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Author Topic: Sid and Ira  (Read 346 times)

Chris Kern

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Sid and Ira
« on: June 21, 2018, 10:30:38 am »

Attached: a couple of individual shots of Sid Varney and Ira Holmes, the two subjects of the photo from 50 years ago that I posted in an earlier thread.

It required an impressively large number of perfectly-synchronized motions for Sid to operate the keyboard of the Linotype machine and cast the "slugs" of hot lead that would make up the lines of type in the college newspaper, and when it was my turn to serve as night editor I would watch in awe at how easy he made the process seem.  If I bribed him with a few beers to drink while he was working, Sid sometimes would break all the rules and allow me to try setting a little type myself.  (Students were not permitted to touch any of the pressroom machinery that used molten lead.)

Sid was so accomplished at his craft that he could perform these complex, coordinated operations without thinking about them individually, which allowed him to absorb the content of the paper "copy," clipped above the keyboard, that he was setting into type.  There were few topics about which he didn't have opinions, and he wasn't shy about expressing them—nor the least bit intimidated from debating the smart-ass undergraduates who were his nominal superiors in the paper's hierarchy.

Ira was as taciturn as Sid was talkative: a stereotypical northern New Englander.  He was friendly enough, but all business.  Whenever Sid got distracted by a conversation with a student editor, Ira made no effort to hide his irritation.  There was work to do before the paper could start rolling off the press.  I got the impression there was always a certain friction between Sid and Ira—their personalities were so different—but they mostly functioned quite well as a team.  Ira waited out Sid's occasional rants with a wry smile, and continued calmly doing his job.  I don't remember Ira ever taking even a sip of beer while he was working.  Given that his job involved operating the heavy and temperamental antiquated printing press by himself, that was probably a good thing.

Though he typically didn't talk much with us students, Ira took time out from his work to explain to me the real-time calculations he needed to perform to assemble each page.  The page makeup we had sketched for him on paper rarely exactly matched the pieces of type and art that he needed to insert into the steel frame of the page "chase," so getting everything to fit involved relocating some lines of type, inserting additional space between others ("leading"), and occasionally informing the night editor that the clever headline he was so proud of simply wasn't going to fit.

(1) Sid at the Linotype Keyboard
(2) Ira Assembling the Pages


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Re: Sid and Ira
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2018, 10:49:54 am »

Interesting stuff, Chris. Many years ago Manitou Springs had a newspaper called the Pikes Peak Journal. It was run by two fairly elderly and very pleasant women. One of them was a whiz on the linotype. The room where she worked was just inside a door next to the sidewalk and she used to leave the door open while she was working. I remember standing there for long periods and watching her set type. It was fascinating. At the time I was doing some stuff on a hand press with foundry type. I wished I could have used a linotype and saved a lot of time.


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Re: Sid and Ira
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2018, 05:21:24 pm »

The pictures, the story, love it!
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