Jeffords’s summer job
In the summer, the Herald used to hire Rutland people who were in college to substitute for the janitorial staff when they were on a day off or took their summer vacations.
One summer in the 1950s, Jim Jeffords was in that position. I think at the time he was a student at Yale.
Activity in the Herald building in those days was on a nearly 24-hour basis. In the morning and afternoon, there would be the business office workers — accountants and advertising department people. There were also those in the daytime crew in the composing room, with its Linotype machines and its hot-metal equipment.
In the late afternoon and evening, the newsroom staff would show up. At the same time, the composing room’s night crew would show up. They would be coming in at about the time the daytime help was leaving.
Later in the evening, the pressmen would put in an appearance, along with the mail room staff members who bundled the papers as they came off the press.
With all this varied activity there were only about a couple of hours at dawn or shortly thereafter when there was no action in some part of the building.
To cope with all this, there were three regular janitorial positions. One went from morning to early afternoon, the next went from late afternoon to middle evening, and the third went through the night.
It was the job of Jim Jeffords to take over each of these shifts when the regular man was on vacation or had a day off. Consequently, he became a familiar figure in the newsroom in the evening and night.
In later years, when he was well into politics and would come in for an interview with reporters, I would say to him: “Welcome aboard, Senator. You know where the broom closet is located.”
He would reply, in mock astonishment: “What! Is it still in the same location? They said they were going to move it to a larger room.”
The news deadline in those days was between 1 and 1:30 a.m. Local undertakers knew if they got a late call, they could bring in a short death notice at midnight and have it appear in the obituary column the next morning.
One undertaker was bald, but he wore a hairpiece. Sometimes when he was roused out of bed at a later hour he would dress quickly and bring a death notice to the newsroom. It often happened that his hairpiece was on backward. If Jeffords happened to be sweeping nearby, he would find the sight very amusing. We never said anything about it to the man directly, but after he left the building, it was worth a chuckle or two.
Once when he had some time off, Jim was hitchhiking in New York state and got a ride from two men in a car headed in his direction for Albany and Troy. They headed down the Northway, but Jeffords didn’t realize that the car was stolen. Also, he didn’t realize that the theft had been reported and the troopers had a description of the car and its license number.
They were tooling along near Saratoga when a cruiser pulled up behind and turned on its lights and siren. The two decided to try to run for it and took off fast, with the cruiser behind. After slicing past numerous cars, they eventually came to a roadblock and were stopped.
I was in the newsroom that evening, and when I answered the phone, a reporter from the Albany Times-Union said: “There’s a man in the police station here who says he knows you.” Then he added in a very disbelieving tone: “He says his father is chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court.”
I said: “Oh, that’s Jim Jeffords. He has a summer job here. And yes, his father has been chief justice for a number of years.”
I persuaded them that as a hitchhiker, he was an innocent bystander to whatever took place. When next he showed up for work, I asked him about it all. He said:
“Well, at first, it was very exciting, like a police chase you see in the movies. But then it got kind of scary, we were going so fast. I was glad I was in the back seat in case we crashed into something.”
Strange situations often happened to Jim Jeffords.
Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.