Riding the bumper, delivering the papers

1960 Ford F-100 panel van. Photo contributed.

I graduated from Binghamton North High School in January 1960 and needed a job to carry me over to the fall when I would go off to college. My next-door neighbor, Chuck Sladky, ran the mailroom at the local evening paper, The Binghamton Press, and offered me a job distributing bundled papers to the news boys in town (and they were all boys back then), who would, in turn, break open the bundles, fold up the papers, put them in their shoulder bags and either walk or bike their routes, flinging papers onto front walks, porches and stoops in the late afternoon. 

My job was to take the bundles from the conveyor belt that fed them out from the mailing room onto the loading dock and place them in the back of a Ford F-100 panel van in the order in which they would be distributed. I did two routes each day, in rain or shine, and sometimes in sleet and snow. 

My driver, Lou, would take us to the first stop of the route, at which I would get out of the front seat and jump into the back of the van, which had no door. It did of course have a rear bumper, and it had also been retrofitted with a special grab bar running up the right side of the van just inside the door opening. Once I dropped off the first bundle, I rode the bumper, hanging on to the bar with one hand and dropping the bundles on the corners. The trick, other than not to fall off the bumper, was to drop the bundles without breaking them open—because Lou never came to a complete stop at any corner unless I had to unload multiple bundles. If the bundles were wound too tight (they were bound with wire back then) and I dropped them while we were rolling by too fast, they would explode, throwing newspapers all over the sidewalk.

Alas for the poor newsboys (Sorry, Edd), Lou just took off for the next stop, while I crawled into the interior of the van, found the next bundle on the route and hopped back onto the bumper. 

I rode that bumper from January till June, when I got a far cushier job as a lifeguard at the IBM Country Club in nearby Endwell. But the six months I spent on the loading dock and riding the bumper and delivering the news was the start of what became a lifelong love affair with the newspaper industry. And what goes around comes around; now, every publication Wednesday, I deliver 300 or so copies of The Charlotte News to businesses on Route 7, from Fiddlehead in Shelburne to Shaw’s in Burlington, and experience a kind of deja vu all over again, though now in the comfort and safety of my Prius rather than on the rear bumper of a Ford panel van with Lou at the wheel.