Buffalo resident Bob Graham, 52, wrote a letter — published in the January/February issue of GRIT magazine — in which he fondly remembered falling in love with newspapers.
At age 12, Graham enjoyed reading comic books, but he enjoyed the advertisements in those comics even more. He remembers advertisements for instructions to play the guitar in seven days or to look like Charles Atlas for $1.99.
“I really liked ordering,” Graham said. “I had the sea monkeys and all that stuff.”
Graham said the most significant order he placed at the time was one that promised a money-making opportunity. He mailed off an application to sell GRIT newspapers.
GRIT was a weekly newspaper which began print in 1882, and in 2006 it was transformed to a bi-monthly magazine, celebrating rural lifestyles and emphasizing the importance of community and stewardship.
“I was sent my GRIT newspapers and a brand-new GRIT newspaper shoulder bag,” Graham smiled. “Those papers came all rolled up, and when I got my first ones I said, ‘I’m in business!’”
Graham recalled making five cents from each paper he sold.
In Graham’s recent letter to GRIT magazine, he explained that Union was bustling with jobs in 1971, giving much of the credit to the late textile magnate Roger Milliken. Graham also pointed out that at the time, Monarch Mill was about a quarter-mile from his home. Each week when Graham received his GRIT newspapers, he loaded his shoulder bag and headed to the Monarch Mill turnstiles to peddle the newspapers as workers ended their shifts.
“When they came out of the Monarch Mill turnstiles, I was sitting there,” Graham said. “If I wasn’t there, they wondered where I was.”
He then explained that his experience with GRIT newspapers led him to a delivery route with The Union Daily Times, and eventually the The Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Graham said he remembers having a Union Daily Times bicycle route while he was still a student at Monarch School, which only went up to the sixth grade. He continued delivering the papers until his senior year in high school.
“I remember being Paperboy of the Year,” he said, adding that he — along with fellow nominee David Greene — were taken on a trip to Charleston as a reward. “I used to love seeing those yellow paper boxes.”
“We used to see who could get the papers in the boxes the fastest,” Graham laughed. “Sometimes we would get an arm stuck in there.”
After high school, Graham worked a few odd jobs, eventually going back to The Union Daily Times for work.
“Don Wilder hired me as a pressman — he had that press rocking and rolling,” Graham said. “Ellis Lancaster and Eddie Dean Stepp taught me how to clean the blankets, roll the tape on and do the maintenance.”
Graham fondly remembers the press room. He said he enjoyed having ink all over his face and in his ears, as well as having to throw his clothes in the dumpster on several occasions. He also said it was a pleasure to watch the dust fly off of the paper as it went through the printing press.
“There was a whole lot of life in that place,” Graham said.
Graham said he enjoyed looking at newspapers that were fresh off the press and still warm.
“Sometimes, if the press wasn’t set just right, the inside might have one word smeared across the whole page,” he said. “But people like Oppy Barber new how to get that son-of-a-gun dialed in.”
Graham said what he loved most of all about his work as a pressman was the smell of the newsprint.
“There’s just something about that smell,” Graham said, gazing out of his kitchen window. “That smell of newsprint stays with a person all his life; to me there’s nothing like it.”
Graham said he also had a maintenance position at The Union Daily Times for a short time, making repairs and even working on plumbing.
“I’ve done about everything there is to be done over there,” he said.
In 1998, Graham started his own sporting goods business, selling a variety of items including bait, stew pots and dog houses. He credited his entrepreneurial attitude to his first experiences selling GRIT newspapers.
“That’s where my empire started,” Graham laughed.
Graham said he wishes more people would realize the value of their local papers.
“People in this community support each other,” Graham said. “If they supported our daily paper like they do our football team, then we would be all right.”
Graham said he is often nostalgic in regards to The Union Daily Times press room.
“One of my last wishes would be to hear that press running again — to hear it Cadillac-ing,” he said.