I know I don’t have a corner on the market of fascinating stories about newspaper experiences. But I was surprised to hear recently from My Ol’ Army Buddy – Corporal Rikard L. Arthur (retd.) — whom I’ve known for 40 years but never realized had the printer’s ink seeped in his hands.
Before we begin his story, let me put Cpl. Arthur in context for you. He grew up in Midtown – lived with his family off Knickerbocker Place — and attended Westport High. He later graduated from Friends University. He has sold cars and motorcycles, run a baseball card/comic book shop and now works for the state of Missouri, helping military veterans. He lives in Lee’s Summit.
Cpl. Arthur and I met in the Army Reserve, in about 1970. We were “Weekend Warriors” in a petroleum supply unit in Kansas City, Kan., and our mandatory two-week “summer camps” took us to such exotic places as Fort Lee, Virginia, and Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.
But, like I say, Cpl. Arthur has deep Midtown roots, which led to his entry into the newspaper business. And with that, Cpl. Arthur’s story begins…
“My one and only foray into the newspaper biz was with a publication called the Westport Reporter. It was the only job a sub-16-year-old kid could get back in the day. The paper, which had its offices at 39th and Walnut, was basically an advertising rag for local merchants and apartment-rental postings, but did carry a bit of news and a photo or two in every issue.
“We threw the paper on Thursday, after school. When Westport High dismissed, the first 20 guys who ran the two blocks to the Reporter office were “hired” to throw the paper that day. I always made that group. During the summer vacations, we just showed up about a half hour early to ensure employment, normally travelling to the paper office by Schwinn.
“We carried those big shoulder bags and walked every step of the route with a giant wad of red rubber bands in our cheeks like Nellie Fox with his chaw. At each residence, you rolled the paper, banded it and tossed it within a few feet of the front door. For lengthy shots in big yards, we cheated by rolling two papers together for the weight needed to make the long throw. Throwing two papers to a single residence was a serious violation of policy and cause for instant dismissal, but we were rule breakers, of course.
“The routes were covered by teams of two paper boys, and to get the due respect of your fellow route man, you needed the occasional “direct hit” sound of a double-rolled paper hitting squarely – and loudly — on the shiny aluminum panel at the base of somebody’s front storm door, which usually carried the family’s last name initial. I’m sure you remember those doors. Everybody had ‘em.
“It was a very rewarding sound, and I’m sure it irritated anyone who happened to be home. The noise was about twice as loud if the door behind the storm door was open, so we looked for that situation at all times, keeping a nice double roller right in the front of the bag for immediate use. The double roller was also there for any dog who might challenge, and I smacked more than one right on the nose with a Westport Reporter, which changes their mind in a big hurry. This was in the days long before anyone knew about Mace or protective chemical sprays.
“It took us about three hours to deliver the paper, which was 12-to-20 pages, depending on advertising. We covered the area from 31st Street down to the Plaza, from Troost on the east to a couple blocks past State Line (Adams, Eaton, and I forget the rest). After finishing, we got as little as $2.50 or as much as $4, depending on the length of the route we had thrown.
“Don’t forget, by today’s standards that pay scale equated to roughly 10 to 16 gallons of gas, or about $25 to $40 dollars! In the early 60s, a young man could do a lot of things with that kind of money. A hamburger, fries and thick malt at Joe’s at 39th & Wyandotte (right on my way home) didn’t total a buck and would provide a welcome treat and recovery from the labor just performed. Next stop would usually be Crown Drug or Parkview Drug for a couple comic books (Army at War or Fighting Forces) and perhaps the current issue of MAD, and then back home with my reading materials.
“While I have you reading this ramble, I’ll tell you about the big deal that happened with the Westport Reporter at the end of the school year in 1962, I think. Some of the “chosen” paper throwers (I guess I was one) were secretly told by the staff that “something big” was going to happen right after the last week of school, and to be available if the call came. Well, that’s the summer that the Landing Shopping Center opened at 63rd and Troost, and the paper produced a 15-page special edition, full of coupons and merchant news to promote the grand opening of this major shopping venue.
“The Reporter was contracted to deliver the special paper all over KC. This involved a full week of work for us the first week of summer vacation. We threw the special landing edition more than eight hours a day Monday through Wednesday, the Westport Reporter and the Landing special together on Thursday, and finished up delivering the Landing special on Friday.
“I got sixty-five bucks on Friday and thought I should have a police escort home with that kind of money! Most of that loot lasted all the way through the summer as my “stash money” for fireworks (which were outlawed in KC, and we rode 10 miles each way to Merriam, Kan., on bicycles to smuggle them back) and other things of great importance, like 45 rpm records and swimming at Fairyland.
“It was truly a dream come true, financially. I don’t think I even told my Mom and Dad how much they had paid me because it was so much, and I didn’t want word to get out. By my standard of $2.50 per gallon gas, that was equal in today’s money to about 260 gallons of gas, or $650 dollars!!!!
“How about those apples, buddy?”
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