Thoughts on press day

Today is our press day for the June issue of Access Press. We’ve put the paper together and make final […]

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Today is our press day for the June issue of Access Press. We’ve put the paper together and make final changes before sending our electronic files to House of Print in Madelia.

House of Print does printing work for many publications statewide. It was planned years ago as a centralized printing plant for newspapers in western and southwestern Minnesota. I worked at one of those papers in the early 1980s so things have come full circle for me.

We didn’t have the Internet then. Our back shop would paste together pages, and then the pages were boxed up and delivered to our printer. When the winter weather hit, our driver would be turned back by the Minnesota State Patrol. We might have a few days’ worth of papers to deliver when the snow was cleared.

We were under orders to produce a paper every day, no matter the weather. A few times during the winter, our readers would wind up with a few days’ worth of papers when we could get everything to press.

I grew up working for newspapers. I still enjoy my volunteer time at the Minnesota State Fair and the newspaper museum there. One of the papers I worked at as a teen still used linotype machines and letterpress to put its weekly paper out. Most papers had switched to offset printing by then.

One fun fact about printing is that many people who worked in those letterpress back shops had disabilities.

Linotype machines are noisy, with a loud and distinct clatter. Deaf people were often encouraged to take training for such jobs, at places like Dunwoody in Minneapolis. State schools for the deaf, including our own in Minnesota, also offered training programs to get people into linotype operator jobs and other aspects of printing.

I should also point out that working in printing in those early days also created disabilities. It wasn’t unusual years ago to see back shop workers who were missing all or part of a finger or fingers. The large paper cutters, big presses and job shop presses are nothing to mess with.

I have one finger that is not crooked from arthritis. That finger years ago lost a tangle with a folding machine.

We press shop folks like our folders despite the fact that sometimes they like to hurt us. Folders of long ago look like Rube Goldberg contraptions, with lots of belts and blades that are used to fold the paper. Without a folder we were folding the newspapers by hand. That’s a tedious and very inky task.

Letterpress today is largely relegated to specialty print shops and museums. I still miss those days but remind myself that the work, while ideal for people with hearing-related disabilities, could cause injures and disabilities itself.

Here’s to press day! And no injured fingers at my end.

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  • "Stay safe, Minnesota. Take steps to protect yourself, & others from the COVID-19 virus."

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