Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tribune Memories – by Harriet Reece, former Clearwater Tribune employee

  Everything was hot metal when I went to work for the Clearwater Tribune Publishing Co. in 1945—between my sophomore and junior years of high school. The back shop was devoted to presses, linotypes, and other machines needed in running a print shop.
  The print shop was an important part of the business in those days, doing jobs for the county, state, Potlatch Forests, Inc., and other businesses, large and small.
  Robert D. “Bob” Werner, with his wife, Vera, was the owner, editor, publisher, and all things important. I was thrilled when Bob asked my mother if I could go to work in his shop. He soon found out that my talents did not lay in gathering, stacking, punching, gluing, so he moved me into the front office where he taught me to write stories, make up ads, and keep books.
  I was always welcome in the back shop and pressed into service for rush jobs. I knew of some newspaper/print shops where the back shop and the front office did not speak, but we always worked together to provide the best product for our customers.
  My experience at the Clearwater Tribune my last two years of high school convinced me that I should major in Journalism when I enrolled at the University of Idaho the fall of 1948. I transferred to University of Oregon my senior year to earn a B.S. in Journalism in 1952.
  Julian Dahl was foreman of the back shop with Wally Rugg as his able helper when I began my employment there. Others came and went during the years of hot metal, but these two stand out in my mind as master printers. They taught me about type lice and hot ink.
  They even let me try my hand at those presses that will crush your hand if you aren’t quick. We went really slowly on that one. It was a noisy, dirty, smelly place to work and we loved it. There was a deaf-mute linotype operator whose name I can’t remember. He, Julian and Wally communicated in sign language. Julian and Wally would interpret for me.
  Those of you who came along after the hot metal days may not know about type lice. “Come look in this little crack and you can see the lice,” they said as they snapped the two pieces of metal together, sprinkling my face with black, sticky printer’s ink. The hot ink one—“Boy, the ink is sure hot today. Just feel the heat,” they say as they pushed my hand into the sticky, black ink.
  Everyone remembers the flood of 1948 when the waters rose on the weekend, flooding the building. Everyone pitched in to raise the press motors so they wouldn’t get wet, and when the waters receded they were able to put everything back together to put out a newspaper on time the next week.
  The paper was printed on a huge flat bed press in the back and on Thursday morning everyone helped to “put out the paper.” As the papers came off the press on the final run, they went into a folder that put it all together.
  If there were two sections, we had to put the second section in by hand and also insert any flyers by hand. The interesting part was putting the labels on the paper. There was a hand operated machine with a glue pot. The addresses were on a long, long, strip of paper that was fed past the glue pot, putting glue on one side.
  We fed this strip through by hand and slapped the machine on the top of the newspaper to cut the label off and make it stick. You know where there is glue involved, things get sticky, and so we constantly had to stop to clean the glue off of the cutting edge.
  We could always count on Lindy Carr to come in every Thursday morning to buy a paper. She had her money tied in the corner of her handkerchief until we handed her the paper. A number of citizens would come in Thursday mornings to get their news “hot off the press.” (That must be how the ink got hot.)
  Type was set on linotypes using hot metal pressed against a line of tiny molded letters (matrix). Each line came out into a stream of lines called galleys. The printers would roll ink on these and press newsprint on top to make strips for us to proofread.
  After the paper was printed, all these metal strips were cleaned with carbon tetrachloride and melted down in a pot in the back of the shop where any remaining ink was skimmed off. The metal was cast into bars to be fed back into the linotype machines. We used lots of glycerin to keep our hands from drying out with the paper.
  For the big headlines and big type in ads, the type was hand set. That is an art. You use a tool looking at the letters upside down and backward. A good printer’s hands move so fast your eyes can hardly keep up. I was a little ahead when I took the type setting class at University of Oregon, because I already knew part of the type case and the reading upside down part. The typesetting class was required for Journalism majors in 1951. How different things are today!
  I took some time off after I married to raise children and work as a correspondent for the Lewiston Morning Tribune. When my youngest was in first grade, Bob was again knocking on my door asking me to return to the Clearwater Tribune. I loved that job because I never knew when I went to work what the day would bring.
  On a weekly newspaper you can do a number of different jobs and it never gets boring. I covered all units of government, from City Council and County offices to our legislators when they were in session in Boise. The state and city police and county sheriff offices were always challenging and I never knew when I would be dashing off to take a picture of a fire, a wreck, a new officer, school crossing guards, or the first buttercup.
  I especially enjoyed working with Bonnie Bessent and Nancy Noble in the front office and we became good friends. Friend, Marty Donner, was in the back shop forever and a big asset to changing times.
  One of the best things that happened was being able to work with Hans Wetter. Hans was working in the front office in the early days. He and Lucille Pruitt ran the paper while Bob Werner was in Washington, D.C. for a year as a speech writer for Sen. Henry Dworshak.
  Hans knew everything there was to know about putting out a newspaper, and in his quiet way, he was always willing to share that knowledge. Bob was always willing to help his employees, and he allowed Hans to continue working at the newspaper while he built up his insurance business, doing less and less for the paper as his business grew.
  Working for Bob was an education. He always had his pencil ready to mark out unnecessary words and he taught us all to be succinct. He was a conservative Republican and it showed in the paper.
  His driving was legendary, but he never had an accident. When he was elected to the City Council, I was given the job of covering those meetings. Watching him in action at those meetings gave an insight into his keen mind.
  I especially enjoyed the advertising and became good friends with many of my advertisers. My first advertising accounts were Stoddard Electric, Fisk Electric, and Nezperce Rochdale. I learned a lot about their businesses as I assisted them in drawing in customers. I also learned a lot about Orofino history from Carl Fisk who was well educated with a degree in engineering, but chose to spend his time in Orofino.
  The technology of setting up ads was changing fast about the time I retired in 1988.
  When I started, if I wanted an illustration, I had to find a “mat” with that image and have it cast in hot metal to be placed in the ad with the type. We didn’t have much leeway to be innovative, having to take the images available and put everything in a straight line.
  I had to draw up the ad to show the people in the back shop how the advertiser wanted it to appear. We had to have a “meeting of the minds.” They took prints for proofreading and many advertisers wanted to see their ad before it went to print.
  My most challenging advertiser was Les Schwab. I didn’t know anything about tires, and, frankly, didn’t care if I learned. Jerry Harris would give me a list of tires and their prices, and a book of tire images, and with this I was to make a half to full page ad.
  Of course, I took him proofs. I learned a lot about tires, and today am not intimidated if I have to buy any. I think those ads were a challenge for the printers to set up, also. As were the grocery ads that were constructed the same way.
  Bob and Vera sold the paper and printing shop to John and Cloann McNall about the time things began to change in the printing industry. Photographic processes were entering the printing process. John and Cloann were never afraid to embrace the new technology and I think that is one reason the paper is still successful today. I don’t know of any surviving hot metal printers.
  One incident really stands out from John’s early years and really sticks in my mind. I covered lots of crime activities and court actions, but this one was different. A teen aged boy shot and killed his cousin in a house outside of Weippe. I had a good relationship with Sheriff Nick Albers and he told me in detail what had happened know I would write a story for the paper.
  The paper hadn’t been out long before the family of the two boys involved in the shooting stormed into the office demanding to see me to tell me I had it all wrong and the Sheriff was a lying so and so.
  John noticed this and came out from the back shop to quietly stand beside me offering his support. I offered to print the family’s side of the story and they were happy to give me the facts as they saw them. We sold a lot of papers that month.
  Of course the sheriff’s version of the facts held up in court because he had the evidence, or he wouldn’t have proceeded. Covering the several murders that occurred was my biggest writing challenge. One time I was allowed by Sheriff Leroy Altmiller to interview an accused murder in his cell. What an experience!
  I was asked to tell you about my earliest recollections, and here they are. I hope someone else is covering the John McNall years and the Cloann McNall years, because I could go on and on. I especially remember the special editions that we put out four times a year.
  Many years, I provided the stories and sold all the advertising for those editions. It kept me busy and I always had to think ahead. It was a wonderful occupation for this farm wife and mother.

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