There’s a collection of framed newspapers hanging along a hallway on the main floor at The Herald-Dispatch, 946 5th Ave., Huntington. A display of historical front-page headlines from past papers, each printed on outdated machines that kept you in touch with the world until the last paper ran through on April 3, 2016.
There’s coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, the Point Pleasant Silver Bridge collapse on Dec. 15, 1967, the first moon landing on July 20, 1969, the Challenger space shuttle explosion on Jan. 28, 1986 — over a dozen in all, displayed in a building with so much history that’s now up for sale.
“It’s an end of an era,” said Vernon Lovejoy, pressroom manager. “I knew it was coming. Everyone did, and there’s nothing anyone could do to stop it. It was probably a combination of operating expenses, manpower and merging into the 21st century.”
Lovejoy has been employed at The Herald-Dispatch for 43 years. He was hired as a young 25-year-old apprentice who is now a gray-haired journeyman who deserves an oak leaf cluster next to his name tag. He’s the go-to individual for repairs and upkeep on most everything mechanical at the paper. For the past 20 years, there was one piece of equipment in particular that has consumed the larger part of each shift until it was silenced four years ago: the overgrown mechanical printing giant now sleeping in the basement, a Wood Metropolitan press installed in 1957.
“That old press down there became family over the years,” Lovejoy said. “The machine had a heart and soul. It never mattered that it growled, shook, vibrated, dripped oil and sounded like a steam train speeding by. It still had a unique personality despite all the attention it needed, and everyone who worked on it felt the same.”
The sign hanging near the entrance to the basement door reads “Hearing Protection Required,” and there’s a good reason for it. Using a decibel meter, the reading with the press in operation recorded an ear-deafening 120 decibels. Those assigned to the daily operation of this press not only required hearing protection and steel toe shoes but special chemically treated clothing because of the lubrication to keep the press operating.
“Yes, it was messy,” Lovejoy said. “In addition to the automatic oilers, there were grease fittings that needed weekly attention and other areas that required daily oiling before printing began. There were also areas that received automatic sprays with a fine mist of oil that got on most everything.”
So what did it take to get the basement floor rumbling at the start of a new day that usually began long before the rooster had his coffee?
“Preventive maintenance was an ongoing procedure,” Lovejoy said. ”There were checks and procedures required before turning on the five 75 horsepower motors. The typing plates needed placed in the individual drums. Normally, it took seven journeymen to keep the press in operation. Loading the 1,500-pound rolls of paper was a task in itself. To give you an idea how much paper was in a roll, it would reach from this building to the Huntington Mall.”
Each roll of paper measured 50 inches across and 36 inches in diameter. They were loaded on steel flat cars that rolled on tracks in the basement floor and pushed to the press and manually positioned in place. Week days normally took 2.5 rolls of paper that were delivered on flatbed trucks from a warehouse on Route 2; the Sunday paper used more. There was also a 2,500-gallon tank of ink to make sure they didn’t run out.
“Paper jams averaged twice a week,” Lovejoy said. “Many broken parts were impossible to locate. When that happened, we had a machine shop repair or remake them. There was an identical press in Buffalo, New York, that we got lots of parts from when they stopped using it.”
Most already know The Herald-Dispatch is now printed on a press in Charleston that also prints the Charleston Gazette-Mail. In fact, that press can run both the Huntington and Charleston paper simultaneously. It also prints the Tri-State Shopper, the Putnam Herald, the Wayne County News, the Logan Banner, the Williamson Daily News, the Coal Valley News, the Pulse, the Metro and the Ashland Daily Independent. It does this cheaper with less noise, time and problems than the old Huntington press.
For now, the old press sits alone in silence along with the conveyor system that carried newspapers upstairs for delivery — an end of an era faded into obscurity and no longer needed. Like the manual typewriter, rotary dial telephone and the Brownie Hawkeye box camera — it’s called progress. Lovejoy says they are open to offers, if you have the means to move it. There are even several boxes of miscellaneous nuts and bolts left over for unscheduled repairs, a few containers of oil and some extra parts that go with it to sweeten the deal.