Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Press operators

When the Toronto Sun presses at 333 King Street East were silenced after 30 years, so were the voices of the 100-plus press operators who were not transferred to Quebecor's new plant in Islington.

Nobody said goodbye to the dedicated press operators, including Frank Dorsay, Martin Blanchard, David Hvisc, Stu Warren, Bill Smolsky, Glenn Gillespie, Larry Crake, more eloquently than columnist Mike Strobel, who wrote this farewell in September.

(The presses were to shut down the day after this column, but problems at the new plant gave the press operators a reprieve for several months.)

Mike's column:

I knew of a newspaperman in Calgary who claimed he achieved an erection every time the presses started up.

Well, whatever turns you on.

Usually, the effect is higher. Stomach. Nostrils. Heartbeat. Only a zombie could be unmoved by 500 tons of steel three-storeys high roaring to life.

Every midnight, more or less, for three decades, it has happened in the bowels of the Sun building on King St.

No more. The last official run here is tomorrow night, though the five old Goss Metros will be emergency backup.

The transfer to our new presses in Islington is nearly done.

For the first time, the newsroom will be cut off from the ink-stained men who put our work on paper.

True, when the kinks in Islington are worked out, your newspaper will be crisper and more colourful.


But who will hustle out to the newsroom to tell us a headline says "Tronto."

To whom will we yell, "Stop the presses!"

(Actually, that rarely happens. In my years running the newsroom, "Hey, Kenny, can you shut 'em down?" was about as dramatic as I got.)

Who will repair the SUNshine Girl's high heels? Or the cafeteria's soup-pot lid? We are always bringing broken things to the press hall's mechanical maintenance department.

There's the rub. We are losing brethren. More than 100 have been packaged off and will not go to Islington.

And we will miss the midnight throb, the tang of ink and clang of bells that drift even into the newsroom.

Those of us who sometimes wander down to see startup will miss the cries of "Scummer on 2!" or "Need more red here!" and the intense checking of register.

We will miss P1 banner heads in ink barely dry. "The King Dies." "Bastards!" "Weir So Proud." "We Found Karla."

"Blackout!" That dark day in August 2003, we were the first to get a paper on the street. Crews wandered in from all over and downtown got 100,000 copies.

A year earlier, those pressmen doused a blaze roaring up one of the five Gosses, while the rest of us fled the building and firefighters raced to the scene. We made deadline.

"It's quick-thinking minds like this that have helped build the success of The Sun," said then-publisher Les Pyette.

Les meant guys like Glenn Gillespie, 53, longest serving pressman, an apprentice in 1974.

"I consider myself very lucky to have worked here," says Glenn, one of umpteen Gillespies who have done the same. I suppose you will miss that heady smell of ink and oil, eh?

"What smell?" Glenn says.

I guess after 33 years . . .

"One thing I'm looking forward to is clean hands."

He folds me a classic pressman's cap. That is a dying art.

The Parsons brothers, Randy, Rudy and Ricky, fought regularly among the great rolls of paper. Full-fledged fisticuffs.

"We never disciplined them," says Larry Crake, 53, the classy pressroom boss.

"We figured they were sorting out family business."

I have known Larry for most of his 28 years here.

A press start, he says, "is like getting in a fast sportscar with that once-in-a-lifetime chance to go 200 miles an hour. Except it's massive and it's hauling in tons of paper.

"That initial startup is the buzz."

Larry will work on his dream house on Georgian Bay for a while, then scout out another job.


Bill "Rizzo" Smolksy, 51, was The Singing Pressman, before someone complained.

"I'm gonna miss everything," says Rizzo, in rare serious mode. "I grew up poor and this job is the best thing ever happened to me.

"I loved it from the first day and I'm sorry to see it go."

Deepest in the building are the men who tenderly tune the Gosses and other machines.

"It has been magic to work on them," says mechanic and supervisor Jozef "Joe" Hvisc, 63. For 30 years, he has helped bring you your paper with wrenches, screws, masking tape and anything else handy.

Those presses have personalities and names. B press is "Bob," smooth and friendly. F press is nameless and finicky. Nobody likes F press.

Still, we will miss it, and the men who ran it, when it is carted away.

Not to mention, if I wish to be aroused I will have to drive all the way to Islington.

1 comment:

  1. Chris Mulhallposted toBruce Borland
    November 23
    Hi Bruce.

    RE:HAROLD FRAIL, Pressroom Foreman

    I just got off the phone with Harold's daughter, Marilyn and was given an update on Harold. It's not good news at all as the cancer has advanced too far even if he elects for chemo and radiation treatment. Meaning of course that he has a very finite time left.
    Right now he is currently at The Toronto General Hospital and will be moved early next week to Princess Margaret Hospital.
    He is currently on the 13th floor, Eaton Tower, in room 416 for anyone who wishes to visit him. I'm sure he would love to see some of the old crew for sure.
    Could you possibly get this out to as many former Sun staff as you can. I would very much appreciate it Bruce. old friend.
    If any of you have any questions or messages to forward to him you can reach his daughter Marilyn at 647-984-1267.
    Marilyn told me his spirits are good and he is in a minimal amount of pain at present. Which is a blessing.