At one point, Viola Anderson, traffic manager for the Detroit Lakes Tribune, oversaw some 70 walking and driving routes through Becker County and surrounding communities such as Vergas, Hawley and Waubun.
On the last day of delivery, the newspaper was reduced to 12 city walking routes and nine motorized routes.
“It was tough having to let these carriers go,” Anderson said. “Very hard. They were very dedicated and committed and they did a really good job.
One of those hauliers is Tim Hespe, who lives between Frazee and Perham and has been delivering newspapers and buyers to this area for almost 16 years.
He’s been through three cars – a 2002 Impala sedan, a 1997 Subaru wagon, and the 2003 Honda CRV he currently drives – and plenty of brake pads and brake replacements in 15 years. “It’s very, very hard on the vehicles,” he said. “I’ve replaced the driveshaft in one of my cars twice, and it’s a lot of dirt, the cars are always dirty,” he said. “I put about 30,000 miles a year on each of these cars.”
But it’s a good part-time job. This is a change from his full time job as a planner at Shearer’s Snacks in Perham. Planners “basically tell them what to do, based on the orders we get,” he said.
Driving on the road is fairly easy and he enjoys the time alone on the road.
Although the first time he did the route by car, it took 12 hours from start to finish and he wondered what he had gotten into.
But as he learned the course, it got easier. “A few weeks later it took 10 hours, then a few weeks later it took eight hours, then seven hours, then six hours,” he said. Once the route was completed it usually took around 5½ hours to complete.
He has delivered paid newspapers, the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Fargo-Moorhead Forum, as well as free buyers, the Lake Area Press and the Perham Contact.
He started by delivering on Sunday, starting at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and ending at 8 or 9 a.m. “Over time, I developed a system where I delivered half on Saturday and half on Sunday. I saved the Forum boxes (clients) for Sunday, ”he said. He delivered around 350 newspapers during this time. It has also started to deliver on Wednesdays as well as on weekends.
“It was a lot,” he says. “I took the job in the fall of 2005, so it’s been almost 16 years,” he said. “I was just thinking, ‘I wonder how many of these papers I delivered?’ I thought about 300,000 over this period.
Hespe, 57, and his wife, Lynn, have a daughter, Ella, who will be in her final year next year at Perham High School, and a son, Carson, who has just graduated from Perham High School and is going at the University of State of Minnesota Moorhead the next year.
But the auto route has always been a solo project for Hespe, who grew up in the Mills-Perham area of New York and went to high school in Perham.
“It was kind of a side job, a second job, for me,” he said. “I think I will miss it because it has become such a habit,” he added. “It was convenient, it paid a living wage for what you did, that’s kind of how I felt. It wasn’t really that hard once you got used to it.
The hard part was, “you couldn’t take off, you couldn’t say ‘I would do it tomorrow.’ Every weekend and Wednesday night you commit to doing it, ”he said. “I took two weekends off during the 15-year period.”
Almost whatever the weather, the papers had to be delivered. “It was 39-minus once I was there,” he said. “You are out there in the snow, the cold and the rain, it was interesting to say the least.” But there were also plenty of hot, sunny days, and he enjoyed the time to relax and unwind.
His route stretched north and west from Frazee to Becker County Road 54 almost to Detroit Lakes, then from Frazee to the Vergas area.
“I know these roads probably better than anyone,” he said.
So why switch to postal delivery? The bottom line is that it has become more cost effective to use the postal service rather than taking auto routes, said Melissa Swenson, editor of the Detroit Lakes Tribune. In recent years, many road routes had already been converted to postal delivery routes as drivers resigned and replacements became difficult to find.
As long as all road routes switched to postal delivery, it was not considered feasible to continue walking the last twelve routes on foot, so these deliveries also went to postal service.
Anderson, who has traveled numerous motor and foot routes herself over the years, knows it’s not all green grass and blue skies. She knows every transporter in town has a story about walking the streets because the sidewalks were dazzling ice, or quickly pulling away from an annoying dog, or trying to keep newspapers dry. during a thunderstorm. Just as every highway driver has a story about trying not to get stuck in heavy, unplugged snow, or slipping on icy roads. And she said she wanted to sincerely thank all of the newspaper haulers in Detroit Lakes for their dedicated delivery service over the years.