Newspaper contest changed Salisbury family’s life

Paul Wien Sr., 83, of near Salisbury, shows the original newspaper entry form that he used in March of 1947 to win a bike and car.

It’s just a piece of old newspaper, remarkably crisp and bright even though it’s almost 71 years old. The bottom right hand corner has a section missing, a rectangle neat cut from the colorful ad enticing youngsters to enter a cereal contest.

For decades it has been kept in a drawer, or chest or box, and now it’s a cherished family heirloom cared for by Cheryl Wien Young.

It belonged to her father, Paul Wien Sr., of near Salisbury. Several years ago, when her mother died and the family was cleaning out the house, this piece of paper was discovered.

“I don’t think anyone even knew it existed,” said Paul Wien Jr. “We only heard the family stories about it.”

“It” was the tale of a boy, a bicycle and a car.

Christmas was no sooner over in March of 1947, when it was suddenly Christmas again for 12-year-old Paul Wien of Salisbury.

With a box top entry form in an Instant Ralston cereal contest, the boy suddenly became the talk of the nation.

Seated at the kitchen table, Wien, now 83, recalled the story that made him a local celebrity.

“Tom Mix was a cowboy radio show that aired daily on WICO back in the 1940s,” he said. “They had a contest to name a female pony (filly) he had, sponsored by the Ralston Purina cereal company. There was an ad in the Salisbury (Daily) Times that ran, too, asking kids to enter.”

You could send in multiple entries, each requiring a cereal box top. Yet young Wien took his chances with just one.

His mother popped it into an envelope. “My father sent the entry in. My mom and dad thought my chances of winning was zero.”

“The Western town of Dobi was where Mix hung out, and because the pony was a female my entry for the contest was Dobi Gal.

Then there was a rare coincidence.

“One night, when we were listening to the wooden console radio, (the Tom Mix Show aired 15 minutes each day) they announced the winner, and it was a girl in Massachusetts, who named Mix’s pony, Dobi Gal, too.”

“My father said, ‘This isn’t right, we sent the same name in,’ so he went to the telegraph office the next day and sent a telegraph to Ralston Purina, tellin’ ’em we should be a winner, too.”

What happened then is now viewed as remarkable in comparison with today’s corporate ethics.

On March 27, 1957, at 5 p.m., Wien’s father, J. Paul Wien, received a Western Union telegram from a Ralston Purina representative in St. Louis that read “Your claim being investigated will notify you immediately on finding.”

Instead of claiming that a duplicate entry didn’t exist, Ralston Purina went through the thousands of entries, Wien recalled, and discovered that, indeed, the 12-year-old-boy was a duplicate winner. They didn’t tear up the entry form and pretend the Wiens were trying to scam the company to avoid awarding the grand prize.

A proud 12-year-old Paul Wien sports the deluxe bicycle and Chevrolet sedan he won from a Salisbury newspaper entry form promoting a Western radio show contest of 1947.

There wasn’t a legal battle over it, and a team of lawyers did not try to exempt the company from honoring the duplicate winning entry.

“Pure and simply, it was not a raffle, it was a contest to name Tom Mix’s pony,” Wien said.

The grand prize was grand indeed, even by today’s standards.

The boy won a new $62.75 bicycle, “complete with an auto-type horn and airplane-type headlight and a stream-line rear deflector.”

His parents got the new 1947 Chevrolet four-door sedan “with radio, heater, spare tire and slip covers.”

The bike and car was the second top prize contest the red-haired boy had won. At North Salisbury Elementary School, the sixth-grader won first place honors in a freckle contest.

The car was nice, but that bike, that’s what impressed the 12-year-old winner.

“It was no ordinary bike,” Wien said. “It was a Super Deluxe Monark bicycle, with shock absorbers in the front. It really was deluxe and not many kids had one.”

It was also special, according to the manufacturer, because it was “America’s finest electrically welded” bike.

It even came with a one-year theft insurance policy, because, according to the literature, “you’ll be the envy of the neighborhood because you own the bike.”

“My cousin thought I was a ‘cornball’ for listening to the Tom Mix radio show,” Wien said, laughing, “but after I won the bike and car he didn’t think I was all that corny anymore.”

The car was delivered to the Oliphant Chevrolet dealership in Salisbury. You could get the cash instead of the car, but dad wanted a new car, a green car. And that’s what we got.”

At the time the family auto was a 1936 Ford. Now they were the proud owners of a new car, a new bike and a few seconds of fleeting fame.

Wien can’t remember what happened to the car, but when he was old enough to get his license, just four years later, the winning car was no longer around.

Details of a contest form that appeared in the Salisbury Daily Times shows the new Chevrolet sedan won by 12-year-old Paul Wien in 1947. The promotional car was red, but his father opted for a green model.

After getting the bike, young Wien became a newspaper delivery boy for The Salisbury (Daily) Times, serving the Camden and College avenues area.

“I rode the bike until I wore it out,” he recalled.

The Ralston company also awarded 200 second place winners with Monark bikes and 300 third-place winners got a pair of “ball bearing” roller skates.

When Paul Jr., and his sister, Cheryl, found the original entry form their dad used, they also discovered the telegram from the Ralston company, a letter from a representative detailing shipment of the car, and the photo of their dad with the bike and car.

This Christmas when the grandchildren and great-grandchildren open their presents, Paul Sr. can tell them about his Tom Mix story and how Santa came late and early in March 1947 with a big bag of presents.

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