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Ink and paper meld as presses roll

November 12, 2005

At 5 p.m. Thursday at the Hood River News, everyone is headed home, except for a scattered few who are still finishing up. In the press room, however, it’s time to start printing the Gorge Classifieds for Saturday’s paper.

Tony Methvin, manager, and Jason Edwards have the presses set up and ready to roll.

“It’s about a two-hour run,” says Methvin, a 20-year employee of the newspaper. He points to a couple of pallets stacked with what appear to be catalogs. “Those took us all afternoon, so that’s why we’re just getting started.”

Besides printing the Hood River News, The Dalles Chronicle and the White Salmon Enterprise, the Columbia Gorge Press also does commercial printing jobs such as school newspapers, Community Education publications, and Columbia Gorge Community College course catalogs. It’s a busy place.

A loud, long bell rings to signal the starting of the presses, and the printing begins. A continuous sheet of 25-inch wide newsprint paper is run first through the color press and then passes through the second press, which applies the black ink and makes sure the color and black inks are lined up properly.

In a rapid process, the paper moves through rollers to the last machine, which folds the paper lengthwise and adds a single page from another press, cuts to length and makes the final fold, so that the finished product comes out the bottom on a conveyor belt.

For the first 15 minutes Methvin and Edwards are in constant motion as they grab the finished paper, look it over carefully, then make adjustments on the appropriate machines. They repeat this over and over, taking yet another paper to see that the improvement was made, and checking for other problems.

Paper after paper, scrutiny after scrutiny, until finally, after about 15 minutes, Methvin is satisfied that all is well and goes off to do something else, leaving Edwards at the helm.

Helping out at the end of the line is Josh Sperber, who is taking the finished papers from the “Count-o-veyer” -- which receives them from the conveyor belt and counts and stacks them into manageable piles -- and evens up the stacks before arranging them on a pallet behind him.

Edwards notices that the single-page roll of paper is low, and stops the presses to change it. He removes the “end roll” and he and Sperber quickly muscle the 400-pound replacement roll into place and get it all set up again so that the presses can start back up without much delay.

But a new roll means another round of checks and re-checks of the finished paper. Edwards literally runs the 100 feet from one end of the presses to the other, checking this setting, changing that one. Methvin returns and helps him out.

“Once it gets started mostly what we’re checking for is registration (whether the color and black-and-white images are lining up together),” he says. “It tends to shift slightly up or down; not so much side to side.”

At 5:25, Jason sprints over to where his giant drink cup waits, and takes a long swig. Sperber does a few head rolls to relax his neck.

But there’s still no time to relax. Edwards continues to check papers every 30 seconds or so, making little adjustments here or there. He cleans off a scraper and climbs up to spread the ink – very thick and messy stuff -- more evenly in the ink well.

Edwards has worked in the press room for five years, and worked in circulation for five years before that. Ink runs in his blood, you might say; his father, Ray Edwards, has worked for the Hood River News for more than 40 years (and has run a typewriter repair business besides.)

The press is running smoothly (and loudly) and Edwards relaxes a bit.

“Once you get it set up and running, there’s not much else to it,” he says. “But you have to change both paper rolls (the 25-inch and the 12 1/2 –inch) at least once during each run. I’ll have to change that big one (the 25-incher) before the run is over.”

The 25-inch roll weighs 830-850 pounds, so it won’t be a matter of two men lifting it into place. They have special equipment they call “hockey sticks” that will help them.

At 6 p.m., Edwards is still pulling papers out frequently to check them over, but the atmosphere is more relaxed and the next hour will be more of the same – if all goes well.

*****

Around the Clock is the Hood River News’ 24-week chronicle of life of Hood River County, one hour at a time. The series heads into evening now, toward its Dec. 24 conclusion.

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