Friday, May 20, 2011

The last devil in Dolores

Practicing the craft the old fashioned way

By Rob Carrigan,

Getting in a rut has been described as nothing but a grave with both ends kicked out.
But slowing down, taking a look around, remembering …
It is an inexpensive, entertaining, comforting and valuable exercise in my game.
Among my earliest memories, oddly enough, are times spent in a newspaper office. I say ‘odd’ because, I have, for the most part, spent pretty much of my entire life in one newspaper office or another. Given that experience, you would think something else, other than ‘the business,’ would stand out in my collective recollection.
But the ‘ink in veins’ description is real. And ‘the business’ has changed so much in the last 45 years, I can barely recognize the newspaper office of my misspent youth.
When I talk with most current practitioners of the craft, their eyes glaze over, and a blank stare appears when I start to discuss the world of burning-hot lead, pouring pigs, the clang and crunch of the linotype, of ‘turtles,’ chase, and quoins.
But that is the world of the first newspaper I came in contact with.
The first time I set foot in the Dolores Star, I might have been all of three years old. My next-door neighbors, Larry and Marilyn Pleasant owned “The Star” at that time and their son Andy, was a few months younger than I.
Andy and I played in the attic balcony office, somewhat out of danger of running our tiny fingers through the machinery in busy office below. The Star then, was in between John Lambert’s (the one-legged blacksmith) and Mary Akin’s little shop, but with growing job printing and the tendency for the Pleasants to collect stuff, things were pretty tightly crammed in there. A huge, white, clapboard cabinet contained a few toys in the overhead office but the real entertainment was below.
As the business grew, (and the amount of stuff collected), it became increasingly necessary to find a bigger home for Dolores Star.
The Exon Mercantile Building, built by old man Exon shortly after the town moved up from Big Bend in 1891, was just across what we called Main Street then, and on the corner.
It was a typical turn-of-century, brick building, with decorative cornice work and wood floors, an office up front that looked out on the sidewalk though large windows, and a massive open room with wooden shelves that ran up the walls all the way to the 12-foot pressed tin ceilings. There was another long room extending the length of the building on the side behind the office; and wooden locker-like storage rooms near the back of the open room. Behind them was my favorite ‘old building’ feature of all time — the rope and pulley-powered platform elevator to the basement. Out the back door on the downriver side, was another room that had been the old smoke house. A barn and assorted sheds filled out the property toward the back.
The move of “The Star” building to what formerly constituted Exon Mercantile was quite a deal, as I remember it. Linotype machines, and presses, and other heavy printing equipment rolled across the street on iron pipe, that was moved from the back of the machines, up to the front. Tons of iron inched forward across the street, pushed and pulled by straining men and a few women. Amazingly, I think moving the big stuff took less than a week. But for years afterward, additional items (some involving the newspaper or printing business, but much of it, local historic arcana) continued to collect in the sprawling buildings at the corner of Fourth and Main.
I remember everything from ore buckets to Victrolas; abandoned post offices, to entire antique telephone circuits; sheep crooks, mineral samples, old bottles, insulators, WWII scuba gear, old magazines, old-fashioned irons, eye glasses, dentistry tools … and the list went on. It was a virtual ‘valuable junk’ paradise spread out over nearly half a city block and interspersed with various-era, still-functioning, newspaper and printing equipment. I loved the place.
 Time spent there was a ‘living history’ project, as they still produced the paper on one of the last remaining hot type operations in the state. They still etched photo plates on wood blocks in the meat locker turned dark room. Several linotypes still clanked and clunked, and burning lead burrowed its way into the wooden floorboards. The world of chase and “turtle” and “hell box” and “pouring pigs” was still alive as it had been at the turn of the century. And I was the closest thing to a ‘printer’s devil’ as 1970 had ever seen.

Photo Information:
1. The flat-bed press at the Dolores Star with 'Shorty' Lobato feeding the maw and Marilyn Pleasant catching papers.
2. Marilyn cranking out copy, later to be set by linotype, as she practices the craft.
3. Even when printed, the paper still needed to get delivered, hopefully without incident. Marilyn and two of the youngest and last devils in Dolores, wait for resolution of a small Star crisis, at the time.
4.  Some of the living history of the place included at least one abandoned post office as Bill Bowden and Larry Pleasant demonstrate.

Photos courtesy of Tim Pleasant.



Sherry said...

Rob, I feel I know you and lived so much of what you describe, you really bring Dolores and the past alive. Wish you were Editor & owner of the Dolores Star now days but too bad for us, you are big time now. Keep up your wonderful posts.

Anonymous said...

Yep, and when we're gone, that elevator will probably still be there….the only vestiges of the printing equipment that I know of are in my office.

Thanks for writing that, Rob.

Tim Pleasant

angie marin said...

my dad bought the produce scale,national cash register (1904) display cabinets and a pack saddle (random items) from Larry Pleasant. They were in the basement of the Exxon building. I think he paid $100 we used the cash register at the bar at the lodge in Stoner and the display cabinets were part of the office counter. When we came to California my dad insisted we bring the register and scale( Mr. Pleasant had the original shipping crate for the register) I know my dad tried to purchase it but never happpend. Some 40 plus years latter the scale is in my kitchen and the cash register is in our family room. They remind me of my childhood,and the joy of growing up in a small town. Thank you for keeping the history alive. angie (clark) marin (parents ruth and henry clark)