Jon Huisman, former employee of the original Lansing Journal newspaper
This post is a continuation of Jon Huisman’s earlier Local Voices piece, “How I joined the Lansing Journal.”
The Lansing Journal was a combination of weekly community newspaper — complete with editor, reporters, advertising salesman, all the parts — along with a huge printing press with ink and paper storage, all the linotype machines, and the casting machines to set all the type in lead characters. In short, an entire newspaper business, from sending reporters to get the news, to putting the whole paper together (called hot-type printing), to printing the paper. Along with this entire newspaper production there was a “job shop” which used some compositors and two pressmen to do an assortment of printing jobs — business cards, envelopes, brochures, sale bills, letterheads — everything called “printing.”
Above the print shop and pressroom was Carl Wulfing’s home. Carl and Olive Wulfing invented the Lansing Journal back in the 1930s. A mom-and-pop newspaper at first, they developed it into a 16–32-page broadsheet paper — she the writing/editing end, he the mechanical/pressman part, including some photography, the typesetting, the advertising, etc. When I went full time there in June 1959, they had about 50 employees. Olive was retired and Carl semi-retired, though his hands were in all things where he felt he was needed and useful.
Carl was the one who hired me. Some of my jobs?
- Get the bundles of mail from the post office just a block southwest of our office.
- Get sweet rolls and donuts from Wilders Grocery for the printers/compositors in the job shop.
- Make half-tone engravings on the scanograver for the Wednesday night newspaper printing. Scanograver was an electronic engraving machine that scanned a continuous tone photograph and transformed that photo into a half-tone engraving using a red-hot stylus that vibrated against a .030″ plastic sheet to produce the dot pattern necessary to print any photograph. No press can print shades of gray, as in a photograph. It prints black. To get the gray color the engraver must cut away half of the printing surface to make it “look” gray — hence the dot pattern. An interesting job for me. Loved it.
- Help prepare the big press Wednesday afternoon to print the weekly Journal newspaper.
- Pour lead “pigs.” All type was set from molten lead into brass molds, used for that specific printing job, then discarded into heaps of junk, used lead to be melted down into bulk “pigs” that were remelted in the lead pots of the type-casting linotype machines. I shoveled up the scrap lead, brought it to a melting furnace (or pot), and poured the liquid lead into cast iron molds, let them cool, and then delivered the pigs to the linotype casting machines. Each pig was about 30 pounds, 30 inches long, triangular with about two-inch sides and a hole in one end so it could be hooked to a chan and slowly lowered into the linotype “pot” to be used as necessary. Often a linotype operator would yell, “Huisman, hang a pig!” and I would do so.
- Clean the platten and ink rollers and the ink reservoirs of the small presses if the pressmen had to change the ink color. Used gasoline on rags. Hard on hands, especially in winter. My knuckles would dry out, crack, and bleed on the sheets at night. Mom and Carl Wulfing both said, “Use gloves.” Well, that was unhandy, bulky, and didn’t do the job as easily/well. But I finally did.
- Update the 300-name Journal mail list for postal delivery of the Journal. Make raw address plates for the addressograph machine — maybe 10–15 new/changed addresses each week.
- Work in the bindery department of the “job shop” — fold, collate, cut, glue, pack, etc. One collating job I hated came in every six weeks. Print and collate bills of lading for a railroad company. I had to stand 7–8 hours, count out 50 sets of 3, insert a cardboard and the same again. The most boring job I have ever done in my head — “One, two, three; two, two, three; three, two, three; four, two, three; five, two, three….” And often “Fifty, two, three,” insert a cardboard. I’m sure that after a year or so I would have come up with a more efficient way to accomplish this, but I was just a kid, and this was the method they had devised, and my only job was to do it, and I did. At the end of the day I had a stack of thousands of “sets” on a wheeled cart — a pile close to 6″ high, all jogged up even and neat — to be cut up tomorrow and the one edge painted with a latex good. Pads of 50 bills of lading in triplicate, all numbers matching. WHAT A BORING JOB. Probably as boring as reading this, my account of it.
Printing lead was an alloy of something like 90% lead, 10% tin and some other metal that added strength. It melts at about 430 degrees Fahrenheit. The pot I used to melt down and recycle old lead had an opening about 1′ x 3′, and it was about 5′ above the floor. An ordinary short-handled square shovel was the tool to put the old scraps into the pot. Any moisture was a disaster — instant steam in a minor explosion spattering 400-degree liquid metal everywhere. Serious burns as the metal stuck to clothes, skin, shoes while it continued to burn. I had gloves and a leather apron, but never glasses (stupid). Thankfully no major mishaps, but lots of small burns. (Today OSHA and other regulating agencies would have me fitted with a space suit, special shoes, a helmet, a ventilating system, and a 21-year age requirement.) Sometimes a printer would thoughtlessly spit some tobacco juice into a pile of scrap lead on the floor. I would shovel it up into my cart, bring it to the furnace, shovel it into the pot, and gurgle, gurgle, pop — an explosion, drops of lead flying. Ouch.
Sorry, but I thought it might be of some interest 100 years later to see what kinds of work an 18-year-old could do for $1.00 per hour in 1957. I did it, and that’s how it was.
(To be continued…)
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