Some of the memories are blurry, like smudged ink on an old newspaper. Others are sharp, as though freshly printed in living color, hot off the press — memories of cold afternoons, feet crunching in the snow, the faces of the good people and the ones you’d never see, of the chocolate-covered cherries (Christmas gifts no one seemed to like), and the old newspaper man and the smell of cigarettes that followed him.
Delivering the local newspaper, by foot, or bike, or, when the weather got bad, by parents’ car, was a first job for many in Hillsboro. As The Times-Gazette celebrates its 200th anniversary, we spoke to several people who used to carry the newspaper — from the 1950s to 1996, and from Hillsboro, Ohio, to Greenville, S.C.
For Keith Chambers, who now owns several fast-food chains, delivering what was then the Hillsboro Press-Gazette was, essentially, business school.
Chambers was nine years old when he first started working for Nina Wharton, who supervised the paper’s young delivery force. In the following years, Chambers learned some tricks of the trade and made others up — like switching customers over from paying a subscription by mail or in the office to paying him directly so he would make more money.
By the time he was 16, Chambers said he had switched almost all the customers on his route over to paying him.
“I don’t think the newspaper took kindly to that,” he joked.
Chambers said when Wharton confronted him about it, he simply told her, “They’re paying me now because they like me better.” He laughed when he said he couldn’t recall what she told him in return.
Orville Harshbarger, who owned Harshbarger’s supermarket, was one of several customers who would buy the paper from Chambers, read it, then give it back to him when he looped back around on the route so he could re-sell it. Chambers would also re-sell boxes upon boxes of chocolate-covered cherries — sometimes for 50 cents on the dollar — after customers gave them to him at Christmastime.
The job wasn’t always lucrative, though, and it taught him to be shrewd with his money.
“One customer, and I won’t say his name, would always short-change me. Almost always,” he said. “You learned to count your money.”
And it wasn’t always a pleasant job, either.
“The days when it was pouring down rain and lightning and I had to deliver all those papers, it was a real hassle,” he said. “And I had my share of dogs chasing me.”
Debbi Ellis, who now lives in Aurora, Ill., said when she delivered the paper in the 1970s, she was the only girl doing the job at the time.
“It was a job for boys back then,” she said. “The men at the feed store always kidded me about being a paperboy.”
Still, she said she was always treated well by customers on her route. In fact, Mr. Swonger at Swonger’s Dairy always had a little jug of chocolate milk set aside for her, and it paired nicely with homemade cookies from the little old lady who lived nearby at the top of a rickety staircase.
One of Ellis’ favorite customers was an older man who sat on his porch and waited for her to arrive. When she approached, he would ask, “Is the news good today, or bad?”
Ellis said she would reply, “‘Well, let’s look at the obituaries, and if your name’s not in there, it’s good.’”
Customers who wouldn’t pay up always proved to be difficult, Ellis said, and sometimes she would miscount her newspapers and have to walk all the way back to the newspaper office to get more. But she always had an extra copy for her parents, the last customers on her route.
Ellis said she still reads the daily newspaper in Aurora.
Sharon Bell, who delivered the paper in the 1950s, didn’t pay much attention to who else was working there. When she took over the route from her brothers, who went to work at Kaufman’s, she was just happy to get out of babysitting.
Bell delivered papers to the Pants Factory, which her father ran at the time, and loved getting gifts from customers around the holidays. Lifesavers were a special treat.
John Glaze recalled in vivid detail the streets on his route, the names of his customers, and even the smell of the back room at the Press-Gazette.
“I remember the smell of the print and ink when it was printed right there,” said Glaze, who still lives in Hillsboro. “There was a guy named ‘Chub,’ and he collated the papers when it was two sections. It was fascinating to watch him. He kind of got a rock going, and went chk! chk! chk! just as fast as you could think.”
Glaze said there was never a mistake in the paper when Betty Powell was a proofreader, and he never saw Harold Powell, the editor, without a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Glaze said he once injured one of his fingers in a playful wrestling match with another carrier, and instead of his parents complaining about it to the newspaper, he got in trouble for it.
“Nowadays, the parents would contact the newspaper and say ‘You guys weren’t watching my kid,’” he said. “Of course, my parents said, ‘What were you doing messing around up there?’… I lived, I lived.”
A free treat at a bakery on South High Street gave him the strength he needed to continue on his route, but he said nothing could make up for the cold during winter.
Monte Fisher said his most vivid memory of delivering the paper in 1974 was seeing a funnel cloud forming above his route on the same day a tornado tore through Xenia, destroying much of the town — that, and Roy King, who Fisher described as “the guy who was always out back and had that funny little mustache and smoked Pall Malls.”
“He was a chain smoker, that guy,” Fisher said. “Nicest guy in the world. I always liked working with him.”
Fisher’s longest route had 70 customers at a time, but it was no match for his bike — a three-speed with a stick shift on the handlebar, a big fat tire on the back and a pair of bright orange Press-Gazette saddlebags on the sides.
Fisher, who now lives in Greenville, S.C., said it was the “brutal Ohio winter” that made his job miserable.
“Man, it was tough,” he said. “You’d be frozen to the bone. You’d stuff newspapers down in your boots and hope for the best.”
Jeff Gilliland said delivering the paper as a kid wasn’t what got him interested in news writing — but whatever did has stuck. Gilliland, now the assistant editor at The Times-Gazette, has been in the news business for more than 30 years.
Gilliland delivered the paper for two different stints in the 1970s with his brother, Brent. Every year at Christmas, he would get loaded down with boxes of chocolate-covered cherries, which he didn’t prefer — but the late Dick Shaffer always came through with a new baseball bat for him every year.
Gilliland said a memory of one family in particular has stuck with him.
“Their son, who was a year younger than me, would mess with me all the time,” he said. “He would chase me back down the street, whacking me with the newspaper… We eventually became very good friends and are good friends to this day.”
Gilliland said he and his brother always seemed to be playing ball when it came time to deliver the paper.
“Mom would stick her head out the back door and say, ‘Boys, it’s time to deliver the paper,’ and we’d groan and say, ‘But we’re playing ball,’” Gilliland said. “That may have been the reason we quit.”
Debbie Mitchell, whose children Audra and Nicholas were some of the first carriers for The Times-Gazette in 1996 (and posed for a front page picture when the newly-merged product began), said the job taught work ethic and financial responsibility.
“They did really good making the deliveries,” Mitchell said. “When it was raining or storming, my husband or I would take them on their route… But it was their job, so they did it.”
Mitchell said her children were both good at saving their money, although it took some time to get there.
“Their first paycheck, they went out and blew it,” she said. “But they knew this was their job, and their money.”
Mitchell said Audra and Nicholas, 14 and 15 at the time, “enjoyed their job and were glad to get one.”
Many would say the same goes for them.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.