June 14, 2002
Carrier-salesmen for The Perry Daily Journal gathered for a Thanksgiving dinner in the basement of the First Presbyterian church when this photo was made, probably around November 1939. Merl Edwards, the newspaper’s circulation manager, is at the far end of the table. Others, reading clockwise, starting at lower left: Jimmy Ramsey, Sammy Laird, Hugh Lobsitz, Johnny Marshall, Joe Kopecky, Riley Smith, Bill Rigg, Bobby Murphy (in far left corner), Edwards, Carroll Davis, Marshall Davis, next one unidentified, David Thomas, W.C. Wayland, Irl Henry, Theodore Hartman and Paul C. Laird.
Irl Henry and I were chatting about several topics related to our years at Perry high school in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and both of us remembered some of the after-school jobs we held down in that era to help put food on the table for our families. We were by no means the primary wage-earners for the Henry and the Beers clans, but our pittance was very welcome in those Great Depression years when just about everybody was broke most of the time. It also helped us buy an occasional ticket at the Roxy or Annex movie theater, or perhaps a ten-cent malt at Sherman’s ice cream store just off the northwest corner of the square. Irl was a year ahead of me at PHS, but we had many things in common.
The subject eventually got around to the newly instituted major change in the way this newspaper is delivered to local subscribers. When Irl and I were mere boys, and until very recently, that chore traditionally was handled by newspaper carriers, or “paper boys” as they were usually called. In an effort to dignify the job, many publishers used the term “carrier-salesmen” because that actually described their jobs pretty well. Boys in that line of work went to the newspaper back shop and counted out the number of papers each one needed to make deliveries to their subscribers. Then once a week, or sometimes once a month, they would call at those same homes to collect the subscription price. The newspaper’s circulation manager would be waiting for them at his office to collect the amount owed for the papers. The carrier-salesmen kept the remainder as their profit.
Two or three times each year the circulation manager would assemble his cadre of carriers and send them out to canvass the homes of non-subscribers along their routes and invite them to join “the family.” That chore, euphemistically called “crew work,” usually netted several highly prized new subscribers, but it was a tiresome routine. However, being a Perry Daily Journal carrier was about the best job a young man could have at that time. It was tough to be hired as a carrier. That’s right. Boys of high school age stood in line hoping to be called as full-time or temporary carriers. As in any occupation, not all were called. Many of the carriers kept at it until they graduated from high school and by then the earnings they had accumulated helped a lot with college expenses.
Journal carrier jobs were greatly in demand because of the earnings derived therefrom. Irl was among the lucky ones – he landed a paper route with the newspaper and stayed with it until graduation. I was on the waiting list but I was never called, even as a substitute. Out of desperation, I took a route with the now-nonexistent Oklahoma News, and although I was the sole source of that Oklahoma City Scripps-Howard newspaper in this town, I had only 12 customers. Ten of them were around the square and the other two were residences split between the west end of Fir Avenue and the eastern edge of the city on Kaw Street. Sunday issues were delivered to Perry by bus at 4 a.m. to the Elite Hotel & Restaurant and I was under orders to pick up my 12 copies for delivery the moment they arrived in Perry. One of my downtown customers was George McManess, a barber, who gave me a free haircut each month in exchange for the paper.
By contrast, Journal carriers received valuable bonus prizes for commendable performances and the publisher, W.K. Leatherock, treated them to Thanksgiving dinners or similar amenities. Merl Edwards was the circulation manager best remembered by Irl and me, and he knew how to get along with the spunky teen-age boys who made up his team of “carrier-salesmen.” Now, as you know, your local paper is delivered daily by the U.S. Postal Service and there are no more Perry Daily Journal carriers. No crew work, either.
Times change, and it has been impossible to maintain a full crew of carriers for some time, even though the work has been co-ed for quite a while. But, we will always have the memories of the way we were ‘way back then.