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1986: Special deliveries

Newspaper delivery professional Linda Hardwick pulls up to the Mail Tribune office at 2 a.m. and quickly inserts advertisements into the waiting newspapers that are hot off the press. Then she stuffs the papers into plastic bags and heads out to her paper route.

She’s done this every night for nearly 20 years.

Once on her route, it takes her an average of four hours to travel approximately 50 miles and deliver 400 papers.

Hardwick says she’ll occasionally pick up an extra route when a carrier quits, in which case she’ll deliver about 600 papers.

Hardwick, 75, says she has developed close relationships with her customers over the years.

“I know a lot of my customers, and I know their circumstances because I’ve done it so long,” she says.

She says many people are waiting when she pulls up.

“Some people live for that daily newspaper,” Hardwick says. “Especially some of the older people. Some people are up at 5:30 waiting on me.”

She says she gets out of her car to hand deliver the paper at many homes.

“I have a lady that is 94 years old, so I’ll ring the doorbell and hand it to her, because a few weeks ago she stumbled when she went to get it, and luckily I was there,” Hardwick says. “So, I told her she was done, and I would hand it to her from now on.”

She says when it rains, she leans the paper against a garage door or puts it on the porch.

“It takes more time, but it makes for a happier customer,” Hardwick says. “It’s really easy to please these people, it just takes some listening.”

She says she gets great tips from her customers because of the extra work she puts in. Sometimes her tips come in the form of homemade goods.

Mail Tribune Customer Service Office Manager Vickie Risner says carriers live on tips the same way waiters do, though carriers do get paid per paper they deliver.

Hardwick says it’s a difficult job, but she loves it.

“Delivering papers is very complicated. You have to have a good memory for numbers,” Hardwick says. “You have to remember which ones stop, which ones are on vacation, which ones are on vacation but want their paper saved, and in Ashland you have to know who gets the Tribune or the Tribune and the Tidings.”

She says you also must have a good arm for the job.

She says there are negatives to the job, such as having both car windows rolled down in harsh weather and coming across questionable characters at night.

“One of my drops is downtown, and I won’t get out because there are so many homeless people there,” Hardwick says. “I’ve had homeless people come up and ask me for rides or offer me drugs for rides. You have to be careful of things like that in some areas.”

She says she once flipped her car sideways in the snow, but the most frightened she’s ever been was when a man in a truck tried to run her off the side of a mountain and yelled at her to “get off his mountain.” She says luckily that night she wasn’t working alone.

In some ways, the job hasn’t changed a great deal in the past 33 years; in other ways it’s much different.

The 1986 issue of Our Valley followed a 14-year-old paper boy on his route delivering the Ashland Daily Tidings. The Our Valley theme that year was “24 Hours in Our Valley,” which saw 25 reporters and nine photographers chronicle a “typical day in the Rogue Valley.”

The article described Erick Winchell’s rush to deliver papers to 19 downtown Ashland businesses by 5:30 p.m. on a weekday, back when the paper published in the afternoon.

The Mail Tribune and the Tidings switched to morning publication in the late 1990s and early 2000s, says District Manager Chris Brown, so the papers now must be delivered by 6 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends.

Erick was one of 40 carries in Ashland, with 300 carriers delivering papers to 24,500 homes and business in Jackson County in 1986.

Nowadays, there are six Ashland carriers and 39 in the county, and just one man continues to carry on foot.

Mike Harding is one of the six Ashland carriers. He’s delivered about 200 papers daily for the last year and a half. He said in Ashland he often runs into bears, coyotes and other wildlife.

He said he’s “one of the best.”

“I’m not perfect,” Harding said. “I do make mistakes, but not that often.”

Shellie Loucks has delivered for the Mail Tribune since 1999. She said there’s not much to see at 3 a.m., but the wildest experience she ever had was finding a lost senior suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The man said he was walking to his brother’s house in Michigan. “It was 4 a.m. in Jacksonville,” Loucks said.

She said she picked him up, took him to a gas station and called the sheriff to retrieve him, before continuing her route. She called to follow up on the man and learned that he had left the store and fallen into a ditch, so the sheriff never picked him up. She said she found him again and returned him to the senior center.

District Manager Brown said he was shot at while filling in on a route in Rogue River. He said he was driving up a narrow road in a large van and looking for a place to turn around when three shots were fired in his direction. He speculated that he’d gotten too close to a marijuana farm and the shots were a warning.

District Manager David Deming said he was held at gunpoint by a drunken group returning home around 2 a.m. in downtown Medford. Both Brown and Deming got away without injury, but it was a shock, they said.

Brown said there’s a reason some people come out only at night.

“You just see some weird things on the job,” Brown said.

Deming said he wishes customers would realize the work carriers put into the job. Some carriers deliver about 900 papers a night, and some travel hundreds of miles every single day.

“It’s not 1940,” Deming said. “We don’t have kids deliver the paper anymore in the afternoon. These people are driving in the darkest of dark.”

Loucks said her customers are sometimes ornery. All the carriers and managers agreed that customers can become irate at the slightest of changes.

“A lady came out of her house waving a cane at me Monday,” Loucks said.

Pay for carriers differs with each route. They are considered independent contractors and are managed by the district managers.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Mike Harding said he’s scared away at least seven bears with his vehicle while delivering Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings newspapers in Ashland.{ } Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch