator and in a week someone from the paper showed up. The two of them had a casual discussion. After it was over Bert signed up for the paper and I was left wondering why such a meeting was necessary just to subscribe to a paper.

Goffs lived on Thomas. Here is where I learned another lesson. They had a renter living upstairs who subscribed to the paper. It was an easy delivery. One house, two papers, and both collections at the same time. But then the renter got behind. Mr. Goff would tell me that he'd see I got paid, they don't have the money this week but they will next, and they are good for it. Well seven weeks went by and I went to tell them I was stopping the paper. You guessed it. They had moved to Streator and nothing could be done to collect the money. I was stuck. You would have thought I would have taken on a ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy' attitude but I didn't. I've always felt that if someone takes advantage that they probably needed it worse than I do. Generally, there is not a lot one can do in those situations anyway so you might as well take a position which causes YOU the least agitation.

The block west from Thomas was the only block on which we delivered to every house: Henry Harms, Reints, Von Behrens, Fishers, Beamans, and --you know the house with the cactus on the back sun porch. Fishers had a crab apple tree in their front yard. Sometimes they offered me the opportunity to pick up a few and eat them and other times it was a ninja type operation to get the apples without being detected. The apples were the best I have ever eaten-then or since.

Heading west on Seventh Street starting where the Santa Fe tracks entered town was a real trial. The first paper went to the Blackmors on the north side of the tracks. Then across the tracks to deliver Fred Baker's paper inside the back door enclosed porch. Down the street to Ernie Redenius' back door. Cross the tracks to the Chris Tesch house. They had a covered brick that the paper was to be put under. If it rained or snowed before they got the paper I could expect a call requesting that a second paper be delivered. I can remember redelivering their paper many times. On down the street to the Greys house before crossing the tracks again to deliver the Don Rich paper. Almost done-- but across the tracks to the Gutherz house.

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I can remember reading a story about delivering papers published in a town about 30 miles south of Minonk. The writer painted a picture of his brother and he riding down the street sliding papers into a box on a pole in every subscribers front yard. As one of my brothers said it sounded like McDonalds. Everything in order, no extra sauce, next please! We crossed tracks-wheeling our bikes. Papers were delivered where the customers wanted them. If the customer didn't like the paper, we delivered a second. The McDonalds paperboys were in step with their changing times. We were more like the old full service gas stations. It was just that someone had to get the papers delivered until times did changed.

It took me 43 minutes to reach the Gutherz house and 32 minutes to finish the route after I left their house, but it took 2 hours and 15 minutes from start to finish. The extra hour was spent at their house listening to ‘Terry and the Pirates' and ‘The Lone Ranger". Each was a ½ hour radio program. Dave Gutherz was a good friend of mine and these programs were the entertainment in our world. This was a time slot I would not miss come snow or shine. Of course it got a little embarrassing when Dave wasn't home or the family sat down for supper and there I was listening to the programs. If they were eating I would turn the radio down so as not to disturb their supper.

Once one of Dave's sisters came bouncing down the stairs and there I was. Dave was somewhere else. ‘Mom, Dave is not home. What's Barth doing here? Don't we ever get any privacy?' Dave's mother was always on my side so when the programs were over I quietly left until the next night.

Charlie Eff's house was next. He lived alone and his house was an excellent stop on Halloween. He had large bottles of pop and would give each one who stopped a full glass as a treat. You did have to wait your turn until the glass was available. I can remember when there were at least ten boys in his house at once. I would often get an extra glass of pop as I delivered the paper. Pop may not seem like much, but when you were delivering papers for pennies a week, a glass of free pop was a welcomed gift. Take home pay was very minimal. At one time it was less than $3 a week if everyone paid.

I've been talking about paperboys but the word definitely has to be taken in a generic sense. Girls were a big part of delivering papers. I can remember Mary Lou Dishinger and Joyce Grampp each had their own routes. Peannie Tjaden and Alice Rooker would assist their brothers. Over the years I'm sure there were many other girls who took part in this much hallowed profession.

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Cemetery street (north Maple) was the coldest street in town during the winter. The wind just seemed to funnel it's fury down that corridor. One time when I got home mom was shocked. My face and ears where white. They were frozen. After a slow thaw, I was admonished to wear a scarf over my face. And yes–thawing out does hurt. It was that street that convinced me to leave Minonk. I read in the paper about places with low humidity and little snow. I kept telling myself ‘There are warm climates and I'm going to find one' and I did-- Phoenix. The first house on Maple were the Janssens. They were a favorite of the northeast side because they sold ice in the summer. We would pull our wagon to their place to buy ice to make ice cream or to blow a fan across to keep cool during hot days and nights. We delivered papers to Dahls, Romanoskis, Gregorichs, Livingstons, and all the way out to the last two houses before the cemetery. Then there was the ride back to Eighth Street.

Papers were delivered to many houses on the south side of Eighth going east. There were pastures with cattle on the north side. The end of the block was Mary Street and north about two blocks was a single farm house occupied by the Thompsons. Getting to the house was a struggle. The road was gravel so if it was just graded it was difficult to ride on. You had to watch for flying gravel if a car went by.

In winter City plows usually didn't do country roads and drifts could be deep on the edge of town. And- we had to fight the elements just for one paper. Was it worth it? NO! I thought the paper had to be delivered come wind, hail, or sleet. It wasn't till years later that I found out the slogan was for the mailmen and not the newspaper carriers. If someone had told me earlier things would have been different.

Back to the area of Eighth and Locust. I delivered to my neighbors the Spencers, Walshs, Hooks, Tolars, Jarmans, Liners, Fehrings, Turners, Kalkwarfs, Terossas and others. Supper was on the table and after that it was downtown for a time on main street.

I was encouraged to set aside money in a bank account for college and I did. As my account increased I often wonder if it was yet enough to take me all the way through college. Finally I decided if it were enough to get me through three years somehow I would get through the last year. Now this was after a war and prices for everything were increasing. When I finally got to college in 1955, all of my savings got me almost through the first semester. Somehow that was discouraging! I endued all of that Illinois heat and snow just to have my savings taken by inflation. Inflation doesn't give back either. That would not be the last time it happened. Stocks and stock brokers can do the same.

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Now delivering papers wasn't entirely negative. I learned many lessons that were worth more than money. Almost everyone on my route taught me something. They shaped my life and I can only thank them for that. We had more time to interact with our customers than paperboys of today. There were far fewer people then. Academics moved slower and required less study time. Our competitors for grades were fewer. TV was new, there were just three or four programs and no one had more than one TV in their house. Cars weren't as important. One would plan a trip with a friend who had a car (I got my first car just before my senior year in college). Our ways were archaic by today's standards. More papers need to be delivered to more people. Now there is no time to put a paper under a brick on the front porch or even in a special box in front of the house. Put the paper in a plastic bag, roll down the windows of the car and try to hit the driveway as you drive modestly down the street. May we (old time) paperboys remember the good times i.e. gifts at Christmas and I hope the good times out weighed the bad. I salute all paperboys and girls from times past!