Woodworking again: Paper route at Christmas

By Dave Wood
Posted 12/27/23

For years here in River Falls, I’ve been struggling with the fecklessness of our paper delivery person. Until a year ago, we received the Star Tribune only about half the time. As a pensioner …

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Woodworking again: Paper route at Christmas


For years here in River Falls, I’ve been struggling with the fecklessness of our paper delivery person. Until a year ago, we received the Star Tribune only about half the time. As a pensioner of the Star Tribune, this obviously worried me. So I called the circulation boss who, miraculously found a replacement for the feckless one. She’s pretty good, flying by in her late model sports car, tossing our plastic wrapped Strib into the slushy gutter fairly near our sidewalk. 

Both paper persons’ performances roiled up my memories as a paperboy during the last century when I began my career as a budding entrepreneur delivering on smaller routes around town to people who subscribed to Grit, and the St. Paul Dispatch (12 customers, three on each corner of town). Finally I made the big time when I turned 12 and paid Jerry Moe $10 if he would relinquish his sweetheart route, the 90 subscribers to the popular Winona Republican-Herald who lived north of the railroad tracks. (Classmates Sheldon and Jimmy had similar routes southeast and southwest of town.) Of the 25 cents we collected from each, we received a princely sum of seven cents—if we could collect, but that’s another sad tale.

Rain, snow, sleet, or a late afternoon touch football game, the paper had to be delivered behind screen or storm doors all over town. I still know the route as well as I remember the WANTED posters that hung on the walls of the post office, where the truck from Winona arrived at 4 p.m. First stop, Lee and Joanne Johnson’s apartment above the post office. Then north on Main to apartments above the bakery, drugstore, City Café, all of which featured gloomy hallways and the smell of cooked cabbage wafting over the transoms of each hard-put subscriber. East to Archie Webb’s mansion on Ervin Creek. Archie, who lost his fortune in the stock market crash and was mad as a hatter, kept confusing me with my great-grandad because we shared the same names.

Then it was across the footbridge to Klomsten, Bensend DeBow, Stendahl and old Ben Engen. Back across Main down Scranton Street to Grandma Wood’s for a cookie and a toilet. (“Don’t forget to put up the seat, Davey!”) On to Mrs. Hegge’s baronial manor near the country club. (“If I keep adding new customers, I’ll live in a house like this someday!”) Then east on Blair Street with a flock more customers until I finally got back to Main and Abner Thompson’s Texaco station, where I counted my “extras,” bonus overruns the ultra-conservative management generously said we could sell and KEEP THE MONEY at the town’s local saloons, which presented an opportunity to make REAL money: Teddy’s, The Highway 53 Bar, Art Risberg’s, “Bit’s Antique,” the Walgert Hotel Tap. Some paid a nickel, some a dime, a quarter from some guys who remember their own days as newsboys and just once—a wet dollar bill, from a guy who woke up the next morning and didn’t remember anything.

The volatile weather in the Upper Midwest gave every day an element of excitement. In spring, muddy puddles to bike through, dreaded thunderstorms in summer,  the smell of burning leaves in the fall. But winter, despite the snow, was tops. Especially on the Christmas Eve that coincided with collection day.  By my fourth stop I managed to achieve the proper face to meet the faces that I met: A forlorn, hungry, dad-beats-me-every-night look, a look of deprivation and a hang-dog implication that my father was either Scrooge or Bob Cratchit, psychotically or financially incapable of providing his huge family of three a decent meal. Unfortunately, I was a tubby and no one ever gave me a goose.

No matter, home by 7:30 with my pockets filled with filthy lucre, I put on another face and was not at all shocked to find food on the table and presents under the tree provided by Mother and Father Scrooge-Cratchit Wood. 


Paper routes, Woodworking again, Dave Wood, column