The Detroit Lakes Tribune has gone out of the delivery business: The Sunday Tribune was the last issue that will be distributed by carriers in towns or by motor route drivers in rural areas. Beginning with the Wednesday, June 2, issue of the Tribune, newspapers will now all be distributed by the U.S. Postal Service.
At one time, Detroit Lakes Tribune Circulation Manager Viola Anderson oversaw some 70 walking and motor routes across Becker County and into surrounding communities such as Vergas, Hawley and Waubun.
On it’s final day of delivery, the newspaper was down to 12 city walking routes and nine motor routes.
“It was hard to have to let these carriers go,” Anderson said. “Very hard. They were very devoted and committed and they did a really good job.”
One of those motor route carriers is Tim Hespe, who lives between Frazee and Perham and has delivered newspapers and shoppers in that area for almost 16 years.
He has gone through three cars -- a 2002 Impala sedan, a 1997 Subaru wagon and the 2003 Honda CRV he currently drives -- and a lot of brake pads and brake replacements in 15 years. “It’s very, very hard on the vehicles,” he said. “I replaced the drive shaft in one of my cars twice, and there’s a lot of dirt, the cars are always dirty,” he said. “I put about 30,000 miles a year on each of those cars.”
But it’s been a good part-time job. It’s a change from his full-time job as a scheduler at Shearer’s Snacks in Perham. Schedulers “basically tell them what to make, based on the orders we are getting,” he said.
The motor route work is pretty easy and he enjoys the alone time on the road.
Although the first time he did the motor route, it took 12 hours from start to finish and he wondered what he had got himself into.
But as he gradually learned the route, it got easier. “A couple weeks later, it took 10 hours, then a couple weeks later it took eight hours, then seven hours, then six hours,” he said. Once he had the route down, it usually took about 5½ hours to complete.
He delivered paid newspapers, the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, as well as free shoppers, the Lake Area Press and the Perham Contact.
He started out just delivering on Sundays, starting at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and wrapping up at 8 a.m. 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 (customers) for Sunday,” he said. He delivered about 350 newspapers at that time. He also started delivering on Wednesdays as well as on weekends.
“It was a lot,” he said. “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’ve delivered?’ I figured about 300,000 over that span.”
Hespe, 57, and his wife, Lynn, have a daughter, Ella, who will be a senior next year at Perham High School, and a son, Carson, who just graduated from Perham High School and is going to Minnesota State University Moorhead next year.
But the motor route has always been a solo project for Hespe, who grew up in the New York Mills-Perham area and went to high school in Perham.
“It was kind of a side job, a second job, for me,” he said. “I think I’ll miss it because it has become such a habit,” he added. “It was convenient, it paid a decent wage for what you did, that’s kind of how I felt. It was not really difficult once you got used to it.”
The hardest part about it was that “you couldn’t take off, you couldn’t say ‘I’ll do this tomorrow.’ Every weekend and Wednesday night, you’re committed to doing this,” he said. “I took two weekends off over the 15-year period.”
Pretty much regardless of the weather, the papers needed to be delivered. “It was 39-below one time I was out there,” he said. “You’re out there in the snow and the cold and the rain, it was interesting, to say the least.” But there were also plenty of warm, sunny days, and he enjoyed the time to relax and disengage.
His route stretched north and west of Frazee up Becker County Road 54 almost to Detroit Lakes, then from Frazee to the Vergas area.
“I know these roads probably better than anybody,” he said.
So why the move to postal delivery? The bottom line is that it has become more cost-effective to use the postal service rather than run motor routes, Detroit Lakes Tribune Publisher Melissa Swenson said. Over the past few years, many motor routes had already been converted to postal delivery routes, as drivers quit and replacements became hard to find.
As long as all the motor routes were switching to postal delivery, it wasn’t considered feasible to keep running the last dozen walking routes, so those deliveries have gone to the postal service, too.
Anderson, who has done many motor and walking routes herself over the years, knows that it's not all green grass and blue skies out there. She knows every city carrier has a story about walking in the street because the sidewalks were glare ice, or quickstepping away from an ornery dog, or trying to keep newspapers dry in a thunderstorm. Just like every motor route driver has a story about trying not to get stuck in heavy, unplowed snow, or sliding off icy roadways. And she said she wanted to give a sincere thank you to all the Detroit Lakes newspaper carriers for their dedicated delivery service throughout the years.