A Well-Made Hunk of History

For more than 107 years, since before Oklahoma statehood, my newspaper was printed in Ada, in the building where I work. The room that housed the press even burned once, in 1959, destroying our first press. Recently, however, as our News King press got quite old and parts got harder and harder to find, our corporate offices decided to migrate the printing of our paper to a much newer, more capable press in Norman, Oklahoma.

The aging News King press sits silent; part of the reason we shut it down and went to other facilities was that several of the people who could repair it recently retired.
The aging News King press sits silent; part of the reason we shut it down and went to other facilities was that several of the people who could repair it recently retired.

One important result of this is that we are selling our press, possibly to a Mexican newspaper, which will leave a huge empty space in our building. Suggestions of making it into a racket ball court have, as of yet, gone unheeded. The other result is that our news staff, understanding that we are seeing history pass before us, has been trying to record and preserve this important part of our legacy.

Last week Brenda, our associate editor, and I went prowling around in the now-abandoned production area. She bore a notepad and a roll of tape to put “Do Not Throw Away” signs on all kinds of stuff, like a rack of old newspapers from the 1940s. I, on the other hand, was sort of scouting for anything down there that I could actually use. Sadly, most of the junk down there was junk. I did manage to salvage two large dispensers of hand lotion, so now I am the office go-to guy for the dry-handed.

We scouted and scrounged, until we got to the very center of the downstairs portion of our building. There we found two rooms that had gone unused since about 1998, the year we got our first imagesetter. Starting that year, instead of the old school X-acto knife and wax paste-up composition, we began to use today’s modern desktop publishing. The first piece of hardware we mothballed, which Brenda and I had finally come across, was the process camera. This device is the size of a compact car, and was used to rephotograph everything from the images we put in the paper to the pages of the paper themselves.

One thing on the process camera that caught my eye right away was the rotating lensboard, which held two APO-Nikkor large format enlarging lenses. I removed them from the lensboard in anticipation of displaying them with other items Brenda and I are collecting for a historic exhibit in our trophy case at the entrance to the building. After hunting a bit more in the flotsam of 13 years of neglect, I found the boxes for them, on which were notes indicating we purchased them in 1974.

The lenses are a 305mm f/9 and a 480mm f/9 Nikkors, and they are the only lenses I have ever held or even seen that stop down to f/128. They both appear to be in excellent shape, and were made in the middle of Nikon’s peak of optical and manufacturing dominance., and are therefore beautifully made. The bigger of the two is the size of a cereal bowl, and has a statesmanlike heft to it. It’s a pleasure to have them and make certain they are preserved.

The APO-Nikkor 480mm and 305mm lenses that were on our process camera are soon to be part of our small newspaper museum.
The APO-Nikkor 480mm and 305mm lenses that were on our process camera are soon to be part of our small newspaper museum.
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2 Comments

  1. The presses at our main office downtown at the Houston Chronicle have been offline for a good number of years now… When we bought out the Post (the only other paper in town) years ago they had nice new digital presses and we switched to them… The other day I went back by the office to visit a few old editors and walk the halls of my once second home for a few hours… I was shocked to see the presses being torn apart… They are being sold for scrap and melted down I was told… I think a small part of me died a slow death that afternoon as I sat across the street at a diner and watched them work to remove the presses… After growing up and watching the paper being printed on those presses as a child then shooting for the same paper for over 16 years of my life… It was like watching an old friend die a sad death and not being able to help stop it… I miss the line of trucks picking up the morning edition late each night that used to greet the late workers at the paper… I’ve moved on from my paper now and I love my new career as a traveling sports photographer with my whole heart… But a part of me will always be back in those days of tight deadlines and the smell of ink late at night as I left work… It is the memories of what a real newspaper was that shall always help fuel my love for my photography and the lifestyle that is photojournalism.

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  2. f/128! Wow.

    This brought back some pleasant memories for me from my time at the Seminole Producer, one of the few remaining small town papers in Oklahoma with its own press. I imagine it won’t be long before they follow the same route and start printing elsewhere.

    (And The Producer still used an old camera like that to shoot pages until the late oughts — ’00s.)

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