From Office Boy to Reporter

Few families have gone through worse times than the Dexters experienced in the beginning of this 1907 novel. Mr. Dexter had been a farmer until coming down with consumption – now known as tuberculosis. When his crops failed he took out a mortgage on his farm, and after his death neither the widowed Mrs. Dexter nor her eldest son, fifteen-year-old Larry, could raise the money to pay back the loan, so the mortgage holder put the farm up for auction.

If that wasn’t enough troubles, one of Larry’s three siblings was twelve-year-old Lucy, a girl “afflicted with a bad disease of the spine” who, though uncomplaining, was in constant pain.

The sale of the farm, plus most of the family’s possessions, left them with four hundred dollars. Mrs. Dexter’s sister, Mrs. Ralston, lived in New York City, and had written to say they could come and stay with her, so the rural family set out for the big city. Alas, once they arrived at the tenement house where their relatives had resided the Dexters learned that Mr. Ralston had been killed in an accident a few days earlier, and his widow had moved out the day before. (The Dexters eventually learned Mrs. Ralston was visiting her deceased husband’s kinfolk.)

The family rented four rooms in the tenement house, bought some second-hand furniture, and Larry set out to find work. He asked for employment at dozens of businesses, and then was caught in a thunderstorm. Lightening struck a nearby building, setting it ablaze. Since Larry had never before seen a big city fire he stood out in the rain to watch the firemen at work.

A reporter with an umbrella was having trouble taking notes while keeping dry, so Larry volunteered to hold the umbrella for the man. The reporter’s name was Harvey Newton, and when an explosion occurred he sent Larry off to call the city editor of the Leader and tell him more reporters were needed at the fire. Larry spent his last ten cents using a pay phone, then he rushed back to help Mr. Newton. The reporter gave him a quarter, and told him to come and see him at the Leader at around five o’clock, after the last edition of the paper had gone to press.

After a few more days of job hunting Larry Dexter happened to find himself in front of a building with a New York Leader sign on it, so it went inside and inquired if there were any job openings.

As luck would have it the newspaper was in need of a copyboy. After a reporter typed out an article he yelled “copy” and a boy rushed over, took the pages to an editor, who made changes to the piece. The editor yelled “copy” and the nearest copyboy rushed the pages to a tube where they are whisked off to the composing room by means of compressed air. Larry was hired and told to report to work the next day.

Alas, Larry met a copyboy named Peter Manton, who liked to disobey rules, and do as little work as possible. He took an instant dislike to hardworking and honest Larry, and vowed to make trouble for the newcomer. Peter tried to get Larry fired but ended up being fired himself, which should have been the end of the mischief he could cause, except enemies found in boys adventures books have a bad habit of showing up later in the story.

Larry became an excellent newspaper worker, and when he learned about a European doctor coming to the United States to cure people with the same type of spinal disease his sister had he was determined to find a way to get the money for an operation.

One day he was sent to City Hall, where Mr. Newton was covering an important hearing. As soon as the reporter had a few handwritten pages ready Larry was to rush the copy back to the newspaper, and then return for more copy. That should have been an easy enough job, except that the cad, Peter Manton, was also there, working for another paper. Peter and another boy beat up Larry in an effort to steal the copy he was carrying, but it takes more than some injuries to keep a good copyboy from doing his job.

At another time workers on a line of electric cabs went on strike, and they weren’t above resorting to violence. Larry was sent to run copy for Mr. Newton, and after a couple of days the strikers knew the reporter did not approve of their attacks on the police and the strike-breakers.

When Larry was taking copy to the newspaper office three men kidnapped him and took him to a remote area, and then up to the fifth floor of an abandoned factory. Was Larry ever upset – the men had kept him from getting an important story to the paper before press time.

The men were supposed to have kidnapped Mr. Newton, but they couldn’t let Larry go until after the strike had been won. After Larry was left alone he looked out the window and saw there was a metal fire escape three windows over. It would be dangerous to walk along the outside window sills to reach the fire escape, but his job could be in jeopardy, plus his mother and siblings would worry if he stayed away for several days.

I won’t give details on how that adventure ended, but will say that if you’re escaping from kidnappers and a passerby thinks you’re a burglar, and threatens to turn you into the police, that’s a good way to locate a policeman in an area you’re not familiar with.

Back in 1907 the life of a newspaper copyboy was filled with excitement. One day Larry was riding on a streetcar and suspected a group of men of trying to pick the pockets of an older gentleman. They did steal the man’s gold watch, but Larry was able to catch the man in possession of that watch.

Our hero discovered the watch owner was the famous surgeon who was an expert on hip and spine diseases. If only Larry could get an opportunity to talk to him about his suffering sister. And if only he were rich enough to pay the thousands of dollars the doctor charged to perform an operation.

Larry had a great many more adventures before the end of the book. And he did get to talk with that famous surgeon, who turned out to be a very good and generous man.

From Office Boy to Reporter was written by Howard R. Garis, who wrote a preface stating he had been working in the newspaper business for 16 years, and that some of what he wrote about had actually happened. At the end of the book readers learn this was the first of a series of adventures about Larry Dexter.

I enjoyed the fast-paced novel and, though some of the happenings seemed unlikely, I never considered anything to be completely impossible. Larry and his family were likable characters, as were most of the newspaper workers.

I did a bit of research on the author to see what else he’d written, and discovered that Mr. Garis had been one busy man. He wrote numerous children’s book series, but is best known for writing more than 15,000 Uncle Wiggily stories – he churned out six a week for a nationally syndicated newspaper column that ran for decades.

I plan to read more of this author’s work, starting with a few more Larry Dexter adventures. Then I may grow bold enough to sample some stories about a rabbit named Uncle Wiggily Longears – with 15,000 to choose from that’s got to be a few that will hold my interest.

If you’d like to read From Office Boy to Reporter it can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=From+Office+Boy+to+Reporter

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