By Rich Tarrant
Every now and then, I dream of those years: Riding my bicycle up down the streets of town with a newspaper bag over my neck filled to the top. It was so long ago. This was a time when newspapers; weeklies and dailies were still a primary source of news. In the morning it was the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In the afternoon it was the Cleveland News, Cleveland Press, Lorain Journal, Sandusky Register or the Elyria Chronicle. And every Friday it was The Vermilion News. And that was just in Vermilion.
I didn’t deliver all these newspapers – only the three Cleveland papers and the weekly News – but it was enough. It was a job. I’ve often lamented (mostly to myself) that youngsters don’t have the work opportunities I had when young. I, like my siblings, started delivering my parents weekly when I was about eight or nine. It was a good deal. The paper was a nickel.
When we delivered the weekly to a place like the Maudelton Saloon (it was located in the basement of the Old Maudelton Hotel that had been closed for years) on an early Friday morning there were always a few fellas in the place drinking their breakfast who bought a paper. [“Hey kid, gimme a copy of the “Bugle”.] We were allowed to keep the nickel. But that wasn’t the big thing. The guys always insisted on having the bartender fill a paper bag with popcorn and candy to give us before we got out the door. The popcorn we could eat right away. But the candy had to wait because our parents prohibited candy eating in the morning. And surprise of all surprises – we obeyed them. Maybe we only made a quarter on that route once a week, but the fringe benefits made the task worth it (at least after the noon hour).
When I was eleven going on twelve I got my first “real” paper route delivering the Cleveland News and the Cleveland Press after school. As these things go it was a difficult route. It covered the entire village which meant that it went from Bluebird Beach in the west, Nokomis Park to the east, north to the lake and south to Haber Road / Maurer Lane. It was a chunk of real estate. Moneywise, it would not have been a bad deal if – and that’s a big IF – there had been a whole bunch of subscribers. But there weren’t. And during inclement weather it was worse.
One winter afternoon I was actually unable to peddle my bike down Langfitt Street in what was then a new Vermilion subdivision some facetiously referred to as “Plywood Plaza”. The wind was blowing about 200 mph out of the west, and was colder than a witch’s kiss. It was so vicious it made me cry. And there were other problems as well. One time as I was being chased by a German shepherd whilst riding down one of the streets in the Vermilion Lagoons (of course the only subscriber lived at the very end of the street) a kid I knew (namely Ronnie Roskilly) shot me in the leg with his bb gun. He apologized. But it still hurt. I got a real break when the American Newspaper Guild went on strike in November of 1956. While I did deliver those sheets when the strike ended I luckily acquired a new, bigger and better, route delivering the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The Plain Dealer route was, at least for a twelve or thirteen year-old kid “big money”: Twenty bucks a week. Moreover, I didn’t have to collect. I worked out of the local newsstand (now the site of the Olive Scene on Liberty Ave.) and subscribers paid at the store. The downside, if there was one to this route, involved the number of subscribers. Unlike my afternoon route the PD route had 50 or 60 morning subscribers during the week and about 150 to 200 Sunday customers. The weekly route was doable for a kid my age. But the Sunday route was another matter. There was no way for me to carry more than ten or twenty Sunday Plain Dealer papers at a time using a bicycle. Back then Sunday newspapers were thick and weighed three or four pounds each.
That is when my mother became my unpaid business partner. So, in addition to her already full-time job as a mother of eight children, co-owner / publisher / writer of the local weekly she also became the best newspaper delivery person in the whole darn town. Fortunately (for her), I eventually decided to give it up turning the route over to another local kid named Jimmy Mason.
But as ye might gather from the fact that I still dream of those days [sometimes I remember that I missed a delivery at the Mayor’s house just around the corner or at one of the customer’s homes on Division Street] because it was a big part of my life when I was a kid. Moreover, in all those days when I navigated the streets of our town on my bike in all sorts of weather, I dreamed of a day when instead of delivering papers I’d be writing for them. Some dreams do come true.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant is Curator of the Vermilion History Museum and a son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org