Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Interview with Joe Hernandez

With the Observer turning 125 years old, I felt it appropriate to do a story about someone who used to work here. Someone who knew more about its past than I did. But who? My questioned was answered pretty quickly.
Joe Hernandez came into my office to suggest a story to me. During the course of our conversation he told me he used to work at the Observer. Bingo! I asked him if he would let me do a story on him and he agreed.
Joe began working at the Observer in the 1950s as part of the G.I. Bill. He is a Korean war vet and was looking for a vocation. He had been co-owner of a plumbing business but that fell apart. So here he was learning how to operate a press. At that time the paper was owned by Art Henrickson and Jess Long. The Observer office was on Chestnut St.
The press in the 50s was a linotype, hand-fed machine. In order to set up pages each item was set up in a chase with a lead mold and then ran through the press. Joe’s tools of the trade were things like pica poles, type spaces, and type high gages-things that no pressman left home without.
Joe said in the 50s it took several of them to put out a paper. Each person had their jobs; editor, pressman, and so on. They would begin working on it on Monday and would run it through the press late on Tuesday. Baring no complications of course.
On one day Joe remembers that a chase was being prepared to run through the press. He said it must not have been locked down correctly because it fell and all the matter (the material that made up the pages) slid off. It took a while to rebuild the page, proof it and prepare it to print. But still the paper was on the streets on schedule.
When off-set printing came to the forefront it just about killed printing as an art. Joe said anyone off the street could come in and run the press. But Joe held stayed with the Observer because he enjoyed being a pressman.
Throughout his time here, Joe said one of the most memorable events was a large train derailment that happened by the old depot. One of the cars damaged the building and it was quite a big deal, Joe said.
What made it even more significant was Robert Kennedy was coming through soon by train on a campaign stop. The derailment was cleaned up quickly and the presidential hopeful came through without any trouble.
Another rough night was when the press in Sidney broke down and they called the Observer looking for help. Then owner Bob Pinkerton asked Joe what he thought and Joe agreed they could do it. That was a late night according to Joe.
Joe left the Observer in the 70s and went to work for the Business Farmer in Scottsbluff. He stayed there for a spell before a disagreement with the owner there prompted Joe to start his own printing business in Kimball.
Joe retired in 1993 and has since dismantled his collection of printing items. He still keeps his essentials though, the pica pole, the type space and the type high gage.
Thank you Joe for coming in and sharing your experience with me and now our readers. The Observer is celebrating 125 years of service to Kimball and the surrounding communities. Thank you to everyone who has continued to support this newspaper through these many years.