Saturday, February 09, 2013

Those were the days...

I wish I had had a video camera at the supper table when the conversation turned to the old school technologies we used to use in our mission! I don't even have pictures from those days to share; I have to get what I can from the Internet (not all the pictures I need are available!)

A four-color Perfector like the one
we dedicated on Easter 1976. Each
mound holds the plate to print a
different color. You could print full-
 on one side of a sheet, or two colors
on both sides, finishing the job.
Sister Lusia worked the presses--she remembered when we fit four printing machines (okay, only one of them was technically a "press"; the rest were offset machines) in one rather cramped room. I remember when Cardinal Medeiros came on Easter Sunday evening to bless the new 4-color Heidelberg perfecter--the first 4-color press in New England. (The Heidelberg company used to bring customers to our pressroom to see the machine in action.) By the time Sister Lusia was in charge, we had a big new room and a six-color press that could print one side of paper in full color and the other in two colors in one go-through, saving the sisters time and energy (those sheets ran 2 X 3 feet and could be quite heavy to load).

But the offset presses needed printing plates with images on them in order to transfer ink to paper. That's where Sr Frances came in (and Sr Helena, too, for a while). Sr Frances worked in "litho," a department that combined graphic design with the photography angle of offset printing. She took the galleys from the sisters in the photocomposition department (where they could type in two different typefaces without changing film reels!) and arranged them on the flat bed of a huge camera, covering them with a spotless glass plate and shooting the galleys. Then she had to develop the negatives in the darkroom, swishing them through pans of chemicals until they reached the right point and hurrying to "fix" the image in another bath of chemicals (called "fix"). Those negatives, in turn, were taped to a large orange sheet of flexible, opaque plastic, and a razor blade (the old fashioned kind) had to be wielded just right to cut away only enough plastic to reveal the reverse "page" on the negative (otherwise random lines would show up on the printed copy).

Ink being transferred
--plate to blanket to paper--on an offset press.

Litho was a complicated department. The orange sheets, called "flats," weren't the last step there. Sister Helena remembered her favorite step: The process involved laying the flat on another perfectly spotless glass plate and closing a vacuum sealing lid over it. The whole thing then rotated on its huge axis so that intense light could penetrate the empty parts of the negative and burn the words onto the actual metal plates that would get affixed to the presses. (Sr Frances commented how many cuts she got from the sharp edges of the plates.) From there, it was to the pressroom: The plates were fastened around cylinders on the press. Ink "stuck" to the burned-in image and was transferred to the rubbery "blanket" on another cylinder so that it would be picked up by the paper as it made its way through the machine.

Sister Helena also worked in Photocomp, the typesetting department where we had that first, enormous computer system (and the only air-conditioned space in the entire complex). Mistakes were time-consuming (not to mention costly!). But still, they had air-conditioning.

I missed all the exciting technology, being assigned to the shipping department. However, even in shipping there was one machine for me. I maintained the subscriber list for our Italian-language bulletin-missalette and for that I had to learn the noisy little "Addressograph" system, where I typed addresses on little metal cards.  Every month I ran the stack of metal address plates through the machine to stamp labels through a kind of typewriter-ribbon process that could be heard throughout the building. (No one misses the Addressograph.)

What old-school technology do you remember--or wonder about?


oneeyedsmiley said...

Once upon a time working in architecture, there were two ways to get architectural drawings across town: get a courier or cut the drawing into strips and feed it through the fax machine. The receiving fax machine would print out on rolls of heat sensitive paper and the receiver would have to take the strips together. Now you just click the AutoCAD file and hit send :-)

On another note, the last time I was at the convent in JP it was very weird not hearing (feeling?) the thumping of the Heidelberg...

One of my favorite memories of pre-press was folding dummy signatures out of scrap paper to make sure that the pages on the flats were laid out in the right order and orientation (and invariably still getting a page upside down & backwards necessitating cutting the film :-) When creating booklets now using computer programs, I still fold a dummy to check the programs pagination before I print a draft.

harv681 said...

Mimeograph! Back in grammar school, Before Xerox invented their machine, our tests were copied in that lapis-blue ink. The first thing we would do when tests were handed out was to press our noses to the paper. Nothing smelled like mimeograph!

Anonymous said...

Decades ago I recall seeing young girls, teens, feeding antiquated machines manually. Is this a figment of my failing memory?

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Ha! Oneeyedsmiley, I still do dummy folds when I have to do two-sided copying. Never can get that right on a copymaker...
Harv, I can smell it now! But I always thought of them as purple, not lapis. And weren't they on special paper, too?
When I entered the convent, we didn't have a mimeograph; we had something called a Roneo, which used a stencil. It had the advantage over mimeograph in that it could print on regular paper.

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Anonymous: page by page? Maybe if the machine was broken!!!

Anonymous said...

Let me take another stab at this antiquated procedure. Do you recall the cutting machine whose blade descended from above at timed intervals as human hands fed the paper leaving open the possibility of the loss of fingertips? Later a stick was used in lieu of the above.

with the possibility of human fingers being relieved of an inch or so.