Our 1963 newspaper route debacle

By Edward Forbes / The Bulletin

It was during my junior year in high school that we acquired the newspaper delivery route. We had the exclusive delivery rights for three morning papers: The Austin American, The San Antonio Express and The Houston Post; and for two afternoon papers: The Austin Statesman and The San Antonio News.

Donnis and I were the morning delivery persons, and mother delivered the afternoon papers during the school year.

The newspaper delivery business was an educational experience, and the lessons taught were varied.
Mother bought out the routes, and we had to ride for several days with the three guys who threw the route. They taught us all the tricks.

You want to make someone sick? Put them in the back seat with bundles of papers and tell them to roll them. The smell of the ink makes you queasy after a bit. It’s even more effective in cold weather with the heater going.

You could have the added attraction of buying them fried pies or some greasy food. It wouldn’t last long.

When we got comfortable with the route, we switched to our car with one of the experienced guys for a week. I drove and threw papers. Donnis rolled the papers. Initially I think we used rubber bands and then switched to string because it was cheaper.

The papers were bagged on days it threatened rain. Double-bagging the papers is more effective than tying a knot in the end of a single bag, a tried and true practice of experience carriers. Soon we were on our own.

In the dark ages before the Internet, missing a house was akin to barn-burning in rural America. You could make a jovial person transform into a banshee, and a kind grandmotherly woman into a screaming shrew by missing their home with the morning paper.

Equally unforgivable was delivering a wet paper. The phone would light up with irate calls for any transgression. We learned to be efficient, or face the wrath of mother, who had to take calls and deliver the goods while we were in school.

Up at 5 a.m., Donnis and I quickly dressed to pick up all the bundles of newspapers at the drop-off site. The site was a former car dealership on Hwy. 90 in a dying business district of Luling.

It was a recessed, short-curved driveway that had accessed a showroom in its former life. Now it was a convenient location for the trucks to drop off and for us to sit out of the elements and roll as many papers as we could to get our route started. We had to be on the road delivering by 5:30 a.m. at the latest.

I drove and threw the rolled papers while Donnis continued to roll like crazy to keep a supply of papers for me. This was complicated because we had to keep the three different papers separated.

Fortunately for us, the Houston Post had a small circulation in the nearly 160-mile distant town of Luling. The San Antonio and Austin papers were of more local interest.

The Houston Post was also the least reliable about arriving at the drop-off. It was delivered by the bus and was frequently late. I digress because this story is about one paper and one customer.

Mrs. Little Old Lady was a sweet lady who paid her bill on time and seldom complained about our service.

One day during a cold spell she called and asked our mother if we could throw her paper on her porch instead of the yard.

This simple request was complicated by the geographical location of her home. It was in an older neighborhood, a section of town with a few oil pump jacks (now fancifully decorated for the Watermelon Thump). Her house was unusual because the street made a sharp descent beginning before the end of her lot.

“Donnis, we have to get Mrs. Little Old Lady’s paper on her porch. It sets pretty far back and pretty high. Any suggestions?”

“Well, maybe we could drive a little faster and sorta aim at the door.”

This seemed eminently reasonable to me, and now only required some logistics to accomplish our goal. We delivered the area south of Hwy. 90 first and then crossed the railroad tracks to deliver the north side of town. Her home was to the east off Hwy. 183.

Our initial run by her home was done at about 35 MPH. I grabbed the paper with my right hand, transferred it to my left and threw it in front and over the hood of the car. BAM, it hit the lip of the porch floor and bounced back into the yard.

“Darn it, Donnie, I missed the porch!” I yelled.

Our only recourse was to try again. We finished that area and before going west of Hwy 183, we made another loop by her home. This time we boosted our speed to about 45 mph. I released the paper and heard it hit on the porch! We were ecstatic and continued on our way.

That afternoon when we got home after school mother cornered us.

“I got ‘nother call from Mrs. Little Old Lady this morning. She said to tell the boys that the paper on the sidewalk is just fine.”

“I don’t understand, we got it on the porch this morning,” I protested.

“Well yes you did. It hit her screen door and knocked it off the hinges, and scared the heck out of her,” she said.

We continued to throw her paper by or on the sidewalk as close to the porch as we could.

We never thought about stopping and carrying the paper to her porch. Upper management never suggested it, either.