Yesterday's Technology . . . Today!

New Zealand Novice

IT WAS late 1969. After a year of getting used to the layout of the Californian hand set type cases, I was sat down in front of one of our linotypes.

My big moment had arrived; I was actually going to operate one of the 'eight wonders of the world.' My only association with the linotypes up to this moment was cleaning the spacebands, plungers and plunger wells. "Follow the copy, even if it flies out the window", Jack said, (who had been operating linotypes since before the Second World War).

My hands were shaking as they hovered over the keyboard, and for the first time I noticed that there were no letters showing on that keyboard. They had worn away after decades of use. "How am I supposed to learn the keyboard with no letters on it?" I asked. "The bloody hard way," came the reply.

So after copying the keyboard layout from one of the Intertypes onto a piece of cardboard I began to set straight news copy using 8 point (can't remember the typeface) on a ten em measure. I was in hot metal heaven.

The months past, I was then 'promoted' to the Intertype with the side magazine and keyboard and let loose on classified and display advertising, followed by jobbing work for our commercial print department.

This machine was the ultimate, it had a quadder. Type sizes ranged from 6 to 36 point. The 36 point type had to be hand assembled in a special setting stick and placed in the elevator jaw to be cast into a slug.

The day came when I could 'hang' the machine (assemble a line, have the machine casting, and matrices being distributed, all at once) on a 20 em measure setting 8 point type. Only then, I thought that I was a pretty good operator.

Being an operator in a small rural town meant you also had to be the mechanic. This made the job more interesting and varied.

Having progressed through the photosetting and paste up technologies and now operating computers using PageMaker and PhotoShop , I look back on the hot metal days as some of the happiest in my working career.

Who else but hot metal operators could go home with burn scars on their hands after a 'splash' and the girlfriend of the time complaining because you threw your lead splattered jeans into the washing machine.

Short Memories

We had a compositor who could never get the Lino to cast a line. Every time he sat down at the keyboard, one of us operators would sneak around behind the machine and pull the plunger pin out.

Winter time in New Zealand can be cold at times. To keep our pies or burgers warm we used to sit them on top of the melting pot and they would travel backwards and forwards on the pot as the slugs were being cast.

School children would tour our newspaper and marvel at the linotypes. Even today, as adults they come up to me and say they remember the linotypes and the smell of lead and ink.

Three times a year we had to work nights to set the racing form guide for the local jockey club. The pages were printed on a 'Kelly' press in eight page impositions. The printer had to check the proofs before the pages were printed. After checking the first press run proofs, he would go and have a coffee break. While he was having his coffee break one of us would unlock the chase and turn one of the pages upside down. After his break, he would start the press, and after a couple of hundred impressions or so the bad language would start, after he discovered one of the pages was upside down. He tried to blame us, but we just laughed and told him to check his work before starting the press. This happened year after year, and he could not understand why this was happening. We told him why when he retired. After calling us a pack of bastards, he could see the funny side.

One of our editors could sit at the lino and 'direct input' his copy. The unions used to frown on that practice, but what they didn't know, couldn't hurt.

Copyright © Dave Hughes 2000-2015. All rights reserved.