Capital Region

Dawn Patrol: The kids who delivered the Schenectady Gazette

A look back at the young men and women who used to fold and toss the morning news
Nick Barber, Jeff Wilkin and Mark Quant sell papers in Rotterdam during the Daily Gazette Old Newsboys Day.
Nick Barber, Jeff Wilkin and Mark Quant sell papers in Rotterdam during the Daily Gazette Old Newsboys Day.

Editor’s Note: In 2014, The Daily Gazette celebrated its 120th anniversary with “Old Newsboys Day” — a chance to reunite young people who once delivered the newspaper and raise funds for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York. Reporter Jeff Wilkin talked to members of the “Dawn Patrol,” the young men and women who used to fold and toss the morning news. Here’s an encore presentation of the newsies’ stories, with just slight edits.

At a young age, Bill McColl learned patience.

“Gazette paper routes were hard to come by when you were 12 years old,” said McColl, 77, who lives in Schenectady. “You had to get in line, take a number and wait for something to open up.”

Something has just opened up for McColl. He’ll be selling The Daily Gazette as part of a 30-person force that has volunteered for the newspaper’s Old Newsboys Day.

The exercise will put former carriers at 23 locations around the Capital Region, including Proctors in Schenectady, Price Chopper supermarkets, Gabriel’s supermarkets in Scotia and Rotterdam, Tops American Diner in Rotterdam, the Glenville Queen restaurant and Albany Medical Center.

More from 125 Years of Gazette special anniversary edition:

The newsboys and girls will help The Gazette celebrate its 120th anniversary — the newspaper was first published Oct. 1, 1894. Senior newsboys will raise money for a good cause — proceeds from newspapers sold by vocal volunteers — who will be assisted by vocal Gazette personnel — will benefit the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

On the streets today, you can’t find many kids with newspapers. According to the Newspaper Association of America in Arlington, Virginia, nearly 80 percent of all carriers today are adults.

Teens have been phased out partly because of the size of circular-heavy newspapers and for distribution reasons. Distribution hubs can be far from carriers’ homes, and drivers may be delivering several different newspapers on their routes. Both would be tall orders for kids on bikes.

At The Gazette, only a small number of school-aged delivery personnel are on the 240-carrier roster. Circulation Manager Steve Masterson said mothers and fathers help kids who still have routes.

“It’s pretty much a family operation,” he said.

McColl and others are eager to peddle the paper once again and to share memories from their delivery days.

McColl, a retired engineer from the state Department of Transportation, originally delivered 90 Schenectady Union-Stars — the afternoon paper — on Bedford Road and Rankin Avenue in 1950. He received the call-up to join The Gazette the following year.

“At first, I had 180 on Waverly, Ardsley and Phoenix,” McColl said, mentioning streets off Union Street near Schenectady High School. “Shortly after that, I got the adjacent 180 on Glenwood and Parkwood. I lived on Glenwood, so that was wonderful.”

McColl said he could deliver 360 papers in less than an hour.

“I could do one paper in seven seconds,” he said, adding that the fold-and-throw method was the key to his success.

“You’d walk fast, but you had to fold fast,” said McColl, who will be stationed at the Peter Pause restaurant on Nott Street. “That was the critical thing, and then getting rid of them to lighten up the bag.”

McColl wasn’t crazy about advertising inserts because the extra bulk made the newspapers tougher to fold. He liked summer substituting, when he picked up extra routes for vacationing kids.

“I peaked in summer, at one point, 600 papers,” McColl said.

For 360 papers, McColl could count on about $30 a week.

Christmas was a great time for paperboys because customers generally expressed gratitude for early-morning trudges through rain, snow and wind. McColl would enclose a Christmas card shortly before the holiday and eventually receive about $1 from every reader along the route.

“The first week in January, I’d go to Schenectady Savings Bank. One year, I deposited $300. That was really hot stuff,” he said.

Other carriers shared their stories with The Gazette. Edward Panfil, 95, of Burnt Hills, helped Dud Burch deliver newspapers to hundreds of customers in the northern part of Schenectady during the mid-1930s. Dud drove a horse-drawn wagon.

“I would sit at the rear of the wagon with legs dangling, rolling up a paper and bending it in half — similar to a boomerang — hop off running, toss the paper on the customer’s porch and then back to the wagon,” Panfil wrote in a letter.

“My salary was $4.30 a week, which went into the family coffers,” he added. “Those were lean days.”

Another letter came from Jane Meader Nye of Ballston Lake. Her brothers Jack and Jerry delivered The Gazette during the early 1940s. When it rained, their mom, Doris Meader, became part of the team.

“What I remember is my mother drying out newspapers in the oven of our gas stove in the kitchen,” wrote Nye, now 84. “She did it in batches, and the boys would return to get the next batch of dry papers to continue delivering the papers.”

Sport leads the way

The best story may have come from Anne Dunbar of Ballston Spa. Her son, Francis, began delivering the Gazette in 1969, when he was 12. Francis Dunbar had 57 customers on Route 50, starting at McClean Street and ending on Upper Ballston Avenue.

“I encouraged him to take our little hound dog Sport for company and safety because it was so early,” Anne Dunbar said.

The partnership would later become profitable for her. When Francis traveled to a Boy Scout camp for a week-long stay, Mom was stuck holding the newspaper bag.

“Before he left, I asked him where was the list of customers he delivered to,” Dunbar said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry Mom, Sport knows them all.’ Well, I went out at 5 o’clock with Sport, picked up the papers and he led me to McLean Street and all the houses on the streets that Francis delivered to.”

Sport had also memorized one of Francis’ shortcuts and led Mother Dunbar through a field to reach Upper Ballston Avenue.

“He would show me all the houses and even if Francis delivered the paper on the front or back porch,” Dunbar said. “If Francis didn’t deliver to one of the houses he would walk right by it.”

The temporary team lasted five days, and Dunbar has told the story many times over the past 45 years.

“This is a memory I have cherished over the years,” Dunbar added.

Richard DiCristofaro worked with his sister Mary and brother Anthony to deliver papers in the Chrisler Avenue neighborhood in 1948.

“Mary went west, Anthony went east,” said DiCristofaro, who at age 9 was an apprentice of sorts to his high school siblings.

When Mary graduated from Mont Pleasant High School in 1952, Richard took over her route, starting around 5 a.m. By 6:30, he’d be back home.

“I’d take a nap for an hour and then rush off to school,” DiCristofaro said. “I was late for school many times.”

There were 11 kids in the family, and in addition to Mary, Anthony and Richard, siblings Irene, Patricia, John, Joseph and Paul all walked the Chrisler route through the late 1960s. The work taught responsibility and bought financial independence.

“We were all self-sufficient at a very young age,” said DiCristofaro, now 75. “We bought our own bicycles, we bought our own toys or whatever was needed.”

Besides weather, paperboys and girls occasionally had to worry about errant throws. They generally meant broken glass.

“I broke a window on a storm door,” DiCristofaro said. “I offered to pay for it. They were nice enough to say, ‘No thanks, that’s OK, accidents happen.’ “

DiCristofaro won’t break any windows Wednesday. He will be at Villa Italia on Broadway, hoping to interest people in newspapers with their pastries.

Steve Walker and his brothers will also be on the job, in Cobleskill. Like the DiCristofaros, the Walkers kept the Central Bridge route in the family. David Walker started the tradition during the mid-1960s. Kevin, Jeff, Dana and Greg followed.

Steve Walker, 55, and his siblings will sell outside the Price Chopper supermarket at 105 Plaza Lane. Mark Quandt, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, will also be on the 9 a.m. Cobleskill detail.

Steve Walker said the brothers earned between $8 and $10 a week, delivering to 55 to 65 customers.

“That was a lot,” Walker said. “Anything over $5 was huge for us.”

More from 125 Years of Gazette special anniversary edition:

On Christmas morning, the siblings’ father, David, helped his anxious sons deliver holiday editions. Dad knew the guys really would rather be opening gifts under the Christmas tree.

“We had to get the papers done; that was a responsibility,” Steve Walker said. “Dad helped us out. He took us around in the car.”

The Walkers are participating in Old Newsboys Day as a salute to the late George Heisig of Delanson, their route manager during those delivery days. Whenever the kids had trouble with dogs, they called Heisig.

“People didn’t tie up their dogs back then, and there’d be a big German shepherd charging us,” Walker said. “We’d call George, and he’d go out there and say, ‘You’ve got to keep that dog tied up or we’re not going to deliver the paper.’

“That was huge for a little kid. It wasn’t just a favor: We were scared of those dogs.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]

Categories: News

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