After 5 decades, Jim Phelan knows how to deliver: He started distributing the Daily News as a teen
THEY CALL HIM Number One, and after 50 years Jim Phelan has earned the nickname. Phelan, 69, started delivering the Daily News in 1959, following in his father's tracks.
THEY CALL HIM Number One, and after 50 years Jim Phelan has earned the nickname.
Phelan, 69, started delivering the Daily News in 1959, following in his father's tracks.
Number One (or Fancy Feet, as they called him back when he wore his trademark black-and-white saddle shoes) is the longest-serving driver in the Teamsters local that delivers the paper.
In fact, Phelan's supervisor, Jim DePasquale, said that when Phelan told him about his years of service, "I thought he was lying. . . . Then I looked up his hiring and seniority list - and he's Number One . . . the next-closest guy is 12 to 13 years away."
Today, in recognition of his five decades of service, Number One has a paid day off. But he hopes to be at the plant by 6 a.m. anyway as the guest of honor at breakfast with drivers and plant operators. And as drivers return from their rounds, they will have hoagies together as well.
Phelan was born in West Philly - where he graduated from the now-closed St. Thomas More High School - and moved with his family to Ardmore when he was 17.
An affable man who favors V-neck sweaters over collared dress shirts, he said he has always been a confident deliveryman.
"New guys all worry about finishing on time and collecting all the stops [and returns]," he said. "It was never a problem for me.
"I was very used to newspaper work. In seventh, eighth and maybe ninth grades, I delivered papers with my father: He'd drive and I'd deliver."
It was his father, Frank "Babe" Phelan, who suggested he apply for a job at the Daily News.
Number One started delivering papers on Chestnut and Walnut streets east of Broad. But for the rest of his career, he drove throughout the suburbs. These days, he delivers in the area around his Conshohocken home.
Wherever he's gone, he's left an impression.
"Even with the guys who deliver today, I always ask for him, even though he hasn't delivered in 15 to 20 years," said John Centrella, who owns a Havertown deli that Phelan once serviced.
"He was very fast," said Centrella of Phelan, who he claims was usually in and out in less than three minutes.
The job was all about speed. Speed, and the competition. While Daily News and Inquirer reporters dueled it out over scooping each other on stories, Phelan and the rest of the Daily News drivers were trying to get their papers to readers before the Inquirer.
It's a bit different now that the Daily News is no longer an afternoon paper, Phelan said. Now he awakens at 1:30 a.m. to get to the papers' Conshohocken plant.
"It took a while to get used to it," he said. "It was a complete reversal of my living habits." It took him a year to get used to the new schedule, he said.
But despite the different schedule, despite the speed which he and the other drivers have to work, he has no plans of stopping.
When people ask about retirement, "I say, 'I don't think of it - I don't know when I'll retire. I like the camaraderie.' "