Thursday, April 18, 2019

La Farge Goes "Paperless"

A while back, they stopped selling the Wisconsin State Journal at the Zzip Stop in La Farge.  The long hard winter had resulted in sporadic deliveries to the La Farge gas station that had become an outlier on the route. When the big Kickapoo River flood had closed the Viola gas station back in August so no daily copies of the State Journal were being sold there, La Farge had become a stop too far on the route.  For those of us who are accustomed to having a daily newspaper to read, the stoppage was shocking.  Trips to Readstown, Viroqua and Hillsboro to get a newspaper are being made begrudgingly. What’s a guy to do? 
            The loss of a daily newspaper in La Farge also got me to thinking about when the last time the village was without a daily newspaper. I think it probably goes back a long way.  I’m guessing to the time before the railroad was completed to La Farge and daily trains could start bringing in the newspapers along with the mail, passengers and freight.  That takes us back to 1898!  Yikes! We have had daily newspapers in this little Kickapoo River town for over 120 years?  Probably, yes is the answer to that question.
            Remember that in those early years, the village of La Farge was the last stop on the Kickapoo rail line.  There were three hotels (Belcher House, Hotel Ward, and Central Hotel) operating in town to accommodate all of the people disembarking from the trains.  Dray lines in La Farge would have wagons at the railroad station to bring the visitors and salesmen up to the hotels in town.  From the very beginning the trains also delivered the daily newspapers. There is a classic photograph from that era showing some men dressed in suits sitting in the front lobby of the Hotel Ward.  Each man holds a copy of a daily newspaper in his hands.
            For over thirty years, there were always two trains arriving in the village every day.  Thus, the morning and evening editions of newspapers from Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago could be in La Farge “hot off the presses”.  Maxine Shird told me that when her folks were running Mac’s Hotel in La Farge (this would be from the 1920s until the early 1940s) that the daily newspaper was always available there.  Many of the train workers stayed at the hotel and bringing the newspapers was a daily delivery for them.
            When the railroad line ended in 1939, there was much uproar about how Kickapoo River towns would receive needed goods that had been delivered by the railroad.  Daily truck delivery routes were established to get goods to the Valley and newspapers were part of that.  The railroad continued to run a daily truck delivery route to the village until the late 1960s and daily newspaper deliveries were included.
            Eventually, the newspaper publishers began to run daily rural routes to places like La Farge.  The morning newspapers like the State Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel were delivered by delivery boys to people’s doorsteps in the village while later in the day, the Milwaukee Journal, Capital Times, and LaCrosse Tribune would arrive at people’s homes “fresh off the presses”.  
            I’m not sure if there were any age requirements for boys (Did girls also deliver the newspapers?  I can’t remember any from my youth, but perhaps later the fairer sex did become involved in the venture.) delivering newspapers in La Farge, but the job did entail collecting money for the papers besides delivering them.  I remember substituting for Freddie Shird one summer for a couple of weeks while he was on vacation.  He delivered the State Journal, I believe and I even was able to use his bicycle with the saddlebag newspaper baskets draped over the rear tire on the route.  During that time there were two boys delivering the State Journal since there were so many people in La Farge who had home delivery.  The afternoon deliveries of the LaCrosse Tribune may have needed a split route during that time as well.
            Delivering the Sunday newspapers was a whole different animal because of the increased size.  The newspaper bundles would be left on the back porch of the post office in town early each Sunday morning.  They would usually come in several bundles with additional inserts and such, and then the delivery boy had to put the newspapers together.  The papers would be so big and heavy that you couldn’t carry them all, so you had to do part of the route and then go back for the rest of the newspapers.
            Besides the home deliveries of the newspapers, several businesses in La Farge usually had the daily papers for sale.  Harry Lounsbury always had the newspaper for sale at his drug store and at least one of the grocery stores would also have them. The gas stations usually had the Sunday newspapers, as some of those other businesses in town would be closed. When we moved back to La Farge in 1972, we lived a block off Main Street in the Burt Apartments.  I would usually walk up to the drug store to get a newspaper and could catch up on the latest with Lillian Waddell, who worked there. At school, several daily newspapers would be in the library or teachers lounge, so we could read them there.
            For a short time, Carolyn and I were part of the newspaper delivery system as we took over Ernie Meseberg’s rural Sunday route of the State Journal from November of 1979 until September of the following year.  The route included a drive down to Tunnelville and then up on Fairview and Salem Ridges.  We caught more places driving down Wemmer Hollow, Otter Creek and Green Hollow. Heading north, we caught the places on Plum Run, Buckeye Ridge and on to Weister Creek.  We would often stop and talk to Rex Bufton at his place before moving on to circle the Dell area.  Then it was on to Ontario where we dropped off a stack of papers at the restaurant there. We would sometimes have breakfast there before heading down to Rockton and Warner Creek.  Next, the route took us to Jug Creek and on up to Morningstar and Maple Ridges. Before finishing back in Bear Creek and heading home.  It usually took a couple of hours if the roads were good.
            We had a heavy social schedule back then and a couple times we went right from a late night party to our early morning paper route. We particularly remember a night of celebration for my class reunion (that was #15 for the great LHS Class of 1965) resulted in no sleep before going on the paper route.  Eventually, Ernie took the route back over and we could sleep in on those Sunday mornings.
            I’m not sure when home deliveries of newspapers stopped in La Farge.  I do remember that adults were doing the routes at the end, which may have been ten years ago perhaps.  Today some people have the daily newspaper come through the mail, but that means it’s always a day or two late.  The LaCrosse Tribune stopped deliveries to La Farge in 2018, but the State Journal continued until February of this year.  I always made a daily stop at the Zzip Stop to get my copy each day – my reading usually focused on the sports page and the puzzles.  But alas, that option is now gone.  We have moved on to another time – paperless.

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