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Apprentice Press Operator
I have only had one job in my lifetime where I hired on as an apprentice. It was the year 1965, I suffered a spinal cord injury the year before and I was not supposed to do any heavy lifting. I believe I took the job because it was an inside job that required very little heavy lifting. The job was with a printing company, something I knew very little about. It was a fairly large private printing company in Minneapolis Minnesota. When I went in for the interview, I was very apprehensive about going into a trade like that, I knew nothing about it. The owner of the company and I had a long visit and he decided I was the man for his job. I started that day, I went to work as an apprentice offset press operator.
The first thing I had to do was learn everything about the printing press I would be operating. It had hundreds of moving parts, it was an older machine, all of these moving parts required regular oiling. A good share of my day was spent oiling the machine and wiping up any excess oil.
Part of the printing process was done with aluminum plates, they had a photographic image of the finished product burned onto them. Part of the plate took ink the rest took water during the printing process. After each job I had to clean and treat, then store these plates in an orderly fashion. If someone wanted a job reprinted later I just had to get the plate and re-process it for printing.
The plates fit into a slot on the printing roller on the front of the printing press, then tighten down with fasteners. The water and ink trays and rollers were right in front of it. We had to weigh and mix and match different colors which were quite a challenge all by itself. The owner had his own recipes for every color in the rainbow, all I had to do was weigh it and mix it right.
Paper was loaded into the back of the machine off from a big sheet feeding tray. I had to wind the paper by picking up a small pile by two opposite corners and shake it up and down to get air between the sheets so they would come off the tray one at a time. Static electricity was always a big concern, it was pretty much a static-free environment so the sheets would feed evenly as suction cups picked him up and sent them to the press.
When you got the press setup, ready to run a project you had to be on your toes and watching everything, every second. The proper ink and water had to flow correctly or the print job would be messed up. When the Press was running at full speed there were many copies per minute coming out. Any slight mistake and you could have a whole pile of wasted paper in the blink of an eye. To say it was nerve-wracking would be putting it mildly. The whole idea was to constantly watch the ink and the water if anything should go wrong, and it didn’t flow correctly you had to shut down and restart.
I had been on the job for a few months and I must say I was quite proud of myself. I was doing jobs on my own, the boss seemed very happy with the results. One morning when I got to work the boss told me, in an awkward way that his father was going to be coming in that day. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was sort of a subtle warning, that his Dad could become a little bit contrary. I was in the middle of a color project later on that morning when this elderly fellow started peering over my shoulder. As a matter of fact, he startled the crap out of me when I turned around, we almost bumped heads.
I believe that old printing press I was running, was one that he cut his teeth on. No doubt he was very proud of that old machine and he wanted to make sure it was getting all the tender loving care that he used to give it. I soon learned the old fellow cursed worse than a drunken sailor. When he startled me, the color job I was doing got a little bit off color, he spotted it immediately and was cursing up a storm. I shut the press down, cleaned everything up and started all over. All that time he’s looking at the machine to make sure it was taken care of correctly.
My only apprentice job, the one I was so proud of, was also nerve-wracking. When the boss’s father started hanging around the shop, I didn’t stay a whole lot longer.
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