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A Cast of Newspaper Characters

I began last week filling out the form to be recognized by the Texas Press Association for 50 years in the newspaper business. I am still in the business. For the past three years, I have been writing the Capital Highlights column for TPA, which runs in about 100 Texas newspapers. I enjoy still being connected to a business I dearly love. I have met a cast of characters in that half century working at community newspapers. Here are a few of them. I started on the lowest rung of the ladder in 1968, as a paperboy for the Longview Daily News. I peddled papers door-to-door throughout downtown and to the car dealerships on Cotton Street and Spur 63. The circulation manager was Charlie Hart, a kindly man who wore a toupee and drove a convertible — a dangerous combination, it seemed to my 13-year-old mind. While attending SFA in Nacogdoches, I managed to talk my way into a job as a lithographer at The Daily Sentinel. Back in the day, newspaper pages were pasted up, with black rectangles for where the photographs (called halftones) would fit. I was one of three folks in the department, shooting large negatives of the pages, stripping in the halftones, and then using a thin brush and fuchsia-colored ink to cover the pinholes in the negative, a practice called opaquing.

Eventually, I became the paper’s only full-time photographer. The production manager was Weaver Blacksher, but we all called him “Daddy Bear.” He put the paper together, trimming rivers of type with an Exacto knife and using heated wax to adhere it to the layout page, a cigar clamped between his lips. Daddy Bear took one look at my nearly shoulder-length hair and from then on called me “Hippie.” As in, “Hey Hippie, when are you going to get those prints developed?”

In the pressroom, Joe Clifton caught the papers as the came off the press and stacked them so they could be bundled, all the while singing quite loudly, “I don’t know nothing about it,” over and over. I never figured out why. As I was finishing up graduate photojournalism courses at The University of Texas, I landed a job as a photographer and feature writer for the Round Rock Leader. The publisher was the urbane and even-tempered Larry Jackson, who published community newspapers for decades.

The Leader newsroom was on the second floor of a downtown Round Rock building, a picturesque setting. We typed our stories and photo captions on manual typewriters. Charlie Loving, the sports editor, had several sideline gigs going, such as putting on the Luckenbach World’s Fair with actor and storyteller Guich Kooch. He also ran the chicken flying contest at Round Rock’s Frontier Days. Contestants shoved their chicken into the back end of a rural mailbox with the rear removed. It was attached to a post and up on a stage. Using a toilet plunger, the chicken was “coaxed” to leave the mailbox and take to flight. Most squawked and flew a few feet, but some soared like eagles. Well, maybe like large pigeons.

One afternoon, Charlie got fed up with his balky typewriter, went to the back door, made sure nobody was below, and dropped it to the pavement. He then walked in and paid Larry $100 for the typewriter. At least that’s how I recall it. Finally, after graduate school I ended up running the San Augustine Rambler in 1982. Founder Sam Malone had sold it the previous year and I went to work for the new owner. I have written about Sam often. He was the stereotypical old-time country editor, with a bourbon bottle in the drawer and a loaded shotgun in the corner of his office. I learned more about country newspapering from Sam than anyone else over the decades. Hard to believe he’s been gone more than two decades. As the Grateful Dead song Truckin’ put it, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” It’s not over yet.