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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Special delivery: Paperboys (and some girls) recall the highs and lows of delivering the Spokane Chronicle

Don Gorder’s savings as a paperboy for the Spokane Daily Chronicle could have bought a really nice go-kart.

“We went to a dealership, and we were looking at these go-karts,” said Gorder, who delivered a route near Shadle Park High School in the 1960s. But he was just shy of 16, and his parents counseled him that maybe he should hold off and buy a car.

Sure enough, a few years later, Gorder paid cash for a 1952 Ford custom. It was an old Bell Telephone Co. car, “OD green,” Gorder said, and lacked a backseat.

“It was really well maintained compared to other cars,” he said. “It drove nicely and everything. I was thankful I didn’t buy that go-kart.”

Every afternoon for decades, young men (and sometimes women) slung canvas bags over their shoulders after class and hurled papers onto porches across the Inland Empire for the Chronicle, which returns this month as an e-Edition. Several responded to a recent call by The Spokesman-Review for memories of those formative years, including the occasional dodgy subscriber, vicious dog and, of course, the spoils of their paychecks.

“I think my parents made me get a job. It was something to occupy my time,” said Brent Burch, who delivered in the early 1960s to a route that included parts of the Audubon-Downriver neighborhood near Joe Albi Stadium. Burch remembered he’d often stop at the drug store near Assembly and Wellesley for a fountain root beer in a frosted mug.

Jack Thompson spent his earnings on something a little more essential.

“I had to give my mother 2½ dollars a week for room and board,” said Thompson, who sold “Red Streak” copies of the evening Chronicle at the corner of Stevens and Riverside downtown starting in 1944. “My folks had seven kids. We were really poor people back in those days.”

In addition to the paycheck, most newspaper carriers said they also picked up life lessons along the way.

The ‘earning curve’

Royce Gorseth, who would later become a longtime columnist for The Spokesman-Review, had a run-in with a Spokane fire chief on Thanksgiving Day 1950.

Rain fell heavy on that holiday, and Gorseth was already having a difficult time folding the ad-heavy copies of the Chronicle into the squares that made tossing the papers easier. Wet and hungry, a young Gorseth began pitching the papers willy-nilly onto porches up and down his six-block route along West Mansfield Avenue.

Gorseth’s father was waiting at home. He would have to redeliver dry papers, that night, with an apology. That included the home of then-Assistant Spokane Fire Chief Fred Matsch.

“He was a big, really big man,” Gorseth said. “But he had this calm, quieting voice.”

Matsch met Gorseth at the door.

He “looked me in the eye and clearly stated, ‘Young man, if you do not make a success of your paper route you will be a failure all your life,’ ” Gorseth remembered.

The lesson stuck. Others were more academic.

Jim Wavada delivered to the areas around Gonzaga University, including the college’s administration building.

“I would toss Father (Arthur L.) Dussault his paper from the hall. He would catch it midair and toss back a piece of candy from a small bowl on his desk, then he would say a part of the Mass in Latin to test my response in Latin. Then he would laugh and I’d be on my way,” said Wavada, who assisted with services at St. Aloysius Cathedral.

If there were any extras, Wavada said, he’d take them to the student union building and sell the sections at 10 cents apiece.

He wasn’t the only one catering to the region’s college students.

Alan McCurdy delivered to the Washington State College dorms in Pullman in the 1950s, and often found himself digging into his own pockets to cover the costs of nonpaying subscribers.

As independent contractors, paper carriers had to collect and pay the company at the end of each month.

“Every semester the student customers would move out without paying. I lost money most months and had a tough ‘earning curve,’ ” McCurdy wrote in an email. “Never forgot that lesson.”

The job’s demand that paperboys collect from customers did have its benefits, Brian Moran said. Even if it wasn’t apparent at the time.

Born in Palouse, Moran moved to Spokane when he was 5. He idolized the newspaper character, and eventually called the Chronicle to see if he could get his own delivery job. Too young for the daily, he delivered the NorthTown Shopper circular ads until a route opened up in the Ridgeview area.

“I was really shy, and so it taught me to go out,” Moran said. “We had to go out and collect money, ask for a payment. So I learned how to be social, more outgoing.”

Moran credits that lesson with success later in life. He now works for the Justice Department.

The trips to collect subscription fees, which would be turned in either at the downtown offices of the Chronicle or in wooden “huts” placed throughout town on Saturdays, didn’t always end successfully, however. Rick Gilmore, who delivered in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood near Franklin Elementary in the early 1950s, remembered one particularly ornery customer.

“When we had trouble collecting, we had what was called a route manager who would go with us to help us collect,” Gilmore said.

That man, dressed in suit and tie, followed a 12-year-old Gilmore to a home just off Ray Street and 17th Avenue. Liquor and wine bottles had been piled in a garbage can off the front porch, and the first two vigorous knocks and calls of “Chronicle, collections!” went unanswered.

Then, a voice drifted out the front door from somewhere above them, likely the second floor.

“He said, ‘I went hunting and I won’t be back until Monday,’ ” Gilmore remembered, laughing at the memory of the man who thought he could dupe a preteen.

Barking dogs and heavy bags

A different regular on Gilmore’s route is remembered more fondly.

Each afternoon, Gilmore would place a folded Chronicle into the waiting jaws of a large black Labrador named “Mack,” who would dutifully take the day’s news to his waiting master on the porch.

“One day the owner came out and told me, ‘I really appreciate you doing that,’ ” Gilmore said.

Mack was a trained hunter, without much chance for retrieving work off 17th Avenue, and the daily routine helped ease the loss, the owner explained.

Bill Erwin has a photo outside his home near the Polaris Mine in Idaho with his dog, Bingo, in 1943. Erwin had landed a job carrying the Chronicle in the small North Idaho town after winning several footraces in a track meet hosted by the newspaper.

“That’s where I started, and I’ve been business ever since,” said Erwin, now 88.

Of course, other dog encounters weren’t as pleasant.

Rose Dempsey delivered the Chronicle in the fort grounds, near the site of North Idaho College, in Coeur d’Alene with her sister, Leah Oswald, in 1951 and 1952. A big, barking dog frightened the 7-year-old every time she approached the home on her route.

“If his sidewalk had the least little bit of snow on it, I wouldn’t deliver the paper,” she said. “I feel bad about it now. He gave me a very nice Christmas present.”

Kenneth Stout, who was 16 and helped his 15-year-old pal deliver a route in Spokane Valley in the mid 1960s, avoided neighborhood hounds with some horsepower.

“It was a Bridgestone single cylinder, 90cc,” Stout said, describing the motorcycle they’d ride tandem to deliver the news. “You could put it on a trail sprocket, or the street sprocket. We weren’t driving all that fast.”

Gorder, the Shadle Park delivery boy, got up close and personal with a German shepherd one day. He was saved by the delivery bag slung over his shoulder.

“There were teeth marks in the bag, he only just pinched me a little bit,” Gorder said.

Multiple carriers remembered Thursday as the toughest day of the week to deliver the Chronicle. The extra burden of that week’s advertisements made not only folding difficult, but carrying the papers.

“You ended up with a pair of shoulders,” said Jerry Sletvold, who delivered in the 1960s while a sophomore at Rogers High School. If you didn’t alternate the papers between the two pockets in the canvas bag, the strap would fly up your chest and choke you, Sletvold remembered.

The weather was another frequent obstacle. Duke Phillips, who delivered northeast of Francis in an area that was then largely farm country, recalled one day trudging through the snow to make it to two customers off the path.

“I had to sit in a bath of warm water for half an hour, so I wouldn’t get frostbite,” he said.

Of course, there were incentives that urged the carriers on.

Trips and spoils

On a good day, Owen Mir could deliver his route on the west end of downtown in about 45 minutes.

“If I stopped at the stereo store, to ask them a question, I might take longer to finish my route,” Mir said.

The equipment was out of the North Central High School freshman’s price range in 1960, but he still liked to peruse the shop downtown facing the Fox Theater if he had a few minutes after climbing dozens of flights of stairs through apartment buildings each afternoon.

Some carriers said they were the envy of siblings, who’d taken a route with The Spokesman-Review and had to wake before dawn, seven days a week, to deliver the paper.

“I wish I had been a paperboy for the Chronicle,” Keith Hegg wrote in an email, noting the paper’s daylight delivery schedule. “I was a paperboy for the Spokesman for 5 years from age 11 to 16.

Mir was one of the lucky carriers taken by bus to Disneyland, a reward for signing up subscribers. The Chronicle reached its peak circulation, near 72,000 readers daily, about six years later. But it was the afternoons spent in a sci-fi movie matinee, or perusing books at downtown sellers that Mir – who later worked in circulation for The Spokesman-Review – remembers more vividly.

“I was a teenager, so my mom knew I wasn’t getting in trouble,” Mir said. “I wasn’t getting drunk.”

Thompson, the street corner carrier in the 1940s, also had time to kill following his shifts. He spent it setting up bowling pins in a nearby alley. Automation would come later.

“All those guys who set pins were all the winos,” Thompson said. “They’d get to sweating, and the whole place would smell like alcohol.”

Jeff Berman, a South Hill carrier in the early 1960s, used his earnings from his route for something modest and satisfying. After settling his account with Eunice Spellman, a district supervisor more than one carrier remembered, he’d go from the wooden shack into a restaurant around the corner.

“I went to the restaurant and had either a slice of chocolate cream pie or lemon meringue pie, each to die for,” Berman wrote in an email. He also bought a box of Rockwood chocolate mint wafers, a treat you can’t find anymore.

Some of the recognition wasn’t met with as much enthusiasm.

Colleen Schauble’s seven children carried the Spokane Daily Chronicle, and when they grew too old, their father, Bill, delivered until the paper went defunct in 1992.

Schauble remembered her daughter, Pam, was featured in the newspaper as a top carrier during her freshman year at Gonzaga Prep.

“Some of her friends gave her a really bad time,” Schauble remembered.

Rob Allen, who would later work as a reporter for The Spokesman-Review, recalled winning a trip to Seattle for securing subscribers along his route in the Millwood area. The winners all stayed at the old Olympic Hotel near the Pike Place Market.

“One of my more seasoned carriers, who if I was 12, he was 14, made a point of pointing out which of the women in the lobby were ‘ladies of the night,’ ” Allen recalled. “As if, at 14, he really knew. We were a bunch of wide-eyed kids.”

The lengths some went to in order to top the list of subscriptions sometimes bordered on actual pioneering.

Randy Huggins, who delivered in the Audubon-Downriver part of town, remembered competing not just for the attention of his supervisor, but also a free hamburger, fries and shake from the Panda drive-in on Northwest Boulevard. One Saturday, he and another enterprising carrier competed to sell subscriptions on the South Hill.

“If you look over from High Drive all the way across Vinegar Flats, you can see on the ridge there, that mobile home park,” Huggins said. “Me and this kid thought that would be a good place to go get some subscriptions.”

The pair hiked down the Latah Creek bluffs, scampered over a bridge and walked up the ridge to the park. They sold maybe one or two subscriptions before management kicked them out, Huggins said.

Memorable days

The routine of slinging papers each afternoon was sometimes broken, and those are the days many carriers remembered best.

Burch would typically get his newspapers right after school let out. But on a Friday afternoon in November 1963, the delivery was running late.

“It may have been as late as 6 o’clock,” Burch remembered.

When it arrived, the headline in bold type across the front page, in all caps, read: “PRESIDENT SLAIN.”

Sletvold, too, remembered the day of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“People just came out and they were in shock,” Sletvold said. “All over my route, people would just hand me a dollar, which was a lot, for a paper.”

The cover price that day was a dime.

Other deaths were just as memorable. Gorseth said the headline announcing the death of Joseph Stalin, announced officially on the front page of the Chronicle on March 6, 1953, had a lasting impression.

“The Cold War was going on, and he was the boogeyman,” Gorseth said. “We were always aware of him.”

Moran took a detour from his usual route on Aug. 17, 1977, when he read the headline, “Elvis, the King, is dead.”

“I knew my parents really liked Elvis,” Moran said, noting that they’d attended Presley’s show at the Spokane Coliseum the year prior. “I told my parents, here’s the front page, and then I went back to the paper route.”

For many, that was the norm. The weather changed, and subscribers may have signed up and canceled. But the job was always there, and the papers arrived every day, ready to be placed on the porches or, if it was raining, inside the storm doors of waiting customers.

Gorder owned a home in the Indian Trail area of Spokane later in life. When he would commute back home up Maple, back past the streets where he delivered as a kid, the memories always came flooding back.

“I never really got away from that route,” he said.

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