The Paper Routes
by: Russ Lancaster
This story could have also been named "The paper boy". I don't think the concept exists in Hamlet anymore these days but it was alive and well in the 40's and 50's. I should know; I was one of that long forgotten breed. The old "paper boy" has been replaced by adults looking for extra income driving cars instead of bicycles. Let me tell you how it used to be.
I was a paper boy three times in my life. The first was for a very short time back in 1949 or so. I had no route assigned back then but simply walked the streets and businesses of Hamlet trying to hawk the Hamlet News. I had been told that a boy could go down to the Hamlet News, buy as many papers as he liked for 3 cents each and sell them for 5 cents each. In 1949 that was good money for a young boy. If he could sell only 10 papers he would make 20 cents profit. That was a good week's allowance back then.
Being only 8 years old, I quickly ran into many problems. Shyness was not a virtue when it came to selling newspapers. Neither was smallness. Not having much luck downtown (most folks usually had their papers from other sources before I got out of school in the afternoons) I decided to try my luck at Hamlet Hospital with the patients. I quickly found out that an older and bigger boy than me had already staked that territory out. My first experience at being a paper boy was quickly over.
My second experience came at the age of 12 and was much more enjoyable. I was able to secure my own route with customers already in place. The newspaper: The Charlotte News. It was an afternoon newspaper and was a perfect fit with my school hours. The year was 1953. I, along with the other paper boys, would meet at Rea's Esso (where Hardee's now stands) after school to get our stacks of papers that were dropped off by a delivery truck from Charlotte. We were paid 65 cents per week to do something we actually enjoyed doing. Heck, I would have probably done it for free just for the experience.
The Charlotte News was a 6 day per week paper, Monday through Saturday. My route consisted of Hamlet Avenue and Charlotte Street and all the block long streets that ran between those two. We would pick up our papers, roll them up and tie them with rubber bands (bought at our own expense from Rose's 5 & 10 cent store), pile them into our canvas paper bags, load them into our large newspaper baskets on our big bicycles and deliver them house by house along our routes. There was an art to rolling them correctly and banding them. An even greater art was learning exactly how to throw them from a moving bicycle and make them land exactly where the customer wanted them. It was not work, it was pure fun. The only days that were remotely like work at all were on Saturdays when we received two stacks of papers each, one being the regular paper, the second being an "insert" which usually consisted of comics and advertisements. Those inserts could sometimes double the mass of papers and require two trips to handle your route of between 80 and 100 customers.
I even enjoyed reading the headlines as I rolled my papers every afternoon learning things about the world I would have otherwise not known. TV was still a novelty back then and news was usually received at the Hamlet Theater before a movie. I learned of the war in Korea and grew tired of it after seeing it in headlines for such a long, long time.
Every few months or so, our supervisor would meet with us at a designated point (usually a service station) and send us out on early evening new customer solicitation. This too was more fun than work. Times were innocent, we had no fear of knocking on stranger's doors and trying to convince them why they needed an afternoon newspaper. I loved the job and kept it for two years before moving on to bigger and better things.
In 1955, at the age of 14, a man by the name of Monroe Weatherford came by my house and offered me a paper route with the Charlotte Observer. This was North Carolina's premier newspaper. It was also the largest in page volume. I quickly jumped at the chance. The pay was even good at $4.75 per week plus increases for new customers and there would be no more weekly collections as I had with the previous paper. We would only be required to collect for the papers once per month and were given another commission in addition to our salary for all money collected. It was a great job for a new teenager.
You could hear the bale of newspapers hitting my front porch on Minturn Avenue around 5:00 a.m. every morning. They were bound with copper wire (which made a good antenna for my bedside radio). I quickly learned how to wake up completely those early morning hours, drag the bales into the living room and roll and band the papers within a half hour. I had a large route which consisted of Minturn Avenue and Jefferson Street and all the blocks between the two. I had approximately 150 customers and most of them wanted their papers thrown in a particular area in the yard or on the porch. Some even wanted them hand delivered between the screen door and main door. It was no problem. I loved the job and could use the money.
Again, reading the headlines while rolling the papers kept me abreast of all the latest world news, sports and weather. The most disturbing headline was in 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik into outer space. This was in the middle of the Cold War and I thought the Russians had at last passed us in technology and that WWIII would soon break out.
Every day was different be it because of weather or the sighting of a new car in a customer's driveway or a new dangerous dog along the way. Being about in those early morning hours wakened my brain to the rest of the day's activities yet to come, got me ready for school or for baseball in the summer. It was refreshing and exhilarating, especially when I would fly down McPhail's Hill at breakneck speed to get to the Jefferson Street part of my route.
The paper route taught me business ethics, history, so many things that would influence the rest of my life. It taught me how to get along with adults, it gave me fresh air in the early morning hours before school, it gave me much needed exercise pedaling that bicycle up and down the hills that abound in Hamlet. It was a time for a boy and his dog to travel in the early morning darkness and imagine ourselves anywhere in the world with people depending on us. It was a job I loved and I managed to keep it until I was 16 years old and moved on to being a soda jerk at the bus station (another story already available on this website).
I thank the Hamlet News, The Charlotte News, The Charlotte Observer and in particular Monroe Weatherford for those days of my life. For the building of character taught to me by them all, for the money they paid me for doing something I enjoyed so much, for teaching me things that would affect me forever. But, most of all I thank them for the memories they gave me. For allowing me to slip back in time here in my old age, to be a boy again, to ride those streets on a 26 inch bicycle with a big basket, to have my dog trailing me every step of the way, for those early morning rides in fog, rain and cold that had a way of refreshing me. Oh, to go back to those days again for just a moment.....
Share with your children and grandchildren your own paper route stories or read them mine if you have none. But surely you remember back to the way it was and the way it will never be again. Gone are the paper boys, replaced by adults in cars. Gone are the simple opportunities for young boys to learn so much by such a simple means. Gone, but not at all forgotten.
Because, I remember those times as do you.... but most of all, I remember Hamlet.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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