Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flying Newspapers

Elevators in buildings today are self – serve. You just get in and punch the button representing the floor you wish to go to. It was not always this way. During the 1930s and 40s there was an Elevator Operator. This person usually sat on a tall stool and operated the controls. The controls were most often a round wheel looking device with a handle on it. The Operator used this device to stop at the desired floor and to open the doors. The method of operation was by cranking the wheel to a specific location that made the elevator go up, stop or go down and to open the doors. Most often there was no (inside) doors mounted on the elevator car. The doors were mounted to the walls of the building. The passengers could see the walls of the building as they went up and down. The floor numbers were often painted on the wall as the only means to tell what floor had been reached.

In office buildings many offices subscribed for one or more copies of the local newspaper. A newspaper delivery person would make the rounds of office buildings before daylight and place a stack of newspapers inside an open elevator. When the elevator operator came on duty, the first order of business was to go to each floor and deliver the appropriate number of newspapers to each office on that floor. This process was repeated until every office in a building received its newspaper or newspapers.

By the time I was in the second grade, I was very familiar with every square inch of one office building, including it’s’ elevator. My mother worked as a Dental Assistant on the 3rd floor of a building known as the Alexander Building in downtown Abilene, Texas. I rode the elevator frequently as I visited the office where my mother worked. Our family physician, Dr. Prichard also had his offices in that same building. I often roamed the halls of all seven floors of the building. By today’s standards, a seven story building is not very tall, but in the early 40s to a child seven stories was very high up in the air.

I watched many parades through downtown Abilene from an office window or from the fire escape of that building. Throughout World War II troops from nearby Camp Barkley paraded through the streets of downtown Abilene. There was also the annual parade for the West Texas Fair. It was always led by the world famous six white horses of Hardin Simmons University.

Now I will fast forward to 1954. I had served a hitch in the U.S. Air Force and had become a member of the Abilene Police Department. The Abilene Police Department no longer uses foot patrolmen, but when I went to work, a downtown walking beat on the mid night shift was considered to be a good starting place for a rookie. In those days, shifts were not rotated. All rookies started on the 11:00PM to 7:00AM midnight shift.

It was a very cold night with a cold Texas north wind blowing. On that night I was assigned to the Pine Street Beat. The Pine Street Beat ran from North 1st Street to North 6th Street. The East/West boundaries were from the alley east of Walnut to the alley between Pine and Cypress. I had been walking sidewalks and alleys checking doors and windows on places of business since 11:00PM. It was about 4:30AM. I needed a break to rest my feet and warm my body for a while. Officers in patrol cars could stop at an all night cafe and drink hot coffee. There was no such luxury for downtown beat walking officers. But, I knew a place I could rest my feet and warm up.

I was aware that the doors into the lobby of the Alexander building were never locked at night. I also knew that the two elevator cars were parked on the first floor with the doors open. I also knew of that tall stool used by the elevator operator.

I walked into the lobby and entered one of the elevators where I proceeded to get comfortable on that tall stool. This was nice. I was warm and cozy and my feet got a much needed rest. I had sat there in the dark elevator long enough that my eyes became adjusted to the light. At about 5:00AM, I heard the front door to the lobby open. Then a delivery person walked into the elevator with a tall stack of newspapers. Just coming in from outside, he did not see me sitting there in the dark. I said, “Good morning.” He screamed, threw up his arms and newspapers went flying everywhere. He must have been in a hurry to deliver the rest of his papers because his exit from the building was extremely rapid. I decided that this would be a good time for me to return to my beat.

Cartoon by Mack Sterling: Mack is my uncle. We grew up together and
he is more like a brother than an uncle. Mack is also a former Abilene
Police Officer.

O2-03, JBW;

Wasson's Looking Back
Looking Back by J. Bryan Wasson
Looking Back