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The Adventures of Wee Coyle, Chapter II
By Will Lomen

Editor's note:

Will Lomen writes about legendary Washington quarterback "Wee" Coyle (1908-1911), in chapter 2 of a series honoring his grandfather's legacy. Click here to read chapter I.

Wee Coyle ran up Jefferson Street then took a left down the alley in back of his home. He thought it was pretty neat having the newspaper shed right behind his house, and at the end of the block, he could see that the delivery truck hadn’t yet dropped off the stacks of papers for the evening’s edition. He picked up his pace for the final sprint that would end his daily run, which started at his school eight blocks away. As he neared the newspaper shed, he could see the district manager, Dale Longstreet, sitting on a stool with an old newspaper in his hands. Wee anticipated a quick snack before starting out on his paper route -- which consisted of delivering sixty-five newspapers from the Seattle Times -- and he veered to his right and ran into his backyard, cutting past the startled Longstreet. “Be back in a minute,” he called over his shoulder as he slowed his pace and jogged up the backstairs and pushed into the family kitchen.

“Hi, mother,” he said. He laid his stack of books -- secured by an old leather belt -- on the small kitchen table next to a bowl of fruit, then took an apple from the bowl and polished it on his plaid shirt. “Afternoon, Willie,” Mary Kate Coyle said, never having gotten used to calling her younger son by his favorite nickname, Wee. “How was school today; where’s Frank?” She went back to molding the dough for a loaf of bread.

Wee took a quick bite of his apple then picked up a clean glass that was lined up with other mismatched glasses on the kitchen counter. His mouth open, holding the apple with his front teeth, he placed the glass underneath the water pump, stood on tiptoes, and pulled the pump handle down to draw a glass of water. Apple in hand, he gulped some water. “I saw Frank and Dave Dalby riding their bikes down 12th Avenue,” he said. His older brother Frank was two years ahead of him. "And school was pretty good. We had a spelling bee today and I won.”

He walked over to his mother and gave her a quick hug -- which he didn’t mind doing as long as there was no one around to see him.

Lifting a hand from the flour she was kneading, she patted him on the head, leaving a light dusting of flour on his midnight black hair. “Very good, son,” she said. “Tell me some of the words.”

Wee took another bite of his apple then said. “Well, there were a lot of them, but it came down to Lacey Steadman and me. Miss Hallstead gave her the word carriage and Lacey spelled it c-a-r-r-e-g-e. That was wrong, so it was my turn, and I spelled it right: c-a-r-r-i-a-g-e.”

Mary Kate looked at her son and smiled. “How did you know how to spell carriage? I don’t remember that word in your reader,” she said, referring to his sixth grade English reader that she and Willie practiced with every night.

“It was in a story near the end the reader,” he said. “I decided to look further into the book, past the regular assignments, so I would be ahead of everybody else. Miss Hallstead said we could do that if we wanted to.”

Mary Kate looked at her earnest young son and smiled. There’s something about that boy that just won’t quit.     

Willie took another bite of his apple then stared at it thoughtfully. “Mother, do you think father will be disappointed that he doesn’t need to make me a bike?” he asked, referring to the bicycle that Bill Coyle had made in his machine shop for his older brother Frank. Wee had watched his father heat the tubular metal and bend it into a curved section for the handlebars, then take cut sections of the same metal and weld them together into the bicycle’s frame. Finally, Bill Coyle finished the project, adding two wheels with air-filled rubber tires and a chain-and-sprocket assembly with connected pedals bartered from a nearby bicycle shop. Frank had helped his father with each stage of their project, wanting to take part in the construction of his own bike. Wee appreciated the ingenuity of being able to plan and construct something from nothing but he had his eyes on something else. It’s going to be a fine bike but I’m going to buy my own Schwinn Roadster at Gregory’s cycle shop downtown.

Mary Kate looked up from her kneading, wondering what was going through her twelve-year old son’s mind. She knew he had accepted the fact his older brother would get a bike before him but she also realized that Willie didn’t want to wait until he was Frank’s age of fourteen to get his own bike. She knew that for the last year Willie had banked almost every dime of his newspaper money plus most of the money he had earned from doing odd jobs around the neighborhood. “Well, I think he would like to build you a bike but he’s proud of you for saving your money to buy your own.”

Wee nodded then finished off his glass of water. “I just need a few more dollars and then I’ll have enough to do it.”

Mary Kate nodded, knowing Willie’s eventual plan was to open his own delivery service in the neighborhood by delivering small packages to people who needed things fast. He had lined up The Madison Street Market and Grocer, the Drug Store at the end of their block and even T.L. Irving’s Shoe Store at Tenth and Madison as his first customers. She shook her head and smiled, picturing her young son speeding around the neighborhood delivering parcels and bags.

When Frank heard about Willie’s idea of delivering and picking up shoes, he said, “How can you tell Mr. Irving what to do with shoes you don’t wear. You’ve got to tell him in person what you want done.”

Wee gave his older brother a long look and finally said, “You mean like me telling Mr. Irving that Mr. Denny wants soles or heels; that shouldn’t be too hard.”

The horse-drawn wagon -- the Seattle Times delivery truck -- was parked next to the paper shed. The paperboys lined up in single file as the driver, Mr. Barrett, pushed the paper bundles off the back of the wagon. Dale Longstreet referred to his district manager’s notebook and directed the boys toward numbers that were painted on the side of the shed denoting each boy's route number.

Wee took a final bite of his apple, walked up to Mr. Barrett’s horse, rubbed the side of the grizzled animal’s head, and held the apple core underneath its gray muzzle. “How’s it going, Mort?” asked Wee. “How about a little snack?” The horse’s liquid eyes cleared for a moment, then his lips peeled back and he took the core from Willie’s palm. “Hi Mr. Barrett,” said Wee.

“Hallo, Villie,” said the transplanted old German. “Ol’ Mort looks forward to seeing you every day.”

“He can have my apple cores any day,” said Willie with a laugh.

“Hi, Wee,” his fellow paperboys called.

“Hi boys,” he responded. “How many for Ollie?” knowing Ollie Hunter had route #244.”

“Seventy-eight,” Longstreet replied.

Wee took a bundle off the truck then stacked it in the dirt next to the shed underneath the number 244. Following it with two more bundles, he picked up three loose papers and topped off Ollie’s stack. “Ollie’s done,” he said, and Longstreet checked Ollie’s name off the master list.

Wee helped with the organization of the rest of the routes as the rest of the Seattle Times delivery crew for First Hill straggled in from school. All of the other boys were older than Wee, who was twelve and in sixth grade at Pacific School just down the hill, but they treated him as an equal because he carried his own weight. Without being asked, Wee always chipped in on stacking the papers; no one ever complained about his deliveries -- a black mark on the district -- and he never whined about the weather. Also, even though he was the smallest of the paperboys, he seemed to be one of the strongest as he always carried his entire route in one bag. A year before, when first starting his new job, the other boys, who covered their routes with high-sided wagons, had snickered, shaking their heads in dismay at the sight of the little guy staggering down the alley with a full load of papers that seemed to encompass his entire body.

“Look at that kid,” Jimmy Dalton had laughed. “All I see is a walking bag.” As the weeks passed, the laughing stopped as Wee Coyle filled his bag and marched down the alley in a solid, straight line.

One day after Wee had left, Sammy Farnsworth, who could barely restrain himself, exclaimed. “Yesterday, I saw that kid running his route!”

The other delivery boys were in various stages of loading their wagons or sneaking a cigarette in the privacy of the alley.

“What do you mean, running?” asked Jimmy Dalton. “Like running home with an empty bag?”

“No,” said Sammy, “he was running up James Street with like half a load, and since it was a Wednesday, he was packing some weight.

“Yah, I saw him running his route the other day,” said Fred Miller, “and he was throwing his papers on the run and dropping them onto the porch like he was an All-American.”

After a moment someone said, “He’s getting into condition.” All eyes swung to Lefty Burke, the lanky kid who was always singing a song, and although none of the boys would admit it, he had a pretty good voice.

“What do you mean “getting into condition?” said Jimmy.

“He’s getting in condition to play football. He wants to play football for Seattle High. He told me he’s going to play quarterback.”

The boys all looked around at each other filing the information away, then Dalton laughed and said. “Football, yah right. The kid’s too small, he’ll get killed.”

The boys looked thoughtfully at Dalton then Sammy said, “Yah, but the guy’s fast. How are you going to kill him if you can’t catch him?”

“Right” said Ollie Flaherty, “you’ve seen the way he tosses those bundles around? If anybody caught him, I doubt they could hold him.”

Lefty Burke loaded the last of his papers into his wagon and said, “Wee and I will be in the same class at Seattle High, and if there’s anyone I would want playing quarterback for my team, it’s him. He’s a tough little guy.”

Six years later, with the score 6 – 5 in favor of the North Division eleven from Chicago, the Seattle High School linemen dug out footholds in the mud at Madison Park Field. They settled into their three point stances and glared grimly at the boys across from them. Wee Coyle rested his hand lightly on his center BeVan Presley’s rear end as Greiner, the cocky right safety, called from across the line of scrimmage. “It’s over, you bumpkins. You’re beaten. We’re the National Champs and you’re the national chumps.”

In spite of himself, Wee glanced across the line at the grinning Chicagoan, not regretting it. A dry patch of ground. Since Penny Westover and he had played football together for years, Wee knew his friend would not be surprised at a change in plans. Crouching behind Presley, he pressed his wrists together and opened his hands. “Hut one, hut two.” The ball in his grip, he turned to his left where Roscoe Pike rushed toward him at an angle from his right halfback position. Shielding the ball with his body, Wee dipped his shoulders as if handing the ball to Pike. Pike brushed past Wee and drove between his left guard Harry Gillis and left tackle Bill Henry, as if carrying the ball. Pausing briefly, Penny Westover barreled forward from his fullback position, his “L” positioned arms close to his body and positioned perfectly for Wee’s handoff.  It never came. With a quick feint, Wee faked the handoff and immediately turned back to his right and charged into the hole cleared by Gillis and Henry and the still moving Pike. Wee slipped in the wet mush for a moment but then his cleats landed on the one dry spot on the field he had noticed moments before. He could hear grunts coming from the crashing linemen, and over the top of Pike’s helmet, he caught a glimpse of Greiner, his eyes widening with surprise. Greiner was moving to his left, but Wee headed in the opposite direction towards the outside. Someone grabbed his left arm, and as he pulled free, he could hear the cotton fabric of his jersey rip. A sound of surprise and hope erupted from the crowd as he headed toward the sideline. Then sensing someone to his left, he veered right into the path of the falling Pike. I have to go back to my left!  With a powerful surge he pushed past the sprawling Pike and quickly shifted back to the right. A wave of exhilaration hit him, as for a moment he broke into the clear thinking he was free. No one can catch me!   But suddenly his feet lost traction again, throwing him off balance. Willing himself forward, his feet digging in, he pounded into the center of the field. A sound to my right! Scholes! Their other safety! He’s fast!   Trying for more speed, he slipped again, his left hand moving downward to right himself. But as soon as his hand found the slippery mud, Wee pitched forward into the mire, following a twenty-eight yard run.

At the sound of the whistle, his teammates surrounded him and pulled him to his feet.

“Who are the bumpkins now?” Roscoe Pike yelled at the loudmouthed Greiner.

Staying silent, Wee glanced at the North Division captain. Is that fear I see in his eyes? Are the Chicago boys tired? They don’t look so cocky now. Wee grabbed Pike and shoved him away from Greiner. “Talk’s cheap, Roscoe. Get back to the huddle. We’ve got them worried now,” he said.

The other players heard him and followed their captain.

As if a partner to Wee Coyle’s words, the Seattle crowd let loose with another booming cheer. Their boys were on the march and the boys from Chicago knew it.

(Click here to read Chapter III)


Will Lomen can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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