Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Maybe there’s no such thing as a paperboy anymore. I haven’t seen one in decades, have you? I gave up my paper route fifty years ago after delivering the Lowell Sun every single day for five years. It was my older brother’s before it was mine and my little brother took over from me. We kept it in the family because it was a coveted thing. I averaged 40-50 customers and it took about an hour if I hurried. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays took longer because the papers were thicker and I couldn’t fit them all in my canvas bag with its wide, over-the-shoulder strap. I had to go back two, or sometimes three times to reload. Saturdays were easiest because the paper was always thin.
My bag said "THE SUN" on it

To learn the route I walked around with my brother shortly before he gave it up, then took it on myself when I was ten. The bag was heavy and my shoulder ached until I got stronger. Eventually I could ride a bike with it and things went quicker. I learned to deal with dogs and with people. Most were nice but some were a pain, sometimes literally in the case of a dog here and there. I’d try to make friends, but with some dogs it was impossible. If I turned my back on them they’d nip at my legs until I learned to turn around quickly and administer a swift kick. That usually took care of it, but sometimes it made things worse. Seldom did the owners come out and discipline those dogs, which is probably why they behaved that way.
Friday was collection day and I’d knock on every door. I’d hear “Who is it?” from inside. “Paperboy!” I’d yell back, “Collecting!” It was 42¢ for six days and 62¢ if they got the Sunday paper, which most did. Some thought they were good tippers if they gave me 65¢, but 75¢ was decent. Very rarely did anyone give me a dollar. Saturday mornings I’d meet the Lowell Sun’s district manager on the corner and pay him for the papers. 
The Lowell Sun building

Each week, I netted about five dollars, tips included. My father made me put three in the bank and let me keep two which I spent on comic books, chocolate bars, bicycle repairs, and an occasional movie. For those, I had to take a bus to Lowell and the bus stop was a mile away. He let me take money out for a new bike once in a while because it was a capital investment, but that’s all. The Friday collection just before Christmas was the biggest payday and some years I’d clear $100.
It was something I had to do every day and was most difficult when I had to leave an afternoon sandlot baseball or football game to deliver papers. Other players would beg me to stay longer — not because I was so good, but because the sides would be uneven when I left. Sometimes it rained, snowed, and there was heat and humidity. Sun truck drivers turned over often and sometimes threw my bundle in a puddle if I wasn’t right there to take it from them. Then I’d have to decide who to deliver the wet papers to. Sometimes they’d drop off the wrong bundle and I’d either be short or have too many.
My favorite time to deliver them was exactly this time of year. Not so much because of the big Friday collection day, but because it was cold and dark and I had the street to myself. I could see people inside their houses but they couldn’t see me outside walking along. I could see their Christmas trees lit up and all the other decorations. I could smell their balsam wreaths when I opened the storm door to put the paper inside. I liked to watch snow fall through the illuminated cone under a street light.
The obnoxious dogs were usually inside in winter but some of the good ones would be out making their rounds, going about their business as I was going about mine. They’d lift a leg here and there to mark their territory. They knew me and I knew them and sometimes we’d greet each other in passing.
When I finished, it was suppertime and the other nine people in my own family would be around the dinner table. My mother would open the door a crack and say, “Take off your boots on the porch!” I would, then walk past them all to hang my coat, my hat, and my empty canvas bag on a hook in the cellar hallway. Then my sister would slide over on the black-painted, pine bench my grandfather made to make room for me in my usual spot on the end.


CJ Johnson said...

Aah, memories! At one point I was waking up at 4:00 to deliver one route (Herald Advertiser, perhaps?), delivering a second route (Globe, maybe?) too many years ago), going to school, then delivering for the Lowell Sun. Taught me lot of things that have made me a success today. Re-enforced my work ethic and showed me the value of money. The newspapers were worthless, lying rags even then. But I made money delivering them and wouldn't trade that time for anything. I have a picture of me in a snowstorm, delivering the Sun (1971) that you may find interesting. I'll email it to. Thank you for the memory.

piddingworth said...

Wow,Tom, you kindle so many common memories! In the late fifties, living in Hampton, I delivered the weekly 'Hampton Union', The Globe (If only I'd known then!) and incredibly the 'Haverhill Gazette' that subcribed three elderly neighbours. You're so right about the Globe on Sunday. Man that was huge and everyone in the neighbourhood took it, so we earned our pittance. I'd fill the bag and somehow sling it over my shoulder on my bike...it defied physics! It was so heavy but what great excercise. These papers couldn't simply be tossed. They had to be properly delivered each stop. Like you, between the 3 papers I earned some decent spending money where I managed to save enough for some neat things...like a chemistry set. The dogs? Yes! They were everywhere and real nippers. I agree, we had to kick the guy in the chops to make him back off...and then speed like blazes away. At the end of it all, a good lesson in responsibility was learned.

Unknown said...

Great memories, I delivered newspapers too I made a little more money than you did so to me it was a little more rewarding.

Bradley said...

I delivered the Attleboro Sun and the North Attleboro Chronicle which was owned by Congressman and former Speaker Joe Martin. Although it was a small time operation I got a sense of how business was conducted. By the way we also moved lawns, shoveled snow, washed cars and any other way we could make money. Where are those kids today?

Anonymous said...

Well, the paper costs more of course, but you may be interested that MY "paper boy" (woman with a pickup truck) gets $50 around Christmas time.
And who in the HELL thought those plastic, road side, boxes would be a good idea in the North East? The snow plow operators brother-in-law?

Cathy Counts said...

My brother delivered papers in South Portland, Maine in the late 50s and during the 1960s. The papers were delivered just around the corner from where we lived, and he would get together with several different boys as they folded their papers. If they were thin enough, they would make tubes out of them that would be easy to throw, but my mother always caution and my brother to bring the paper up to the porch and put it inside the storm door.

Anonymous said...

I was never a paperboy, but chummed around with those who were. I took an alternative job caddying at a private golf club in the early 60's to help pay for my Jesuit school education. Back then, I may have made @ $4.00 for a day's work carrying doubles and was usually treated to a coke and candy bar at the turn. The tuition was $300./year plus books. Now, that same school is @ $16,000/year. I'd have to be a paperboy AND caddie if I decided to go there these days.