. . . You Get Into Newspapering?"
I've been asked that question (many times) in the past. There's several versions of how it happened but the most logical one arises from my curiosity and the curiosity of my neighbors in my hometown.
You see, the local newspaper staff was small and reporters did not always get around to "covering" the smaller news of various neighborhoods and thus the folks who heard fire trucks or police cars going someplace they often never found out what was going on.
Way back in 1928 there was a big fire in the school where I was in the first grade. The whole place burned to the ground. My mother's cousin Mr. Jack was one of the firemen who tried to put out the fire.
I pestered Mr. Jack with many questions about why and how the fire started and burned everything. He told my mother "some day he'll be a reporter." It was a few years later that my curiosity popped up again after some of the neighbors who heard fire trucks said "I wonder where the fire is?"
One afternoon Engine 4 was headed up Bay Street toward a lot of heavy smoke in the sky. I ran as fast as I could for a few blocks until I got to the smoke and saw the fire coming out of the upstairs window of a house and a fireman carrying a lady down a ladder.
Mr. Jack was there helping the fireman on the ladder. I asked him if the lady was hurt and he said no. I asked him who she was and he said he did not know and told me to mind my own business and read about it in the paper the next day.
But I wanted to know then so I went to the lady and asked her who she was and what happened.
She told me and said who the other people were who lived in the house. I ran home and telephoned to the newspaper and talked to a Mr. Eddie, the man my daddy told me was the city editor.
I told him what I found out and it was in the paper the next day. Mr. Eddie checked , I am sure, with the fire department about my information. A few days later I went to another fire and called Mr. Eddie again with things I found out.
I did that a lot in my neighborhood . One day when I called Mr. Eddie he answered the telephone and said "Hi Cubbie." I didn't know then what that meant.
After a while, I got tired of running after the fire engines. I saw a old bicycle in a man's yard. I asked the man if I could have it and Mr. Joe said I could have it if I had five dollars. I don't remember where I got five dollars but I did and I got the bicycle and rode it to the next fire.
That was a big mistake because I found out the bicycle was too high, and the seat was too big. I had to slide on the seat side to side to reach the pedals and after the first ride - it was a long one - I discovered I had rubbed the skin off the inside of both my legs, high up, and I hurt bad. I got used to the bicycle just the same after I got a new seat and lowered it down.
On another afternoon in front of Brown's Drug store when I was passing a parked auto, the driver opened his door and I had to swerve out of the way. Engine 4 hit the bicycle and me. I fell and hurt my head and the bicycle was wrecked.
Mr. Eddie thought that was a good story, along with the fire I "covered". He put a headline on it that said "Reporter Hit by Fire Truck." When I called the next time with a fire story Mr. Eddie called me a cub reporter and said that he would pay me 10 cents for every good story I called in.
My stories were not all good but another house fire story came out in the paper and under the headline it said "By Our Whittenton Reporter."
Time went by and I was graduated from high school and got two part time jobs, one pumping gasoline (at a cheap price) and the other job training to operate machinery at the city newspaper.
The boss at the gas station came to me about four o'clock on the afternoon of Decemer 7, 1941 and told me that a radio announcer and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt just said that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the country was at war.
"They called from the paper and said they needed you to work, so you go ahead down," Mr, Jim said. When I got there Mr. Eddie said "you've alway said you wanted to be a reporter so go upstairs and see Mr. Parker and he'll tell you what to do."
For about three hours I was on the telephone talking with the dads and moms of soldiers, sailors and aviators who were in Pearl Harbor and writing short stories about them. Maybe that night was the time I actually got to be a real reporter
Then when time came that the "War Extra" was ready to be printed, I went downstairs to work in the pressroom where there was only one man working putting plates on the big press. As he finished he yelled to me "Mr. Owen hasn't come in yet but did he show you how to start the press?"
Whe I answered yes, he looked around again for Mr. Owen and Mr. McKenna, didn't see them ,and said, "well, they never showed me so start it rolling." Mr. Owen came in about 10 minutes later and said to me after inspecting the papers, "you've done it right." On the next payday, I found a 10 cents an hour raise in my paycheck.
Then I went into the Army for three years. My papers showed I had written news, so besides my engineer field duty in England, I was assigned to write articles now and then for "STARS AND STRIPES, " the Army newspaper, and for the "Hometown News Service" in Kansas.
After the war, the local newspaper owner urged me to go to journalism college. I didn't. I should have. There's more but I've said all that's important for right now.