They carried the newspapers in bags, on dogs and horses and in wheelbarrows, and flung them over the handlebars of their bikes. They dealt with harsh weather and snapping dogs but also felt customers’ kindness, especially around Christmas.
Every afternoon, a small army of young entrepreneurs left their schools and picked up a bundle of heavy newspapers printed that day at The Columbian. It was their duty, acting as a business owner, to deliver their products to the orange tubes that dotted the streets of Clark County.
“It was an army of kids,” recalled Mitch Lackey, former route manager at The Columbian and now police chief of Camas. “It was really quite an accomplishment. They really were a key part of the business.”
There were roughly 500 paperboys and girls at any given time, delivering The Columbian’s peak circulation of 56,000 daily newspapers in the 1980s. Many of these former carriers still live in Clark County, and some have used their skills from newspaper delivery to rise to prominent positions of leadership.
Lackey managed one boy named Dean Kirkland, who between ages 10 and 16 delivered a small route of about 33 customers in the neighborhood near Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School starting in 1978. He picked up his bundle of papers on his 10-speed BMX bike. His German shepherd companion followed him on his route most days.
Not only would carriers deliver the papers, they also had to collect money from the customers and sell subscriptions.
“You learn how to be persistent,” Kirkland recalled. “You had to learn to sell to people with a pleasing personality and a smile. The extra effort to get it done.”
Kirkland went on to use some of those skills to found Kirkland Development, a company that’s shaping the skyline of the city with its buildings, including the new Hotel Indigo at the Waterfront Vancouver.
“It’s the responsibility of having a new paper route and collecting payments. You learn to be tenacious,” he said.
Snowstorms were perhaps one of the greatest challenges to the carriers.
Scott Campbell, former publisher of The Columbian, was a paperboy at age 11 for about three years. He remembers a “silver thaw” one year in the mid-1960s, when a sheet of ice impeded his ability to deliver papers on Dubois Drive after school.
“You basically got two inches of ice on top of fluffy snow,” he said. “If you broke through the ice, it was a weird feeling. You couldn’t do that route on a bike. I borrowed my mom’s golf shoes with spikes and I got my route done.”
100 pounds of papers
Former paperboy Nelson Holmberg, who delivered papers to 63 houses in the Southcliff neighborhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s, remembers how generous his customers were around Christmas.
“Many of those customers were so kind that they’d leave me little gifts,” he said. “It’s how I found Frangos chocolate mints, which still bring back great memories today.”
One of Holmberg’s challenges was delivering the hefty Sunday editions.
“It was kind of awful to pack the papers in my over-the-shoulder paperboy bags,” he recalled. “So, instead, I would pack up my bags and lug them onto the handlebars of my BMX bicycle, then ride the half-mile over to the other side of Mill Plain into Southcliff.
“Sunday papers in the late ’70s and early ’80s were about three times as big as they are now, so my dad said those bags often weighed more than 100 pounds when I started my route. I remember that around Thanksgiving and Christmas, there were so many ad inserts that I’d often have to load up half of my route, go deliver it, and then come back to load up the second half before going to deliver it.”
Creativity was part of the job, said John Horch, who was 11 years old in 1979 when he began delivering The Columbian.
“I once had a dog that tried to bite me every time I saw him,” he said. “I learned how to trick the dog with biscuits and lure him to one side of the yard. I would then quickly run around to the front of the home to deliver the newspaper. It worked nearly every time, except once when he did bite me on my leg. The homeowner paid for a new pair of pants.”
Horch is now chief criminal deputy at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
Winning a trip
As a boy of about 12, Paul Christensen enjoyed the chance to make some money, he said, but the paperboys also had a chance to win a prize trip if they sold enough new subscriptions.
“One memorable time we earned a train trip to Chinatown in San Francisco by soliciting 25 new Columbian customers, which I was able to do,” Christensen said. “As I recall, about 15-20 of us made the trip, which was quite a treat, though curiously the most memorable part of that trip was that I found a two-cent piece on the sidewalk on one of the streets down there. It was worth about 75 cents. I don’t think I ever looked up again for a couple of years from looking at the sidewalk for coins as I walked along and actually found one or two more normal ones.”
Christensen went on to founded Realvest Corp., one of Vancouver’s largest real estate development and management companies.
“The other neat thing about being a paperboy was Christmastime,” he said. “A small share of customers would give us some Christmas money, or even Christmas cookies. Because of these neat memories, I always remember to tip our own Columbian paper carrier, which I truly nostalgically enjoy finding on my front porch every morning.”
The paperboy and papergirl reign ended when The Columbian switched to morning delivery in July 2000, but that small army of youth carriers still recall their fond memories of the challenging job.
Missy Brown had a “cherry route,” she said, because it was all indoors at the Shorewood Apartments and Condominiums. It was in 1972 and she was age 12.
“I rubber-banded them and dropped them at everyone’s doors,” she said.
At that time, television was the big competitor to newspapers, and Brown had to solicit new subscriptions from potential customers interested in TV news.
“I had to go try to find new customers,” she said. “If I added new customers, I’d make more money and more tips. If customers would say, ‘Let me think about it,’ I’d follow up. A lot of times, that’s the key. If you don’t go back and be persistent, they’re not going to call back.”
Brown’s picture appeared in The Columbian a few times in ads for carrier job openings.
“My husband is so proud of these pictures,” she said. “He pulls them out and shows them to company.”