Will the daily newspaper disappear like our gas-driven vehicles? We subscribe to two daily newspapers, one here at the lakes and a different one in Arizona. Some seem to shrink in pages but not the price. The Dickinson County News still has plenty of pages as does the Lakes Shopper and Okobojian. Years ago, each community in the county had a newspaper and some had more: Spirit Lake Beacon, Milford Mail, Lake Park News, Terrill Record and Arnolds Park News.
Even the Dickinson County News is different from the Beacon of years ago. It still amazes me to think that those weekly newspaper people could fill 8 to 12 pages of news and ads each week. Each newspaper had a Society Editor whose job was to write of the happenings of the people, families in the community and nearby area. Farm ladies gathered news of pot luck dinners, card parties, church dinners, etc. They were paid 10 cents an inch of copy in the 1940s. I don’t know about you but my life activity is reading the morning paper while eating breakfast. Reading the news on my smartphone doesn't cut it for me.
Another habit I acquired early in life was scanning the front page of the daily newspaper. When I was in the fifth grade in Milford, I was lucky enough to secure delivering the Sioux City Tribune and had about 35 customers. The lucky boys who got routes delivered the Des Moines Register. There were also the Fort Dodge Messenger and the Spencer Reporter. We had to get up early each morning (6:30 a.m.) good weather or not.
We didn’t have an alarm clock in our house so my grandfather, Ed LaFoy, called me on the telephone. We had one telephone in the house and I had to get out of bed to answer the phone and grandpa would say, "Aubrey, are you awake?" I would answer, "Yes," and hang up. Then I'd dress, grab my bicycle, go the Strand Theatre (The papers were thrown there under the overhang to keep them dry) and pick up my newspapers and deliver them. My old dog Bing always went with me and I think he knew the route as well as I did — he would go ahead of me as we followed the same route each day. We collected on Saturday and sent in our money to Sioux City. Good training to have a paper route.
Amazing things happened in your life that can change and mold your life for the future. In the fall of 1939, I recall one phone call that changed my life. Early in one Saturday morning, my Aunt Freda Nicol called me and told me to get down to the Milford Mail office as they had a job for me. I didn't ask what but went. The printer's devil for the Milford Mail had quit and they needed a replacement. Mr. Manly Sterns was the editor who acknowledged me and I was hired on the spot thanks to my Aunt Freda who was Society Editor of the paper. My salary was $3.50 a week. Henry Gray was the printer and he showed me what I had to do.
Each Saturday morning the devil gathered all the used lead slugs and casts, carried them to the basement, built a fire under a huge metal bowl and melted all the lead. After the lead was in liquid form, I’d take a ladle and pour the molten lead into pig forms. The forms were made to make lead pigs to fit into the linotype machine. The linotype operator typed the desired information that activated a brass key to making a sentence or whatever, hit send key and it went into the machine and formed a lead slug with the letters or whatever on the surface. The column of slugs would then be taken out and placed on a galley, inked; sheets of paper inserted and a roller would give the printed information.
This proof sheet was then read over and corrected and the linotype operator would make the corrections and the devil or printer would take out the incorrect slug and insert the corrected slug. You soon learned to read upside down and backward. The laying out of the newspaper page took some practice and when four pages where composed they were placed on the bed of the printing press and then printed. One soon learned how to flip the newspaper to insert it into the press.
Thursday was "press day" and the same procedure was repeated except you printed the other side of the newspaper which was then placed in a folder to make an eight-page newspaper. (This is probably more than you need to know but the same procedure was repeated week after week.) If you wish to read the history of any small town, read their local newspapers of yore.
The first fall I worked at the Milford Mail, one of our printing jobs was from the Coca Cola plant in Spirit Lake. I don't recall the exact number but it was in the thousands, so it was my job to print them on our small printing press. I don't know how old that press was but it was old and had no way to control the speed except place your left leg next to the flywheel and regulate the speed you were comfortable with. I practically wore out my left pant leg. We had three presses but the small one was used for this job. There were many skills to learn and the old printer (Henry Gray) was a good teacher.
My other duties were to sweep the floor, empty the wastebaskets, wash the windows, shovel the snow, haul trash to the dump, clean the presses and saw room, sharpen the saw blade, haul in the coal for the furnace and keep it going, correct galleys, tear down the newspaper and put all the type back in the font drawers and run errands for all. I went to work at 7 a.m. till school started at 9 a.m., back to work at 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. except Wednesday night to put the paper together and print four pages.
Sometimes I didn't get home until 12 o'clock and then Saturday mornings to make the lead pigs and clean up the place. In the process of working at the Mail office, we had to use printer's ink and it really got on your hands. We used Lava soap to wash but it never really took it all but we wore aprons which saved a lot of our shirts and pants. The job was very rewarding and the experience working with other people was wonderful training.
I was in WWII serving in China-Burma-India and in 1946 I began my college training. In the summer of 1947 I met Connie at the Iowa State Teachers College (UNI today) and she was circulation manager of the College Eye. I accompanied her to the Holt Printing Company in Cedar Falls where the College Eye was printed. It was like old times and before I realized it I was messing around with the forms and type.
Hans Holt, one of the owners, observed that and asked me if I was acquainted with printing. I told him that I had worked as a printer's devil while in high school. The next week he asked me if I would like to work for them and the pay was 90 cents an hour. The students at the college were paid 50 cents an hour. The Holts had many printing jobs and my title was the "deadman" meaning I tore the printed forms down and put the type, etc. away. I had my own hours and worked three or four hours a day. After Connie and I were married in 1948 the money earned was enough for groceries.
I continue to write and use Microsoft Word, Print Shop, Spell Check and other computer programs. I marvel at being able to print in color and compose and best of all correct my spelling. We have come a long way since my days as a printer's devil but the experiences and training have stayed with me. I hope the newspapers stay with us because in the future we need a written record of our times. The stuff on Facebook and smartphones are not preserved and will not be around, but the newspapers will still provide us with a written history of our times.