In the age of smartphones, young boys delivering newspapers can seem like something from a bygone era. For Steve Steinberger though, that was a part of his childhood.
From the age of 11 years old sometime in the late 1950s until the summer of 1961, Steinberger was one of the Roswell Daily Record’s newspaper carriers, also known as “paperboys.”
“Most of us usually rolled or folded our papers and tossed them from our bicycles into front yards or occasionally on the porch,” he said.
Steinberger’s route was commonly known as 1-A, and consisted of all of Third and Fourth streets from Union westward, including the side streets. In all, Steinberger had 120 customers.
The job was something that paperboys took quite seriously.
“In those days, when you were a paperboy, you felt that if you failed to deliver your papers, it was going to be a national catastrophic situation,” Steinberger said.
The papers had to be delivered, regardless of weather or other circumstances. Steinberger said he vividly remembers one episode when Roswell was hit by a large snow storm. Roads were made impassible for cars and bikes by the storm.
Nonetheless, the first afternoon of the blizzard, the Roswell Daily Record dropped off the papers for Steinberger at his house to make his deliveries, as they typically did. In addition to their papers, paperboys were provided with wax paper sleeves, in which to place the papers when it rained or snowed.
“So with the help of my brothers, I rolled and wrapped all 120 papers,” Steinberger recalled.
That night, the customers on Steinberger’s route received their papers.
He placed all 120 papers into a canvas bag that weighed about 40 pounds. Usually, the bag was draped over the handlebars of his bike, but given the treacherous conditions of the roads, he carried the bag along his entire 1.7-mile route and marched through 15 inches of snow, dropping a newspaper on each customer’s porch.
The whole route took him two and a half hours. Steinberger weathered the elements for three consecutive nights. He said he and other paperboys felt that was just part of the job. Customers, nonetheless, showed their gratitude giving him additional tips during the Christmas season.
One show of thanks stood out for Steinberger. That holiday season, rather than a Christmas card, he received an official certificate of merit from one of his customers: Roswell Mayor Lake Fraizer.
“Such evidence of thoughtfulness on the part of those who will in the future be in charge of our civic affairs indicates that the future of our city, state and nation will be in safe hands,” the certificate states.
Last year, Steinberger re-established contact with that past, while pouring through some items that had belonged to his mother when he came across the certificate.
“I saw it and I said, ‘I remember that,’” he said.
Looking back, Steinberger, now 72 years old, said he took pride in receiving the certificate as a child.
“I was really just flattered that the mayor would give me such a certificate,” he said.
Steinberger who was born in Roswell, ended up moving to Houston when he was about 14 years old. He then embarked on a career all over the world, before retiring from service in 1981 and settling down in a suburb near Denver, Colorado. He worked for Lockheed Martin, a military contractor, before retiring about 12 years ago. He is now a grandfather.
His job as a paperboy is something that Steinberger said instilled in him qualities instrumental later in life. It showed him the importance of being dedicated to something important.
“It became a very key point in your life and you learned how to work everything around your job,” Steinberger said.
Today, the tradition of news carriers lives on, though with some changes.
Jim Dishman has been a newspaper circulation director for 31 years — including 10 at the Roswell Daily Record. Dishman said when he first started in the industry, most carriers were children and young teenagers looking to make some money.
The shift away from afternoon and evening editions and toward morning papers has changed the nature of who becomes a carrier. Labor laws prevent children from delivering papers in the morning, and so now most carriers are adults. Dishman said all 21 of the Roswell Daily Record’s carriers are adults, with some taking multiple routes.
“So adults usually use it as a second income,” he said.
Nonetheless, Dishman said the position of newspaper carrier remains crucial as the point of contact between the customer and the newspaper that is delivered — and the importance of delivering on time remains as important as it did decades ago.
“If you don’t give good customer service, we don’t keep the customer,” Dishman said.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.