Bobby and Lisa had to leave on Thursday for other commitments at home so Pat and I stayed and toured other places on our list of things to do. One of those places for me was English, Ind., admittedly not your typical tourist destination spot, but a place that I have wanted to visit again for a long time.
Years ago, when I decided to follow a career in printing and the graphic arts industry, I decided that I needed to learn how to operate the Linotype machine. Linotype operators during those days were high paid and actively sought after by newspapers and magazines to set the type for their publications.
The Linotype machine was a line-casting machine used in printing along with letterpress printing. It was the industry standard for newspapers and magazines from the late 19th century to the 1960s and 70s, when it was replaced by offset lithography printing and computer typesetting. The name of the machine comes from the fact that it produces an entire line of metal type at once, hence a “line-o-type,” a significant improvement over the previous industry standard, which was the composing stick and drawers of letters.
The Linotype machine operator enters text on a 90-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as “hot metal” typesetting. The matrices are then returned to the type magazine from which they came, to be used later. This allowed much faster typesetting and composition than the original hand composition in which operators placed down one pre-cast metal letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.
The machine revolutionized typesetting and with it publishing, making it possible for a relatively small number of operators to set type for many pages on a daily basis. Before Mergenthaler’s invention of the Linotype in 1884, no daily newspaper had more than eight pages.
As a high school student working after school at a daily newspaper, I was mesmerized by the 2,000 moving parts of the machines as they worked in complete harmony with each other, producing columns of type from molten lead. After school, I used to clean the space bands and pour the liquified lead into molds for the machines, but was not allowed near the machines otherwise.
While researching Linotype schools I settled on the Milo Bennett Linotype School in English, Ind., because of their reputation as being a premier institution. It was operated by Mrs. Flanigan, the widowed wife of Maurice Flanigan of the English Publishing Company. She arranged my boarding and that of a fellow student with Mrs. Brown, another widowed lady of that small town.
I boarded a Greyhound Bus in Escondido, Calif., in July, 1961 and traveled Route 66 to St Louis, where I spent the night in a sleazy hotel in order to catch my connecting bus the next morning. The connecting bus only came within about 25 miles of English so when the bus driver pulled over to the side of the highway and told me that was where I was to get off, it seemed like I was out in the middle of nowhere standing there alone with my suitcase. As the bus pulled away and continued on down the road I noticed a little road that intersected with the highway and I figured that must be where I needed to go. Several miles down the road, an old gentleman driving a rickety Model A pickup stopped and gave me a ride to English, Ind., where I spent the next six months learning the keyboard and mechanics of the Linotype machine. When I went to work for The Times-Independent in 1980, Sam Taylor still had an old Linotype sitting idle in the backroom of the shop.
So after 50 years I was excited to visit the old town, which I remember as a bustling little place, especially on a Saturday night when the local farmers and their families came to town to buy groceries and supplies. There was a weekly newspaper office across the street from the school, several restaurants nearby, a hardware store, a grain mill, a gas station and garage, and several other businesses that could be found in a typical midwestern town. There was usually a Saturday night square dance in a pavilion not far from the center of town and a softball game during the evenings. It was a neat little town located at the confluence of Bird Dog Creek and Brownville Creek that connected with the Blue River, and I was looking forward to the visit.
But when I drove into the town last week, there was nothing there. The town was gone except for an old gas station and small convenience store and a few houses at the higher elevations. Come to find out after doing some research, the town of English suffered five major floods after I left there in 1961 and the town council decided that the only solution to the flooding problem was to move the town. The town purchased 160 acres of high ground and a partnership was formed with Lincoln Hill Development Corporation, and the entire town was relocated. This was the second-largest relocation of an entire town in U.S. history and it is located high and dry several miles away next to the old U.S. 64.
So, similar to the old Linotype machine, the old town of English is gone and replaced by a new sterile version that lacks the charm and uniqueness of the original. One of the local residents said that it is not the bustling little town that it used to be because farming is no longer a viable profession there.
So it is with some sadness that I can scratch that experience off of my bucket list.