I vividly recall the sights, the sounds, and even the smells I encountered along the three newspaper routes I had as a youngster growing up in Kansas City, delivering The Kansas City Kansan every weekday after school and early every Sunday morning for about four years.
Each route was interesting and unique. I started on a small-time, 60-paper route that included my home and those of all my neighbors on Strawberry Hill. What a responsibility, I thought, not just delivering the newspaper but also delivering an education to many of the immigrants who, over the years, I suspected, gleaned more from their daily paper than many people did from their college education.
I finished my daily delivery in about 45 minutes, including rolling the papers, which was quite an art unto itself. How fast could I tri-fold, roll, and then double or triple band my papers? That was the question. Evidence of my folding skills were the black, ink-stained hands I proudly displayed to my mother and any other family member inside our tiny two-story home.
Many of the houses in my neighborhood were no more than 10 feet apart, and the front porches were just a few feet from the redbrick sidewalks. Every day presented a new challenge. How fast could I do it? How many papers could I land within a few inches of the front doors?
I wanted to please my customers because, after all, they were my customers, and this was my job. Quite a responsibility for an 11-year-old, I thought, and a responsibility I was proud to shoulder.
Collecting payments each month was another story, not much fun at all — except at Christmas! That’s when the real tips would come, when my accurate throwing arm paid off, when the little old ladies told me what a good boy I was. What a feeling!
I went on to help one of my sisters on her route that started about a block west of our home and continued to the southwest quite a ways, nearly reaching Russian Hill. We would split up the route so that we could finish more quickly, or sometimes she’d take one side of a street and I the other. This was a short gig.
Then I graduated. To another paper route that is. A friend of mine needed a partner, so I jumped at the chance. It was the big time — City Hall, the federal courthouse, the corporate banks, the Huron Building, Minnesota Avenue. Wow!
On this route we didn’t even have to roll the papers. There were no porches, just offices — important business people; the mayor, the city commissioners, lawyers, and the police.
The times I carried my bright yellow bag along this 120-paper route were when I dreamed about my future, how I could grow up to be like any of the successful types to whom I delivered the news. Those were pie-in-the-sky dreams for a kid who grew up in a neighborhood where college wasn't the first thought of those who managed to make it through high school. But I became determined that if I could handle responsibilities, I could be whatever I wanted to be.
Sunday morning deliveries inside the 10-story City Hall building were the most exciting times. After a security guard positioned near the stench-filled jail cells on the basement level allowed us to enter an elevator, we knew that all nine floors above us were ours. Nobody worked on Sunday mornings — except paperboys.
The figure eight shaped hallways were our skateboarding raceways. The stairwells were our echo chambers. And every time we rounded a corner a bit of well-hidden fear raced inside of us as we imagined that one of the jail inmates in the basement might have escaped and sought refuge upstairs.
Those were the days.
Being a paperboy helped shape me into the person I have become. I didn’t know it at the time, but the long, daily treks along my assigned routes were more than just a job. They were adventures, learning experiences, and challenges all rolled into one. I learned how to deal with the ups and downs of life. How lucky I was then, and how lucky I am now for having had the chance to tote the bag!
— Tom Farmer, 3-15-00
Note: Tom went on to graduate from KU and work as a writer and editor for The Morning Sun. He’s now Communications Manager for Pitsco, Inc.
If you have a paperboy story to share, you can send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762. - J.T.