Jim McMillen's Blog

03

I spent 41 years in the newspaper business, being paid to do something I would have done as a hobby. Don’t let those who paid me all of those years know that. They might want their money back the way things are going in the newspaper business today.

My newspapering started at age seven. A kid who was several years older than me asked me if I wanted to take over his newspaper venture, since he was taking a “real” job as a grocery sack boy. Upon inquiring about what I’d be doing, he told me that I would collect old newspapers door-to-door and sell them to the local poultry hatchery where they would use them as cage-bottom lining. Having received a “new” wagon for Christmas, perfect for hauling old newspapers, I accepted and took over the boy’s operation. With World War II on, toys and other items made of steel were hard to come by. My Christmas-gift wagon was a used one, repainted red, the Radio Flyer emblem no longer visible. I don’t remember who gave it to me. Maybe it was Santa Claus.

Since I always tried to make the Saturday B-western matinees at the local “picture show,” I scheduled Saturday mornings for newspaper collecting and delivery to Trice’s Hatchery. Since the Depression was still evident in our small town, few folks could afford to subscribe to daily newspapers. Collecting took me into the afternoons, so by the time I sold a load of papers to Trice’s, I missed seeing the matinee westerns. A load was good for 12 or 13 cents, and I wondered if it was worth missing Johnny Mac Brown and the Durango Kid.

There was a local widow who had kids horrifically frightened of her. I don’t know why, but it had been passed down from older kids to stay away from “Old Lady” Goodson’s house. It was said that if you trespassed her property, something evil was bound to happen to you. Therefore, I always bypassed her house during collections. One Saturday, having seen what I was doing previous weeks, she was standing in her yard as I attempted to bypass her place. “Come here, sonny,” she beckoned. “I want to show you something,” Needless to say, she scared the bejeebies out of me. “Come here,” she continued. “I won’t hurt you.” I reluctantly followed her into her house, big-eyed and stone-frightened. In a bedroom she opened a closet door. What I saw made my eyes bug out far enough to have been poked off with a stick. There in front of me was the mother lode of newspapers—enough to last for several months.

Taking advantage of Mrs. Goodson’s “treasure,” I was able to deliver papers to Trice’s with plenty of time to make the movies—sometimes delivering two loads per morning and making up to 25 cents. My good fortune was short-lived, however. One Saturday, I was told that no more papers were needed, since they had enough to last several months. I was paid for the last load and moved on to other ventures. Mrs. Goodson and I became friends. She was a nice lady—just lonely. I never learned the cause of the negative rumors about her.

A few years later, I began listening to the weekly radio adventure, “The Big Story.” It featured real-life reporters from actual U.S. newspapers. The reporters somehow became involved in the stories that they were covering, usually placing them in danger. Hooked on the program, I decided that I wanted to become a newspaper reporter.

So enthralled by newspapers, I made mock newspapers with their name flags and big headlines. I hand-printed story contents and hand-drew the comics of that day. Dick Tracy was my favorite. Boy, could I draw Dick Tracy’s chiseled chin and nose profile. Chester Gould would have been proud of me.

My reporter’s dream lasted until I took typing in high school. I was slow and all thumbs, barely passing. I knew that reporters had to be fast and accurate typists, so I gave up on being a reporter. Today, as I hack this out, I realize that I’m no better on a computer keyboard than I was on an L.C. Smith.


---Watch for another edition of Newspapering at a later date. JMc---

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