Hanging around a gas station with a couple of old buddies drinking Pepsi and eating Planter peanuts sure has a way of bringing back the good old days.
On a recent chilly afternoon, I found myself in the company of Kenny Nelson and Fred Mason. Fred is the owner of Mason’s Standard (known near and far as Mason University.) Kenny (known near and far as Long Ball) once worked at the service station before it became Mason’s Standard.
The subject of conversation escalated from politics to today’s younger generation. Stories of fancy cars, scandalous clothing, ridiculous body piercings and unbelievable hairdos came flowing forth. It was unanimously agreed that things sure have changed since growing up in the 1950s.
That’s when the subject of money surfaced. If there was one thing we all had in common growing up, it was having a job and earning our own money. This was back when we were all in junior high. I helped out at the newspaper office, Fred worked on his parents’ farm and Kenny had a paper route.
Kenny delivered the Ames Tribune in Slater. His route took in the whole town. Being an evening newspaper, he often was still delivering papers in the dark.
Although Slater wasn’t all that big, Kenny’s route still meant logging several miles by the time he criss-crossed every block. The problem was, his bicycle was ready for the junk heap. It only had one peddle, the brake didn’t work and several of the spokes were missing from his wheels.
He finally broke the news to his boss that he would have to give up the route. He explained that the route was way too far to walk each night.
His boss, the circulation manager, told him to go to the bike shop in Ames, pick out any bike he wanted and charge it to the Ames Tribune. He could then make payments of $2 every other week until the bike was paid in full.
Kenny did exactly that. He checked out every bicycle in the store and fell in love with a Schwinn Black Phantom. He loved the bike, but it cost $25 more than the regular Schwinn boy’s bicycle, which had a price tag of around $50. That extra $25 would have meant nearly another year of payments, so he decided on the lesser priced Schwinn.
Kenny delivered the Ames Tribune on his new bicycle until long after he had it paid off. That wasn’t an easy task, as he only made $3 every-other-week total.
By the way, a 1950s Schwinn Black Phantom bicycle can fetch up to $5,000 today.
Times sure have changed!
(Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives with his wife, Sharon, near Cambridge.)