Tim's View: Days as an indentured servant at the newspaper
By Tim Robinson
Co-Publisher, Robinson Newspapers
In those early days, when our dad acquired the White Center News, we often accompanied him to the office, usually on weekday mornings in the summer. An immediate side-trip took us to the post office on the main street in town where he collected a twine-wrapped bundle of letters the size of a loaf of bread.
At his office he would separate the mail, often discarding pieces of mail unopened. I noticed this and questioned the action. Dad said "junk mail" to me. I had no idea what that meant as receiving mail was as foreign to me as visiting relatives in Portland, OR. In other words, not often.
While dad was slicing open the select few letters using a "letter opener" that looked a bit like a butter knife, I was picking through his waste basket reading the return addresses on the envelopes. State Farm, Holden Accounting, Riverby Construction, etc., etc. None of the names conjured up an image for me. I was ten. I trusted dad to know what he wanted. I was kinda jealous.
Many, many years later, when dad became a user of email on a small laptop (in his lap) he had a AOL account. He used to tell us that email saved his life. It was his connection to the outside world when he became less trusting of his legs and often stayed in the safety of his home. He would sign on to the AOL account...waiting patiently for the little beeps that indicated the process was opening on his screen. A computer voice announced..."You've got mail". He smiled. I was jealous all over again.
On the table behind the octagon windows of the NEWS office sat a special machine. It was blue-gray-green about the size of a 1980's VCR with a drum roller on one side and a cylinder with four small clips to attach an 8 x 10 photograph. The machine was called a Fairchild engraver. Its function was to scan the photograph with an electric light. The image was transferred to an engraving needle on the drum side that contained a special curved plastic plate, receptive to make a series of gradient lines. Those lines reproduced the picture. That plastic engraving was used to make a printable photograph on a letterpress. The letterpress was housed in Burien, at the Highline Times offices on 152nd Street, next to Seattle Trust and Savings (Now Frankie's Bistro)
Also in the backroom behind the "shop door" was a small room with a unique machine. It was taller than a 10 year old boy and as wide as a filing cabinet. It looked like an upright drill press in a garage. This machine was used to impress small letters and numbers onto a single steel plate the size of a business card. Our dad said it was an "Addresso-graph". We made address plates to subscribers who wanted the paper mailed to them.
Lastly there was yet a smaller room all the way back in the rear of the building. The size of a single closet, it housed something akin to a pot-bellied stove with a stack and pipe that went up and out the back wall of the building. This stove was used to melt lead used by the Lino-Type operator who key-punched the copy that went into the newspaper. There was a lead ingot that hung from a hook on the back of the typesetting unit. The small room was where we labored on more than one 90 degree day during our summer break from school. The room itself was well over 100 degrees while we stuffed the small brick lined stove with old, inky strips of used type. Once hot, we scraped off the slag and poured the mercury-like liquid into the molds, to be cooled and used again by the typesetters. More than one pair of U.S. Keds were ruined by hot, spilled lead.