Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Noisy Decapitator

Once upon a time, in 1950 A.D., I scraped together some money, and with full support from my bride, Betts, a 21 year old mother of two boys, went into the weekly newspaper business.

We purchased the noisiest and most trustworthy of ancient flat bed presses, a "Country Campbell" (Matk Twain's favorite !)- --and a Model One linotype machine.
My education in printing took place five years earlier at the Toccoa Record. I wasn’t speedy, but I was fairly proficient and the Model One was the machine for linotype dummies.

It had only one case and errors were easily correctable. It was also less likely to spit hot metal at the operator than more sophisticated linotypes.

We installed the press first. It was an oscillating dinosaur, and one needed to stand on a stool about kitchen chair height to feed its. It would grasp the large sheet of paperfrom a tilted oaken table slab with "teeth" and take it around and across the locked-in chase of type positioned on the flat bed as it clanged back and forth underneath the large drum that delivered the paper.
When we got the press in and it was working really neatly, we had to build an extra "room" behind the press, about 12 feet deep and as wide as the garage door, to enclose the linotype machine indoors. With the editor’s desk and the business manager’s desk, there was no lateral room for the linotype machine.

(Here, it occurs to me that there must be, now in 2006, at least a generation—maybe two– unfamiliar with a "linotype". It was a tall conglomeration of rotors, levers and tracks with a large "case" slanted on top, a pot of molten lead / babbitt print metal held at a perfect temperature–and the most beautiful, sensitive keyboard that only a crazy man like the inventor Merggenthaler could have invented. You sat at the keyboard and barely touched the keys and the matrices, brass thumb-sized plates with jagged distinct carrier edges inside, fell into delicious symmetry, forming a line of mirror image words. A lever on the right side of the keyboard sent the line of matrices to the type metal pot orifice, and a perfect slug of 11 picas (less than two inches) dropped into a "stick" or tray. It was, to coin a phrase, perfect. Only my Llewellen setter Jack had a higher value for me.

(Except for Betts and the boys, of course, but I didn’t OWN them... They owned me!)

It looked complicated, but it was lovely, musical, hypnotic. And I was determined to do my own linotyping, though I had good friends in a nearby town who did it cheaper than I could.

Pride goeth !!!

Benny Buffington, a 17 year old black youth, was my constant fishing companion, the only "Nanny" the boys ever had, and just about my best friend ever.

He "volunteered" to feed the press. And he was a quick study. We was a fastidious, tireless worker. He was one of the wittiest humans I have ever known, and a frustrated entertainer. He called me "Mmm Bill" the "mister" hardly spoken, but proudly indicated in his vocal shorthand.

One evening when we had decided we were "ready" to do all the typesetting on the Model One, and all the justifying on our own "stone" and print the paper on our Campbell, we were very excited. "Pumped" would be the word today.
I was sitting at the linotype, exhibiting my lightest touch and making only about three typos every tem slugs, when Benny hollered at me from his pedestal.
"Muh Bill, lissen that !" He squalled.
(He NEVER put a vowel after the "MMM" in his salutation unless he caught a bigger fish, or danger flickered around his two minor charges, Mike and Keith.

"Lissen! It’s CLICKIN’ funny..."

"Oh, hell, Benny, it’s just a noisy ole....."

"Naw..NAW SIR ! Its makin’ a reeel funny extra noise! You caint hear over there ! You gotter come ‘ere and see!! It ain’t right!!" he yelled..all the while rythmically feeding sheets to the drum’s clips.

I finished a slug, moaned and got up slowly and dramatically, barely tolerantly approached Benny’s perch on the office side of the press.

Something went "Click-clack-BUMPETY BUM P" in the nether area of the old Campbell, as the bed traveled toward the printshop area.

"See?!! See?!! I tole you !!" Benny keened shrilly..

And then we were hypnotized by the same slo-mo vision always attendant in auto accidents.

Time struggled to pass. The huge, heavy press bed---I’ll guess it weighed 700 pounds-- shuddered on it’s reciprocating gearlines on its underside, and levitated... flew off the back end of the press, sailed to clip the back of my chair and slice my precious linotype machine in half !.

The only sounds were the whining of the large motor by the press, and the faint tinkling of the raining matrices on the concrete floor..

"She’s gone, ain’t she?" Benny murmured very softly, audibly.

" Yep", I said. "I guess that’s about it...Truly All She Wrote !" I giggled eerily.

So we walked over to the exit door. I reached up and pulled the main power switch on the old fuse box and we went over to the house to play with Betts and the boys.

Betts and I had a li’l drink. And that was the end of The Rural Citizen.

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