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After 55 years working on printing presses, only a ‘bunged up’ leg led to retirement

  • Ron Pike in front of his barn at his home in Chichester on Thursday, August 2, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Ron Pike in front of his barn at his home in Chichester on Thursday, August 2, 2018. Maddie Vanderpool—Concord Monitor

  • Ron Pike stands with his steer, Ben, at his home in Chichester on Thursday, Aug, 2, 2018. Pike, a pressman at the “Monitor” for 55 years is retiring to work the farm full time. Maddie VanderpooL / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Tuesday, August 07, 2018

One of the most common improvements that a new technology brings is to shrink things, making them easier to handle. Just ask Ron Pike.

“Before then, each plate weighed maybe 30 pounds,” said the 80-year-old Pike, who recently retired after a whopping 55 years working on the Monitor’s printing presses. “After that, they were aluminum, really light.”

Pike was looking back on changes he has witnessed in his Monitor career, which started when he got a paper route in Epsom where his father, Earl, a farmer, logger and doer of “whatever was available,” and mother, Emily, lived.

“I kind of learned to read looking at the Monitor. When I was 8 years old, I got a paper route. It cost me 5 bucks to get the route,” he recalled.

The route had 36 homes but stretched out over a full 7 miles, because Epsom was a farming town back then. He walked the whole route – “I could have run half of it,” Pike said wistfully – after picking up the daily bundle of papers dropped off by the Suncook Valley Railroad after school (the Monitor was an afternoon paper back then).

“It was a steam engine, I kid you not,” he said. “I did the route for about five years. I can see every one of those stops even today.”

After graduating from Concord High school, Class of 1957, and doing a stint in the Army, Pike delivered milk for a while in the days when it came to your house in glass bottles every morning.

A friend had a Monitor “motor route,” delivering papers by car, and Pike went with him a few times.

“I started looking around the press while we were waiting for the papers” and got interested. “A couple times I noticed an oil cup was empty and told them, it was running hot” and eventually he was offered a job.

The Monitor was still on State Street then, and the printing technology was one that had churned out printed materials for a century: the letterpress.

Material written by the newsroom or advertising department was typed on Linotype machines, which were big and loud and hot. They melted an alloy of lead, tin and antimony and poured it into a series of molds that turned it into type, one line at a time (hence that “line-of-type” name).

“Every six months I had to be tested for lead poisoning,” Pike said.

These lines were assembled by hand by the composing room to create a single page, which became the plates that the pressroom dealt with. The plates were lined up and drums spun around, daubing ink on the surface of the raised letters and then pressing it against newsprint.

In 1970, the Monitor built a new building on its State Street lot and bought an offset press. This is when the heavy lead plates were replaced with thin aluminum ones created through an intermediate step in which each page was photographed, creating a full-sized film negative. Light gets shined through that negative onto an aluminum plate that has a photosensitive coating. The coating hardens where the light comes through the negative and stays soft where it doesn’t come through. Washing off the soft coating leaves only what is to be printed.

The upgrade to offset allowed for much more color and more production, both of the Monitor itself and of numerous commercial printing jobs that were and remain an important part of the business.

In 1990, he moved with the paper to its current building near Sewalls Falls, where the paper installed a Flexographic press, which is similar to offset but brought a number of technical innovations, notably a different ink chemistry that doesn’t rub off on your fingers so much.

Through all the changes, Pike kept working, well past retirement age. Despite having recently turned 80 he would be working still, he says, except that he “bunged up my leg,” which slowed him down until began to feel that he was becoming a drag.

“I realized that some of the other guys were helping me too much. It was time,” he said.

Pike leaves just before the latest change in the Monitor printing business. The company is installing a new offset press as part of a production facility in the former Rivco building on Merrimack Street in Penacook.

While the new press will offer upgrades in printing abilities, the move is economic as much as technical, said David Sangiorgio, who oversees the printing business for the Monitor’s parent company as part of his job. The Flexographic press has become very expensive to operate because some materials and parts have to be imported from Europe, and the new building will allow for better and bigger printing operations. “Our current site is not set up for a production facility, with the space we need,” he said.

When it opens by the end of the year, the Penacook site will print the Monitor as well as two sister papers, the daily Valley News of West Lebanon and the weekly Monadnock Ledger-Transcript of Peterborough, as well as commercial printing operations. The commercial market is key from a business point view: Although it might be a surprise to hear, despite the transition to a digital world there is still money to be made by printing and distributing information on paper.

The press in the Monitor building will be shut down and sold off. The company says all jobs associated with the presses in Concord and Hanover will be offered to be people in Penacook.

Pike won’t be among them. He is settling into life as a full-time farmer – he and his brother, Francis, milked as many as 100 cows through the 1980s and on his 60 acres of property he has a 2,100-pound steer named Ben who is more pet than future source of meat – and of course he’ll read the Monitor every day.

“It was always interesting, an interesting job – not just running the machine but keeping it going, maintaining it,” Pike said.

The technology was interesting, as was the rush of daily deadlines.

“There’s always a big rush to get the paper out; you can’t be sitting around twiddling your thumbs,” he said. “The day President Kennedy was shot, I think we stopped the press four times.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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