Stereotyping

One perk of moving to a small upstate New York town in 1968 was the Clinton Courier, the local weekly newspaper. I got a job there, after school and on weekends. The high school offered no graphic arts courses but I wanted to keep up my printing skills, so this was a real bonus. The paper was a hot-type operation, somewhere between the hand-set composing I’d learned in junior high and the photo-offset of 10th and 11th grades. I was anxious to learn this aspect of the technologies of what then I thought was my chosen field—though I really wasn’t interested in becoming a linotype operator (I knew the technology was on the way out).

Though my duties included helping run the folder on press night and sometimes helping feed the large flatbed press, most of my time was spent melting pied type, used linotype slugs and other spent pieces of lead. I used a large caldron over an adjustable gas fire, adding something that came in blue and cylinder shape that helped separate the dross, skimming the dross and then ladling the lead into the hopper of the stereotype machine next to the caldron.

That machine was my bete noir. I had never before been involved in stereotyping; the half-hour introduction by the other ‘printer’s devil’ of the establishment hadn’t really been enough to make me confident of my skills. About all I knew was that I would have to keep the temperature just right or I would burn the one of the flongs I was currently using, the papier-mâché forms generally waiting in a set of wooden sleeves on the wall above the machines. He told me there were spares, but generally only one for each. He also quickly showed me how to use the router across the room to hollow out spots of excess lead, assuming I knew much more about the tools than I did. Then he left. After that, I pretty much taught myself.

The first things I cast were bars for the linotype machine, long pieces with a hole in one end that could be hung from hooks over the melting pot, lowered as needed so that slugs of type could be formed from the hot lead. Though I also ‘cleaned’ the spacebands with graphite each night, I learned little more about those particular machines.

Anyhow, the bars were easy to make, though heavy to carry, when cool, upstairs to the linotype room. And they required no routing—and the metal forms did not burn.

My real problem was with the stereotypes themselves. They were generally pictures for ads and had a great deal of blank space. I had to adjust the machine to a smaller frame suitable to the particular flong and to release the appropriate amount of lead, hoping it wasn’t so hot it would burn the papier-mâché (when it did, I had to rout out the burnt paper from the cooled plate—if I didn’t have to go find the backup flong, an embarrassing trip up to one of the brother-owners of the paper).

If I’d done my job well, the flong would have been tight enough in the form that bulges were rare and routing minimal. That wasn’t generally the case, though not always because of anything I’d done (when there was lots of blank space the lead would bulge up, necessitating a great deal of extra routing). Each week, I would look at the paper with dread: I had a hard time routing around things like automobile tires (straight lines were much easier to work with) and I would often see that I had taken a chunk out of one.

My pants and shirts would end up splattered with drops of lead which would dry and stick—but I didn’t mind. It gave me, I thought, a sort of cachet—though I suspect others saw it only as filth of some unknown sort.

I worked at the Courier until sometime in the late winter. Spending a bit of my money on an old mimeograph machine, I wrote (mainly), typed and etched the stencil, and produced a sloppy ‘underground’ newspaper of the sort that was popping up in high schools across the country. Called Bullit, it took out after, particularly, the school’s ‘official’ newspaper. Unfortunately for me, the editor was the daughter of one of the owners of the Courier. They were nice enough guys but, blood being thicker than any relationship I had with them, my job quickly disappeared.

No longer seeing a way to a career as a printer, I found myself in college in the fall instead.

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