By Len Funk
Above, Len with his collie, Tammy, a gift for his eleventh birthday. Photo courtesy of the Funk Family Archives.
Last year the Hartford Courant published a 250th commemorative issue which included a five-page section entitled, “The Young Boys And a Few Young Girls that carried the Connecticut Paper.” Their experiences delivering the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper made me realize how much I learned from my first steady job carrying the Spokane Chronicle from 1952 – 1954.
My first paper route, 1348, consisted of 82 customers and was a paperboy’s dream. Unlike the accounts of young boys racing up three flights of stairs in old apartment buildings in Hartford, my route on Spokane’s affluent South Hill, was mostly post-World War II single story ranch and split level homes with very few, if any, steps to the front porch. The route was bordered by Latawah Street on the east and Manito Blvd on the west. 37th Street formed the northern border and East 40th Ave, near High Drive formed the southern border.
Depending on whether I rode my bike or the bus from St. Augustine’s grade school, I usually got home around 4:00pm. I would grab my double sided canvas newspaper bag with the old english letters, “Read the Spokane Chronicle,” printed on each side, and an apple or a sandwich consisting of Cheerios, sugar and cinnamon between three slices of buttered, white bread. I walked the four blocks to the corner of 39th and Latawah where I would find my stack of papers, and then quickly, I cut the wire bound bundle and placed the unfolded papers in my bag.
The Tuesday, Friday and Saturday papers were relatively light, but the Monday, Wednesday and Thursday editions were heavy, so I often had to crawl beneath the loaded bag and gradually rise to my feet. Of course this task was more difficult in the snow. Once I was on my feet I would set off, walking and folding my papers as I headed down Latawah toward 37th.
In good weather I could usually complete the route in 45 minutes. With a foot or more of snow it could take 75 minutes. Like the Courant Carriers, I remember a few times when I was so ill, my mother would deliver my route. I’d sit in the back seat of her 1950 Chevy folding papers, telling her which houses to deliver. “Do two, skip one, do three.”
Collecting was the tough part. I usually would go out after dinner so I could catch people at home. Again, because my route was in an upper middle class neighborhood, I convinced most of my customers to pay me in advance. That way, I wouldn’t be bothering them as often and I could ring 15 or 20 doorbells and have enough money to pay my weekly paper bill.
My father, who carried the Chronicle in the old Union Park District before World War I, told me that I had it relatively easy. His route consisted of nearly 100 customers, very few of whom could afford to pay even a week in advance, so every week he had to collect from more than half of his customers to pay his paper bill.
In the winter, I remember my mother telling me to be mindful of cars when I was collecting, but I don’t recall my parents ever being concerned about their ten-year-old son walking around at night with as much as 100 dollars. My mother was an accomplished seamstress and she stitched a sturdy pouch out of an old pair of Lee jeans that I attached to my belt. I also carried the 4” x 6” Chronicle Book which contained a ledger for each customer and paper punch like those bus drivers used. After collecting either 1.40 for four weeks or 1.75 for a five week month, I would punch the orange card to indicate the weeks my customers had paid.
My boss was an Ethel Merman like redhead named Miss Spellman. This was post-World War II and there weren’t many women in Spokane working fulltime professional jobs. She drove a light green 1950 Cadillac, wore lots of perfume and jewelry and smoked “I’d Rather Fight Than Switch” – Herbert Tareyton cigarettes. She would occasionally find me along my route and we would chat through the open passenger door window. Miss Spellman often appealed to me to recruit new subscribers.
Just as the Hartford Courant Carriers, who recalled delivering the special editions following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, I distinctly remember a couple of the bold headlined editions I delivered: KING GEORGE VI DIES and of course the March 7, 1953 headline: STALIN DEAD AT 73.
I got a lot of tips, especially at Christmas. I remember two unmarried sisters who lived on 39th and Gandy. They were devout Catholics and following a trip to Rome, they gave me a Saint Christopher medal blessed by Pope Pius XI.
One of my most memorable experiences was finally catching my Maureen O’Hara look alike customer at home on a frigid Saturday morning. The papers had piled up on the porch of her red brick rambler, at the corner of Skyview Drive and 39th, and she was six weeks in arrears. She answered the door wearing a mink coat with not much beneath it. She asked me to come in and after rummaging through a pile of fancy ski clothes, she found a check book and paid not only the two months she owed but two months in advance. I told the raven haired Ms. Hill that she could always stop the Chronicle if she was going out of town. It wasn’t until many years later, when I read the book, The Green Felt Jungle, that I realized my glamorous, former neighbor was Virginia Hill, the mistress of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.
As many of the Courant Carriers recounted, carrying the Chronicle required discipline and responsibility. Their motto was: Money Earned – Lessons Learned. In the early 1950s, everyone wanted their evening newspaper when they got home from work. Summers were a great time to have a paper route, except when my friends wanted to go to the lake. Winters were a whole different story. There was no cold weather or hardship allowance. My father taught me the old trick of stuffing a paper inside my jacket as insulation. Paperboys had no backups, (except their mothers!), no sick days or “work from home days.”
After more than sixty years, many of my experiences carrying the Spokane Chronicle are still vivid. I’ve had several careers and what I learned delivering newspapers, the importance of working, managing money and the art of connecting with people have made my life easier. The Spokane Chronicle gave me the opportunity to run my own business at age ten. For that and much more about growing up in Spokane, I shall forever be grateful.