Oakland Tribune – An Awakening…..#32 (the 50’s)


In the past Gary Willson never realized the gravity of  financial insolvency,  money being something you spend when you possess it,  and abstain when you don’t,  a very simple rule to follow.    Stacking bottles at Koplos Market when the opportune was a means of securing unexpected financial returns, but the job was on a,  “as needed basis.    A more profitable past resource for gains was a lawn  mowing  and grass trimming endeavor that flourished for several months until a month-long vacation to Etna provided an abdication.    Gary was open to suggestion for economic opportunity and as fortune would have it,  they materialized.


His friends,  Hank Ball and Don Bryant,  after  moving up to Junior High secured employment with the Oakland Tribune delivering the daily paper.    Gary also entertained this train of thought upon entering Junior High.    Before applying with the Tribune he accompanied Don on his paper route in preparation to substitute for him during a brief vacation, and to discover the responsibilities of the undertaking.  He considered the responsibility and commitment and also the benefits of employment  versus those of being unemployed,  the bottom line was  financial substance.



Gary’s Mother was upset,  in order to secure a position with the Tribune as a carrier,  you must be bonded,  and for some reason their bank would not provide a bond,  but this setback  didn’t stop the boy’s Mother,  there was more than one bank in town.    With the bond secured, Gary became an independent newspaper dealer with the Oakland Tribune, and in reality he was a delivery subcontractor,  who was billed each month for the papers received.   It was the carrier’s responsibility to go door to door collecting the monthly amount due from each customer and submit his payment to the tribune by the 10th of every month.   It wasn’t unusual for the 12-year-old to go out and collect 70 to 80 dollars in one evening.

The Tribune provided a delivery location and a district manager to supervise and distribute the paper bundles to the carriers.  They also saw to the monthly incentive programs for maintaining complaint free service and increasing subscription circulation.   The papers were delivered by truck six days a week at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon and Sunday mornings at 5:30 a.m. to an old converted garage on the corner of Field St. and Sterling Drive  a short distance from Crest Ave..  The old building was better known as The Paper Shack.   Each bundle of papers came with a route  number on it,  Gary’s route being LW-37,  the LW designating the area district.   Most routes consisted of 40 to 50 customers,  which was about all that newspaper delivery bags could hold.   Most deliveries were made by walking or bicycle,  Sunday was the exception, carts had to be used to deliver the papers because of the comics and advertising inserts that increased the Sunday Edition  size.

The Shack was lined with counters for folding  newspapers and an ancient desk for  District Manager Scotty, whose responsibilities included checking route numbers on arriving bundles for correct quantity,  and maintaining a large wall route assignment board with all his carriers listed.   This visual perspective was an incentive score board,  each carrier starting with the same number of points,  but change was possible, losing points for receiving complaints, gaining points for new Tribune subscriptions.  A monthly trip, event, or sporting goods necessities would be offered for acquiring a postulated  number of points.  Points could be obtained securing new local customers or by joining Scotty in his company provided car to canvas other areas of the city for subscribers.   Trips included the Santa Cruz Boardwalk by train,  the California State Fair,  Rocky Marciano Training Camp at Calistoga Springs,  Playland at the Beach in San Francisco, and many others,  all meals and transportation provided.   Gary could hardly wait to commence.


Gary’s  route was 3 1/2 blocks long and normally consisted of 43 customers,  starting at Keller Avenue for one block,  then the  2 1/2  blocks of Winthrope Street which terminated at a wheat field and pasture acreage on the south.  The enterprise netted  a little more than thirty dollars profit per month, but it provided capital that he wouldn’t otherwise have.   The biggest benefit was a lesson in responsibility,  he alone was responsible to deliver the newspapers,  do the collecting and procure a money order and transact the payment.  He was obligated every day with no exception,  to be on time and provide his customers with personal service,  whether it’s throwing a paper on a porch, placing it behind a screen door,  or depositing it in a newspaper tube or mail box.  He questioned himself about enduring the long-term undertaking and whether he could be resolute in staying the course, but being a judiciously tenacious person, it was confirmed, he could,  and would.


Sunday mornings Gary would set his alarm for 5:30 a.m. which would get him to The Paper Shack by 6,   do the inserts,  fold papers and start down the hill with his homemade pull-cart,  entering his route on Keller and finishing at the end Winthrope.  On some Sunday mornings, especially rainy ones,  he would attempt to convince his Dad to take him on his route.   The 36 Oldsmobile was superlative for delivering papers, it had full length wide  running boards for standing and  his Dad on many occasion would respond affirmative and a motorized fast delivery was assured.


Being first frequently has it benefits, and  some Sunday mornings Gary would arrive at The Paper Shack location early before all others.  He would walk  to Crest Ave and  from the hill-top,  gaze and bear witness to the artistry of the panoramic view of the city escalating and stretching below  him.   The yellow glow of lights adorning the bay bridge and a similar aspect shimmering from the distant Golden Gate structure.   The silhouette of San Francisco showered in aphotic shadows of a predawn day.  The landscaped topography with the soft luminous effulgence, the glow of streetlights marking the crisscrossing roadways,  a silent composition  prevailing in the sleeping city.   Ever so slowing like the purple hue of a dawning morning sky, ever so gently wakening ,  it began, first as a whisper quietly making itself  known.   Then a disclosure  expressing a sound of movement.   A gaining of momentum starting to build,  becoming louder and  louder, then echoing its boisterous presence.  Then blatantly  bursting forth, giving notice of its  might – the roar of the city, an awakening.




2 Responses to “Oakland Tribune – An Awakening…..#32 (the 50’s)”

  1. Nancy Says:

    I remenber helping you with your paper route. I enjoyed doing it.

  2. papillonsj2013 Says:

    Great job Gary! Enjoyed this very much. Reminded me of my son Ernest’s paper route when we lived in the hilly part of El Cerrito. The rainy day scenario played out on many occasions with mom in nightgown and robe driving!

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