By Richard Peterson
Saturday, Oct. 24, 1959 was my first day of employment at the Farmers Press. That means this Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009 is the 50th anniversary of my employment at this newspaper. Fifty years! It doesn’t seem possible.
Back in 1959 I was a freshman at the Lake Region Junior College and worked at the Farmers Press Saturdays and after classes some days of the week. Les Strand was the editor and publisher at the time. I also worked here part-time during the summers of 1960, 1961 and 1962. I remember helping print the Leeds Diamond Jubilee history book in 1961 and the Harlow Golden Jubilee history book in 1962.
Back in those days everything was printed by the hot metal process.
It was hot, heavy, noisy, dirty work. We cut lead with a table saw that had no guard. We did wear goggles because the lead fragments sometimes gave us a shower. We poured molten lead at 650 degrees F onto mats to make lead castings, which were then sawed and mounted on blocks of wood to make them type high. The castings were then coated with ink and when a paper was pressed on them, they produced an image on the paper.
The Linotype machine was the heart of the operation. This required quite a bit of skill and mechanical expertise. In the mid-1960s I was forced to learn how to operate this machine when the transient Linotype operator I hired didn’t show up on Monday after getting his Friday paycheck. Donnie Ellefson of Devils Lake and Foster Meisch of New Rockford got us through a couple tough weeks. Then Lyle Huffman, who had some training on the Linotype in the early 1950’s came on board. He ran the machine during the day and I ran it at night. We were both pretty green but we managed. He became very proficient at running the Linotype and I knew enough about it to get by.
But when I went to work here in 1959 I was just a printer’s devil and wasn’t allowed to fiddle with the temperamental and easily damaged Linotype.
The press we printed the newspaper on was an old Cottrell press that took up a big portion of our cracker box of a building. When it was in operation it printed four pages at a time with a deafening roar.
That’s probably why my hearing isn’t as good as it could have been.
After the paper was printed, the ink was washed off the lead forms with gasoline. There were always smokers working in the back office.
The lead from the last week’s paper was carried to the basement and melted down for casting or into pigs to feed the Linotype machine, which kept molten lead at 650 degrees whenever it was on. The pigs had to be carried upstairs in pails and stacked near the Linotype.
Occasionally molten lead would squirt out of the machine where it wasn’t supposed to and sometimes it hit the Linotype operator.
I also cut paper with an ancient paper cutter. I still use that paper cutter today. It has an extremely sharp blade which hasn’t been sharpened in 30 years, at least. It’s dangerous, so I don’t let anyone but me operate it.
It’s a good thing OSHA wasn’t in existence 50 years ago, because this newspaper would have been shut down. Even though almost every process of producing the newspaper was dangerous, I can only recall one injury. Freddie Pederson got a bad cut on his hand when he replaced a dull knife blade on the paper cutter with a newly sharpened one.
That’s one reason the blade in it has never been sharpened while I’ve been in charge.
I wasn’t at the Farmers Press for the full 50 years. My last two years at college were at UND, so obviously I couldn’t work here then.
After graduating in 1963 I worked as a measuring supervisor that summer for the ASCS. I was prepared to enter law school at UND when Strand asked me if I’d like to take over the Farmers Press because he was leaving. I said yes and became editor and publisher on Nov. 1, 1963.
The war in Vietnam was raging and the draft board said I was going to be drafted. At the time I didn’t understand how the system worked, so I enlisted because the recruiter told me I might not get to go to Officer Candidate School (OCS) if I was drafted. It turned out that wasn’t true but I put the draft board in a bind because they had to draft someone else since I wasn’t available. I’ve always regretted that.
I left the Farmers Press Dec. 31, 1966 and Strand returned as editor and publisher. I entered the Army March 1, 1967. I did get to go to OCS, spent a year in Vietnam and was discharged the end of January, 1970. I spent several months in Milwaukee, Wisc. working as assistant editor of a trade magazine. Strand again called me and said he was leaving because he was buying the Carrington paper. So I returned again on Sept. 1, 1970 and have been here ever since. I fell into a rut and couldn’t crawl out.
Strand converted the newspaper to the offset method in 1967, so the old hot metal days were over for good. Thank goodness!
I figure I’ve got about 45 years on the job at the Farmers Press and I’m still working here after all those years because I didn’t make big money here, there’s no pension at the Farmers Press and I can’t live on Social Security. So I have to keep working. I really don’t mind, though, because I haven’t got anything better to do.