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A Glance Into Reporter’s Past

John Rico

AMUSING NOW — PRACTICAL THEN — If an employer today told a young man to go out into the back yard coal shed and bring in a bucket of coal to keep the fire going, he would probably accuse the employer of indulging in some kind of hallucinatory drug. But, believe it or not, that was the first order I received when I started to work for the Vacaville Reporter back in 1924.

And to keep the room warm, the stove pipe was made to meander in many long directions so that not too much of the heat would escape into the outside atmosphere.

There were no such orders as “push the button and start the press.” It was “crank the gasoline engine” and away went dozens of pulleys, a clanging of belts, the frustration of uncoupled belt fasteners, and the squeaking of an un-oiled pulley. Every pulley, all attached to the ceiling, along with the long belts were in motion even though the only piece of equipment needed to be running was a small printing press.

The rats were a problem too. The Reporter being located next to a restaurant, and a candy store, rodents delighted in visiting the office and chewing away at the composition rubber rollers used on the printing presses. The rats had no intention of attempting to digest this rubber-based compound, but just wanted to keep their teeth “Crest clean” by their constant nibbling.

And then there was the time we transposed two headings on separate articles. One of our customers advertised “Garbage Hauling,” and another, bereaved over the loss of a family member, had us run a “Card of Thanks.” We switched the two headings.

And we had all the conveniences available in those days. Printers always have dirty hands, and to keep them washed clean we had to step outside the back door, pull the pump handle a few times, grab a bar of rough lava soap and scrub, and -scrub, and scrub. And to use the boys’ room, which was also a combination girls’ room, we also had to step outside the back door, and you can well imagine the shock when hot flesh came into contact with a cold toilet seat.

Air conditioning was in its infancy and -beyond the reach of the poorer people, but we did manage to scrounge a small fan and point it into a direction in which it did the most good.

The illumination in the plant was the greatest. It consisted of light bulbs, screwed into reflectors, and hung on long wires so that they would be moved from one section to another. It could well have been called a traveling light system.

Most of the news copy came into the office in long-hand, and it ended up with the typesetter in that shape. By guess and by luck, most of the names used in the articles did turn out spelled properly, although at times there were a few mistakes.

The late Ed Cox, well known Vacaville banker and ex-mayor of Vacaville, put his -impressions into perspective when he said:

“I don’t read the Vacaville Reporter for the news. I read it to see if they have it correct.”

We had fun in those days with the “tramp printers and their tales of travel and their exploits. There was one man we called “Jesus,” and he made the days pass interestingly and quickly. There was “Hobo Jo” and his chewing tobacco mess which he made in one corner of the room.

Today we have new, modern printing machines, computers, and a special shell stocked with aspirin and a myriad of headache pills.

You just can’t stop progress.