BARBWIRE BOB – PART 2:  The Newspaper Industry


The arrival of a union printer, Bill Alcock, from Pennsylvania,  to my challenging Craig newspaper was another Divine Providence blessing bestowed upon my life and newspaper career.

As he spent time repairing some of my ancient printing equipment he told me about photo offset, a new system of printing from a flat surface from aluminum plates through a photo/film process.

He went a step further.  Bill and his family spent a weekend in Grand Junction where he discovered a small used Davidson offset printing press for $400 along with an antique wooden camera that used 11×14 sheet film and a homemade box where the film could be placed over a sensitized aluminum printing plate under glass on a flat surface and exposed to light.  The printed images would be transferred onto the metal plate and  with chemical polishing the type would surface on the plate.

Here’s where chemistry really comes into play… ink and water won’t mix. This is true about today’s controversy about fracking, oil and water don’t mix, we can save the underground water. The small Davidson press had ink rollers and water rollers.  The flexible aluminum plate would wrap around the press cylinder and, cloth dampener covered rollers would flood the plate with water, then the ink would flow only to the exposed type developed with an ink substance. The result was a perfect rolled-on printed surface, superior in quality for halftone photos, artwork, and printed forms.  

We had to order film and plates from a New York printing catalog and within a few weeks we had the photo offset press printing jobs.  Letterpress forms that took hours to do by hand using slugs from a linotype could be reproduced in minutes, not hours.

It was a message from heaven, and I rushed to  the A.E. Heinsohn printing supply company in Denver to shop for larger offset newspaper equipment finding  an older Chief “24” offset printing press about the size of a Volkswagen.  I purchased and financed the press along with a new 12”x 18” Kenro vertical film camera,  vacuum plate burner with welding rods for light, and  boxes of 12×18 inch Kodak film.  The film could photograph 10×16 inch tabloid newspaper pages and the press would print two pages at a time on 24×36” sheets of newsprint.  

While we could print faster, we needed a new way to set type, rather than the  slow cranky old Model L linotype, invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in the 1850s.  His machine revolutionized newspaper type with brass mats triggered from a keyboard that would cast slugs of type from hot melted lead from a heated lead pot on the machine.  A good operator could set a “16” “galley of type in about an hour, pay was $1.00  an hour.  The inventor died in a mental institution, but his linotype lived on into the 1960s.  The Rocky Mountain News had one on display in their newspaper lobby until their untimely death.  There are two models in the Weekly Register-Call newspaper in Central City, one linotype, and a later Intertype model that was developed in later years when patents expired on the earlier invention.  

Having taken two-years of typing in high school I picked up two IBM electric typewriters with news type face using disposable black carbon ribbons. These allowed us to set type rapidly, but we still had to handset headlines from type cases, print them on a Chandler and Price handfed press and then cut the headlines apart and paste them on the 10” x 16” waxed newspaper camera-ready pages.  The pages photographed in a dark room, the film developed and dried, then transferred to 17×24 inch aluminum plates that would wrap around the auto-feed Chief press that would print at speeds of 50 sheets per minute.  We could print two-pages at a time in minutes, flip the sheets and have a 16-page newspaper printed in an hour.  A 16-page newspaper would take eight runs and  had to be folded and collated by  hand. 

Divine providence comes knocking once again when a salesman walked in the door carrying a “Headliner” machine with a plastic dial of typefaces on a circular wheel.  The machine would do a variety of fonts in any size by just turning the dial, pushing a button to transfer the image on to a roll of photo paper that would be cut and pasted onto the newspaper dummy page ads or headlines.  Another fast resolution as the newspaper industry was learning how to adapt to this new form of printing. We were among the first newspapers in the state to move to offset printing.

Another miracle was occurring across the world and it was called IBM.  Because I had purchased several model IBM typewriters I was invited to the only hotel in tiny Vail, east of Eagle for the unveiling of a new invention.  Driving through the Vail Valley was primarily summer sheep grazing meadows with one lone hotel.  

The seminar was about unveiling  an invention that would impact the printing business and the world.   IBM unveiled a computer showing how they were able to slice tiny particles of sand and make a computer chip.  They had enabled them to make the first computers.  This revolutionized the entire planet and we rode the wave of science with new faster newspaper equipment. TO BE CONTINUED: