Voices from the past


The following reminiscences of local newspapering history are by the late Clarence Barker. Barker, publisher at the time, wrote these reminiscences for a special edition printed Sept. 8, 1949 at the El Dorado County Fair. It was titled “50 years of newspapering.”

The past half century has witnessed more development and improvement in the art of printing than in the entire preceding century, and probably more so in the country print shops than in the metropolitan areas.

Looking backward to 1899 I recall three newspapers in Placerville which exerted much influence in the past half century; the Nugget, a daily, the El Dorado Republican and the Placerville Mountain Democrat, both weeklies. All three were hand-set (there were no linotype machines in the county at that time and all were printed on water-power propulsion presses, using small Pelton water wheels and served by the privately owned water system.

I worked with all three of these establishments in the early years of the century, and witnessed the steady improvement of printing processes which now produce fine work by modern machines which we first learned to do by hand.

It was on the El Dorado Republican, owned by G.A. Richardson, that I started my apprenticeship in my early teens, carrying the weekly edition, running the job press by foot power and learning to set news-copy by hand. We were in the upstairs rear of the building where the locker plant now stands, sharing the building with Albert Shafsky’s Dry Goods store, in the front lower part. This arrangement continued for a number of years until Shafsky’s built where Unsaker’s Furniture Store now stands.

About 1906 or ’07 the Nugget was sold and the new owners (Pierce-Bosquit Abstract & Title Co.) installed the first linotype machine a high base No. 5 Model which was also powered by a water wheel under the building.

In 1908 W.S. Kirk bought the Nugget and the El Dorado Republican, moved the plant of the latter to the Coloma Street site of the Nugget and changed the name of the Nugget to Placerville Republican, making it a daily. The El Dorado Republican was still the weekly.

I went along to the new location and started learning to set type by machine. Very little change was made in other phases of printing during this time, except style of composition. I remember that the new (to me) linotype machine had a gasoline “pot” for molten type metal and one of my jobs was to keep the 5-gallon drum filled with fuel. This can was located on the roof of the building, making it an unpleasant chore, considering changes in Placerville’s weather with the seasons. The building, by the way, was located where the Piedmont Electric shop now stands.

The newspapers produced up to 1908, while serving fully adequately the needs of the community, were usually of only four pages, or eight pages made up of four locally printed pages backed up with four pages of “patent insides” sent out ready printed by Western Newspaper Union from San Francisco. Some small paper still use this so-called “canned copy.”

Another time-saving device, used often in emergency when local news or advertising was too light to fill up the paper, was the supply of stereotype plates which each shop had on hand. Feature stories were sent out on cast form which could be dropped into the page forms to fill holes. Such material is known as “boiler plate” by the trade, and its use has diminished greatly in recent years.

These devices, the hand-set typography, water-driven presses and even the older Washington Hand Press such as is in our booth at the El Dorado County Fair and upon which copies of this souvenir paper were printed, were the tools of the trade when I was learning printing.

During this time the Mountain Democrat was going along in the staid old hand-set manner under the guiding hand of G.J. Carpenter, a pioneer leader and editor of the Empire County.

In 1903 Miss Mollie Carpenter became editor and publisher, with Miss Bine Ingham as business manager and Will O. Upton as foreman. Miss Ingham later became half owner of the paper. This arrangement continued until Miss Ingham died in 1921 and I was called in to manage the mechanical side of publication, Mr. Upton having resigned a short time earlier.

A year later the Carpenter and Ingham interests leased the paper to me as publisher. A linotype machine was installed in 1922 as the “looks” of the paper began to change in various ways, which can be seen in going over the old files.

In the meantime, about 1920, W.S. Kirk sold his interest in the Republican to Wallace Brown, who moved the plant to a building next to the Fox Brothers Pharmacy.

In 1923 Brown sold to the El Dorado Publishing Co., a locally organized corporation which continued ownership until 1935, when the plant was sold to the Mountain Publishing Co. This was another local corporation which was organized in 1924 to purchase the Mountain Democrat from the Carpenter and Ingham estates, Miss Mollie Carpenter having died in 1924.

Following the change of ownership of the Placerville Republican the plant and equipment moved to the Mountain Democrat building where the daily Republican and weekly Democrat were both printed. The Georgetown Gazette subscription list was merged with the Democrat after its suspension in 1922.

There were no other changes in the organization until the Republican was discontinued during the recent war.

From the time of incorporation of the Mountain Publishing Co. the plant of the Mountain Democrat was leased to myself. In 1942 the corporation sold all equipment and publishing rights to the present publisher, retaining the building.

This is a brief summary of the history of the many changes in newspapers, their ownership and location as I recall them during nearly half a century of newspapering.

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