by John Howells and Marion Dearman
from Harry S. New, an old-time reporter from Indianapolis
Those were the great days. The ‘jour’ printer of my early association was as distinctive an American character as could be found. Neither the cowboy of the West, nor the lumberjack of the North, was more certainly a type of American development than was the itinerant printer. There were so many of them that the appearance of the crew in the composing room in any of the larger offices changed with kaleidoscopic frequency.
They came from everywhere and nowhere—wafted out one after another after a brief sojourn as a sub. They were known from Boston to San Francisco; from St. Paul to New Orleans. Any town was home. The only ties that were recognized were those that bound them to the trade, and the only certain and indispensable possession was the ITU journeyman’s card.
I can remember many of them who made their appearance from time to time
at irregular periods, coming from nowhere and headed for the same place.
Carefree and careless, prone to make too equal a division of time between
the cases and the ‘Dutchman’s’. They were days of camaraderie and good
“What paper hasn’t he worked on? Whose manuscript hasn’t he set?
“But while we live, they cannot beat us out of the memories of the past. Your printer of today is matter-of-fact, unimaginative, and his memory is not cultivated as a store-house of erudition. But the old-timer, what an imagination, what a memory he possessed. And the greatest enjoyment in this world is the possession of a memory which can delve into the past and bring bubbling forth the many pleasantries of bygone days. And to the mind clothed with the genius of poetic imagination all of the things which seemed to be hardships in the olden time have drifted into the pleasantry class. Of all the talents we are endowed with, we can be most thankful for memory and imagination.
“There are many memories swirling back to me to-night out of the vast depths of the clamoring years agone, but one of the sweetest is that I carried a card of membership in the International Typographical Union, and another is a jumble of various means of free transportation, “side door Pullmans,” baggage car fronts, mail car vestibules, upper decks, bumpers, tenders and 91 engine pilots. I must omit for truth’s sake, “riding the rods,” as I always considered that beneath the dignity of an artisan whose work was to preserve all other arts, and in this most of our great craft agree.
“And let me tell you that all that the schools, law offices and Courts were ever able to do for me in the line of education was but secondary to that secured in a few months of box car touring. That was why when you picked up the old-time newspaper, it proved a joy to the eyes and a delight to the soul. Most of the men employed in its make-up had “toured” in primitive fashion.
They had imbibed their knowledge by hard knocks, and they knew all the styles prevalent in newspaper work throughout the land. To be able to catch on at a moment’s notice and make good, one had to set some errorless matter, and oft times edit it as well while he worked. And the proof-reader too was generally one of the same brand—a man with “an eye like an eagle.” You could read page after page understandingly then on almost any rag in the country and the most of it was like Dana’s best. But in this day and generation of rapidity run riot, you cannot read over four lines in any paper without stopping to ruminate over what in the world could have been written in the copy that the Linotype man gazed upon, when he clicked off that meaningless rot which now confronts you.
Of course you of the newer cycle will say that we are old fogies and too hanged particular. We had to know how to spell, but you fellows can blame it on the Linotype. We had to emit a cuss word now and then, but you gently tinkle your fingers down the keyboard and wind up the line with those wonderful modern cabalisms: ETAOIN and SHRDLU.
“Of course the old-timer chewed tobacco, but it was a gentlemanly looking fine cut usually, and not the alfalfa now handed out. And he was not averse to a drop of red liquor now and then, but the liquor of that day is just as scarce now as is the old-time tramp-printer. No, he didn’t bother the churches much, but his word was generally as good as the preacher man’s. And he gambled in a quiet way, too. Who hasn’t jephed with the quads, when there wasn’t a nickel in the bunch, to see who should make the attempt for credit at the corner dispensary? And then among the roadsters, when no quads were handy, who hasn’t played “crum or no-crum” to determine which should make the next back door invasion and procure the breakfast hand-out?
“Oh! When the leaves bud and the balmy zephyrs blow in the springtime, how the old memories will cling and cluster, and how the oldtime roadster will wish to cast off his respectability and glide back upon the road. It is well for him that he does not attempt it, for the rudeness of the shock he would receive therefrom might bring a quickened wakefulness that would forever disgust him with the pleasures of memory and imagination.
“The old-time tramp-printer is for the most part filling some unmarked grave. The scattered remnants of the tribe remind one of the disappearing American Indian. But the world was better that he had his being and lived and breathed. Many was the bit of sunshine he scattered. Many the smile he brought to faces usually wreathed in clouds—his last dinner he always divided. When he had two shirts or two collars, the one not then in use was always at the service of his neighbor, and the whole world was his neighborhood.
“He is gone or fast going. Peace be to his ashes and memory. God bless that type of humanity. We will shed no tears, for tears were things he shunned. But drink he loved, and so in keeping with that love which distinguished him, let us drink to the memory of the old tramp-printer.”
Pages by John Howells and Marion Dearman, authors of "Tramp Printers"
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