By Forrest (Jamie) Jamieson
Now and then when I find myself in a gathering of old-timers (persons of my age), someone will mention how rough the Depression days were! As I look back now, I don't recall that life was all that bad. True, I was always hungry but that came with the territory of being young. I actually missed few meals. A country boy that wasn't afraid to do hard work could always trade work for a meal from a neighboring farmer.
So it was in the fall of 1931. An early maturing lad of 12 years, 5' 9" and weighing close to 145 lbs, neighbors had only to tell me that I could pass as a 14 or 15 year old and I would do anything in the line of hard physical labor for them . My parents had difficulty in getting me to perform routine menial chores.
In my world, at that time, a truly important happening had to do with baseball. The St Louis Cardinals had just defeated the Philadelphia Athletics 4 games to 3 in the World Series. I became "hooked" on major league baseball and my dream was to one day play baseball for the Cardinals. Reality presented a different face. My father was closing in on his 65th birthday and worked now and then as a farm laborer. This was in the final months of the Hoover Administration — before FDR, the New Deal, old-age pensions and Social Security! An older brother was "farmed out" to live with a chicken farmer for his board and room. My younger brother and I shared a mattress placed on the floor. My mother cooked on a wood stove and went outside to pump water. We all shared a Chic Sale - type outhouse located 40 yards deep in the lot. We managed to survive. It was at this time that the wheel of fortune spun in my favor.
Late that October, a man from the Sacramento Bee came to our place looking for me. I was rarely ever at home during the day so he left word with my mother that he had a job for me. Apparently, someone told him that I was dependable? I met Vernon P. Willett the next day and he explained why he was going to start a paper route.
It appeared that a number of homes, mainly farmhouses, were current subscribers to the Bee. They received the paper by mail a day and sometimes two days after it was printed in Sacramento. Mr. Willett hit upon the idea of soliciting subscriptions along a certain 3 mile stretch of straight road, to subscribe for the afternoon Bee. After spending a few days he had 30 subscribers. About half were already receiving the paper through the mail and half were new subscribers. His "pitch" was that they would receive the Bee on the same day that it was printed. At that time the Bee was an afternoon paper that was printed daily at 11:30 AM in Sacramento (no Sunday delivery).
His promise was that the paper for this new route would be put aboard the 2 PM Sacramento-Stockton Greyhound Bus, to be dropped off at the intersection of the Lincoln Highway and the lone-Jackson Road (Now known as Highway 99 & Twin Cities Road). The 30 subscribers were delighted.
Mr. Willett enthused that eventually other subscribers would join as the word spread about. "Get in", I'll take you around the route". The route started at the intersection of Highway 99 and Twin Cities Road and headed directly east (toward Herald). The 30 prospective customers were thinly scattered. Some customers were close to the road, some had their homes on spur-roads that fed onto Twin Cities Road.
I started the route on November 1st. The total distance at the beginning was six miles (out and back). I couldn't afford a bicycle so there was no choice but to walk the route. It worked out that I netted 17 cents a month for each customer. That amounted to $5.10. That doesn't seem much by today's reckoning but that could purchase considerable in 1931. So, I started out walking the route, thinking in terms of walking the full 6 miles. I discovered on that first day that I was never to walk the full distance, out and back.
The Greyhound bus dropped my bundle of papers, across the road from the Twin Cities School, at Matt Leavey's restaurant and service station, at close to 2:30 PM. Twin Cities School was dismissed at 3:15 PM. Sunset varied from 4:45 to 5:30 PM. Obviously, I would have to step along.
That first month I felt sorry for myself, but once I got into the routine, I realized that it was easy. As I headed east, my load lightened and as soon as I delivered the last paper, I started hitch-hiking back homeward. I never failed to catch a ride some part of the way back.
The winter months had the potential to be nasty, but I don't recall getting drenched at any time during the entire 4 plus years was on the route. Get rained on, yes, get soaked, no.
After the first 3 months, I reversed the order of delivering. I would pick up my entire bundle of papers at the Greyhound bus drop-off, hitch a ride all way to the end of the route and start delivering in reverse order. I recall that it worked out to be faster.
So it went until I entered my freshman year at Galt High in the fall of 1933. Leaving grade school and entering high school caused a time- change in my paper pick-up and delivery times. My pick-up when I attended Twin Cities School was school dismissal at 3:15 PM. Pick-up time after I started to high school ranged between 3:45 and 4:00 PM . This later pick-up became a daylight problem during the winter months. My subscribers were not happy about the later delivery time. Something would have to be done to resolve this dilemma.
I knew that stepping up my pace would help in part. But exactly how I was to do this, I hadn't a clue. I tried several patterns of walking fast and trotting. One thing that I came up with was the power pole game. Simply, it dealt with running at a certain pace without stopping. These huge public utility poles were placed 85 yards apart on the right hand side of the road (heading eastward toward Herald) and continued on past the end of the route. I didn't measure the distance between these poles until years later. At that time yardage didn't matter—it was a war between the distances between those monstrous poles and my inner self. When I first started this game, I couldn't run more than four of these distances between the poles without stopping. How fast did I run? I did not run "flat-out" because I knew that I could not possibly run "flat-out" for very long. Also, I had to "stuff" each paper into either a mailbox or a newspaper receptacle as quickly as possible and not mutilate it. Within the framework of this "game", my object was to determine how many "distances" between the huge poles I could "mow-down".
Before the end of March (1934) I conquered all the poles to the end of the route. The pace was somewhere between a fast trot or jog. Whatever the pace, it solved the problem having the papers delivered before the sun went down. I didn't try the "power-pole game" every day. Maybe two or three days in a week. When I did conquer all of the poles, I never tried it again. For one thing, daylight hours were increasing and the need wasn't there.
The days on the paper route did leave a trace of habit pattern. Now, whenever I day dream about something that has an exhilarating effect on me, I feel an uncontrollable urge to get up and run. Did this mean that I was beginning to enjoy running?
I mentioned earlier that just before the paper route I had become "hooked" on major league baseball and that it was my dream to become a professional baseball player. It could be that the Galt High School baseball teams of 1932 and 1933 played a part in my separating dream from reality?
The GABS baseball team of 1932 did not have an excellent win and lost record, but it did have ten kids that played together all that year. When the regular high school season was over they continued to play in summer league games. Most of them tried out for and made the Lodi American Legion team. As a matter of fact, there were more Galt kids playing on the Lodi team than there were Lodi kids!
This playing baseball almost all summer had a surprising result Playing some 30 plus games that summer transformed some of the players from fairly good players into seasoned veterans! Some players joined teams in the Sacramento Winter League and this further added a higher level of experience. So when these juniors and seniors returned to the 1933 Galt High team, it was no great surprise they were undefeated in 12 consecutive league and C.I.F. play-off games. Galt High won the Northern California C.I.F. title by shutting out Woodland High 4 to 0. Stan Steely, Galt High's pitcher, was an outstanding pitcher. Stan went on to play professional baseball in the minor leagues. His career ended some 4 years later with a crippling shoulder injury.
I watched enough of those 1933 games to begin to suspect that I might not be good enough to be in their class. I looked forward that spring day in April of 1934 when Coach Fry opened the baseball season with a "try-out" day.
I didn't think that 1 was a cinch but did believe that I was good enough to be granted a tryout The coach totally ignored me. I was crushed! It was the same coach that coached the Steely-led team. I learned later that while he didn't have players comparable to the 1933 team, he earlier contacted current prospects he knew and issued equipment to them. No "try-out" was held. It was a consolation of sorts that no freshman did make the team. I moped about a bit but life must go on. I vowed that I would show them next year!
In the fall of 1934, I returned to Galt High as a sophomore. A new principal took over that fall and brought with him a new coach. In those days in small rural schools, a coach taught all of the boys P.E. classes and coached all team sports. I met the new coach when I reported to the compulsory P.E. class. Some time after roil call and during the organizing period, Coach Ellis called me aside and asked my name. He could tell from his roll-call sheet that I was a sophomore but the roll-call didn't show that I was 6' and weighed over 150 Ibs. "Do you play football?" "No, I only play baseball", I answered. He then went on to make a sales talk for football, but I wasn't listening and he soon realized it. I could sense that I might have made an enemy?
I did get along with Ellis in the daily P.E. class that semester and into the spring semester. The day after the last basketball games, shocking news was announced that there would be no baseball team representing our high school that spring. It was like a death in the family to me. The announcement pointed out that due to the high cost of baseball equipment, a change to having a track team would be made. Track would give an opportunity to three times the number of baseball players to compete and the total cost was less. Something was said about there being a Depression. But I was angry and joined in with some of the few returning baseball players to make up a petition, protesting this ridiculous and unbelievable circumstance. When we could find only 40 signers (out of over 220 students) we knew our chances were slim, but we submitted it nonetheless. It was turned down politely but firmly.
I was a poor loser and sulked around and made myself a true enemy of Coach Ellis as well as some of the other faculty members.
After three weeks of this immaturity, my best friend, a fellow baseball player, cornered me and said, "Why don't you come out for track? You know that there is a football throw event as one of 13 events in a track meet.
I'm out for it myself. You have a damn good arm and I think you'd do better than me". I didn't say anything but I thought about it. I had contacted someone the year before to take over the paper route earlier when I thought I would be able to go out for baseball. I had taught him the route then and knew that he would do a good job. I got in touch with him again to see if he was still interested and he was. Okay, I'll give this a try. Warren's comment about my having a strong arm might have turned the trick?
The next day I showed up at the track, dressed in my gym clothes and street shoes and started throwing the football with my baseball friend. I wasn't there long when Coach Ellis spotted me. He came over to where I was throwing. He didn't have a smiling face. "What are you doing out here?" I told him that I'd like to give throwing the football a try. He grunted and with an edge of anger and impatience, responded, " Throwing the football takes a lot more work than just throwing. You have to build up your legs as well. To give you an idea, I want you to run a quarter-mile to see how much running you need to do". He called across the field to a senior, "Les, come over here!" "Les, I want to time you in a 440. Jamieson here, will run with you. Both of you do the best you can". .
I never considered myself a runner. A runner was someone that could run fast—like at a picnic-day. Usually a 50 or 100 yd. dash. I had never seen a track meet nor had I won a picnic-day race.
Years later, sometime during WWH, I visited the Ellis family in San Francisco, Coach Ellis confided that when he saw me out on the field that day he determined that would not have me on the track team. I was a trouble maker that he could do without. He said that it was not his intention to kick me off the team without cause but rather to run me until I got tired of it and would quit on my own.
Ellis started us off with a voice command. I tucked in behind Les and followed him just off his shoulder for the first 220. Not bad, I thought! Then I had a sudden, reckless impulse to throw away all caution, Hell, I run spurts like this on the paper route! I can still hear my heavy street shoes make a sort of plopping noise. I finished far ahead of Les. I was breathing hard and knew that I couldn't have run much farther.
Coach Ellis came over to where I was wobbly trying to recover, resting my hands on my knees, "I don't know what kind of baseball player you can be, but a look at this stop-watch tells me that if you are smart enough to listen to me and do what I tell you to do, you could be a damned good runner!"
Stop-watch time didn't mean much to me at that time but the passion with which Ellis spoke, convinced me to listen and do as he suggested. It was truly a turning point in my life. Ten days later, in my first track meet, I ran a winning and much easier 54 sec flat.
The season was almost over before I ran in my first inter-school competition. It took 10 days before I could get eligibility clearance to compete. Then I ran in two dual meets, winning easily in 440 and 880 yd. doubles. The times were not great but the competition was miserable. The only real competition that I faced was when I ran in the Roseville Invitational meet. Some 30 plus school were entered. I received a 4th place ribbon in the half-mile run. The time of 2:06 was a good time for a sophomore.
The first Saturday in May initiated the first of the Northern California Section (from Merced to the Oregon border) meets. These 1935 C.I. F. Section elimination meets did just that. It eliminated me. No one timed me that day but I suspect that my time was faster than my Roseville Invitation effort. Jerry Lopes ran under 2 minutes in winning. I placed fourth but only 3 were qualified to continue onto the next sub-division meet.
My first year in track lasted only 5 weeks. I wasted almost a month pushing the petition to retain baseball. I wouldn't have admitted it then but I was pleased to have found this new activity.
That summer (1935) I worked as a header-tender on a grain harvester and was paid $3.00 a day, working for 30 days. That was a lot of money and I went wild. I bought my first suit before turning over the remainder to my father. I regretted buying the suit ($ 15) when I later faced the question—just where would I wear it?
I continued doing the paper route at the same time I worked on the harvester. This was possible because the harvester crew started at 8: AM and finished at 4: PM. All of the other crewmen were dairy workers and had to be available for the evening milking. I didn't mind doing the route later, and especially after swallowing the threshing dust earlier that morning. After a shower, picking up the papers at 4: 30 PM and jogging over the route without dust, made delivering papers a pleasure.
I decided to prepare myself for running in this, my junior year (1935-36). Baseball still held an interest for me but I began to notice articles about the on-coming Olympic Games that were to be held the next year in Berlin. I read about Glen Cunningham and how he overcame being badly burned to eventually break the world record for the mile run. Cunningham also held the national high school record in the mile run at 4:24.4 (made in 1929 or 1930. My choices of heroes was beginning to shift.
Although Coach Ellis was busy coaching football, he always took time to stop and have a word with me. It was on one of these chats that he first learned about my having had a paper route for the past four years. I'm not certain that this disclosure had anything to do with Ellis telling me that there was going to be a big cross country meet held at Linden (Southeast of Stockton and about 25 miles from Galt). He said, "You might like to run in it. If you, let me know and I'll arrange my Saturday to see that you get there. Might be a good idea if you ran a little to prepare for it." I said, "Sure, sounds like fun."
So, On a Saturday morning in mid-October, Coach Ellis came by the house and picked me up for the trip to Linden. As he drove along, he explained that the race would start at 10 o'clock sharp, but we should arrive there earlier to go over the course before the start. He explained that cross country race courses were not like the running on a standard quarter-mile track. No two cross country courses were the same, so it was always a good idea to see what was the course was like ahead of time.
A cross country meet was a new thing for central valley schools, in fact, it was the first invitational cross country meet to be held in the Northern Section of California. Coach Ellis was a native of Kansas where cross country was established as a fall sport for high school athletes for a number of years.
We arrived early and I had a chance to walk the course that we were to run over. And that helped me somewhat, but I was not prepared to see over 100 other athletes gathered there to get ready to run in this one, gigantic race!
I was awestruck and in shock. It took some time to get all of us lined up to start. We all lined up in the middle of the football field, with chalk lines to direct us into a funnel-shaped opening that narrowed to the main course, the width of a road. This was not like running on my paper route! I did not get off well at all. My early concern was not to get crushed by the mass of runners where we entered the main funnel at the main course. Some started out in a sprint and after 600 yards a few were no longer interested in running farther. The full distance was 1.72 miles and most of the early sprinters were walking at the mile mark. I finally awoke to the fact that I was in a footrace and moved up rapidly to pass runners on the final part of the course. I finished fourth in a final sprint to the finish line.
Catalan of Stockton High won the race. He had run a 4:48 mile during the previous track season. Doug Busby ( Sacramento High) placed second. Busby was to win 120 HH in the state meet at Gridley. I don't recall who took third.
It took several weeks for me to recover from the impact of this event. I decided that I would do some extra running on my own in what was left of the fall months. I was covering the paper route and merely added distance by extending my regular route roads.
I gave up the paper route in mid-January, 1936. Times had changed since I started on November 1, 1931. Roosevelt brought in old-age pensions, Social Security, PWA, WPA, the New Deal, etc. I no longer had to do the route as an act of survival. True, I hated the route in those initial years, but over the entirety of the route's tenure it left me with a positive confidence. I learned from the route not to be fearful of running longer distances at less than a fast pace. Being on one's feet and jogging at an uninterrupted rhythmic pace wasn't all that difficult and more surprising, I began to enjoy such sessions. The key words were time running on one's feet—not the distance of miles run!
When the 1936 track & field season opened in late March, I was ready for it. Coach Ellis had just finished his basketball season and opened the season with a home meet. He entered me in the mile run. I had never been timed in a mile run but was aware that any time under 4:50 was respectable. I ran that first mile in 4:45. It was easy!