When I was in High School and had the opportunity to attend the vocational school located in the same building, I jumped on the offer and signed on for “Graphic Arts” class. Since I was already taking the maximum of art classes in my regular curriculum, I figured it was just an additional “art” class I could take.
When I had my first day of class and saw all the printing presses, I realized it was a bit more than “art” but still had an interest in learning the craft. There was also a darkroom for processing of litho film and making negatives of the work to be printed. Since I already had my own film photography darkroom at home, I figured this would give me a slight edge on the rest of the class.
The teacher saw a quick advancement in my abilities and quickly moved me from the bookwork into the darkroom and onto the presses. I was able to learn a AB Dick 360, Multilith 1250, Chandler & Price Letterpress, Ludlow Lead Typesetter and assorted bindery equipment.
Even before the first year of class was completed I applied and got a job running the letterpress department at Modern Press. I had at my disposal a set of 3 assorted C&P presses and a linotype lead typesetter. Although it was 1978 and letterpress was even a dinosaur back then, you could still find one in use in a shop every now and then.
I also had a large 40″ paper cutter and eventually ran the shops AB Dick 360 7 Multilith 1250 on occasion. But like many print shops it had lots of scrap paper and printed items lying in every possible corner. In fact, the owner had built u such a mass of scrap and waste paper in the back warehouse that I frequently filled the back of my pick up truck and hauled it off to the dump. Since it was a letterpress shop they rarely ever threw any scraps away since they could be fed into the press as small as 2×3 inches.
One day while looking over the classified ads, I spotted an ad for the local Holiday Inn which happen to have its own in-house print department. And not only did I get the job, but it was also about $1.25 over minimum wage at the time.
I had at my disposal a AB Dick 360, plate burner and small paper cutter to produce all of the hotels printed media from reservation cards to restaurant menus. A film & plate shop in town that would produce the negatives for me and then I would strip them up, burn the plates, print the job, cut it to size and then take it down to the storage room in the hotel office.
Before the digital revolution had taken over the printing industry, it was pretty easy to get a job if you were a pressman. After a stint as a traveling studio photographer, found my self back in a print shop again running an AB Dick 360.
It was a franchise shop that was fairly high volume and I was busy all day long printing. We also used electrostatic plates instead of conventional metal plates which increased the output tremendously since no there was no need for stripping negatives and burning plates was required. The shop had 2 presses / pressmen, a very small cutter and was enjoyable to work in since it was so fast paced.
After moving to Charlotte, NC in 1983, I knew I could easily get a job in a print shop and ended up in a PIP Printing franchise running one of the first Multilith 1280’s in the eastern seaboard.
Working at Imperial Printing, a moderate size print shop in Charlotte, NC, I was given the opportunity to run one of the first Hamada 770’s installed in a shop on the eastern side of the country. In fact, the opportunity blossomed into the task of working in the annual print show in which I ran a 770 for the Hamada Company where I ran a 4 color piece in which I ran Cyan and Black one day and then Magenta and Yellow the next.. I recall getting to meet a few of the Japanese big shots from Hamada and it was quite a fun experience, especially in the after hours of attending the parties in the hospitality rooms.
I would load up long runs on NCR paper on the Multilith 1250 and run shorter run quality jobs on the 770 while the Multi was chugging out the sheets.
The next move was to bigger and better things… At CBS Printers I ran a 30″ Mehile single color that I only did the shops scoring and perforating wit, I also ran a 26″ 2 color Solna and occasionally helped out on the 40″ Komori 5 color.
Moving to Aladdin Press, I ran every press in the shop at one time or another from the 770 Hamada, 25″ Royal Zenith 1 color, K&B 26″ 2 color and 4 color as well as a 24″ Royal Zenith Web Offset Press.
And then one more stop before moving to Florida in 1996… I ran a 30″ two color Mehile, a dream of a press to run, It would produce sellable work after about the 5th sheet ran from a start-up. Definitely my most favorite press to have ran so far. Although I ended up making plans to move to Florida, so my time at Craftsman Printers was only a little over a year and a half long.
When I got to Florida in the summer of 1996, I was ready to work since I had always found it easy for press operators to get a job. As such, I got a job running what was supposedly “The Sweetest Press In The Shop”… as it turned out to be a 1964 Heidelberg 28” Single Color that required rubber bands to to on the levers to keep the rollers on and a squirt bottle of water to keep the dampener roller wet.
That job didn’t last long, especially after I had to stay until a fellow pressman getting his but kicked by an AB Dick 360 was finished. That wasn’t until about 9PM and I pretty much knew I wasn’t going back the next day… and I didn’t.
I ended up getting a job as Art Director of Creative Images in Melbourne, Florida and was in that career path for the next 19 years . As I went on to Shutterbug Magazine in 2000 and then my own creative design agency in 2002.
Spring of 2015, after the closing of my number one client and the slow drop in income over the years, no insurance and no retirement plan, I ventured back into the printing world yet again. And jumping light years ahead in technology as compared to the offset presses I am familiar with. At WS Packaging I ran a EFI Jetrion 4950, but even bigger than pictured here since it has the additional 5th color (white) print head and the extra capacity buffer.
When I last ran a letterpress machine in the early 80’s, I could have said that I would never run one again after moving on to Offset Presses. (Even though after I had been out of the “pressman” position for many years, I never thought I would even go back to running a press again before I ended up at W.S. Packaging) While I did enjoy and get some work satisfaction out of running the Jetrion 4950, I was growing very tired of working second shift. I saw to a classifieds add in early 2017 that had mention of Heidelberg Windmill knowledge. I replied that I did run a Windmill about 30 years ago… and as things worked out… I now work first shift and also run equipment that I did when I first entered in the life of a press operator.
My work task now are spread amongst a vintage trio of a Kluge Foil Stamping Press, Heidelberg Windmill Press and a Heidelberg Cylinder Press. I feel like a Craftsman again! I really enjoyed the experience and even just going to work knowing that I will be playing with 50+ year old machines all day.
Then….. on a cold day in January, the opportunity to be Press Supervisor at Advanced Label Works. Although I did very much enjoy the task of stamping & Die Cutting… the idea of getting back in the teaching arena and help other pressmen hone their craft to an art from, was too good to pass up. As a result, you can find me there in the Red Shirt & Kakis.