Editor's note: This is part one of a multi-part guest column. Future parts will run Sundays in The Citizen.
At one time or another, all seven of the Ringwood brothers delivered Auburn’s local newspaper, The Citizen-Advertiser. Starting with Mike, who acquired Route 11 from a carrier who lived down the street, to Pete and Bob, who managed Route 14 on the other side of Owasco Street, we must have delivered hundreds of thousands of copies of that newspaper over the course of 15 years. Let’s do the math:
• Six days a week (in the early days the paper was only published Mondays through Saturdays)
• Times 52 weeks a year
• Times an average 100 subscribers
• Times 15 years = 468,000
That’s a pretty big number, and the basis for countless stories. Vivid memories of lugging 100-plus papers from Dill Street in downtown Auburn where the papers were printed to the start of the delivery route on Owasco Street. All kinds of subscribers — most very nice, some ornery, others mysterious, lonely, friendly, old and young, good and bad tippers. It was an incredible range of people for us to cross paths with at such a young age.
Just as memorable, and just as good a source of crazy stories, were the combinations of brothers working those routes together. To his credit, Mike started it all. I wasn’t involved at the beginning, so I can’t remember how many years he managed by himself. I know that Tom would help him out from time to time, and even do the whole route by himself when Mike couldn’t.
I became involved when Mike handed the route down to Tom, and I became Tom’s helper. Here are a few of my memories.
For most of us, the job was Route 11, which started at the corner of Genesee and Owasco streets and ended close to the corners of Owasco and Anna streets, just half a block from home (which was pretty nice when it was below freezing and there was a foot of snow on the ground!). In between, we were responsible for all the houses on the south/west side of Owasco Street, Mill Street (a very short half-block), Miller and Lizette streets (right along the outlet) and both sides of Owasco from Lake Avenue to Havens Avenue.
In later years, Pete and Bob had Route 14, which followed the opposite direction. Starting near home on Owasco Street, it ended at Genesee Street and included several of the side streets along the way, like Bradford and Frances. Pete and Bob may have helped Paul or David on Route 11 when they were young, but for a short period of time, when they were still too young to have a route of their own, Route 11 was passed on to others. But when Pete and Bob took over Route 14, we were back in the newspaper business!
Pete and Bob will probably disagree, and Paul and Dave may have the final say, but Mike, Tom and I know that Route 11 was much harder that Route 14 for many reasons. The most compelling: Before even starting our deliveries, we had to pick up our papers (well over 100!) where they were printed downtown. It was only half a mile walk, but it was up East Hill. Seriously, there were times the papers were so thick and heavy, both in number of pages and advertising inserts, that they didn’t all fit in the heavy cloth carrier bag that we used to carry them. I recall many days walking with 25 papers in my arms and the rest balanced on my back, completely bent over, looking like a pack mule.
The offices and printing plant for The Citizen were located downtown near Dill and State Street, before the Loop Road was built. We’d walk there from Holy Family and wait for papers to come off the press. On a good day the wait might be only half an hour, but typically it was closer to an hour, and much longer on days when the paper was big (many pages printed in two or three sections) or when the presses were down. During those waits, all sorts of nonsense went on as 10-20 teenaged newspaper boys tried to kill time. I never had the guts to do it, but Tom (and I think Mike, too) weren’t afraid to pitch coins in the alley beside the offices. The games were usually nickels, quarters and sometimes half-dollars (usually only on payday when paperboys were paid, in cash, by the newspaper, and your “envelope” included the big, heavy Kennedy half-dollars). If a game included four or five players, and you were lucky enough to throw a few “leaners” that paid double, the payoff could be pretty high. Of course, so could the loss, and I wanted none of that!
Not wanting to lose money was one reason to avoid pitching. The other was getting on the wrong side of Dorothy (I should remember her last name), who was in charge of the paperboys. She would frequently come rushing out into the alley and tell us to knock it off.
On Monday afternoon, after spending the weekend getting payments from all the subscribers on our routes, all the paperboys would bring the money they collected to the office where Dorothy would recount it and subtract what we owed for purchasing newspapers in the first place. The difference was yours to keep. And it supplemented what the paper paid carriers for the number of subscribers on the route and the size of the papers (pages and inserts) printed that week. It was the paperboy’s responsibility to have coins ready for counting in the paper wrappers they gave us: 50 pennies to a wrapper, 20 nickels, 50 dimes, and 10 or 20 quarters each to a wrapper. That made it easier for Dorothy to count. And God help you if one of your wrappers was missing a quarter, or a dime! Dorothy also had control of the room where all the paperboys waited for their papers. It was a dark room with a couple vending machines and several large tables with metal tops where you would count your papers when they were brought up from the presses. Before you left the building, you needed to make sure you’d been given enough papers. If not, it was great; you were able to yell, “Short!” at the top of your lungs and one of the young pressmen would have to come out and recount your papers to be sure you weren’t just trying to get away with more than you were supposed to. They were cool guys because they could count papers three at a time compared to the two at a time that we used to count.
I never gave it a thought at the time, but it must’ve been pretty interesting for Dorothy to look out on that room and see two young guys like Tom and me, still dressed in our Holy Family uniforms, alongside much tougher-looking kids from the public schools on the west side of town. Funny, and perhaps nice, none of us seemed to notice the difference. And Dorothy didn’t treat anybody differently either. Except once that I recall. It seemed like a normal day. Perhaps the wait for the papers to come off the press was a little longer than usual, but I hadn’t noticed. I had climbed up on one of those metal counting tables, my back against the wall and my legs sticking straight out, just minding my own business, maybe even looking at a schoolbook. Out of nowhere, and completely unexpected, Dorothy had left her office and bought a plastic cup of Coke from one of the crummy vending machines (you remember, the machines that, if you were lucky, would actually drop a plastic cup, give you the option of ice or no ice, then mix the soda syrup and carbonated water to create one serving of soda). She then walked over to the table where I was sitting and put it down next to me without saying a word. Eyes raised, all I could do was say “thanks,” almost with a question mark attached to it, and I drank the soda.
I never pitched coins, but I do have this confession to make. I learned to swear at the newspaper office. It wasn’t deliberate. I didn’t do it consciously, that’s for sure (and Dorothy never would’ve bought me a soda if she knew). It just kind of sank in over time. You hear it often enough, especially from the poor kid who just lost five dollars pitching in the alley, and the next thing you know the papers aren’t just heavy, they are d--n heavy. And that kid who talks too much isn’t a big mouth, it turns out he’s full of s---! Who knew?
I didn’t bring the swear words home, but every now and then I’d get some startled looks from my fellow seventh graders at Holy Family.
After the long trek from the newspaper office, past the police department on Water Street, through downtown and up East Hill, the best thing about Route 11 was the fact that it started with the Owasco Street “Hollywood Squares” apartments. There you could put the carrier bag down and quickly unload about 15 papers. What followed was a long stretch with no houses to deliver to, overlooking the Owasco Outlet. On a lucky day, especially in the winter, if the timing worked perfectly and you had just finished with the apartments and started to walk that stretch, a city bus driven by none other than Bert would pull over and you’d hear, “Get in, Ringwood!” (Bert, who drove both city buses and the Holy Family grade school bus, was a wonderful man with a large family like ours. When I was in first grade and on crutches after surgery on my ankle, he literally carried me from the bus he was driving and deposited me on our front porch.) I doubt Bert realized how much I appreciated that short drive.
Jack Ringwood, formerly of Auburn, now lives in New Jersey.