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Newspaper carriers deliver their last papers

Bret Bamforth, left, who has been a newspaper carrier for three decades, greets Don Rust of the Mail Tribune printing press department while picking up papers for delivery overnight. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Mail Tribune carrier Bryan Elbe of Talent prepares papers for delivery at the Mail Tribune press building Wednesday night. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Friday marks end of an era for nighthawks who deliver the news

In 34 years as a newspaper carrier, Bret Bamforth delivered more than 1 million papers.

He worked all night from 10:30 p.m. until 4:30 a.m. the next day so newspapers could appear as if by magic at subscribers’ homes.

With the Mail Tribune ending the printing and delivery of physical newspapers and moving to a completely electronic format, Bamforth finished his last delivery run in the still-dark hours of Friday morning.

“I’d like to give a shout out to all the carriers and to the people in circulation,” Bamforth said of those who deliver papers plus the workers who handle the logistics of subscriptions.

Bamforth not only delivered along his own route; he was always willing to work extra to carry papers to homes if other carriers missed a few spots along their routes, said Steve Curran, Mail Tribune circulation district manager.

Even if they have a more than 99% accuracy rate, carriers who deliver hundreds of papers each night can still miss a few customers.

“He was always available to do other routes and to step in and help get the job done,” Curran said of Bamforth. “He was Mr. Reliable.”

The number of paper deliveries on Bamforth’s routes varied over the years from under 100 to more than 200. His technique has varied from mainly driving and throwing the paper, to packing the bulk of his papers in bags and carrying them on a downtown route where it made more sense to walk.

“I would carry 100 newspapers in a bag in front and 100 newspapers in a bag on my back,” he recalled.

He’s worked in all kinds of weather and through a bout of sciatica when nerve pain radiated from his back down his leg. Bamforth has also powered through the lingering effects from a car accident that nearly killed him when he was 16 years old.

He was the passenger in a car that hit a traffic divider. The teen next to him died, and Bamforth was unconscious for 10 days. When he woke up, he had to relearn how to do everything.

Now 67, Bamforth believes he was the second oldest carrier working for the Mail Tribune. But he’s already job hunting and has no plans to retire.

Veteran carrier Jamie Gunter has landed a full-time job as a night clerk at a hotel checking people in, cleaning and doing bookkeeping. After 17 years delivering newspapers, she’s adapted to working all night and getting by on a morning and evening nap.

“It’s hard to find people who are used to working graveyard and can stay awake,” she said.

Gunter had a massive delivery route that involved getting 1,002 newspapers to individual locations plus retirement communities. Some carriers worked in teams with one person driving and one person folding papers, bagging them and tossing them onto driveways or running them up to people’s porches.

But Gunter does all that on her own. She drives slowly through empty night streets with her flashers on. Suspicious neighbors sometimes call the cops on her, but she’s never received a ticket. Police officers just chuckle when they arrive and tell her to carry on.

“I purposely bought a car in 2009 that was bright orange. I wanted to make a statement, so they would remember me,” she said.

The orange car has only traveled out of the Rogue Valley once and has over 425,000 miles on it. Gunter logged almost every mile on the car while delivering papers.

About five years ago, she bought a duplicate car that’s purple. If her mechanic husband is working on one, she drives the other and never misses a delivery day.

“I get the oil changed once a month. I go through at least four sets of brakes a year and eight new tires. I happen to be fortunate that my husband is a mechanic. I couldn’t do it without him because he works on the car,” Gunter said.

She’s had occasional flat tires in the dead of night. Her husband drives to her in the backup car, she takes that car to continue her route, and he stays behind to fix the flat. That’s on top of his day job as a mechanic.

The newspaper business is a family affair in other ways. Gunter’s family hasn’t celebrated Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day for years. Instead, they set up under a canopy in the driveway to fold and bag newspapers crammed with Black Friday advertisements. Gunter fills her car, delivers one bulky batch, then returns for more throughout the night.

This year, Gunter faced one of the biggest challenges of her life. She underwent chemotherapy and a lumpectomy. Against her surgeon’s orders, she had the surgery on a Friday and still delivered Sunday edition newspapers.

“That’s just how I am. I’m actually quite possessive of my route,” she said. “I didn’t like to have subs or anything like that. I know it sounds controlling. I deliver the paper to a certain location for each customer, and I didn’t want some sub who was going to miss half my people or not put the paper where they’re used to it.”

Gunter said she always had a sense of accomplishment about loading up her car, gradually seeing the car empty out over the course of a night and knowing people had their newspapers to enjoy over breakfast.

“I’m part of their day, even if they don’t see me,” she said.

Gunter said she’ll miss her job and her customers, but she’s looking forward to whatever the future brings.

“I don’t know what my life will look like. I’m curious. I’m sad it’s ending, but I’m kind of excited to see what will be different. It’s definitely going to be an interesting feeling to do Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving,” she said.

Curran, the circulation district manager, said Gunter was an excellent newspaper carrier, and the amount of work she was able to get done accurately each night was mind-boggling.

He said people think delivering newspapers is easy — until they try it.

Carriers had to find addresses in the middle of the night, work in the rain and snow and deal with constant changes to their routes. Delivery instructions changed nightly as the Mail Tribune lost and added subscribers, and when customers put their newspaper delivery on a temporary hold while away on vacation.

The wear and tear on cars is enormous. Even people who started the job with a reliable car would eventually run into trouble. Recent high gas prices added to the burden on carriers, Curran said.

He said the Mail Tribune moving to an online-only format marks the end of an era, but the newspaper industry has gone through changes before. In the past, kids used to pedal around on their bikes and deliver newspapers. That’s how Curran got his start.

“That was me, going down the street and flipping papers,” said Curran, whose job ends in mid-October after he wraps up loose ends.

Newspapers stopped using kids largely because of insurance liability issues. They started relying on adults who could drive longer routes and deliver more papers. It hasn’t been easy finding enough people to do the job, Curran said.

“It takes a special type of person to be a carrier, and then, of course, an even more special person to be a great carrier. We were fortunate to have quite a few,” he said.

Curran said about two-thirds of the Mail Tribune carriers were in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Some will retire, but others are job hunting.

“Some who are senior citizens have said, ‘Who’s going to hire me now?’ It’s a change for quite a few people,” he said. “I hope businesses will think about how reliable and hardworking and skilled and knowledgeable they are and give people a chance.”

The Mail Tribune extends its deepest gratitude to newspaper carriers Gunter and Bamforth, plus carriers and haulers Michael Harding, John Crutcher, Barbara Loucks, Glen Bostrom, Ronda Desautels, Bradley Wilson, Josh Jackson, Susan Jarvis, Ralph Greenman Jr., Britney Cates, Sharol Colpitts, Erin Conte, Cynthia Gillen, Jerry Schneider, Dina Coberly, Damian Rietmann, Roger Hedrick, Ron Figurski, Shellie Loucks, Bryan Elbe, Ben Williams, James Whittington and Robert Heltberg.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.