ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LEON G. HARMS – SACRAMENTO, CALIF.
When I was young, every boy had some kind of a job. Mine was working for Chet Ashcraft at the Hillsboro Star as a ?printer?s devil.? I began when I was 10 years old.
The newspaper equipment consisted of a Linotype machine, job presses, the newspaper press and a ?folder,? and trays of hand-held type. I kept the hot pots in the Linotype machine full of reclaimed lead. There were also lead blocks and wood blocks bearing reverse pictures and logos of merchants and organizations made from lead which were placed into the print frames.
These blocks were used until no longer needed and then melted in a pot along with the used type faces that were removed from the print frames after the press run was completed.
I used solvent to clean the ink off the hand type faces and restored the type to the alphabetic and numerical boxes for each size type face. Woe to a printer?s devil if he failed to get the type in the right box!
It was also my job to clean the ink faces of the job presses in the shop, since the newspaper survived not only from the weekly paper, but also from farm sales advertisements, political and events posters and calling cards on order.
There might be black, blue, red and other colors, each applied separately to the printed material and each time the ink face of the press must be completely cleaned.
I learned to do some ?job running? on these old presses, but never learned to hand-set type which is the printer?s skill and takes years to perfect.
My boss and owner of the newspaper, Chet, was a chain smoker and I will never forget him standing by his type table and hand-setting type as fast as a typist can write, green eye shade over his eyes and a cigarette with a long ash hanging from his mouth, smoke circling his head!
The best part of the job was on Thursday night when we went to press. I operated the paper folding machine, which was a separate operation after the press had run off the four-sheet ?run? on both sides, and the paper was ready to be cut and folded. Each sheet was hand-fed into this machine and came out a folded newspaper.
As I stood high on the platform of that folder, I felt very grown up feeding the paper sheets into the mechanism. To a modern printer, the machines we had would be primitive indeed. But as a boy, I thought they were wonderful! My parents allowed me to be out late this one weeknight because they believed that a boy should have a job and ?learn to work.?
We went to press in the evening because the paper needed all the material gathered during that day, from the local news and ?happenings? from its various unpaid sources, to the advertisements that sustained its life.
Also, print shops are hot places to work, especially for the printer?s devil that is melting lead, especially in the Kansas heat of summertime.
I enjoyed working in that little newspaper, especially on Thursday nights in the cool of a Kansas evening, and went home perhaps as late as 11 at night dead tired but with joy in my heart?the paper was out!
For this work I received 50 cents a week and a subscription to Boys Life and the Open Road for Boys monthly magazines. It never occurred to me that I was underpaid; instead I was proud that Mr. Ashcraft trusted me as his ?devil? with the lead, and the type, and the machines.
Many years later, I learned of the death of Chet Ashcraft, a pioneer newspaperman of the middle years of the 20th century. He was an inspiration to me, a good man, and as my father loved to say, he ?taught me to work.?