January 12, 2014 Updated: January 12, 2014 at 12:14 pm
The news of The Gazette's move to the Busy Corner in downtown Colorado Springs prompted a Cañon City man to share with me stories of his long association with the paper.
Larry Jessen, 72, wrote a congratulatory note last month as we moved from the Hillside neighborhood east of downtown to our new space at 30 E. Pikes Peak Ave., at the corner of Tejon Street.
Jessen grabbed my attention when he mentioned that he became a Gazette Telegraph carrier at age 12 in 1953, shortly after his father, Martin Jessen, took a job selling paint at Sears and his family relocated to Colorado Springs from their farm in Iowa.
He wrote of his experiences coming home from school, riding his bicycle and throwing the evening newspaper to the homes in the neighborhood around the old Saint Francis Hospital, collecting from subscribers then riding downtown to settle his account at the newspaper office, in the same spot where we now sit on Pikes Peak Avenue.
Of course, the irony is that a few years later we moved from downtown to a plant on Prospect Street across from the hospital and a couple of blocks from the Jessen family's home on Cucharras.
His newspaper route took in 4 square blocks: Hancock Avenue to Institute Street and Cucharras to Costilla streets. His paper route also included a mobile home park on the north end of Prospect Lake.
"I had about 165 subscriptions," Jessen said, describing how he rode his bike and sometimes crashed under the weight of the Sunday paper.
"I hated that big, fat Sunday paper," he said.
I could totally relate. When I was a boy, my brothers and I also were newspaper carriers in Kansas City, Kan., and at our peak we had three routes, distributing 250-300 papers every day.
When Jessen described slogging through snowstorms, dealing with dog bites, even breaking a few windows with errant tosses, I was transported back to K.C.K. and walking the streets with cloth newspaper bags draped over each shoulder and a big wad of rubber bands in my mouth as I rolled, wrapped and tossed papers.
One of the highlights of the job, for Jessen, was the contests the G-T conducted to boost subscriptions. Carriers who sold the most new subscriptions could win turkeys and other gifts.
"My parents would rely on me winning a turkey for Christmas so we would have one," Jessen said. "I always loved those contests so I could win many prizes."
One of lowlights, besides the dog bites, was delivering in the mobile home park.
"It was a bad situation," he said. "You'd get people who would sign up for the paper. I'd throw it all week and by the time I went to collect the next Saturday, they were already gone."
Same thing happened to me in an apartment house on my route in K.C.K. People would come and go, sticking me with the bill for a week's worth of papers. Arggg!
But Jessen, like me, had mostly fond memories of his newspaper days.
"I remember riding my bike downtown to turn in my weekly collection money," he said, describing how he'd ride up the alley next to the G-T and enter the side door.
"Then I'd go down the alley and buy a cheeseburger," he said with a chuckle.
That's not all he bought with his newspaper route earnings.
"I saved $200 to buy my first car with that money," he said. "It was a '49 Ford."
(I used my newspaper savings to buy record albums and my first car, a 1972 International Scout four-wheel-drive. It was a beast. Until I totaled it. But that's another column.)
Jessen eventually turned his newspaper route over to his brother, and he took a job as a fry cook at the new Cosmo Restaurant at 126 E. Colorado Ave. downtown, near the location of the original office of Out West, which eventually became The Gazette.
"Throwing newspapers, I could make maybe $10 a week," he said. "At Cosmo, I earned 75 cents an hour. I worked there all through high school."
He graduated from Colorado Springs High School, now Palmer High, in 1959 and went to work at Emerson Electric, where his mother, Frances, had worked for 14 years. Jessen moved to Clifton Precision Products as a machine shop inspector and supervisor before joining Litton Computer Products and Ampex Corp.
Plant closures caused him to change jobs and led him to open his business, High Country Cleaners, in Woodland Park in 1976. In 1982, his wife, Sherrie, opened a travel agency that she operated in the mountain town until 1994.
In the years since, they've traveled the world and crisscrossed the continent in a motor home and moved to Cañon City.
Jessen still has fond memories of the Colorado Springs of his youth and his years throwing newspapers.
"Of course, we still subscribe and I always look at the obituaries first to make sure . you know," Jessen said joking. "My memory has not failed me of all those good years as a carrier of The Gazette."
I hope he never opens his paper and finds his name in the obits!
Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.