Here’s to Flyboys, Printer Talk, and Web Breaks
In a previous blog post, I referred to catching the printing bug as having printer’s ink in your blood. There is something about printing that gets one hooked. You can stray away from printing, but eventually you’ll circle back around and find yourself umbilically attached.
In my case, my printing career began right out of high school. I heard from a friend that a newspaper printer was hiring. I was the second to lowest employee on the totem pole, just ahead of janitor. I was a jogger. I think the hourly wage in 1968 was around $.75, maybe a buck and a quarter, I don’t really remember for sure. A jogger’s job was to stand at the delivery end of the press and scoop his hand between the conveyor belts, gather a stack of papers, and place them on the string bundler. There was a kicker that would knock a paper a little askew every 50th signature. This way we knew how many papers we were stacking. When the right quantity was reached the flyboy, (another name for jogger) pressed the foot pedal on the bundler. Heaved the bundle by hand over to a pallet, and scrambled back to the press to do it all over again.
Soon, because I looked bright enough, I suppose, they began teaching me how to make plates, hang the plates on the press, shaft the paper rolls, and fill ink trays.
It was dirty work, and because I was still the low man, I usually pulled the dirtiest jobs. When I think about it, I can still remember the smell of the developer, the ink, and even the paper. The developer fluid was the most pungent. It made the entire press area smell bad. With today’s presses, they’ve either done away with plates, or plates are processed in a totally contained plate processor that doesn’t smell. Not at all. Whew — I thank you, my nose thanks you, and my clothes really thank whoever invented that dandy machine.
Part of the reason I chose a career in printing was because I thought it was a stable industry. After all, people will always need to get things printed — right? What I didn’t count on were all the technological changes in the business. Now they happen so quickly that it puts a kink my neck as I whirl around just trying to figure out where they are coming from next.
It feels like Han Solo negotiating the asteroid field in the movie Star Wars. When he found what he thought was a nice safe cave to land in, it turned out he was very, very wrong, and barely escaped with his ship, friends, and life. I’m not saying that printing is life threatening it’s just difficult to know which way to go.
I was doing a press check at a web offset printer the other day. The presses are ever-so-more sophisticated than in my cub days. Many of the adjustments can now be done off of a computer console which keeps the press operators from running back and forth turning ink keys or adjusting registration.
Other things have also improved, for example, web breaks were common in my day. A web break occurs when the paper coming off the roll snaps apart. Snap is the right word but it doesn’t do justice to the event. It’s like a starting gun was fired. Pressmen scrambled like the Keystone Cops to get to and whack the big red STOP button. The goal was to limit how much re-webbing they’d have to do. No one breathed until they found out how much tail was left to splice before the whole (*@#&) press had to be re-webbed.
If the broken web wasn’t caught fast enough, it would take precious time, and many four-letter, red-faced printer words to fix it. Mule skinners had nothing on printers, I can tell you.
Today’s web presses have sophisticated roll changing systems that not only automatically splice, but keep a constant tension, so that the web won’t suddenly jerk when a roll bump suddenly happens. Have web breaks been completely eliminated? Ha, it just means that they happen less frequently. Are there fewer emissions of printer talk? Double ha! Web breaks aren’t the only things that go wrong. I like to say that printing has so many things that can go wrong it’s a miracle anything goes right.
One thing that hasn’t changed though is the job of jogger. The joggers are still there at the end of the press scooping up the printed press signatures and taking them to the pallet. My hat’s off to joggers. At least something, so far, has remained the same.
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