"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My newspaper died, but not the smells, the memories

Waurika's red brick streets
Memories have two edges, and the recent death of the Waurika News-Democrat brought them back, things long forgotten or repressed. Yes there is nostalgia and smiles for the good ones, but also regrets and tears for the tragedies and "might have beens." There's no use living in the past, but it's good to be reminded of where you've been, of who you are deep down.
The late great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury said that everything that happens to you becomes compost that will eventually bring forth something new.
Waurika added a lot of compost to our family's lives--we would not be who we are today without those dozen years of memories.  They  cobble unevenly like tires over the red brick streets of Waurika.
We bought into the  News-Democrat because we knew there was promise there. Waurika Lake was a-building; the town seemed to be growing; we were young and dreaming of owning our own newspaper; there was a good church; pretty good schools; friendly people. 
The iconic red brick Rock Island depot, now the library, from the caboose
So here are some of the piecemeal memories that jumped back into my consciousness when I learned the paper had been killed. The old red brick building at 117 W. Broadway with large windows open to let some circulation int0 the high metal ceiling's dusty interior. 
Only one room was air conditioned for the new offset typesetter, with old type tray racks converted to pasteup stands.
Out front was a huge counter, behind which were shelves of office supplies.  Don Morrison had a typewriter and a typewriter table out there for his "office," where he wrote most of the news and his weekly column, "Keynotes."
That was the front shop. Behind a divider that rose halfway to the ceiling was the majority of the building--the "backshop" where the old newspaper press had once been before the conversion. The press pit was filled with sand. That's where we spent many Thursdays and Fridays after the paper was "out," running  the offset Chief 15 and Heidelberg letterpress job presses, printing jobs for merchants and the county, school and city--much of what today would be done on a copier machine.
The red brick newspaper building at 117 W. Broadway
Most of all I remember the smells--a combination of dust, years, stacks of printing paper of different sizes, ink, presswash and lead type and the heat of a still functioning Linotype, the standby letterpress typesetter where "hot metal" was literal.
When I walk into  the "backshop" of almost any small newspaper, or a print shop, I'm immediately back home, yet I can't describe that smell. I've asked for years what the smell of printers' ink and presswash and paper smells like, and nobody has been able to tell me. Usually, you can compare the smell of something to something else. I'm stumped.  
You can add the smells of the darkroom too. Developer, photoflo, hypo, fixer, film. The News-Democrat's darkroom was in the back of the building, where I spent many hours developing film and printing photographs, or using a vertical camera to make negatives for offset printing jobs.
Next to the darkroom in one corner was the toilet, partitioned off  with a wooden stall, and outside a big ceramic double sink, with scrubbers and grit to try to clean your hands from the ink  on your hands from offset job printing, and trays for washing photos. It was almost impossible to get the ink out of the grains of your finger tips and from under your nails. I think it's still there, deep inside me.
In the other corner was the old caster room, where the "hellbox" had been to remelt the used metal type for the Linotype. Now it was home to decades of yellowing copies of the newspaper, bound by year, termites and time eating away at the brittle pages. That smell is also distinctive.
The once vacant red brick Rock Island depot  is now the town library. The once active red brick News-Democrat building is now vacant. Red brick streets cobble many more memories to come.

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