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Enterprising Lads

Author’s Note: This story was published in The Adirondack Almanack’s December 21, 2021 online edition.


     We  moved to Saranac Lake from Lake Placid in the summer of ’73.  I had just finished 4th grade.         

     My brother Ray (“Raymond” then) & I explored the river, rode bikes, and made neighborhood friends.  There were the Wright brothers, the Dudleys- Foley, Hart, Johnson, one of the Rileys …. quite a Pine Street gang.

     We formed our own baseball league.  Two teams-The Cincinnati Reds and The Oakland A’s.   Each team got six guys.  

     We played on Mrs. Gilpin’s vacant lot across the street from my house, at the base of Carpenter’s Hill. We made Mom’s sun porch our locker room.  We had rosters, kept standings & player stats.  Every kid chose a corresponding major league star’s number & name. 

     We pulled weeds, mowed, made make shift bases.  We had our own set of ground rules, and never enough players.  Most days we scrounged to have four guys per team.  “Ghost runners” ran bases.  We even sometimes made trades.

     The  Pitcher lobbed the ball overhand, from a flat spot about 40 feet from “home plate” – an old board, piece of cardboard, or someone’s mitt.

No umpire.  No called balls & strikes. No helmets. No walks. A player from the batting team stood back behind home plate and “caught”.

     We usually had one or two scuffed baseballs, but not always.  Balls were always getting hit into the woods and lost.  Sometimes when that happened, we found another.  If we did, and it wasn’t waterlogged too bad, the found ball got wiped on a shirt and put back in the game. 

     When we didn’t have a ball, we made one.  Socks stuffed with other socks and tied in a knot; a wadded up newspaper, wrapped up tight in black electrical tape pilfered from Dad’s tool box.   

     1st Baseman, Pitcher, short & 2nd- one outfielder.  The Batter “called his field”; right or left.  Balls hit to the wrong field were automatic outs.

     Our bats were all wooden, most of them cracked. We held them together with nails or screws and then tape.  No fancy gloves-we used dime store “mitts”.  No cleats or spikes either- we sported Converse sneakers or KEDS.

     There were  woods behind the outfield- the old abandoned train tracks uphill beyond that.  The woods: Ground Rule Double.  A home run was the tracks.

       Sometimes we played games in Denny Park too. There was a tool shed there behind home plate that we used as a backstop. Rt 3 was the 1st base foul line. Over the Riley’s yard fence across Pine Street was a homer. We lost lots of balls in the Saranac River playing there.

As ballfields go, Denny Park was a bit compact. One day Johnson smashed a liner back through the mound –  gave me two black eyes and broke my nose.  I was ball shy for nearly a month after that. 

     “Gangs” meant something way different back then, though we all did have bikes. Every neighborhood in Saranac Lake had a “gang”.  Most gangs had a team.  The Moody Pond Boys, the Helen Hill Bunch.  Or, if we were up for a longer road trip, we could ride out and play the Old Lake Colby Road Crew. 

     When someone called us out, when bragging were rights at stake- we’d  grab our gloves, bats & bikes, mount up, and head out.

     But all of those endeavors required one thing every gang member found in short supply:


     Baseballs were expensive- 99 cents.  Bats & Gloves- forget it!  New ones came on Birthdays or Christmas, at best.  Bubble gum was a penny. Baseball cards – 10 cents a pack.  Coke, Orange Crush or Root Beer came in tall glass bottles & cost fifteen cents. 

     A 9 year old’s income producing options were few.  Raymond & I each got allowances: A quarter a week.  Minus “Demerits”, deducted each Saturday based on Mom’s demerit chart that hung on the wall.

      I never fared well with that chart. Raymond did better, but for a variety of reasons that never seemed just- my allowance was always quite a bit short of a quarter. In fact, to this day- Mom insists that actually I’m still in the hole!

     Raymond & I were both a bit young to mow lawns for a living.  Besides, Dad would never let us use his gas powered mower.  We had a heavy old  fashioned mechanical grass thrashing mower we pushed on our ballfield instead.

    One income opportunity arose when Dad had new shingles put on the roof.  Raymond & I contracted to pick discarded nails from the driveway and yard . Dad  paid 1cent per nail.  If we worked for an hour or two we could scrounge up a dollar.

     In August, we hit pay dirt-wild blueberries!  Sold them to all of Mom’s friends. Hand picked wild blueberries- 50 cents for a quart.  I was a pretty good berry picker, still am to this day. My brother Raymond? Not quite so much.

We would walk down the tracks, find a ripe patch, fill our buckets. We used empty gallon paint cans with handles to harvest our crop. If we found a good patch, I could usually fill two buckets, 8 quarts, in a day.

When we got home after a hard day of picking to process and package for sale our blueberry haul, I’d empty my brother’s half full paint can and ask; “Hey Raymond, how come your bucket’s not full?”

His defense? “I might have ate some.” Blueberry demerits got subtracted from his share of the loot.

     But that was all very short term seasonal work. My almost 10 year old lifestyle begged a better cash source.                   

     My parents signed me up for Little League that summer.  Raymond & I had played T-ball in Lake Placid the year before.   

     That’s where I met Steve.  Steve was 3 years older than me- and a whole grade ahead.

     My team was Rotary Club. Steve was our best player, a tall, lanky kid. He batted clean-up and pitched.  I played 3rd base.  Besides baseball, we both liked to fish. Steve & I hit it off right away.         

     I’m pretty sure Steve was full on Outlaw long before we ever met. Most of my best Outlaw training started with him.  But he was polite to my parents, and never shy about pitching in to stack firewood or do chores.

      Mom took a shine to him from the start.  He loved Mom’s cooking, especially when she baked. Steve quickly became a fixture in our house.

     Once school started, I discovered a big advantage to having Steve as my friend.  We moved a lot before finally settling in Saranac Lake- 11 times in 9 years.  I was the new kid in school every year.  Sometimes twice.

     I liked school – got good grades.  I was smart. So I was the new kid AND the smart kid, every time we moved.  A double whammy, putting me directly in the cross hairs of the playground bully each school year.

     My Sears Catalog school wardrobe selections didn’t help.  Bell Bottom dress pants, button down dress shirts, black dress shoes….   

       But It got even worse…..GALOSHES!! Yup!  For real! Black rubber behemoths with 800 buckles. Mom made us wear them, with hooded yellow rain coats, every time that it rained.  I used to ditch mine in the bushes before the bus came every chance I got. No matter.  I still stood to get beat.

     No longer, I quickly realized. Now I had protection. Now I had Steve.

     Steve was big, quick on the draw, not afraid to scuffle. No one messed much with him. So when I was with Steve, no one messed much with me.

     But in addition to being big, and an Outlaw who commanded schoolyard respect- Steve had something else.  A legitimate front for his Outlaw ways.  He had a newspaper route. He & his big brother Dave.

      Dave was built similar to Steve,  just with a lot smoother edges. He was 15, but somehow still tolerated  his brother’s new 10 year old sidekick.  Must have been he took pity on me in galoshes.

      Mom worked at the Library.  Dad was on the road.  So once Raymond & I  got off the bus after school, we were pretty much on our own.  I started helping Steve & Dave deliver papers on their route after school.

     We met on our bikes at the back entrance of The Adirondack Daily Enterprise office.  Mr. Bishop was in charge of all the paper routes. I was  too young for a route of my own, but Steve & Dave got Mr. Bishop’s blessing to teach me the ropes.

     72 newspapers! Nearly 7 miles long! Their route was no joke. Especially in winter once we could no longer ride bikes. 

     Dave had his working papers and another job, bagging groceries at the local Grand Union, I think.  So once school started, more and more it was just me & Steve.

     The route took us from the Enterprise office out Old Lake Colby Road, past Doty’s Meat Market.  We couldn’t just put Daily Enterprises in mail boxes.  We had to be creative- stick them in milk boxes, on porch sills, in front door weather stripping seams, inside storm doors, or under front porch matts. Along the way, Steve taught me all the important things, like who were the best tippers, and who had mean dogs.  

     Further down Lake Colby Road was Baker’s Dozen Donut Shop. Steve would dig into the day’s paper route cash for some change.  We could buy fresh jelly or creme filled donuts for a dime or a quarter. Or, on days we were lucky, there’d be “day olds” that we could have for five cents.  We’d buy as many as Steve figured he could afford. 

     Beyond  that, near the intersection with Trudeau Road, there was a small grocery store where we could  get chocolate milk in a carton to wash down our snack.

    Our route continued all the way up Trudeau Road, past Mount Pisgah.  The road up to the ski slope was just gravel then.  It had one house.  In the winter, when the wind blew, that was a cold hike.  We somehow forgot to deliver that paper a lot.  We always hoped that guy would just cancel his subscription.

    Our last paper was the High School Principal’s house.  In the winter we finished just before dark.

   Once all the papers were delivered, we’d trek down Trudeau Road  to the American Management Association complex.  It was a creepy place. Especially at night.

       By the time we got there, the gates were always locked.  In the summer we cruised down the hill on our bikes and went home on Route 3, but during winter- no choice. We scaled the AMA wall.  We’d cross the dark campus and do it again to make our escape on the far side.  There we dropped down onto Park Avenue to walk home just in time for  supper.   

     But all the effort was worth it.  We earned lots of cash!

     We collected each week on Fridays.  Each paper boy had a small black binder with perforated pre-dated receipts.

     Most customers left good tips- a quarter, 50 cents, sometimes even a dollar.  Some were a bit stingier. A few somehow managed to avoid us for weeks.  But we were persistent. We worked hard.  Sometimes, on weekends, we just rode bikes out “collecting”. Knocking on doors to settle accounts.

     In the end, we  went home and Steve counted up all the cash.  Then we’d go down to The Enterprise office and he’d settle up his account.  The Enterprise paid paper boys a small weekly amount on each customer- but a newspaper delivery boy’s  biggest income was tips.  Especially at Christmas.  On a good week, Steve might haul in twenty dollars or more, just in tips.  I always got a small share. Plus donuts.  It was a pretty sweet gig.

     I continued helping Steve on his route through that winter.  We did a lot of stuff together.  He ate dinner frequently at our house. He was a little bit big brother, a lot Outlaw, and my good friend.  

     Over the course of the next year, I was promoted to substitute carrier. I learned to do the whole route on my own.  The weight of 72 Adirondack Daily Enterprises over my shoulder, all in one canvas bag.

     By the time I turned 12, Steve was nearly 16.  He was eyeballing a car, an old Dodge Rambler, and ready to move on.  I took over the route.  Walked it 3 more years. Upgraded my school wardrobe too. No more Sears! We started buying more stylish North Country duds, downtown, at Finnegan’s, The Blue Line, & Wilson’s. 

     By the time I was finally ready to trade  my newspaper bag for a Dagwood’s Pizza apron, I was almost 16 myself. But my pizza slingin’ exploits – That’s a whole ‘nother story itself!

     I believe I was the last Adirondack Daily Enterprise paper carrier to walk that route.  That may be a good thing.  Baker’s Dozen is long gone.  So is the grocery where Steve & I bought chocolate  milk.

      It’s  probably best that paper boys no longer have to breach locked AMA gates in the dark on cold winter nights to make their way home.

     Most of all, customers on the road to Mount Pisgah likely stand  much improved newspaper delivery chances when winter’s winds blow.

     I am just thankful that I was able to grow up in a place like Saranac Lake, where I could play vacant lot baseball, eat fresh baked donuts, earn Enterprise paperboy cash, and have good friends like Steve.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:

A Paper Boy Tip!

Enterprising Lads Accept Doughnuts

But Most Prefer Ca$H!