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Best Life Lesson Ever from a Paper Route

This story has to be the best I ever seen for how a paper route made a significant difference in a kid's life.

Lots of boys had paper routes growing up in Terre Haute, Ind. I started by helping my cousin, Cedric Furry, carry his route.

Cedric did not have parents able to help him with college expenses. He had to support himself, and pay books and tuition as well.

Cedric had a plan to meet his goal of attending college. He worked part time with a flexible schedule at the college doing clean up and odd jobs for the college. This was a government program for indigent students to help them pay for tuition. It was called NYA (National Youth Administration).

For his meals, he cleaned up tables and washed dishes at the Goodie Shop Cafeteria, a well-run cafeteria on Ohio Street between Sixth and Seventh streets.

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Bonnie allowed him to sleep at their house for free.

With his bicycle, he had a paper route for the Terre Haute Tribune, the afternoon paper. The morning paper was the Star, published in the same building but with different staff.

Newspapers were 3 cents each for daily papers and Sunday papers for 10 cents by subscription, delivered.

I learned from Cedric that you need to make goals and plans, and execute them to get ahead.

Cedric's route was on North Sixth Street from Wabash Avenue to Lafayette Street. He had 163 daily customers and 110 Sundays.

I liked to help him from time to time just for the experience.

I would meet him after school at the rear of the Tribune building on Wabash Avenue. It wasn't far from Wiley High School on South Seventh Street. A large room at (the) rear on the first floor was entered from the alley. The room had long tables covered with steel on which we folded the papers. Cedric taught me how to fold papers in a way that they would not come unfolded when sailed to the front porches. The papers were dispensed from a cage by the route manager.

When your route number was called you picked up your papers from the cage and checked the message board for starts, stops and complaints or other miscellaneous information.

When your papers were folded they were put in a square canvas bag designed to hold folded papers. The sack had a strap about 3-inches wide to put over your shoulder while riding your bicycle. A flap kept the papers dry in case of rain.

Most paper boys usually carried an extra or two. Sometimes a passerby would stop you and want to buy a paper. If you happened to tear one up or get it wet it was good to have an extra. Of course, you had to pay for the extras you carried.

Cedric taught me carrying an extra was just wasting money. He paid the paper company for fewer than he knew he could deliver and make money on. If he needed a few papers because he was short or one was not saleable, he bought what needed from the news stand on Wabash Avenue.

The newspaper ran contest from time to time to increase circulation. When a contest was announced to start on a specific date, Cedric would decrease his number then. Instead he would buy them from the news stand.

When the contest started he would report new customers immediately. He won prizes from many of the contests that way. His route had a higher turnover of residents than most because it was near downtown location. Apartments and multi-family houses counted for more than half his customers. In fact there was one apartment house, The Mary Stewart Apartments, where you walked the halls and dropped 28 papers.

I learned from the contests that you needed to understand the circumstances and the system, and be creative to win. Other routes where there were established neighborhoods were at a disadvantage under the circumstances.

When Cedric was about to be drafted into the Army, he volunteered for the Naval Air Corp.

I took over his route "temporarily". By then I was a senior in high school in 1941-42. It was a lucrative route earning up to $20 per week. "Temporarily" turned in to several months. My guess is that the route manager waited until he had a college student who needed the route to pay for college expenses.

However with the draft and other opportunities for employment for younger men that may not have been so easy. Nevertheless I learned one day that I would be transferred to a smaller route on South Fourth Street. That route was from Walnut Street to Crawfort Street. It had less than half the customers I was accustomed to. It was easier but it paid less too.

Carrying a paper route I learned many things which were valuable lessons for the rest of my life. I learned to be responsible for doing a job every single day, seven days a week through all kinds of weather.

I learned to handle money I had collected and not spend it just because I had it in my pocket. It wasn't all mine.

I had to pay my paper bill, the cost of daily business. I usually spent several hours on Saturday collecting. Most weeks I would collect enough on Saturday to pay the paper bill. To make a profit I had to make call backs to collect the money owed to me. I had to keep accurate records of which customers had paid and which had not. I learned that you did not collect all the monies owed. You had to write off the ones who moved away without paying as a bad debt. I learned that you had to please your customers, especially those who had special requests. I learned how to buy wholesale and sell retail with service and attention to special requests.

All of these lessons would be valuable because outside of my military service and teaching years, I spent all my life in the business arena.

Were these the "Good Old Days"? No. they were the good old learning days.

[ Normand Hammond is a resident of Winter Haven. ]

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