My past now belongs in museum

We all want some of the things we touched in life to live on for posterity but it's a shock to walk into a history museum and find an item you had personal experience operating.

Such was the case recently when I made a stop at the Roosevelt County Museum on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University.

Operating the visitor center at the Roosevelt County Chamber, my staff and I frequently have the opportunity to direct a visitor or newcomer to one of our museums in the area. I've been inside each of them myself but my staff of college students and 20-somethings has not. We got to talking about it one day and I vowed that we would all take a field trip and get acquainted with the attractions.

Not more than a couple of days later Sandy and I were in the vicinity of the Roosevelt County Museum and so we popped in to take a look. I've been in all of the other museums in this decade but for some reason I don't think I had been inside its history-filled walls since I was a student

Mere minutes into my visit I was floored to see a machine I had operated in my youth. I'm not talking about a similar machine, I'm talking about the actual machine I sat in front of many an evening or Saturday night in the mail room at the Portales News-Tribune.

The Elliott addressing machine wasn't marked with any kind of sign telling visitors what it was or what it did. But I knew exactly what that machine was used for as, chuckling, I called my co-worker Sandy and the student minding the museum over. Neither had a clue about the machine. Assuming it was some kind of printing press.

Feeling grandfatherly, all of a sudden I regaled the young whippersnappers with the complete and boring details of exactly how everything worked. From what the stencils looked like and how they were made, to loading the machine with stencils and the speed at which the thing operated about 60 stencils a minute if you were really good.

We sat on a round stool with a chair loaded with newspapers to our right and pressed the foot pedal of the machine advancing a stencil and advancing the ribbon and bringing an impression roller in contact with the fiber stencil.

Back then county and regional circulation of small newspapers were a big deal. We had a deadline to get the papers addressed for delivery, sorted into mail routes and sacks and dropped off on the dock at the Post Office. By hitting that deadline we knew the next morning everyone from Causey to Elida to House would be reading our newspaper.

What did that addressing machine teach me?

  • Hand coordination and rhythm — if you didn't get that down you were going to be late.
  • The importance of making your deadlines.
  • How to work on and maintain machinery with cast iron parts and worm gears and belts.
  • How to quickly alphabetize routes and straighten out a drawer of up to 250 stencils. You only dropped the unaddressed drawer when you were running late.

Karl Terry, a former publisher of the Quay County Sun, writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

karlterry@yucca.net

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