We were privileged as a teenager to apprentice cleaning presses at 136 N. James St. after the run. Over the 60 years since then, we still marvel at our pressmen’s mastery of their craft and graceful operational efficiency.
As one described the pressman’s job, “It’s not easy registering different color dots on wet toilet paper speeding by at 30 miles an hour!”
It was tough then, as newspapers were printed with ink spread on raised letters of a 40-pound lead press plate. It’s no easier now, using offset lithographic plates, balancing oil-based ink and a water-like fountain solution that are not supposed to mix, but do.
Then, as now, half-ton rolls of newsprint are winched up the ends of the press and gently fed through press units to a mechanical marvel of a folder that turns rolls of printed newsprint into individual cut and folded newspapers.
Now, shortly after noon each day, the last aluminum plate with the image of the final page is clipped to a cylinder on the press. As the press rolls at a walking pace, pressmen, like players on a well-practiced basketball team, work magic independently and together adjusting ink keys, horizontal registration wheels, and vertical registration rollers.
They snare wet copies of the new edition as they appear from the folder, dashing carefully but rapidly to one unit or another to nudge an image this way or that in such a way dots disappear into images the eye believes is a full color photograph. And all the pages come together, complete and timely, spinning out cool and damp to the mailroom at 10,000 newspapers an hour.
Gone are the days when pressmen would blank out parts of pictures with a router. Gone is the pot of lead that would pour in to a mold around a wood fiber mat from the Wood Flong Company pressed with lines of type from a Linotype that made up a page.
And, tomorrow, gone will be our laser-driven pagesetter printing out press-ready offset plates, and gone even will be our press.
Not gone will be generations of pressmen who took to a craft that would serve both their families and the community.
Thank you, pressmen. Thank you. It has been our pleasure to work among you.