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 ½ 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.