Some memories of my time as a paper boy for the Butler Eagle.
by John Cooper

Seeing the photo of the Butler Eagle newspaper bag brought back a lot of
wonderful memories.   It’s exactly like the one I had in 1958.  I was 12 years old
that year and kept my route until 1962.  You did have to be 12 years old to
have a route but didn't have to have working papers as I recall.  They called us
“independent businessmen” and not employees of the Butler Eagle.  

I had 63 customers on a route that went along West Brady Street, Bluff Street,
Amy Avenue, and Penn Street.  When the papers were less than 40 pages, I
could fold them into the “paper boy” fold and throw them on the porches.   
When they were over 40 pages that was not possible.  Large papers had to be
placed behind the storm doors or in mailboxes.  This took a lot more time.  

Also, usually on Thursdays because of the weekend advertising, papers were
over 40 pages and were transported in a bundle of 50 to your “relay” point on
your route by Moe’s Dime Delivery.  We only had to carry enough papers to get
us to our relay point for the remaining papers.  It was quite a complex
operation.

Our relationship to the Butler Eagle was through one man, Paul Clark.  He was a
wonderful person who taught me so much about the business of business.

I was such a naive 12-year old when I started.  The first thing Paul wanted to
know was if the previous news carrier tried to sell me the paper route.  He said
the Butler Eagle didn't’t allow the routes to be bought and sold.  I was shocked
that anyone would do that.   In my family value was in a good job done well.  
This paper route was going to be all about money.  As Paul would teach me, the
secret to business success is to create value and understand where the money
comes from and where it goes.  

My paper route was the perfect place for a young person to learn.  Yes, a 12-
year old had to learn that the papers must be delivered on time and in good
shape everyday six days a week. Spending time with customers much older
than myself on collection days to talk and share a glass of iced tea was also
important.

But at the end of the day the money had to be there.  And as it turned out that
depended not only on creating value but also on dealing with the forces of
greed and fear.  

My first lesson in greed was around the summer of 1960.  At that time, the
Butler Eagle was 7 cents a copy or 42 cents a week.  I paid 5 cents a copy for a
2-cent profit on each paper delivered.  My profit on 63 papers for a week was
$7.56.  

In 1960, 42 cents was enough money to trigger someone’s greed.  I still find it
hard to believe that a person would watch my movements, learn when I did my
collections, and find out who my customer’s were for so little money.  

One Saturday earlier than my normal collection time, this person who was about
my age went to my customer’s and said they were my brother and I was not
feeling well.  They were there to collect the money for the paper.  I don’t have a
brother or sister.  Later in the day one of my customer’s told me they had met
my brother and they were surprised I was feeling better.  This guy was a
smooth operator.

In those days such matters were handled quietly.  Paul said the Butler Eagle
would cover my loss and would take care of the situation.  That was the last I
heard of it.  I learned that greed has a very low threshold.

March of 1961 I also learned that Paul was right.  Greed can be found anywhere
money comes from or where it goes.  From my paper route and selling papers
at the Pullman Standard gate in the summers I had managed to save over
$700.  For a young teenage kid I thought that was a lot of discipline.  

Being a responsible young adult I put my money in the Workingman’s Building
and Loan Association in Butler.  Apparently, a bank employee didn't have quite
as much discipline as I had.  The employee embezzled over $400,000 from
myself and 6,000 other bank depositors.  

My newspaper money was not lost, just frozen.  That meant the money was
locked up without interest until the bank audit was complete.  That lasted until
March of 1963.  That was my first lesson in banking.

The whole arrest, trial, and sentencing can be found in the Pittsburgh Press
archives and the PA Superior Court Decisions (200 Pa. Superior Ct. 284) if you
want to read about the 60 long appeals.  

I could not believe what was going on in my little newspaper business.  I was
just a kid trying to make some money selling papers.  To this day every time I
walk into a bank I think of Workingman’s Building and Loan.

By this time I learned that greed and fear worked together.  There was a bully
on my paper route.  Butler streets and schools in the late 50’s and early 60’s
were tough.  I guess there have always been bullies and Butler was no
exception.

In those days raising children was a lot simpler.  Parents really only had one
rule, “Don’t embarrass your family”.  That was it.  You were left to figure out
the details.  As it turned out, not standing up to a bully was a family
embarrassment.  If you complained about a bully, your family would immediately
ask if you taught him a “lesson”.  

So one summer day I was busy delivering my papers on Penn Street when this
bully started in on me.  I thought, “I’m an independent businessman”.  So I
dropped my paper bag and went after him.  I ran him up on his porch and
pinned him against a storm door.  

What he said to me I remember to this day.  He said, “You can’t touch me.  My
dad’s a lawyer!”  It was then I realized that nobody does anything unless they
think they can get away with it.  He felt he could be a bully because of his dad’s
position.  The bank employee worked there 25 years and felt comfortable.  And
the guy that collected money on my route, well he was just cool.

The technical side of the newspaper business could be really funny.  The Wise
family was never content with the status quo.  They always wanted to innovate
whenever they could.  

They purchased their newsprint from a company in Canada.  I heard that on a
trip there the Wise family learned about a new ink that could be scented.  So
their thoughts turned to strawberry season and all the newspaper ads they
could print with scented red ink.  

At the end of May, I think it was around 1960, they used this scented ink to
print every strawberry food ad in the paper.  Something went horribly wrong.  
The scent was really strong.  The newspaper office smelled of it for weeks.  My
newspaper bag smelled.  My clothes smelled.  My mother washed my bag and
cloths several times.  People all over town were calling Butler City, the water
company, sanitation, or anyone who could come to get that smell out of their
house.  

When I see a small perfumed scented cardboard insert in a magazine or mailing,
I think of the strawberries and the Butler Eagle. They never tried that again.  I
have often wondered how they got rid of the leftover scented ink. The smell
would overwhelm anywhere they disposed it.

My Butler Eagle paper route and Paul taught me all I needed to know to be a
success.  I’ve just spent my life trying to get it right.  Rest in peace, Paul.

February, 2016

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