By Elizabeth Widel
In 1450 Johann Gutenberg began work on printing a Bible in a
new manner which revolutionized printing, that of moveable type.
Today, 550 years later, after countless changes in
technology, The Chronicle - and all its colleagues in printing - in a manner has returned
to a principle of publishing which, though light years removed from that earlier effort,
in some ways is the same.
In Gutenberg's day, if reproduction of reading material was
not to be hand written, it had to be carved in blocks, often of a full page. It could be
used only for the life of that particular manuscript, a word which itself stems from
Then he developed the technique of single letters which
could be combined for a given piece, then disassembled and used in a different gathering
for another one.
With computer-set publishing, we are back to
setting type for a page at a time, often a page as large as a tabloid- or full-sized
newspaper page. But this is hardly the same as that which Gutenberg eliminated. And he
wasn't doing newspapers.
For centuries after Gutenberg revolutionized printing, his
system reigned. Printers, with a large tray of letters before them, picked out the letters
one by one and assembled them into words and sentences.
This tray was known as a "case," and the capital
letters were in one case and the small letters in another, hence the terms upper case and
In 1886 came the development of the Linotype, a machine
which assembled little molds of letters which the machine then cast into a single line of
letters on the edge of a piece of metal known as a slug. The process named the machine,
and the word slug - though it no longer refers to a bar of metal with letters along one
edge - still is used in newspapering as a reference to a story's working name.
In the early days of the last century, a newspaper
which had a Linotype machine set it up in the front of the shop so passing people could
look through the window and watch the clanking machine assemble the matrixes (mats), whirl
them around to receive the shot of molten metal to make a slug, and then drop it in a tray
as the machine distributed the mats back into their places in the magazine, ready for the
A Linotype at full speed could set up to six two-inch lines
When The Chronicle began publishing in 1910, it presumably
had its Linotype where people could see. Just where that early office was is hard to say.
The paper was published by a committee of Omak men, taken
over by a man named C.P. Scates, and then by Frank DeVos, who arrived from Oroville (by
canoe) to take over publication. He ran it until 1926, when it was bought by Frank Emert,
who had been publishing in the Okanogan Highlands.
Early offices were about where Donaldson's now sits and on
the northeast corner of Main and Bartlett.
In 1929 Emert built the building at 109 N. Main which housed
The Chronicle until 10 years ago, when it moved to Okoma Drive.
From the beginning of Emert's management, there was a staff.
The paper was not a one-man operation, though there have been such.
In addition to the Linotype which ground out the type to be
assembled into pages and then put onto the great flat-bed press, there were other machines
to be run. Besides printers there was a staff to gather and write the news, an advertising
sales staff, and - a term which may have gone out of use now - a shop "devil,"
who worked around doing work too elementary to take the time of a printer.
It was the devil who broke up the pages after the press run,
threw the slugs into the melting pot to be recast into ingots to feed the Linotypes,
sorted the hand type back into its cases, and cleaned up. Then it all began again.
I joined the staff in 1954. My husband, who was foreman in
the shop, had signed on a few years before that. My early assignment was as the
"front office girl," dealing with the public coming in to leave stories for the
paper, or buy pencils or other office supplies. I phoned for local news (birthday parties,
wedding showers, etc.) and read proof, trying to catch and correct typographical errors
Some three years later Emert sold the paper and retired, and
the partnership of Bruce Wilson and Joe Sinclair took over. This began a parallel
tradition that the wife of the publisher would be involved in the paper.
Edna Emert was a fine Linotype operator. She could keep the
machine "hung" (going as fast as it could), and her type was clean (without
typos). She also headed up the mailing crew which gathered every Wednesday evening to
assemble, fold and address the papers ready to go to the post office.
Bruce Wilson was the first trained journalist at The
Chronicle. His wife, Merilynn, also a trained journalist, wrote for the paper.
Wilson inherited as a staff member veteran ad salesman
Harley Heath, who wrote the column "Seen and Heard in the Okanogan," which
always appeared in the lower right-hand column of the front page.
I can't recall whether his column came in typed or hand
written. His ads always were laid out by hand, neatly lettered and spaced.
But the sparks flew between him and the production staff,
which wanted its copy in writing so there was a record of it rather than being given
Wilson opened up the editorial page to letters from readers
in an expanded volume which continues to this day. This also gave rise to the disclaimer
by the paper, "Publication does not imply agreement or endorsement by The
And some writers have been so enthusiastic that it is
necessary to add as policy, "Writers are limited to two letters on the same subject
within a six-month period."
Chronicle file photo
|Elizabeth Widel works at a Linotype machine in 1964; she now works at a PC, doing most
writing in Microsoft Word
Chronicle file photo
|Setting type in the hot metal days meant just that setting blocks of
lead type (known as slugs) into a tray, known as a chase
Chronicle file photo
In what apparently is a set-up shot, Bob Crowell takes a claw hammer to a
chase. In actuality, slugs were leveled using a wooden mallet that struck a block of wood
placed on the type to protect the soft lead. Quoins (pronounced coins) along
the sides of the chases were tightened and the chase gingerly lifted and tested to make
sure everything was tight before a worker picked up a full page of type. A loose chase
meant dumping a whole page of type on the floor.