by John Howells and Marion Dearman
(Discovery Press, copyright 1996)


The following is a speech given at the annual banquet of Schenectady Typographical Union, May 20, 1911. The tramp printer’s words of 99 years ago sound familiar. If one substitutes the word “computer” for the word “Linotype” his speech would be contemporary. It would appear, however, that his lament for the vanished tramp printer was somewhat premature. At the time, the economy was wallowing in the doldrums. But two more eras of plenty were yet in store for tramp printers: the 1920’s and post-World War II.

The Box Car Typographer

“There are only a few of us left. And we old-timers must acknowledge with a mournful sigh that the craft and its craftsmen have undergone wonderful evolutions. We charge it up to the Linotype, but we must confess that there are some other causes. Alas, the world is changing, or rather has changed. To turn back thirty years puts us in another world completely. The telephone was a struggling infant, the typewriter an upper case monstrosity, the arc light a coming possibility, the touring car a weird unknown, wireless telegraphy a dream, and aerial navigation worse than three unknown quantities.

“But what need had we for any such creations? For had we not the companionship of the peregrinating printer, the typographical tourist or the box car ’bo, whichever appellation his fancy seemed best suited with? And he was truly a rich and rare old gem. How every lad in his time envied him. How admiringly the galley-boy gazed upon his wrinkled visage and what draughts of inspiration were drawn in from his tales.

“And the young man just out of his time and holding down cases on the first rag upon which he had ever worked. What envy, what resolves to equal and excel the touring record of the last arrival permeated his breast. Just as soon as parental objections could be removed so as to allow of seeking fortune at a distance, that young man vowed to be out on the road. And sometimes the objections didn’t count, and the cases were jumped. And the boys who had already hit the road a clip or two! How gladly they extended the hand of fellowship. How easily they stood for the panhandle, for they had been on the other end of that game too. A two-bit piece got a bracer and a shave, and then one of the boys calmly took a half day off and handed over six bits to the tourist to throw in his case, or rather left it where it could be secured when the throwing in operation had been concluded. Did he want a night’s work? Half a dozen men were ready to lay off just to accommodate him.

“And then how he could stick type! And how his conversation enlivened the alley he was located in! And what an argument he put up to the proof-reader about the galley that should have been passed to Slug Seven on one alleged thin-spaced line.


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Pages by John Howells and Marion Dearman, authors of "Tramp Printers"

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