The hot-type guys of long ago
June 20, 2005
When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in 1456, letterpress printing would see little change in the next four centuries.
Then in the mid-1880s, another German inventor, Ottmar Mergenthaler, revolutionized newspaper composing rooms with his contribution of the Linotype.
Casting hot lead slugs, the Linotype could easily compose more type matter than a half-dozen “typeslingers” combined. In this era of letterpress printing, compositors were known as the “hot-type guys,” and were in great demand across the country.
And then came offset printing in the 1950s and 60s (called “cold type”), and all of a sudden the hot-type guys weren’t so hot anymore. Many made the transition to offset, then retired after a long career.
Today, trying to find a hot-type guy at a newspaper plant amongst all those computers is like trying to find a dinosaur grazing in your back yard. You might not believe this, but the Nevada Appeal has three employees whose careers began with hot type. Bill Dolan, Sam Bauman and Greg Krem have a total of 169 years of combined printing and journalism experience among them. To give you some perspective on that amount of time, the Battle of The Alamo was fought in 1836, 169 years ago.
Dolan’s 58 years with the Appeal is by far the longest tenure of any employee ever associated with it. A native Nevadan and 1950 University of Nevada, Reno journalism graduate, Dolan is probably best known for his “Past Pages” column in the Appeal.
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The column was born on New Years Day 1947, when the Appeal came under the ownership of Arthur Suverkrup. Dolan took over the column in fall 1947 and has been writing it ever since.
“I was here at the Appeal when the paper was run on a flat-bed press, says Dolan. “It printed one sheet of paper at a time. We had two Linotypes that did all the typesetting, and I remember one of the Linotype operators died from lead poisoning.”
Dolan wasn’t involved with the mechanical makeup of the Appeal, but had all he could handle up front with reporting, advertising, management, photography and sometimes distribution. He has the distinction of never missing a day’s work at the Appeal. Even when he took a hiatus from the paper from 1952 to 1954 to take a teaching job at Golconda, he was still sending in copy for his column.
A 1998 inductee into the Nevada Newspaper Hall Of Fame, Dolan, now in his early 80s, can be found every week at the Nevada State Library sifting through microfilm searching for those historical nuggets you enjoy reading in his column.
Sam Bauman has been with Swift Newspapers for more than 10 years, but began his career in journalism when he got out of the Air Force in 1955. At the time, he was stationed in Japan and went to work for the New York Herald Tribune as a foreign correspondent. Later, he took an assignment in Tokyo as copy editor of the Pacific Stars and Stripes.
“I didn’t handle type, but I did a lot of hot metal cutting in the composing rooms of the Stars and Stripes and later at the L.A .Times. My father worked in circulation at the Dayton (Ohio) Journal Herald, and when I was a kid he took me over there to see a newspaper press in action. I saw a pressman slip and fall into the press right up to his armpit. They hit the emergency switch and stopped the press, but by the time they got him out he was dead. I vowed to stay away from press work.”
Bauman’s distinguished career in journalism is highlighted by the six years he worked for Hugh Hefner at Playboy magazine. He became editor of VIP magazine, a million-circulation four-color offset publication that was sent to all Playboy club members.
“I spent many a midnight sessions with Hef on VIP magazine hammering out ads, PR and the like. I traveled to all the Playboy Clubs and wrote about them and the club bunnies. Part of my job was viewing current movie releases at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago so I could later write a review on them. It was really plush with the wait staff serving food and drinks.”
Bauman was the exception and not the norm of how far a hot-type guy could go in the world of journalism. Today, Bauman is entertainment editor at the Appeal, and writes on a wide range of subjects.
“Tramp printer” is a term now extinct in our lexicon. They were the printers baptized with wanderlust and had a passion for seeing the country while “sticking type” along the way.
The mid-19th century was the golden age of the tramp printer. Often riding into town on a horse, the tramp would take work with the local rag, collect a paycheck or two, and be halfway to the next town before anyone knew he was gone.
Greg Krem probably never rode a horse into town, but it’s a good bet he wore out more than one fine automobile when he tramped the country as a young man. Krem best exemplifies the era of the hot-type guys, and any attempt to document his career here is impossible, unless the Appeal publishes a special eight-page edition to do it.
Krem began “sticking type” as a teenager 61 years ago in Huntington Beach, Calif.
“After school was out I’d go down to the newspaper and help out in the composing room. It was all hot type then.
“I helped with page makeup, and then I would proof the galley trays for the editor. Then Gene (his younger brother) and I thought we’ d better see the country.”
Gene also had a newspaper career in hot type. By the time Krem applied the brakes on the car he’d made stops at the Chicago Tribune, Rocky Mountain News, St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Costa Mesa Daily Pilot and the Long Beach Independent. The Independent merged with the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and Krem spent 28 years with the paper, eventually becoming supervisor of the composing room.
“We’d cast our own lead spacing material back then, and when you were cutting the material on the saw, you had to pay attention to what you were doing. More than one guy lost a finger or thumb. You had to have respect for the equipment because if you didn’t, those machines would bite you and sometimes pretty bad.”
Krem was at the Independent/ Press-Telegram when the paper converted to offset and began a new career with film. His final stop was about 10 years ago when he came to Nevada and started work with the Appeal when the paper was on Bath Street.
Today Krem works with a computer and is the ad-flow traffic coordinator. He is responsible for ad placement, making sure all ads are accounted for before the paper goes to press. From hot type to film to computers, Krem has done it all.
The world of hot type is no more. Gone is the era when printers worked with lead and mechanical dinosaurs that were every bit as lethal as anything that ever came out of Jurassic Park.
Dolan, Bauman and Krem were all baptized in lead when hot type was king – 169 total years and still on the job at the Nevada Appeal.