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COMMUNITY VOICE

In 1950, my job was to play Santa Claus as Koehlinger's delivery man

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 12:01 am

The year was 1950 .The time was a few weeks before Christmas. My job at that time was very rewarding — I delivered the toys that kids wanted.

I worked at Koehlinger’s in Fort Wayne. Koehlinger’s was considered the toy store in northeast Indiana. There were toys of all kinds: bicycles, Lionel trains, girls stuff from miniature dolls all the way to doll houses. There were toys of every description. All were available for cash or credit. Layaways, all spoken for, had our warehouse stuffed to the gills.

In those happier times, sales of any items included delivery just before Christmas. I was the delivery person and only me. A 22-year-old Santa Claus, but without the suit, beard and belly.

The 1948 KB7 International panel delivery truck got a workout during Christmastime. Since I was the driver, so did I. Twice each day, rain, shine, snow or whatever, I made my appointed rounds just like the post office. I knew Fort Wayne streets by heart and had my deliveries planned well.

The panel truck held about eight fully assembled bicycles, all Schwinns of various colors and tunes; rigid forks, knee action forks, some with front brakes, some with tanks that housed the batteries for the fender lights.

The big problem was that all Schwinn bikes were delivered completely assembled and checked. The problem arose as to how to deliver them and not spoil a Christmas for the recipient. The truck was unmarked, so that made things just slightly easier. I first tried to call the parents so they could make plans to keep their kids from not seeing Santa Claus (me) when I came to call.

However, invariably, I would have to knock on the door, ask for Mom or Dad, then have them figure out a way to banish their kids to an unseen place while I wheeled in that nice shiny new Schwinn.. I did have a perfect record; I spoiled no kid’s Christmas, but it took a lot of time and patience to accomplish it. The bicycles were the hardest to deliver, but other toys were almost equally so, especially Radio Flyers and the wood-sided version of that wagon.

I do remember one instance where the salesman sold the wagon unassembled. He knocked off the price for the frugal older lady (grandmother). It was an omen of things to come.

The day when I was to deliver this big box was a great precursor day to a White Christmas. It was blowing cold, about 25 degrees, and the snow was coming down to add to the foot that was already in place. I had to install a full set of chains on the KB to make my rounds.

I arrived at the home of this white-haired grandmother. She had a nice home with a small unprotected porch. I knocked on the door, she opened it. I declared that I was from the toy store and that I would be glad to carry this bulky box into her home. She took one look at the box and said, “It’s not assembled!”

“No, ma’am, it’s not.”

Things went downhill from there. I ended up assembling the wagon outside on that small exposed porch using a screwdriver, pliers and frostbitten hands. After she closed the door and left me to my chore, I did warm up some by taking a break in the heated cab of the truck.

I tried to assemble the wagon with my gloves on. Lets see, insert tab A into slot B didn’t work. I had to take off the gloves and proceed barehanded. At least the small concrete slab of a porch was clear of snow; the wind took care of that. It was easy to find the various nuts, bolts and washers that I kept dropping due to fingers that didn’t work so good in the cold. Finally the task was done and I again knocked on the door and Scrooge (Granny) graciously let me bring the assembled wagon into the house.

I was mighty glad to finish that job and return to the toasty confines of my trusty truck. The remainder of my deliveries went smoothly, and at the end of the day I returned home filled with the satisfaction of delivering gifts during the Christmas holidays.

The days of toy stores like that are past, the days of personally delivering them are past and the days of personally wishing all customers a Merry Christmas are also past. Discount stores and the Internet have seen to that.

Hopefully, the spirit of giving during this season still exists.

Merry Christmas to all.

Wayne A. Doenges is a resident of New Haven.