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‘To ever get out a paper then without typos in it would be impossible’

October 25, 2008
By PETER CROWLEY, Enterprise Managing Editor

SARANAC LAKE - In this excerpt from a lengthy interview Monday, Howard Riley talks about how hard it was to produce the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in the 1950s, when he worked int he composing room.

PC: So, it took so much more work just to get it from typing it out, typing out the content ... tell me about all the steps, because now, I just showed you our new machine that can print straight to a plate. We lay out the page on a computer. We bring in the copy, the words - and the pictures - on the computer. We print out proofs, and we get those proofread, but once it's basically ready to go, and everything's been proofread and everything's been corrected, we hit, essentially, "print" on our computers, and it goes straight to a metal plate that wraps around the press. When the editor is ready to let the paper go, it's gone, to the press room.

HR: Well, I don't know if I'm articulate enough to explain. I'll just do page 1. Of course, you can imagine that every single story was typed on a typewriter by the reporter, editor. It was all retyped again, mechanically, on a linotype machine. So right there, that doubled the exposure for errors. And of course then, once it was done on a linotype machine on a tray of hot type, every line was a - that's how you got "linotype" - it was a line of lead. A "slug," it was called. Anyway, so the story'd be a, say, column of type when the guy was done on the linotype, with his 99 keys, 'cause the capital letters were all over here (demonstrates with hands), and you typed up and down; you didn't type across. ... I had typed in high school and everything, so it was harder for me. I was a very fast typist. And then when I learned the linotype machine, we used to say the first two rows were the most common letters used in the alphabet, and it was "Etaoin Shrdule." You'd type E-T-A-O-I-N; the next row down was S-H-R-D-U-L-E. So that's how you typed, up and down like that (demonstrates).

PC: So it wasn't like a QWERTY keyboard or anything like that.

HR: No. ... So you type a story that guy, the reporter, has typed. Say it's a full column: 20 inches, I guess, 21 inches. Then you'd set it in the tray; you dumped your tray in the tray. Then the lowest guy in the composing room, which was me for a while, would take a proof of that. You'd have to ink up this thing and put it the tray, step on it - it was electric, but you'd step on the foot pedal - and lay one sheet of paper that was scrap paper, cut in strips, across that column of type, and that'd run a proof across. Then you'd take the proof, attach it to the original copy, send it back up to the - When I'm talking about "back up," the composing room was on a different level, and all of the proofs went on a little basket somebody made on two metal rails with a cable on it, and you pulled that cable. ...

There's three linotype machines, and sometimes a guy'd get backed up so there'd be six or seven galleys of type there, so they'd all complain upstairs, cause they'd get six or seven proofs to read all at once. So somebody'd have to take that anyway, and mark all the errors on that whole thing, and if a guy was having a good day or it was a good operator, there might be six or seven mistakes, but there might be 20 - in one story. So, you get it back down. Whoever is emptying the basket, you say, "Empty that basket"; it would be full of stuff there, attached with clothespins, I think: the original copy and the proof. You go back over, and they'd hang it on (the linotype operator's) machine, and he'd go through and make all those corrections. And the correction, ... he'd ... wrap the proof around it, set it up on the counter. ... So then the guy making up page 1 would go over those galley proofs that were upside-down and backwards, and go through them and pull out the old line and put in the new one, and all those corrections, those metal slugs, (would get) thrown into a bucket, and they'd be remelted. So he'd put all those corrections in, and hopefully, the guy didn't make too many mistakes when he made the corrections. Now the guy doing the corrections from the proof was supposed to read them when he put them in, which is a whole other process. So he might have 20 lines to read to make sure the linotype operator didn't make a mistake on the mistake. So hopefully - I mean, to ever get out a paper then without typos in it would be impossible.

So for the whole width of page 1, all that was set in, and the headlines come from a different place, and usually the head guy in the composing room, which for most of those years was Armand Amell, made up the front page. And the front-page material'd have little tabs so the printer making the proof would know which galleys to put over by page 1 to make up the page. So then after all that proofreading and everything, somebody'd have to make up that page, as I said, which was all upside down and backwards, but you got so you could read that just as fast as you could read the paper, you know? And he'd have to put those in; they'd tack the layout that the editor would make - it would be on a piece of white paper, and that was tacked up under a light by the page 1, and the printer'd have to follow that and lay out page 1. Now that's - we're just starting to get there then. That might be - 'cause all the ads were made the same day. All the type all set by hand, all made up early in the morning that same day. We didn't get any ahead. At 7 o'clock in the morning, everything started. There was nothing done for that day's paper.

So when it got to page 1 - when all, say, the seven inside pages were made up, and hopefully ads in the right place - so it got to page 1. So it might be 1 o'clock by then if you were lucky, 1 or 1:15. And then the head guy in the composing room'd start making up page 1, when he'd get it all locked up, and all the corrections made. I mean, he might start that and noody's been able to help him, so he has to stand there and make corrections for 20 minutes ot a half-hour before he can even start. So he'd grab this type, this story, whatever you could handle, and place it in. I mean, the margin for error was unbelieveable. I mean, the end of it, some of those would tip over or something; the slugs, now you got to remember, you're just talking about little teeny slices of lead with a line on it, all in a row - 21 inches, you know, hundreds of 'em. So, he'd get that in there and lock it up, and hopefully with the right headline over the right story. So he got it all made up, and usually the editor would come down and at least glance through it. ...

And that all had to be pulled out; it was on a big chase, a big heavy, heavy, heavy iron chase that they were on, so you imagine the thing that they locked into was all steel. So all of this lead for the whole page 1 is all in there, so you pull that up on big round wheels, and you bring it over to a mat press. We're not even getting close to the press itself yet.

So you pull that out. ... Then you rolled it over to this huge mat press, a steel thing with a bed on it that thick (demonstrates) and great big gears with a cylinder that would eventually roll this pink fiber, soft fiber that would make the mat that you'd eventually cast the lead plate from. This is just for one page!

So you'd roll it over there, and your fingers, you'd have to slide that whole thing - that's why you had to be careful it was locked tight - and you slid it onto this big mat press, roll that thing around to the other end. Got, out of this humidor that kept these pink mats, a soft fiber mat; it was the size of a page. And you lay that smooth on page 1. You slide this thing right up tight to this big roller, and then hit the button - or lever, whatever it was - and then it would go through that press very slowly, and then you'd get the imprint of the whole page on this pink fiber mat.

Well, then there was a chute that went down, because the press room was another floor down, and there was a chute. You take the edge of that mat ... and you'd slide it down that chute to the pressman. Now if he was all caught up and we were taking a long time for whatever reason - too many corrections, too many this - he'd start banging on that metal chute, you know, that he needed some pages. Because if you got two or three all at once, it screwed him up. ...

Everything, of course, was hot lead. it wasn't just the stories, but when he cast the plates, that was in hot lead. So he had to cast the plate the full size of the page, and the pages, you know, were much bigger than they are now. When you had the double open, it was almost three feet.

So he had to bend that, and you put it into this huge thing down there with a huge pot of hot lead behind it. I mean huge. ... So he'd put that in there, and this thing would get closed up against it, he'd pull a lever, and it would fill that thing with hot lead and make an imprint of that page on this curved plate so it'd fit on the curved cylinder of the press. And of course then when that cooled - I forgot for how long; that was water cooled in there - then he'd pull that lever and get down, and he'd have to slide that over, and that was a huge saw that trimmed the edge of that. It had to be just right like that; he'd trim that edge. And then when it was cool enough - he'd wear gloves and stuff - he'd take that off, walk it over - I mean they were heavy; I wish I knew the weight. But you can imagine a full page like that cast in lead; it was heavy. ... Just a single page. Take that over and put it onto the press, and be careful dropping it in that your fingers weren't under. And then the press, you tighten it over, and it clamped into place. ...

So eventually, he got all eight pages. He had to get through all of the steps and clamp 'em on the press. And then, when he eventually started the press, which'd be 3 or 3:30 in the afternoon, then he's supposed to stop - which he wouldn't do sometimes - he's supposed to stop after the first 10 or 15 papers so the editor or somebody could - 'cause sometimes, if he was in a hurry, page 2 might be where page 6 is supposed to be. He would just get 'em on the press wrong, you know. It's all by hand.

And eventually, if everything went well and the web didn't break, and he got going, the newsboys usually got the paper by 4 o'clock. And they'd be screaming and yelling 'cause they were all in this one room up there; I can remember even doing that when I was a newsboy.

But you couldn't get your papers first. The first person to grab the papers, and they weren't bundled, were for the newsstands in town, which probably twice as many then. I don't know; it seemed like it. So the guy who did the local route - they were stacked up; they come off the press in 50s, I believe - it would kick out the 50th one, he'd stack 'em up and take 'em out to his car.

PC: Did they press fold them up, too.

HR: Yeah, they were all folded. They were folded just like you see them today on the newsstand. So that guy would get the first stack to do all the newsstands, and then the guys who were out in the country, the three routes out to Tupper Lake ... Bloomingdale, Lake Placid - well, Bloomingdale, there weren't newsboys; it was the "tube route," they called it. They were round tubes then, not square. And then finally the newsboys got their papers last, because they could just go locally.



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