Some childhood memories are strong – almost indelibly etched into an absorbent young brain needing to be filled, and retained forever.
For me, one of those permanent memories is the experience of being a paperboy in the 1950’s for Houghton’s Daily Mining Gazette. For an 11-year old in 1957, the distraction of TV didn’t yet exist in my household, and computers, video games and cellphones were far off in science fiction future, so having my first real job was the huge focus of my life. I worked as a carrier through 1960 – about 4 years total.
I’m writing this from sheer recall, which attests to the strength and vividness of these memories, which survive after more than 60 years of other life experiences. But please forgive any minor inaccuracies or misspellings of names, which likely will occur. I’m thankful to Mike Laurin and Steve Wyble – two other childhood friends who also worked at the Gazette and helped fill in my voids of memory, and to my brother, Bob, who had earlier worked the Gazette’s big route covering East Houghton.
My writings are in installments covering: 1. The Gazette Operation and Production, 2. My ‘Pony Express’ Route – Downtown Houghton, 3. The Paperboy Business Model and 4. Houghton Life In the 50’s (a more general look at those wonderful times).
I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse of the Gazette in much simpler times.
Part 2: My ‘Pony Express’ Route in Downtown Houghton
As I considered writing this memoir about my Gazette experience, a side goal was to provide a glimpse of downtown Houghton in the 1950’s. I found myself asking the question, ‘If not me, who?’. That is, who else would be in the unique position to have made daily personal contact with most of Houghton’s downtown merchants and residents in those days? And especially at that impressionable young age that leads to very indelible memories. Downtown Houghton was thriving in those days. There were no vacant storefronts, and large national chains like Montgomery Wards and J.C. Penny’s were anchors. We even had two ‘dime stores’ – Newberry’s and Woolworth’s. The big commercial area on M-26 near Sharon Avenue (Walmart area) didn’t exist. Downtown was it.
As I wrote in Part 1, my time spent in the Gazette’s pressroom waiting for my allotment of papers, was an exciting time to hangout with the other paperboys, trade ‘war stories’ and jokes, and rub shoulders with the rest of the older pressroom characters. But the fun ended when the call finally went out to line up for our papers.
My route had about 50 customers – all in downtown Houghton along Sheldon Avenue and its cross streets. Customers were a mix of stores, offices and apartments above the stores. Because of the many stores on my route, and because these places closed at 5:00. Lyle Weber , the likable manager and friend of the paperboys, had labeled it the “Pony Express” route. That’s because when school let out, around 4:00, I had to hustle to get merchants their papers before closing. But I could usually relax a bit on Fridays, when the stores always stayed open ’til 9.
The downtown merchants were usually happy to see me – being a regular “non-customer” with whom they could be less formal and make jokes. The apartment residents were often elderly, lower-rent types. I was possibly their only visitor for the day, and they awaited my visit, and sometimes rewarded me with treats in the form of cookies and even invites to “come in and warm up” on those snowy winter days. Remember, this was before most people in Houghton even had any TV. The “cable” for Community Antenna Television, as it was known then, was just being strung on U.P. Power poles. So people were highly dependent on the Gazette for their daily news of the outside world.
The downtown apartments, upstairs above the stores, were an essential element of permanent housing in those days – as opposed to the largely college student clientele of today. Some of the grand older buildings even had two stories above the main street level. Reaching those upper floors was a physical challenge to a young boy with a heavy sack of papers – especially in heavy winter garb. So in order to minimize stair climbing, before leaving the pressroom I would spend time, folding a calculated number of papers into throwable “folders,” that I could sail from the main street level up to the second floor. I could even sail them up to the third floor, through the stairwell shaft, on an accurate throwing day. Most of the other boys also made folders for their front porch tossing, and it was a bit of an art form. I’m sure the design and use of these folders was a trick passed down through the paperboy ranks for decades.
Unlike most of the boys, I could start my route without having to lug a heavy bag of papers very far. In fact I started right at the Gazette building, and the full route would take me west through downtown all the way to the bridge, with short side trips up and down the hilly cross streets. Here’s a rundown of my route and some of the memorable people and places involved. Although it’s from a waning memory, I feel it provides a pretty accurate accounting of downtown Houghton in the late 50’s.
My first stop after leaving the pressroom on Isle Royale St. were the two small apartments on the second floor of the Gazette Building. These were occupied by Maude Brunette and Laura Cornish, both older ladies. Then down to the Duzek’s laundry, and across Isle Royale St. to Weber’s Plumbing Shop and the apartments above, one occupied by Ralph Fitch, a Houghton Fire Department Chief.
Heading back up to Sheldon Ave. involved a quick stop at the old Board of Trade Bar (The Library today), and the Christian Science Reading Room next door (interesting neighbors!), then up to Vigo’s Drug, (today’s Cyberia corner) on Sheldon, where Mr. Vigo and assistant Toivo Carlson held down the fort.
My general route took me west down the north side of Sheldon, then back east on the south side.
Next door to Vigo’s Drug was the Western Union office, once the vital information center of the copper mining region, but whose days were numbered. (By 1960 it was replaced by King’s Gift Shop where I later had a Saturday job washing windows).
Then it was time for the first of the many upstairs apartments and the use of the “folders” I had pre-made in the pressroom. I liked to toss several in rapid fire up to the second floor customers, never knowing exactly where they were landing. Evidence of this was the time when one hit my customer, Adolph Rova, on the head. And yes, I heard about it!
Next was the Crown Bakery, known for specialties like saffron rolls and, of course, wonderful 50-cent pasties – all turned out by Carl Lahilla.
Then to the Lode Theater for Manager Hilda, and on to Ed Haus’s Men’s wear, where father, Ed Haus, son Bob Haus and their gentlemanly clerk, Earl Clark, were waiting. Earl and his kindly wife lived just upstairs of Haus’ in another group of nice old apartments, where I had several customers.
Going further west on Sheldon was Vertin’s Furniture (later Central Food) and its amicable clerk, Gordon Trione. The two upstairs apartments housed Mrs. Graves, with cute daughter Nancy, and Mrs. Lawler, a sixth grade teacher in Houghton.
After dropping down the hill to deliver to the Suomi Café, I’d often head back up to Sheldon by cutting through the lower entrance of the big Montgomery Wards store to see the latest bicycles and other prized items, like the display of the new magical Airline TV’s – black and white of course. Above Wards were offices for Dr. Newquist, the chiropractor, and Dr. Charles Ferries, dentist and father of Chuck “Cyclone” Ferries and sister Barbara, two Mont Ripley products that would go on to Olympic and world skiing fame.
Next were the Commercial Systems, an office supply store, and Dwyer’s Shoes, which had recently acquired an amazing “Fluoroscope” – sort of an X-ray device which allowed customers to see through their shoes to see how your much room your toes had. Clerk Chuck Knect loved showing it off. ( I suspect I glowed I the dark after that experience.) Above Dwyer’s was a ‘folder shot’ up to the Walter Middlesdorf and his kindly wife.
Next door were the upstairs apartments of The LePage’s, and barber Charlie Trevathen and his sweet wife, who always had treats and an encouraging word for me – even when we met on the street.
I then passed the big Woolworths store (Swift’s Hardware today) and dropped down Dodge St. for deliveries to Gitzen’s Candy, Karger’s Meats and the side-hill record/music shop run by Bonnie & Zeke. If time permitted, I might grab a new popular “45” hit record and ‘try it out’ in their listening booth, a popular pastime in those days.
Back up on Sheldon, next stop was the Douglas Agency and then Haug’s Jewelry run by Carlos “Cub” Haug, a one-time famed hockey goalie. I also worked for Mr.Haug shoveling the driveway at his beautiful tudor home up on Houghton Ave.
The famed and historic Swift Hardware store was next on Sheldon, where Paul Swift was now at the helm of the historic family business. Right next door was Newberry’s, a great ‘Five & Dime’ store with a sit-down lunch counter that offered up great hot chocolate and grilled Vollwerth’s hot dogs. I got to know the staff pretty well, and only wish I could remember the kind waitresses’ names that always liked to mother me there. Newberry’s also had a great bulk candy counter where a dime’s worth of M&M’s scooped into a small paper bag was a regular fuel supplement for me.
Next I made deliveries to the Hillside Bar and Bernie Ruelle, Fashion City run by Ms. LeBlanc and Sally Short, and the big J. C. Penny’s store. It was at Penny’s where a young Dennis Barrett worked, and sold me the latest high-tech miracle, a 6-Transistor pocket radio for $30. This was a big splurge, but a must-have item on my route – so I could listen to the latest hits on the “Teen Tunes & Topics” show, which aired every day at 4pm on 1400 WHDF, from its studio in the Douglas House, just off the main lobby.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more on this subject next week.