Letter: Memories of an old paperboy

The Detroit News

I have been associated one way or another with The Detroit News for many years, beginning in the '50s when my parents had it delivered to the house on Woodingham Drive in Detroit, until currently, where I get in my car in the morning and drive to the gas station and buy a paper. I know there are other ways to look at The Detroit News, but nothing matches the paper copy in my hands while I eat breakfast at the table in my dining room.  

After my reading The News as a 10- or 11-year-old, I saw fit to get spending money by having a Detroit News paper route beginning about 1954 or so. You did not just get a route; you purchased it, typically from one of your friends, I think for $20. I don’t remember who I bought mine from but I know I sold it to my younger brother when I was done with it after a year or two.

I have been associated with The Detroit News for many years, beginning in the 1950s when my parents had it delivered to my Detroit house, a reader writes.

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Seems like initially I had 40 to 50 customers. As I recall, you were also given “extras” along with your normal daily allotment. The idea was that you would sell the extras when you were done with your route delivery and increase your income that way.

My route covered Woodingham Drive and Greenlawn, Roselawn and Cloverlawn streets from Puritan Avenue down to Fenkell. Some memories I have of this route are:

  • I picked up my papers each day at the paper station, which was on the south side of Midland Street, just east of Greenlawn. The station was a basic old brick building with crude benches along the inside walls to provide a place for folding and packing your papers in your canvas News bags.
  • Typically, you would ride away from the paper station on your loaded bike and deliver the papers to your customers by throwing them from the bike onto their porch wherever you could. On a few houses the distance from the top step to the storm door was very small, so the target for throwing the paper was also small. Unfortunately, with a substantial paper and poor aim you could dent the bottom of the storm door. One would tend to ride off quickly when this happened.
  • Customers paid the delivery boy weekly when he came to the house to collect, usually beginning on Thursday night, as I recall, and extending through several nights until everyone paid up. Some aspects of this were tricky. Some customers would pay promptly while others would ask you to come back later, or tomorrow. I had one customer who would pay me each week in pennies. She would have them in a roll or in a bag and leave them in the space between the storm door and the main door.
  • Tips were another important aspect of the route. If I remember correctly many customers would tip. I don’t remember at all how much a good tip was or even being that concerned about it except at Christmas, when concern escalated. 

Although I could go on and on about other aspects of Detroit life in the 1950s, that’s about it for Detroit News-related aspects of it. Except for the dogs that harassed the paper boys. I didn’t mention them yet. But it’s not because I have forgotten them. They were a definite concern to us paperboys. I remember one Chihuahua who would come after me on my bike.

It would probably be unwise to describe how I handled this; I will say that no permanent damage was done to me or that dog or any of the others that I encountered.

Thomas Lobbestael

Royal Oak

Former Detroit News carrier, current Detroit News reader