Excerpts from the book "TRAMP PRINTERS"
by John Howells and Marion Dearman
(Discovery Press, copyright 1996)


..and a Battered
Suitcase in Hand
by Franklin M. White
condensed from the ITU Journal Dec. 1969

THE STORY of that inimitable master craftsman of yesteryear, the “tramp printer” or roadster, is an American legend. His shirttail full of type, battered suitcase in hand and a grin that spanned the globe, this wandering, freewheeling individual sprinkled knowledge and literacy as enthusiastically as Johnny spread his Appleseed. Syracuse was a real “print town.” “Cincy” was the place to be. Frisco was “the spot.” But the landscape lover, the connoisseur of scenery, the tourist printer, needed no reason to move on.
 

Who was the Number One Traveler? No one knows or ever will. The title would have to be decided on the basis of mileage, number of traveling cards drawn, states worked in or most locals or chapels visited. No one kept score.
I have drawn few travelers, myself, having done most of my printing in the southern part of the United States. But I have known or seen nearly all the tourists of the past 50 years.

Some traveled for a time, then got “off the road.” Others continued for a lifetime. The roster is endless because it is unwritten. “Weary Willie” Waterhouse, Nate Bergman, the “Gadget" Reeves, “Shack” [or Shanty] House, “Muskogee Red,” “Bull” Kelly, “Fuzzy” Chapman, “Sentimental Sam” Ball, “Gulf Coast” Foley, “Poor” Bill O. Bundick, Gene Hadley, “Dixie” (I’ve Been Every) Ware. And I can’t forget “Rabbit” Ormond, “Harry the Huff,” Ed Bates, “Cactus Jack” Crawford, “Horrible Harrigan”—the list includes many, many others. The real travelers and subs have done more to enlarge and protect our union since its beginning than any  class. They toured the continent preaching unionism and solidarity.

I remember working in my father’s country weekly when I met my first tramp. This was around 1919. He had just been discharged at Fort Sam Houston after overseas service in the battlefields of France, and he stopped at our shop, seeking a day’s work. He hadn’t reached a town where he could deposit his old traveler, drawn before the war’s interlude. So my dad hired him to do some “distribution.”

He pitched in and cleaned up the dead-type dump. He unerringly picked the correct cases after sizing up the layout, and distributed the type fast and accurately. He amazed me with his dexterity at the case. The gentleman was a competent printer. There were about 40 cases, and the mixture was awful. Two or three sizes of DeVine, odd single cases comprised of one size of Livermore and other unpopular or obsolete faces. We had a lot of miscellaneous type families seldom seen. A veritable hodgepodge.

Dad gave him four or five dollars: country wages then. The fellow shouldered his bundle and asked me to accompany him to a restaurant where he told me a few tantalizing tales of the open road. We parted ways at the local railroad station. I saw him climb under a boxcar and position himself on the rods and I waved him on as the freight highballed.

The next year dad accepted a legal brief of about 72 pages, agreeing to print and bind it by a certain deadline. Hand spiking all through my teens, I had practiced about six months on the shop’s Model 15 Linotype (the old “junior” machine with only 14 mats to a full channel), and could grind out the equivalent of three quarters of a galley of single-column type for the paper. But this was an overwhelming job.

Luckily, a tourist with a heavy beard and wooden leg blew in and dad put him at the old B-point cases, which type matched that on the Linotype. I don’t recall the oldster’s name or much of anything except that he was a whiz—as long as he was supplied with paregoric. Paregoric, or “PG” as it was called, was a mild, legal narcotic, and created many addicts back in those days. The old hand comp set plenty of type for the brief, but dad had to keep sending out for PG. With me at the Model 15 and the roadster almost keeping pace, we got the job out on time. As the old PG with the peg leg set type he kept telling tales of his travels. I remember him telling of setting type under a fig tree in the Mojave Desert.

I believe I knew the champion job jumper of all time. The poor guy jumped almost every time he was hired over a period of 30 years. Just about every time he came to my town of Shreveport, he jumped both papers in the same day. To “jump” a job was a serious offense for which one was almost invariably fired. “Jumping the job” means accepting a hire from a regular or for the office, and then not coming to work and not notifying the chairman in time to hire another substitute. Other subs considered this exceptionally unethical conduct, since it allowed a job to go “dark” (not covered) when another sub could have earned a day’s pay.

However, on his last visit, he surprised everyone by working a full month without jumping once. But he still left town deep in hock. He was known as “Poor Bill O. Bundick,” as he signed his name on his ITU travelers. His career ended when he died in a boxcar in Memphis, partially from exposure to weather.

I have met tramp printers who could recite Shakespeare, Wilde, Chaucer, Gibbon, the Rubiayat, Mohammed, Uncle Remus, Flavius Josephus, Isaiah, and Daniel Webster. They could edit and correct copy, spell, punctuate, parse, conjugate, and occasionally, knew Latin, French, and Kant. They took competency for granted.

On the other hand, there were plenty of exceptions. Ignorance never has engendered bliss in printing. As editor of a weekly on the gulf coast during the depression, I once had a Cajun printer working for me who could neither read nor write English. He set guts for display ads from the cases and worked at distribution. There were many others who were elbow benders, imbibers, roadsters who hoisted the cup or jigger that cheers. I will not go into that other than to mention the old rumors about alcohol being an antidote for lead poisoning, and its use to eradicate incipient tubercle bacillus. Good excuse, and anyway, the stuff made waiting for trains tolerable.


"A Race of Men" . . . a tramp's poem by Robert Service

Mark Twain and the Country weekly

Early Demise of the Tramp Printer

The Missouri River Pirates

The Duke who Came to Dinner

History of Tramp Printers

Saratoga Printing Museum

Some early printing offices

Pages by John Howells and Marion Dearman, authors of "Tramp Printers"
Copyright and all rights reserved.

hot-metal printers encouraged to send e-mail to:
johnhowells40@gmail.com