April 10, 2001 11:00 pm
MILES TO GO: Deane Henderson delivers the news to Wallowa County readers. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).
MILES TO GO: Deane Henderson delivers the news to Wallowa County readers. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

LOSTINE Deane Henderson is the guy now delivering the news to Wallowa County readers.

Henderson brings more than headlines, though. He packs an attitude.

His outlook was noted in a letter written in 1987 by then-U.S. Sen Mark Hatfield:

... Your friends along your newspaper route... are your friends to a man... because of your thoughtfulness and your dedication to your job as well as your optimism about the future. hat is off to you.

Hendersons route back then was along Foothill Road south of La Grande to Hot Lake, Union, Telocaset and North Powder. He was born near there by Wolf Creek Reservoir and grew up on a ranch.

Im lucky, Henderson says.

He ticks off some reasons: Its something I can do, getting out everyday and seeing things I wouldnt otherwise see.

Most of all, he just feels lucky to be alive.

Life is short, isnt it? he asks.

Still the Same

Most of his customers probably dont know that the ever- cheerful Henderson cannot walk.

At age 21, Henderson rolled his Jeep pickup truck down the highway between Union and Telocaset.

It did me up good, he said. His spinal cord was severed.

But, it didnt change me much, Henderson said about his positive attitude that remained intact.

It wasnt his first loss. During the previous seven years, he had lost his immediate family.

When Henderson was 14, his 19-year-old brother died in a shotgun accident. A few years later, his father was killed in a car wreck.

Henderson stayed with friends in North Powder while his mother relocated to Portland. Soon after, she drowned in a boating accident.

After Hendersons rollover, he spent 10 days at Grande Ronde Hospital, then was flown to Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland for a spinal fusion.

Even in a full back brace, he could not remain sitting without falling over.

Its quite different, he says about trying to balance oneself without the use of legs.

During four months of rehabilitation, he learned to take care of himself again.

Learning from change

Henderson was trained by Boise Cascade Corp. in La Grande as a keypunch operator, then transferred to the companys headquarters in Boise.

He also worked a year in a Portland orthopedic prosthesis shop that makes artificial limbs and full-leg braces like those he wears in order to stand, when his job calls for putting up paper boxes along his route.

In Portland, Henderson was homesick for the mountains of Eastern Oregon.

It gets in your blood, he said about being in the woods everyday. Before his accident, Henderson worked as a cat skinner for a logging outfit. He still enjoys fishing and hunting, but not as much as I used to. Things are a lot different now, he said about no longer being able to get a tag every year.

From Portland, he came home to be elected as North Powders city recorder.

I learned a lot, he said, but an office proved too confining for this lover of the outdoors.

Henderson took a job delivering newspapers for the Baker Democrat-Herald. Then

The Observer route became available.

He was again ready for a change when, in September, the Wallowa County route came open that wound from Lostine up, around and through Enterprise.

New adventure

It was fun learning the route, Henderson said.

He rode with the circulation manager, and tape-recorded instructions to himself turn left on Eggleson Lane, theres a barn on the right and the first paper box is on the left. ...

Henderson says he has little time off, adding that dependable subs are hard to come by. He said he does get tired of the work, but he misses it when he doesnt do it.

Six days a week, the papers are delivered to his Lostine home. By 2 p.m. Henderson has wheeled his chair up to his 1997 Geo Tracker, and loaded up. Coming along with him is his buddy of 15 years, Bo, an Australian shepherd-collie.

By 2:30 p.m. the driver from La Grande arrives. He hands bundles through Hendersons window and Henderson grabs the strap of each bale and swings the bales around him to stack them by the dog.

Thats my only good limb left, he chuckles about his paper-chucking arm. The tendons were torn in the other in another accident.

To make it easier to pass papers out either side and try to keep warm in between, Henderson had electric windows installed.

One hand lever operates the brake and accelerator.

The brakes go out fast, he said about maintenance on his vehicle.

He likes the Geo, though.

I need an economical rig with good mileage, he said. It turns easy, has low windows and you need that four-wheel-drive. I only had to chain up three days this winter.

Bos buddies

Henderson carries dog biscuits for the canines along his route.

He just lives for that, Henderson said about the husky chained up along an Enterprise alley. He looks so sad if I go by.

At an Alder Slope stop, a three-legged dog appears right on cue.

Boy, she comes right out for that.

He slows at a spot along Mawhin Lane, The old dog comes out and picks up the paper here, he explained.

Is there room for expansion along Hendersons route?

A pooch can join the doggy treat-of-the-day club by calling Bo at 569-2381.

Time is everything

An independent contractor, Henderson buys papers from The Observer wholesale. He makes his income from the subscriptions paid along his route.

How well he comes out depends on how efficient he is. With swift, smooth proficiency, one hand is busy rolling papers and encircling them with rubber bands.

Functioning like a well-oiled machine, though, has had its cost. After 25 years, the repetitive motion resulted in carpal tunnel disorder in both wrists.

Im not getting any younger, he laughs. My arms are not as strong as they used to be when he could walk with forearm crutches.

Consistent timing is important to his customers. Henderson strives to arrive about the same time each day, so his patrons know when to expect their paper.

But some things are out of his control, like late-breaking news such as the recent Seattle-area earthquake. To get the daily news out that day, the papers printing was delayed.

Henderson, too, invests extra time for special circumstances. Concerned about some elderly people being able to get out to their paper boxes, he slips a plastic bag around their paper, and takes time to turn into their driveway and toss it as close to their door as he can.

He also reorganized the route so people in the country with long lanes could pick their paper up on their way home before dark.

You bet, he said when asked if he was glad to see the longer days. Darkness and winter slow him down.

Winter here is the best part about it, he said of Wallowa County. You dont have to worry about the wind so much over here.

Around Hot Lake, wind piled snowdrifts, requiring him to double back to find ways to make deliveries. There are also not so many gravel roads on his Wallowa County route.

Its been a long time since a breakdown. His old rigs occasionally overheated.

Flat tires arent as big a problem for him now that he has a cell phone. He still carries a spray can of fix-a-flat. Youd be surprised how far that can get you, if its just a leak and not a ruined tire.

Building up his route

Im not really a high-pressure salesman, Henderson said. Still, he already has added subscribers to his route.

Henderson is glad to be getting to know some of the people in Wallowa County.

I get a kick out of them. Theyre fun, he said about customers such as the employees at Les Schwab Tires in Enterprise. There the always-on-the-run, sudden-service boys come trotting out to receive a football-type pass.

I havent had a chance to read it, he tells people who ask him what the news is. Hes the last one to get to look the newspaper over.