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William F. Hays'

At the End of the Emmitsburg Road

Part 7 of 7

My Newspaper Route

I am not certain as to when I began delivering Baltimore news papers, but I think it must have been about 1914 or earlier, for I remember taking a paper into Frank Rowe's shoe store, and telling those gathered that the War had begun.

Prior to my taking on the job, the route belonged to one Harry Ashbaugh, who offered to sell it to me for seven dollars. Papa staked me for the price and I was off running. The papers sold for two cents, with my profit being three quarters of a cent, There were three different papers, Baltimore News Star and Sun. (The Sun was both morning and evening.) The Western Maryland Railroad brought them as far as Rocky Ridge, where they were put on the Emmitsburg Railroad for the final 5 mile trip. I had fifty or more customers, scattered over all parts of the town.

During the war it was the practice of the Baltimore papers to publish casualty lists, so, before starting on my route, I would go over those lists, to make sure no local names were included. Knowing all the families who bought papers, I would often stop to chat about the latest war news. There was one customer, in particular with whom I enjoyed talking, for she remembered hearing the roar of the cannons at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg. What she must have heard was the cannonade prior to Pickett's Charge. This dear lady's name was Mrs. Kugler. She was especially dear to me, for she never failed to have a sugar cookie on hand.

The three different papers came tied together with wire, so in getting them untied and sorted, I would be able to read the front page headlines. For example, the news of Teddy Roosevelt's death and the "Black Sox" baseball scandal.

A small incident will finish my story of delivering papers. Among my customers was the local hotel, the Emmit House, where a salesman (then called a "drummer") might be a guest, who of course would want the latest news. My problem was this: I had only a few extras, that is, provided my full order had come. And if a "drummer" bought a paper, I could expect much more than the two cent price. Once I was given as much as fifty cents. So on this particular night, I sold a paper to this hotel guest, and ended up without one for my last regular customer, a very grouchy fellow, who lived at the very end of Gettysburg Street, a good half mile from home. When I returned Papa said that Mr. Grouch was very upset, he had called to say he had no paper. Papa asked what had happened, so I explained, and he solved the problem by giving up his treasured Baltimore News, which I then delivered as quickly as possible. It was a cold night and I wasn't too happy, but it was a good lesson.

Some Street Scenes

Earlier in this story, mention was made of the Patterson Brothers, who were livestock dealers. A part of their business consisted of buying cattle from outlying farmers, which they did in this fashion. Early on some particular morning, their buyer would start out with horse and wagon and a well trained dog. Farmers with cattle to be sold apparently knew that he was coming, and so, as he went from farm to farm, he accumulated a sizable drove, which he now undertook to deliver to the railroad yard for shipment, no doubt to Baltimore. In any event, this big drove would amble along, the dog nipping at heels to keep them in line, the buyer in his wagon following along behind.

Sooner or later they reached the town limits and headed down Main Street, and effectively blocking any other traffic. It was quite a sight. The street was not paved, so a cloud of dust filled the air. Some of the cattle were bellowing, and the dog was busy running from side to side. If the buyer was able to take a young boy along on this roundup, the lucky one could make as much as a quarter. Here, again, Sam wanted to go, but didn't quite dare. I am waiting for him to read this he may say that he surely did go.

There were other street scenes. A summer day would be hot and sultry, no leaves moving, house shutters closed to keep out the heat, and into town would come an organ grinder man, or a dark skinned, foreign looking and bearded individual, leading a bear on a chain. By the time he reached our house, he had acquired quite a following of youngsters. So here he was, near the big tree in front of Shuff's house, ready for the bear to perform. He might either climb the tree or stand on his hind legs. First, however, his hat was passed for a collection, and with that over, we young ones were enthralled with the agility and antics of this real, live bear.


Picture a quiet summer day, not much going on for excitement, when suddenly someone gave the alarm Mother immediately locked the front door and pulled the blinds down all the way, then called out to her brood to be quiet. At the shop, Papa would, if he had been alerted in time, lock the front door to the shop. For somewhere out in the street, sometimes directly in front of our house, a two-horse team, pulling a covered wagon, would have come to a stop. There would be old men, young men and children: women of all ages, with skirts of many colors and dazzling beads and bracelets: soon the entire company had fanned out in all directions. Most stores had only one clerk, so the arrival of four or five dark colored and strangely garbed people, talking in strange tongues, presented a real problem. Stories abounded about a horse that was missing, or things taken in stores and hidden under clothing, most of which were doubtless pure fiction. But true or false, gypsies were real and exciting.

Working with Our Hands

Our parents sent us to school and trusted the teachers to do the teaching. Papa was busy at the shop from morning until night, and Mother was fully occupied in making and mending our clothes, baking, canning fruit in season, tending the garden, playing the church organ and a dozen other tasks. But if they let others expose us to the classics, they gave us the invaluable experience of working with our hands. The teachers could take care of our minds.

So we, all five boys, learned to use a soldering iron, to make stove pipe, to cut a thread on iron pipe, to use an acetylene welder and to take our Model T Ford apart and put it back together again; to install or repair a hand operated water pump, to put a tin roof on a barn, to help with the operation of an iron foundry, and the list might go on and on. Here, to use a legal term, let me put in a caveat. Not all five of us could do all these things, but we were given the opportunity to try, we were allowed to do as much as we could.

Papa even tried his hand at farming, principally, l think, to give us the experience. Our property in Emmitsburg consisted of five or six acres of land. We had a horse, three or four hogs, a young steer to provide our own beef, and a cow to supply our hungry family with milk, cream and butter. I recall that one year we had several acres in corn, with our job being to cultivate the ground between the rows, my brother Jim operating the plow and riding the horse. When the corn ripened in the Fall, we cut the stalks with a short-handled corn cutter, then stacking the stalks in such a way that they looked like an Indian teepee. Later on the stack was thrown down and the ears of corn were husked and put in piles on the ground. Finally, the corn would be put away in the corn crib, to be fed to the horse in winter.

One year we grew wheat, and since we did not have enough to justify a threshing rig making a special stop for us, we took our wheat to a neighbor's barn, to be threshed along with his. I well remember taking wheat to Rhodes' mill to be ground into flour.

Our Model T Ford

I suppose it was sometime about 1917 that we got our first car, a Model T roadster. It was not a new one. Of course it had to be cranked by hand. The gasoline tank was under the driver's seat, the tires had inner tubes, the lights were acetylene, and it had three pedals, a clutch, reverse and brake. I have a picture of myself at the wheel. Papa put a small open body 'on the rear, so that we could haul supplies.

As kids, we never enjoyed the luxury of having any sort of mechanical toy, but we didn't need one. We had "Henry."

To recount all the problems, thrills and excitement that went with operating Henry, would be a long story. I will mention only a few, and might begin with the agonies of getting "Henry" started in cold weather. First off, Papa would, as usual, be up early, and would put several pails of water on the fire which he had started in the blacksmith shop. This was step one. This boiling water then was poured over the whole engine, in the hope that a few pulls on the crank would do the trick. But in spite of all that heat, it was all a strong man could do, simply to move that crank. So what now? How about taking out a sparkplug and pouring in some gas? No better luck. Meanwhile, Papa is getting nervous, because Henry was scheduled to take the workmen to Mt. St. Mary's College, or to some other job.

Step 3. Everyone push, and when we have it rolling, suddenly put the engine into low gear. After three or four tries, Henry still won't go.

Step 4. Let's take Henry to the field, back of the barn, where there is a fairly steep slope; maybe that will work. So in a final desperate attempt, we put Henry in the right spot, headed downhill, and all hands push. No use. Henry won't go.

At this point, Papa has had enough. "'Hitch up Old Dan" he would say to Harry, John, Sam, Jim or me, and soon one of us would be happily on the way. On return, we would tie a rope to Henry and let "Old Dan" pull her back up the hill, to rest in the sunlight until, by noon, she was willing to perform.

I have no idea how many times Jim took Henry apart perhaps thirty or more. He loved to dismantle the engine, clean the plugs, fill each grease cup, spread the innards out on the ground, and then carefully and methodically put Henry together again.

About once a week, Papa would tell one of us to "get that machine out," as he needed to go somewhere, only to have the report come back that Jim had it apart. His usual reply was: " Why can't that boy let that dag-gone drive thing alone?" This would be followed by: "you had better hitch up Old Dan."

Once Henry was started, the great open road lay enticingly ahead. But alas! Trouble also lay ahead in the likely form of a flat tire. Model T's didn't come with a spare wheel or even a spare tire. Bear in mind that all tires had an inner tube, and that tires were not the least bit puncture-proof. So you are breezing along at 35 when you come to a sudden halt, a flat. For repairing, you have a jack, a hand pump, two tire irons and a patching kit. Irons were about ten inches long, two inches wide, very thin, with a beveled end. Kits contained several small patches, a tube of tire cement and a small file. First, you remove the casing, with inner tube inside, with the aid of the irons, and now you locate the puncture. Now with the file you clean the troubled spot, apply tire cement and affix the patch. Now put the tire back on the wheel and inflate the tube. Sounds easy? But wait, there is a sound of air escaping, so the job must be done again. For in using the irons, you pinched a hole in the inner tube.

A Reflection

I began life in the horse and buggy days. In 1912 I was 9 years of age, with a brother who was 13, a sister 11, and younger brothers, 7, 5 and 3. We had never seen an airplane. No war had played any part in our lives. We seldom went more than 10 miles from home. Emmitsburg was a quiet and unsophisticated place. But as youngsters we didn't know of anything we were missing. The only theater we knew was our home, where, as I have related, we had a daily show, with Mother at the piano and always ready to join in any antics we might contrive. We literally laughed our way through childhood.

In looking back, I ask myself: what were important influences in our lives? After our home, I would put our church, not alone because it helped us understand the difference between right and wrong, but because we were given some responsibility. This was our church and we had a part to play. It was small enough for us to see that what we did was making a difference. At any rate, we thought we were a vital part of it.

Neither my father nor mother talked much about education. We saw, however, the sacrifices they were making so that we might receive an education. And that unselfish expression of love and concern was, for me and my brothers and sister, an influence strong beyond words.

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