When I was about 10, I lucked into the best job in the world. My family lived in a small agricultural town on Highway 101 in the central part of California. The name of the town was King City. King City had a weekly newspaper that came out every Thursday afternoon — The King City Rustler-Herald.
Every Thursday afternoon I would go from school to the newspaper office. This was well before the idea of computers had even been thought about. The Rustler-Herald had an old-fashioned printing press where typesetters would arrange every letter into words, then every word into paragraphs, until a newspaper page was complete. Then ink would be rolled across it, and the printing press would stamp each page with the content, and the pages would come out at the end, one at a time.
The first part of my job was to collect pages when they came off of the line and assemble and fold them into 50 newspapers. It would have been boring except for the smell. There is no finer smell than the smell of an old-fashioned printing press in action.
By the time I got through with the first 50 newspapers, I smelled like the printing press, and my hands and shirt were black from the ink. No problem.
This was before the interstate freeways were built, so Highway 101 went right through the center of town. It was called Broadway Street, about 10 blocks long. There were shops, restaurants, auto parts stores and the Reel Joy movie theater. I would walk the south side of the street with my first 50 newspapers. Then go back to the newspaper office, do 50 more, and walk the north side of the street.
I usually sold 100 papers. I sold them for 10 cents each, and got to keep five cents for each one. Five cents times 100 equals $5, which doesn’t sound like much today, but this was 1952. Five 1952 dollars today would probably have the spending power of almost $50. Not too bad of an afternoon for a 10-year-old kid.
The east end of Broadway Street was a little rough. There were a couple of bars that my parents had told me to stay away from. But a job is a job. And I usually sold quite a few papers in those places.
One time, when I was 12, a very bad thing happened. A bunch of high school age kids got into a fight. Mexican kids versus white kids. People called it a “gang fight.”
Fortunately nobody got killed, but there were some severe injuries, from knives and motorcycle chains, no guns. The town’s small hospital was inundated with people injured in the fight at the same time that my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my sister Mary.
The incident was a big enough event that the Rustler-Herald decided to print a special edition, and it wasn’t even a Thursday. They called me in to sell papers. They told me to yell it out, like in the movies, “Extra, extra! Read all about it!”
Not my style, but I did it. I sold papers in King City, and also in the neighboring town of Greenfield, about 12 miles away, because some of the kids that had been involved in the fight were from there.
I made money off of others’ misfortune. I still think about that sometimes, even though it was almost 65 years ago.
Bob Kaster lived in King City from 1951 to 1954, when he was in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades. He is now a retired lawyer and Superior Court judge who lives in Yreka, Calif.