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Barry Schrader
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I writing this column for the following newspaper;

  • Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life

The Articles started December 2007.

 

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'Etaoin Shrdlu' machine preserved in Shabbona basement

By Barry Schrader.................................January 16, 2008

In a store building converted to apartments on main (Comanche) street in Shabbona exists a complete printshop, preserved since it was closed in 1977 by printer-owner and one-time newspaper publisher Doreen Smith.
The basement printing plant produced the weekly Shabbona Express, later renamed the DeKalb County Express, which was purchased in 1928 by her father C.C. Trytten who ran the paper, later adding the Lee County Times from Paw Paw, until his death in 1957. Doreen and her husband David, along with Wayne Wright, continued the papers until 1960, closing them down after Wayne's death. But she and her husband continued in the printing business until 1977 when they retired.
Doreen arrived in Shabbona with her parents in 1928, at age 2, and has remained there ever since-for 80 years. She began her printing and newspaper career as a school girl when she helped her father in the backshop, learning typesetting on the Linotype machine as well as other printer's tasks in the shop. She took a liking to the Linotype and became quite proficient as a typesetter.
Those in the printing trade know that a Linotype keyboard is completely different than a typewriter's layout, with three distinct sets of keys, one for lower case letters, one for capital letters and the middle set for numbers, punctuation and special characters. The left hand two vertical rows spell out ETAOIN SHRDLU which is how the operator usually warmed up the machine by hitting those keys, checking to be sure the mats dropped down from the big brass magazines that contained all the letters in the alphabet, then casting the line onto a hot metal slug of lead type. It wasn't uncommon for newspaper readers to occasionally see these strange letters appear at the beginning of a story, because the operator or proofreader forgot to toss out that line of type before setting the actual news story. Some people thought it was the byline or pen name of some writer, but it was an inside joke for printers and news people of a half century ago.
Once out of high school Doreen decided to strike out on her own and moved to Chicago. After working awhile in an office job she spotted an ad in the Chicago Tribune seeking a typesetter in a commercial printshop. At the ripe old age of 19 she marched into the printing office and applied for the job. The surprised employer questioned her experience on the Linotype. She immediately sat down at the keyboard and proceeded to prove herself to be a competent typesetter. She thinks he must have been desperate to fill the position because she was hired and became the only woman Linotype operator in the shop, staying on the job some four or five years.
She met her future husband David Smith on a blind date while he was going to college in Chicago to become a teacher and they were married in 1949. They decided to return to Shabbona to help her father in the newspaper and printing, her husband quickly learning the composing room and press work side of the business.
After her father's death they continued the newspapers another three years, but their backshop foreman's death caused them decide to cease publishing the two weeklies. However, there was a market niche for printing legal briefs, proceedings from the courts all over Northern Illinois, and it proved to be a lucrative business. They owned the right sized printing press-a Little Giant sheet-fed letterpress-and her skill as a typesetter and proofreader made them one of the most sought-after printers by lawyers to publish their briefs. Their business continued until 1977 when their ages and David's health made them decide to retire. After his death a few years later Doreen decided to keep the building where they lived, once an American Legion hall, now converted into first and second floor apartments above the basement printing operation. And she liked typesetting so much she has kept one of the two Linotypes, a 4,000 pound behemoth she calls a Rube Goldberg machine, in running condition and occasionally sets a few lines for friends, her own address labels and titles that she still prints on one of the presses for her extensive jazz collection. They disposed of the biggest press, an ancient Babcock cylinder two-pager that filled the center of the basement. It had to be broken apart and sold for scrap since there was no way to move it out of the basement that had been remodeled and the big back windows, just above ground, had been replaced by a solid wall.
Her retirement years are now spent between Shabbona and Naples , Florida where she and a friend Jim Carter own a place. They spend six months in each town, taking advantage of the best weather up north and down south. But she still enjoys her time back in Shabbona where she can "putz around" in the basement printshop and enjoy her collection of some 800 jazz records now copied onto CDs.

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barry815sbcglobal.net

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115

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