Chap 2: “One-Man Show”

“Go West young man, go West.”

Linotype machine with its “human chaperone”

As I plunged into the newspaper business, I inadvertently followed that advice, credited to the author Horace Greeley.

Here I was, at the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, a newspaper of some 10,000 circulation, serving all of DeKalb County some 60 miles straight west of Chicago, in flat Illinois corn country, not quite to the eastern edge of the prairie.

I was starting my job as sports editor, and about to find out what being basically a one-man sports department was all about.

The guy I was working for was C. Edward Raymond — bespectacled, nudging 50 and one of the four owners of the paper. He seemed to be the only one of the four both capable of putting out a newspaper and being enthusiastic about it.

He was the consummate community activist. I was to learn as the years went by that newspapers owners all seemed to have built-in eccentricities. In Eddie’s case, he forbade any mention in the Chronicle of  television — or even TV. He was, among the four owners, the one who actually ran the newsroom.

At the time, there was a network radio show called Steve Wilson of the Illustrated Press. Trumpeted at the beginning of each episode was “Freedom of the press is a is a flaming sword. Hold it high, use it justly, guard it well.”

In Eddie’s case, he was brandishing his sword against television.

Actually, over the next couple years, he would turn out to be as much my mentor as anyone.  He advised that after a couple years at the Chronicle, I’d want to move on to larger and greener pastures.

And that’s the way it turned out.

Halfway through those two years, however, I got married, and moved to Aurora, Ill., 33 miles away, where my wife would intern as a medical technologist.  On learning that I was planning to commute that distance to the Chronicle, Eddie, in his wisdom, insisted I’d never be able to hack it. This was enough to make me determined to prove him wrong.

Through the arctic-like northern Illinois winters, I skidded many times between Dekalb and Aurora, and spent one night sleeping on a table in the news room, but never missed a day on the job.

No one apparently stayed long as Sports Editor at the Chronicle. Just a few years back Hal Bruno had the job. After leaving, he eventually would become the nationally known political analyst at Newsweek Magazine. Owen “Bud” Nangel  would follow Bruno, but then leave , and as I stepped into the Chronicle news room would be the Chicago White Sox beat writer for the Chicago Daily News.

Then, immediately before my arrival, there had been another fellow, rumored to have been a bit sickly, who had left after a few months.

The Chronicle’s news room, on the second floor of an old brick building, was about the size of a typical school room. Wood floors led over to a bank of  tall windows facing south on Lincoln Highway, De Kalb’s main street running east-and-west through town.

Half a dozen or so wooden desks were scattered about. Mine was a bit off to the side, at the north end and facing an alcove where two women proofreaders held forth. A hint of tobacco smoke mixed with a slight odor of ink permeated the air. The intermittent clatter of a wire service teletype machine could be heard.

The advertising, photo and engraving areas were farther back on the second floor. Downstairs at the front of the building was circulation. Behind it was the composing room. For ages, composing rooms across America had been referred to as “the back shop.”  And at the Chronicle, it indeed was in back.

The printing press occupied the very rear of the building.

Just off the news room, in the front southwest corner of the building, was Managing Editor Bob Greenaway’s off ice. Bob and his dad, Frank Greenaway, formed half of the quartet of owners. Frank’s office was tucked away in the interior of the building and his responsibilities were not readily made apparent.

The fourth owner, Eddie’s brother Chuck, apparently oversaw the financial  aspects of the operation.

Looming large as you entered Bob Greenaway’s office, was the Associated Press teletype machine.

A hood-like contrivance housed it, and just above where paper would spit out news as it arrived, Greenaway had emblazoned on the hood “Backward, Oh backward time in thy flight, make me a boy again, just for tonight.”

This message seemed to paint a good part of Greenaway’s personality.  Among managing editors I have encountered in working on a half-dozen daily newspapers over a half-century span, Bob seemed to do be not too interested in being either a manager or an editor.

He spent an appreciable number of hours at Kishwaukee Country Club and actually was a pretty fair golfer.

Eddie Raymond was also a member at Kishwaukee and active in social affairs there. A tale about him involved him using one of the Chronicle’s Speed Graphic cameras, universally the camera of that day for newspapers.

Eddie had taken some dozen-and-a-half photos one day of an affair held at Kishwaukee, and after having the film run through the Chronicle’s dark room, was aghast to discover that he had nothing but blanks.

He’d forgotten to open what was called the focal plane shutter.

Eddie used this story as part of making sure I learned how to operate the Speed Graphic, an ungainly apparatus in the ancestry of cameras, but if operated correctly would take excellent photographs.

Speed camera
Speed Graphic Camera

But not in color.

During my two years in DeKalb, I took many photos with a Speed Graphic, There were a few blanks.

Stories, photos and other material those on the second floor wanted in the newspaper went downstairs to the back shop where it was prepared to be put on the press.

Entering the back shop, your attention was alerted to several large one-armed iron creatures, each with a human chaperone seated in front of it. These monsters appeared to be cast-offs from Jurassic Park’s central casting. They stood tall in front of their keepers, their single arm swinging forth and back every few seconds amid persistent clicks, grumbles and clacks.

Every few moments each was supplied lead. It would bite off a piece, masticate it into a small rectangular bar and spit it out into a metal tray that its human operator had at hand.

These rather ferocious but friendly contrivances were linotype machines. They and others of their klan would nearly disappear from the printing scene over the coming decades.

Nearby was an apparatus of similar size and demeanor called a Ludlow machine. While the linotypes produced trays full of pieces of lead sized to permit two-inch wide columns in the newspaper, cousin Ludlow would make larger pieces used to produce headline type.

At the center of this commotion was “Trigger,” a blond-haired man in his late 20s, collecting the trays of lead and turning them in pages-full ready to go on toward the press.

Every once in a while Trigger would turn toward the west-side of the back shop and shout “knockout Hooley,”  and Hooley Mills, a slim gray-haired linotype operator over there would acknowledge the mistake-free tray of type he and his big iron partner had typeset.

The two proofreaders upstairs had determined that the type had been set precisely as intended by the news room. A great majority of Hooley’s work produced knockouts.

Meanwhile, Trigger would be assembling pages, each consisting of type and zinc photo-engravings on iron tables called “turtles” with frames called “chases.”

Trigger then would us a wrench to tightly lock the ingredients into place so that when the page was slid from the turtle on to the next step in production none of the many pieces would drop out.

Once in a great while such a drop would occur, causing all the pieces to “pie” — in the nomenclature of the back shop – onto the floor.

Seated not far from Hooley Mills at her own linotype machine was Gladys Erber, a gray-haired bespectacled woman with a special type-setting talent. Each basketball season she would be busy setting type much smaller than that in the other news columns of the paper.

Gladys would be typesetting statistical summaries of each team. One team’s summary would occupy a half column on the left, the other team’s summary the half-column on the right.

The challenge for Gladys was to get a player’s name, plus three columns of figures on one half-column of type. A name like Jones was easy; a name such as Abromowicz wouldn’t.

After Gladys’ attentions, it might appear in the paper as Ab’m’cz, followed on the same lead slug by three figures: 10 3 13, representing field goals, free throws amid total points.

Over in the southwest corner of the room, at his desk, likely smoking a cigar, would be Harvey Robinson, an avuncular middle-age gentleman in charge of all the goings-on in the back shop.

I discovered that by beginning the job of sports editor in late June, I was starting out in a slower part of the year. High schools were not in session and athletics teams at Northern Illinois University, located at DeKalb, were not in their seasons. The one open page I was responsible for, Monday through Friday, was with filled wire stories, kids’ baseball, a young women’s softball team –the Gas Oilers – and of course, as Bob Greenaway made sure — golf .

By late August, the DeKalb Township High football team was practicing.

I went out to take a look.

I had just spent four years with the Michigan State football team, had been awarded a varsity letter as manager and had taken advanced courses in football from the coaching staff, and Michigan State was defending national champion. Writing about the DeKalb football team was something I could get my teeth into.

So I did.

I came back to the paper and wrote about what I saw on the DeKalb practice field. DeKalb was to open its season against Hall Township High. Both were   supposed to be pretty good teams.

My analysis of DeKalb was specific and not too complimentary.  Both the coach, Rudy Novak, and the players were quite upset about what I put in the Chronicle.

I predicted that Hall would win. Rudy called and we talked. We agreed I would come out and explain my article and that maybe I shouldn’t have been so critical.

Hall Township beat DeKalb the next week.

Rudy and I became good friends and I wrote a monthly column about area high school football under his name for the Chicago Daily News.

Most of those in the news room seldom ventured downstairs and out to the back shop to see just what was going on.

Among these was Giles Findley, a one-time reporter for the Associated Press who was spending his later years, now for the Chronicle, on a slower general-assignment track.  The less-hectic news treadmill had not diluted Giles’ cynical outlook which seemed to be a trademark of many veteran  newsmen.

Not very often, but occasionally when the phone on Giles’ desk would ring, it would be the Dekalb County Sheriff’s office telling him that at a railroad crossing  few miles south of town the Burlington Zephyr had beaten a vehicle to a crossing.

This was a moment when my duties expanded beyond those of a sports editor. I would grab a the nearest Speed Graphic and Giles and I would hasten in Giles’ car a few miles down to where a local highway crossed the Burlington Northern tracks. On arrival, we’d see the carnage caused when the driver of a vehicle failed to gauge the 80- mph speed of the Zephyr.

Only a few of the pictures I’d take would be printable in the Chronicle, owing to the number of body parts strewn for more than a quarter-mile along the tracks. Giles likely would have comments both fatalistic and philosophical.

The Chronicle had one full-time photographer. I was the other one, unless a free-lancer or Eddie Raymond took pictures.

One early morning there was a fire at the local Wurlitzer plant on the east side o f town and I was pressed into service. Again armed with a Speed Graphic, film holders and flash bulbs, I went to the scene and trudged in my tennis shoes rather intrepidly into the charred redolent skeletal remains of the plant, stepping over fallen timbers and beneath hanging beams, oblivious of fire lines or impending dangers. The place actually was still smoldering.

What emerged later from the dark room were really great pictures. That fell well short, however, of tempting me to give up sports writing for photography.

One of the fixtures in the Chronicle newsroom, seated alongside Giles Finley, was Rollie Wallace, a fortyish rather portly good old guy who covered city government and other assignments. Rollie was related to the owners of the paper, but I never learned exactly how.

At a couple of desks over in the southeast corner of the room near the windows were the society editor and her assistant. One or two additional people would be on staff from time to time to cover a variety of assignments.

The capacity of the Chronicle’s printing press was not equal to the number of pages required in the middle of the week, partially from grocery ads, so two separate press runs were needed. Therefore, on a Wednesday afternoon, nearly all newsroom employees, among others, would gather in the basement to stuff one section of the paper inside the other, preparatory to that evening’s edition being circulated.

This session generated good conversation, banter and spirit among the staff.

In the early summer of 1954, with my wife’s med-tech internship finished at Copley Memorial Hospital in Aurora, and with two years chock full of getting sports stories onto newspaper pages in DeKalb behind me, I found some greener newspaper pastures in Elyria, Ohio at a paper with three times the circulation, and lo — with Chronicle also in its name!

They told me I was selected from fifty applicants.

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