San Jon family donates antique printing press to museum

Gerlad White, left, demonstrates to Gilbert Rivera, right, how the Challenge Gordon printing press works.

Gerald White, left, demonstrates to Gilbert Rivera, right, how the Challenge Gordon printing press works.

By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer

A San Jon family donated a 19th-century Challenge Gordon platen-job printing press that has been in their family since 1950, to the Tucumcari Historical Museum.

Gerald White and Carol White Nash watched as a skid loader lifted and removed the more than 200-pound press that had been in the family home since 1966.

The Challenge Gordon, built by Shneidewend & Lee of Chicago, made its appearance in 1884 and was in production until 1910.

Their father, Clark T. White, originally purchased the press in the 1950s from I.L. Flower. The press would come to rest in the corner of the garage where Clark operated the “Horned Toad Press.”

“I believe my father moved that press into the corner of the garage not ever thinking about how to get it out,” Gerald said.

Marlin Terry, Terry’s Service Center Inc., used a skid loader and trailer to transport the press from the Whites’ home in San Jon to the Tucumcari Historical Museum.

“I truly appreciate all that Marlin did for us in moving this press,” Gerald said. “It would have been a tremendous undertaking if it had not been for his generosity.”

Gerald said his father used the press to print various items including school programs, stationery, Christmas greetings and napkins for weddings and anniversaries.

“We became very familiar with the workings of the printing press growing up,” Carol Nash said.

The process of printing on the press first started with placing the type into a composing stick by hand.

The type was made up of individual letters manufactured backwards out of lead in varying font size and type.
Gerald said the type had to be backward in order for the copy to print properly on the paper. He said each line of type had to be placed into the chase with blocks of wood called “furniture” to take up the excess space. This process was repeated line by line and when finished, an iron wedge called “Quoins” kept everything in place, Gerald added.

Nash said the chase was set and locked in place, ink was applied to the ink plate and a person would press their foot down on the pedal to start the machine. She said rollers would cross the ink plate and then would roll over the type letters that would then be applied and pressed onto the paper.

“Sometimes you’d print one sheet to make sure it was aligned right and the type print took,” Gerald said.

Gerald said his father first learned how to set type when he was 6 years old. He said his grandparents, Jesse and Arba White, bought the San Jon Sentinel newspaper in 1914. “For 14 years my father and his sisters, Francis and Ila, were involved with the preparing and printing of the paper,” Gerald added.

“I was told by my dad when he was 12, my grandfather yelled ‘Clark, get in here and start setting type!’ which ruined a serious marble competition between my father and his friend Aubrey Armstrong,” Gerald said.

“It is so wonderful of the Whites to donate this printing press to the museum, said Paula Neese, museum director.

Neese said the press is an asset to the museum and she hopes the Whites would give a demonstration to the public on how the press works. She said the exhibit is being developed and will be available to be viewed during regular business hours.


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