In 1966, when I was in seventh grade in McCune, Kansas, I began delivering papers for the Parsons Sun. I replaced Gary McGowan. He was a year older than me and had decided to quit the route because he was getting ready to go to high school.
At the time I took over the route, I had sixty-five customers and I delivered six days a week with no delivery on Sundays. I picked up the papers every afternoon from the McCune Post Office. The Postmaster, Lorn Lahey, let me use one of the mail sorting tables in the back to fold and stuff the newspapers before I delivered them on my bicycle on a seven mile route all over McCune and the nearby countryside.
I have many memories of my paper route - some happy, some sad, and some painful. It was my first job, and set the stage for nearly fifty years of continuous employment with only three employers: The Parsons Sun in junior high, The Girard House of Flowers in high school, and the National Park Service starting college and for an additional 37 years.
The Parsons Sun cost 35 cents a week in 1966. Of that I got 5 cents a subscription, or about $1.75 a week. I usually collected either weekly or monthly on Saturdays. I put my savings in the local McCune bank, at the time run by Morris Chambers.
The paper supplied perforated receipts for payments and provided a canvas shoulder bag for carrying the papers. I still have one of the shoulder bags. I went through several during my employment, as they tended to wear out from hard, daily usage.
I went through two bicycles in my stint as a paperboy. The first, a hand-me-down English bicycle from an older cousin, broke down after the first six months and my parents bought me a new three-speed bike that I used for the rest of my career. I rode it nearly every day on my route, except when it was pouring rain or snowing heavily. Then my mother sometimes took pity on me and drove me around my route in the family car.
Sometimes my younger sister, Mary Beth, assisted in delivering the last twenty or so papers when the papers arrived at the post office later than usual and I was behind schedule. I have never thanked her properly for her help so I will do it now – she was a lifesaver for a tired 12-year-old on late winter evenings.
McCune was a small farming community, and many of my clients were retired farmers or widows on small incomes. I was often paid in nickels and pennies. There were several people that I hated to collect from as I knew they were paying out of limited means, but they were usually my very best customers, and met me at their doors with smiles on their faces and change in hand on collection days.
Several of my customers shared their subscriptions with neighbors of limited means, which meant that on some days I delivered the paper to one address, and on other days I delivered to another.
I had miserable aim at tossing papers (especially while riding a bike), and many of my clients had limited mobility, so mostly I placed the newspapers in mailboxes or in door handles.
At Christmas time I delivered hand made Christmas cards to my clients, usually a linoleum block print that I made in art class. In return, many people on the route found out that I loved French-pressed cookies (pizzelles, made in a cast iron press that resembles a miniature waffle iron) and gave me boxes of these homemade treats. Most years I received enough to freeze so that I had a supply to last until the next Christmas.
I had the paper route in the days before bike helmets and other safety devices were common. I had several accidents and near misses, but no permanent injuries. One evening I took a headlong fall off my bike and went home to get bandaged. My mother took one look at me and headed for the mercurochrome and alcohol. Before she could get back to pour alcohol over my wounds, I hopped back on my bike and continued my route. I decided the scrapes were less painful than the treatment.
Riding seven miles a day put me in better cardio shape than most of my friends. I was always a terrible athlete, but when we had to do running drills in physical education, I could outlast the rest of the class.
One night it was pouring rain and my mother was taking me around the route. When I got back in the car, a large crawdad had attached himself to my pant leg. I kept him for several years in an aquarium in my bedroom, until he began escaping and traveling around the house, one night ending up under the bed in my parents’ room. Then he got liberated to our backyard.
I delivered the Sun for nearly three years and my route grew from sixty-five papers to nearly ninety. Then my father took a new job and we moved to Girard, where I got a job as a delivery boy for the local flower shop. But that is another story. Ray Gorman, a boy two years younger than me, took over the route.
I saved the money I earned from the paper route and, along with my salary from the flower shop, was able to contribute to my college education. I have no idea whether there is still a paper route for the Parsons Sun in McCune, but it provided me with a great start to my working career.
– John F. (Rick) Shireman, June 5, 2020
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