The McCook Daily Gazette's 'Newsboy'

Monday, September 17, 2007

Harry Strunk was impatient, as a boy and as a man. When he was only 14, growing up in Pawnee City, he was forced to quit school and go to work.

The work he found was as a "Printer's Devil" for the local newspaper, for the weekly wage of $2. His striving to better himself led him to jobs in print shops in Fairbury, Pohattan Kan., and by the time he was 17, to Norton, where he became shop foreman at the Norton Daily Telegram, in charge of 10 typesetters.

The foreman's job was a good one for a lad of 17, but Strunk was still impatient and had decided to move to the West Coast in his pursuit of success in the newspaper business, when he saw an ad for a printer on the McCook Tribune, a weekly newspaper. Again, he grew impatient and after only nine months on the job he, and a fellow employee, Burris Stewart, with so few assets that they were forced to borrow money to buy ink, launched their own job printing shop. This venture led, six months later, to their starting the semi-weekly Red Willow County Gazette, "by mortgaging their equipment to the hilt -- and no money in the bank."

Apparently the worry of their financial woes was too much for Mr. Stewart, and just after the second issue of the new paper hit the street he took his own life, leaving Harry Strunk, age 19, with the responsibility of putting out the newspaper and paying off their debt.

Harry Strunk was also an idealist. The first Gazette carried this slogan above the nameplate -- "Dedicated to Carry the Banner of McCook Ideals." When the first Daily Gazette made its appearance 13 years later (the smallest community in Nebraska to have a daily newspaper) Strunk wrote, "If, as it has been said, 'Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy in this world', the McCook Daily Gazette is here to pay its rent in advance. We make our bow to the public ... in an earnest hope that this newspaper ... will shoulder one of the important cogs in this rapidly-developing city and country ... and will shoulder its full responsibility and merit the patronage which will help it grow to be one of the strongest newspapers in western Nebraska."

Five years later, in 1929, Strunk was impatient once more. He earnestly believed that his customers deserved to have their news while it was still news, not to be delivered days later by the U.S. Mail. He also felt that the Gazette's survival depended upon his ability to get the Gazette to his patrons as quickly as was humanly possible. This was at a time when roads in Southwest Nebraska were gravel (at best) and regular trips over these roads, especially in the winter and spring, were very difficult. It was also soon after Charles Lindbergh had made his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, and America was in love with the still new airplane.

Harry Strunk proved himself to be a pioneer and an innovative publisher when, on Sept. 13, 1929 he began daily delivery of the Gazette along a route to communities in Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas via a Curtiss Robin airplane, appropriately named "Newsboy," piloted by Steve Tuttle, from nearby Oberlin. (Later piloted by William Kimsey of North Platte.)

Strunk, who never shrank from a bit of self-promotion, seized upon the first appearance of the Newsboy to make it a memorable occasion. Taking advantage of a traveling air show, which brought 27 airplanes to McCook's new airport, plus eight other planes, including two Army planes from Fort Riley, Kan., McCook, for one day, became the Air Capital of Nebraska.

Reporters from five Nebraska cities were on hand to cover the event, as well as three newsreel camera crews, and governors from three states. From all reports the celebration was a success for the entire city of McCook. Montgomery Ward reported that they served 18, 000 customers during the celebration.

For several days news of the new air program dominated the pages of the Gazette. A few excerpts: "The Curtiss Robin monoplane sailed out over a throng of 25,000 people who had gathered for the christening ceremonies, amid cheers that marked a new epic in the history of newspapering and aviation -- setting sail out over Southwest Nebraska, and Northwest Kansas at a rate of speed approximating 110 miles an hour with its first cargo of daily newspapers for 43 different communities."

"Indeed, it was a pioneering venture, which was as important to the newspaper profession as was the covered wagon to the pioneer."

"The Daily Gazette's Newsboy not only made history in the newspaper world, but it made a "path" which will be followed by others ... it pioneered the airplane delivery service, which doubtless during the next half century will be looked upon as a common type of carrier". Wow! (writer's exclamation)

For 10 months the Gazette Newsboy delivered its newspapers over a 385- mile, four-hour route. The towns covered ranged from Beverly, population 187 to Atwood, population 1,166.

One seat in the Newsboy was removed and a hole was cut into the floor, which accommodated a metal chute, down which bundles of papers for each town were dropped. Steve Tuttle's brother went along to drop the bundles at the appropriate sites, marked by red flags on the outskirts of the towns. One time one of the bundles broke open before it hit the ground, causing a flurry of airborne newspapers that, it was said, looked like a heavy blizzard of snow.

Even though the Newsboy drew a great deal of publicity throughout the country, the venture was not without its problems. The most serious occurred 10 months after the initial flight, when a severe windstorm (some reports referred to it as a tornado) tore up the Newsboy so badly that it had to be sold as scrap, thus ending the Gazette's entry into the air age. A new Newsboy (A Cessna 120) was put into service in the early '50s with Ben Frank as the pilot, and delivered Gazettes for about four years, when the venture was terminated permanently. By that time, roads in the area had improved greatly, and small trucks and automobiles (all appropriately named "Newsboy"), proved more economical and more dependable to operate that airplanes. It is by this method that the Gazette is delivered to the present time.

As for as the original "Newsboy" -- it has been reborn several times. In 1939 a group in Grand Island rescued it from the scrap heap and rebuilt it into flying condition.

At least two other groups restored the little plane after that, and in the '60s one pilot landed the plane in McCook enroute to the west coast, the last time the Newsboy was seen in McCook.

The last restoration of the Newsboy was done in the late 60s by two TWA pilots, Capt. Perry Schreffler, and Capt. Robert Van Ausdell, who spent more than 700 hours (and thousands of dollars) restoring the Newsboy back to its original condition, complete with "Newsboy McCook Daily Gazette" logos on the fuselage and wings.

When they were finished with the restoration, they placed the plane in the Museum of Flight adjacent to the Space Needle in Seattle -- a fitting final resting place for the little pioneer -- the first plane to deliver daily newspapers on a regular basis.

Museum of Flight:


McCook Gazette, 50th Anniversary Edition, McCook Gazette, 100th Anniversary Edition, Neb-raska History Magazine, Vol. 86/ No. 4/ Winter 2005

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