I really was a paperboy, at the age of 12, and sold copies of our local daily from a green canvas bag swung over my shoulder for five cents each. The newspaper let me keep half of that, but still managed to be profitable selling their product for a net of two and a half cents. Of course, things were a bit different way back in the ’60s.
Those times were in my thoughts recently, as this past Friday I attending the funeral of Charlie Hart, my first boss, who ran the circulation department of the afternoon edition, “The Longview News.” He shared an office the size of a closet with Ralph Smith, who ran the larger circulation of the “Longview Morning Journal”, the a.m. edition which was delivered every day over an eight or ten county area. Sadly, I had my last long visit with Charlie while sharing a ride back from Ralph’s funeral several years ago.
My time as a paperboy, walking a street route and selling the afternoon edition did not last long, as being a sprinter on our junior high track team wiped out that time slot. But when summer rolled around, and for several summers, my two best friends, Bob, Rodney, and myself were the main performers on full time summer adolescent sales crew that Ralph trained, managed, and transported to towns and communities all over northeast Texas.
Ralph taught us to be friendly, outgoing, slow to take no for an answer, and to respect the value of being involved in sales, since sales was the engine that drove every aspect of the newspaper business, or any other business for that matter.
Ralph figured out pretty soon that this future sign shop owner could draw, and he would drop in on some business friend in one of the towns we called on, and tell him that he had a little salesman who could draw anything and anyone, and then make me do a quick pencil portrait of his buddy on the spot.
That wasn’t easy, because an artist needs inspiration more than anything else, and a middle-aged car salesman at the local Chevy dealer was no inspiration for me — his daughter, perhaps — but certainly not him. No matter, I had to do what Ralph said, and I’d sketch away until I had a satisfied customer, and a beaming boss who’d say, “I told you he could do it, just look at that!”
One morning, as our little sales crew assembled for a day hitting the pavement, Ralph grabbed all of us and took us to see the real boss, Mrs. Margaret Estes, the owner and publisher, and widow of the newspaper’s founder and local legend, Carl Estes. She said she had been following our sales efforts and determined we were very likely the best sales crew they’d ever had. She told us she appreciated our efforts, our hard, hot work (it was Texas in the summer time, after all), and wanted to meet us in person and shake our hands.
We left Mrs. Estes’ office feeling 10 feet tall, but were not totally surprised by her highly complementary assessment. After all, Ralph had taught us the importance of salesmanship, and we figured without our going out and building the subscription numbers up all summer long, well, there might not even be a Longview newspaper, and the jobs of all the people around that place, from writers to pressmen, from typesetters to editors, would certainly be at risk. Yes, we were pretty important, Mrs. Estes said so herself.
Over the years, the three of us worked at the newspaper in several capacities, from newspaper throwers to sports writers, from football game photographers to insert stuffers, though the other jobs were surely not as important as our sales crew days. And our experience there, and the mentoring of the supervisors, editors, and bosses we knew did something very important for us, more important than any contribution we made. They taught us how to confidently operate and navigate in a whole new world, a world where everything important in our lives would soon take place, in their world… in the world of adults.
And the people skills and confidence they had helped instill in us must have paid off fairly well. Of the three boys I mentioned who had a second home at the Longview News Co. so many years ago, one became an attorney and now practicing judge in Jefferson County, Texas, one became a trade show producer and magazine publisher, including the magazine you’re reading now, and the least of the bunch became a prolific sign maker, small business owner, and writer of hundreds of articles like this one, over the last 30 years or so.
Individually, and collectively, we all have a lot to be thankful for. And we will certainly miss those who helped us so very much, way back when newspapers were cheap, but young boys, at least to them, were worth investing in. And of course, they still are.