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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: Howard Riley is a man of many lives

March 9, 2018
By AMY FEIEREISEL - NCPR Correspondent , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Many of our North Country work stories focus on an industry, but this one follows the life of a single person, Howard Riley, in a series of work stories that include selling potatoes, driving taxis, and working for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

Riley was born in a farmhouse in 1930 in Gabriels and grew up on a string of farms managed by his father. Their family finally moved to their own farm in the late 1930s, a little outside Bloomingdale.

"It was a little over 200 acres and he [my father] bought it from the Federal Land Bank. Potatoes were the main crop, though like every other small farm it was called a hard scrabble farm. We had cows and pigs and chickens and mules and draft horses. I always say none of my brothers or sisters or I ever had a broken bone or were in the hospital. And people would say: we're surprised you didn't get hurt on some of that old farm machinery. Well, there's the answer. There was no farm machinery!"

Article Photos

Howard Riley at the top of Wright’s Peak, where an Adirondack Daily Enterprise crew hiked to in 1962 to investigate a plane crash.
(Photo by Bill McLaughlin)

There was both freedom and responsibility for farm children, which Riley remembers vividly.

"I remember going with my brothers - we all drove cars and trucks at 9 or 10 years old - going down to the gas station in Vermontville with two bushel of potatoes to give to the owner for a dollar's worth of gas. So the potatoes were 50 cents a bushel, and of course we had the cellar full."

The Federal Land Bank repossessed the farm after a few years because Howard's father wasn't making payments, and the family moved to Saranac Lake, where he found work at Trudeau Sanatorium. Riley says his father said it was the easiest job he ever had.

"He worked from seven am to seven pm, seven days a week, with no vacation. Easiest job he ever had. People don't realize [in farming] even on Sunday or Saturday the cows have to be milked morning and night by hand; he wasn't kidding when he said it was the easiest job he ever had."

Howard entered the work force himself during school as a tray boy for tuberculosis patients. He started working full time after graduating high school in 1948, beginning with a stint as a taxi driver in Saranac Lake, which had 10 taxi stands at the time.

"This buddy and I got jobs driving taxi. There were taxis all over Saranac Lake. The population here with the patients and the patients' families was probably more like 10,000 than what the census said, which was 7,000. You can imagine as a teenager ... our parents didn't have new cars, but all of the taxis were almost brand new. Wow, we hardly ever went home!"

Soon afterwards, at the age of 19, Riley began working for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in the press room, running the linotype machine, which is a complex and difficult process Riley says most people can't understand unless they do it themselves.

One of the publishers, Roger Tubby, noticed Howard because the linotype operator was always correcting mistakes in the publisher's stories. Howard remembered, "I'd correct things in his stories. Names, places that he didn't know. And one day he said 'Well, why don't you try covering some of the these meetings?"

Howard thought Tubby was being sarcastic. Already a little sensitive about not having gone to college, he tried to apologize, but the publisher was being serious.

"He said: no, I want you to cover some of the meetings! So that's how I got from linotype operator to reporter and eventually the editor of the paper. It opened up a whole new world to me."

Howard Riley worked at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise from 1949 until his retirement in 1974. Riley also spent five years as mayor of Saranac Lake and was the "hosting mayor" when Bobby Kennedy came up in June of 1964. He said it was the largest crowd in ever saw in Saranac Lake, somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 people. Kennedy was elected as a U.S. senator representing New York state later that year.

(This story comes to you from North Country Public Radio's North Country at Work project, which explores the working lives and history of our region. To see all the stories, check out www.ncpr.org/work.)

 
 

 

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