MONMOUTH, Ill. — Like many Monmouth kids, my first job was a paper route, delivering the Daily Review Atlas.
Every day after junior high (and on Saturday afternoons), my twin brother and I would ride our bicycles to the Monmouth News Agency on East Archer Avenue and enter a garage under a large sign that proclaimed “Through These Doors Pass the Finest Boys in Monmouth.” We would then proceed to a window where the owner, Fred Beard, or his assistant manager, Bob Farm, would hand us a stack of papers, which we would then carry to a dark, cavernous room with counters for folding.
Oversize fans kept us cool in the summer, as did cold bottles of Pepsi, pulled from a vending machine. The sign over the door wasn’t exactly accurate, as the carriers included another pair of twins who were girls — Susan and Sally Kinkaid. We’d fold our papers into tight squares and stuff them tight into our canvas newspaper bags, which were hung from knobs on the handlebars of our bikes.
The highlight of the job was every other Friday night, when I would finish collecting from subscribers (we had individual punch cards suspended from a metal ring to keep track of how much they owed). I’d then get paid and head straight to Barnes SuperValu, where I would typically purchase a bag of Cheetos, a large bottle of root beer and the latest issue of Mad Magazine, and head home for a night of teenage bliss in front of the TV watching The Brady Bunch.
Change was slow in Monmouth during the middle of the 20th century. I was reminded of that fact recently when I received a short memoir by a former Monmouth resident — now living in Saint Paul, Minnesota — who described his own paper route experience, more than two decades before mine.
Don Beveridge grew up just a couple of blocks from my childhood home in a Cape Cod cottage that still stands, built by his parents in 1937. Like me, Don was a twin and his father — like mine — was a graduate and employee of Monmouth College. (Hugh Beveridge was dean of the faculty and a longtime math professor.)
Although the neighborhood in Don’s day had far fewer residences, I learned in comparing notes that we played in the same lots and knew some of the same neighbors. Reading the account about his paper route, I discovered that we were the same age when we started delivering the Review Atlas, folded the papers the same way and delivered with our bikes both winter and summer. A few things had changed — the paper had gone up in price from 3 cents to 7 cents and circulation had previously been handled directly by the Review Atlas.
Don’s reminiscence follows:
“My first job at age 12 was delivering the Monmouth Review Atlas, an afternoon paper published every day but Sunday. I had delivered several routes as a substitute while waiting to get a regular route. One day in 1949, I was told that a permanent route was available. Route 12 went out East First Avenue, from 3rd Street to 11th Street and included the 100 blocks of all the side streets.
“The number of papers varied slightly but usually was about 115. I used my old one-speed Schwinn bicycle almost all year around, with the canvas paper bag strapped around the handle bars, only walking when there was a lot of snow or ice. The route soon became routine and I could do it in about 20 minutes. The pay was 50 cents a day, $3 a week.
“On most days the paper was eight, 10 or 12 pages. This was a handy size for folding into a rectangle which was delivered with a forehand ‘Frisbee’ throw. We usually were issued just the right number but I liked to grab an extra because I sometimes ‘roofed’ one.
“The old Review Atlas building (now Kellogg Printing) on the north side of the square looks like a three-story structure but the middle level is a mezzanine and the top floor is actually a very high second floor. That’s where we picked up and folded our papers because there was no other space in the building. Of course, someone from the press room had to lug the papers up there, but more on that later.
“The carrier supervisor was a woman named Zella Hamberg. Zella was the unsung hero of the operation. Most boys treated her nicely but there were a few who tried to give her a hard time. She put up with a certain amount of foolishness but if it went too far, she could crack down hard and sometimes fired an offender on the spot.
“Marie Richardson was also crucial to the operation. She wrote out carrier lists (needed by new carriers and substitutes) and she processed the collections.
“Every other Saturday morning, I collected from the subscribers who paid cash — 35 cents for two weeks of papers. I carried a small ledger-type binder with a page for each customer and receipt coupons to clip out. Most people were conscientious about paying and some were even good for a nickel tip. I collected the route in reverse and ended up downtown where I turned in the money and collected my two-week salary, plus one cent for each customer who was paid up, bringing the total to about $7.
“If I had time to kill, I went over to Earpie’s, the newsstand/pool hall next door run by Ralph Earp. Earpie had a button under the counter so if the rare woman came in, he could buzz the loafers in the back to tone down the language. I browsed through the Sporting News for the baseball statistics but also checked out the racy material — nudie magazines and risqué ‘postcards.’ Earpie didn’t seem to mind ‘readers’ because we were good for a lot of Cokes and candy bars.
“I quit the route when I was in 8th grade. But I kept in touch and when summer came, Zella offered me a ‘promotion.’ As I mentioned, someone had to carry the papers up to the second floor. It was a simple job: grab an up-to-the-chin, 50-lb. armload of papers off the end of the press, lug them through the office and up about 40 steps to the high second floor. Repeat several times. I was just a skinny 14-year-old kid but it never occurred to me then that it was a tough job. I think Zella wanted a break from the counting and checkout because she turned that over to me, too.
“My last job at the Review Atlas came a few years later. This time I switched from the business side to the editorial side when Ralph Eckley hired me to cover high school sports for the paper. Unfortunately, 1954–55 was kind of a down year for Monmouth High School sports because the ‘Three Macs’ (Bob McLoskey, Bob McKee and Jerry McBride) had graduated the year before and they were a tough act to follow. But each game report paid $3 and I got ‘gas money’ for the out-of-town games. Rides to those games were in demand so I always had a carload of cheerleaders and friends and I charged the 29-cent gas to my ‘expense account.’”
Jeff Rankin is a historian and editor for Monmouth College. He has been researching, writing and speaking about western Illinois history for more than 35 years.