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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Memoirs of a Progressive Packrat The Observer’s First Printer Lived a Life in Movement BY DAVID RICHARDS GLIMPSES OF A CENTURY: By a Mouse in the Halls of the Mighty. By Mark Adams. 272 pages. $24.95. 1Mark Adams was first and foremost a printer. When his Austin printing business failed, as it did from time to time, he “slugged up as a linotype operator at the Austin AmericanStatesman.” This meant, in the language of the Typographical Union, that he took his union card, went to the newspaper composing room, printed his name on a lead slug, and hung the slug on the “Available” board. By this action, Mark announced to the foreman of the shop that he was available to hold ing operation. Hiring of printers was done by the foreman who was himself, by custom and rule, a union member. Indeed, in those years, regular situation holders could hire substitutes to cover their regular shift without management approval, so long as the sub was slugged up. This practice, which existed at unionized newspapers across the country, enabled journeymen printers such as Mark Adams to move across the country and from job to job almost at will, creating an iconoclastic crowd of roving freethinkers. Technology and the elimination of hot lead type in the printing process has decimated the journeyman printing trade. Irish Matthews, a long-time Austin unionist and Democrat, recalls that he was holding a situation at the Statesman when Mark Adams slugged up in the late fifties. At that time, according to Irish, there were some 220 regular union jobs for printers at the paper. Today, despite the dramatic growth of the city and the newspaper, there are probably less than fifty such unionized jobs. Not only have we lost those skilled jobs, but we may also face the loss of the colorful language that characterized the unionized printing trade. I remember well my first representation of the Typographical Union in Dallas in the fifties. It took weeks just to adjust to the peculiarities of the jargon. Some years ago, Chief Judge Brown of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote a wonderful opinion, attempting to describe a dispute between I.T.U. Local 173 and the Dallas [Morning] News. Judge Brown’s opinion noted that the culmination of the controversy came when the “chapel chairman pied the forms in the hell box.” The Judge pointed out that the chapel chairman apparently had no ecclesiastical duties, but rather functioned as the union steward, and the hell box was the disposal for used metal type. We will probably never again see such disputes nor another Mark Adams. All of this is simply to say that reading Mark Adams’ Glimpses of an American Century brings home vividly what we have lost to technology. Mark’s father was a printer and editor of small town weeklies in East Texas, and Mark was a journeyman printer by the age of fifteen. In the midst of the Depression, when the East Texas oil field was, at its early peak, Mark was working with his father on a weekly in Gladewater. According to Adams, “Governor Ross Sterling sent the National Guard to shut down the huge oil field until the Texas company could finish its pipeline to the major company refineries on the Gulf Coast. \(Governor Sterling had entered politics from his post as The senior Adams was incensed, and denounced the Governor’s invasion of East Texas, commenting in his paper, “The only difference between Ross Sterling and his militia and Al Capone and his mob is that Sterling’s gunmen wear uniforms.” Mark’s father rightly expected retribution, and shortly there were unsuccessful attempts to indict Mark and his father for criminal libel, and visitations from a Texas Ranger, who later told Mark they had been called by the Governor’s office and instructed to do whatever was necessary “to quiet us down.” With this background, it is A Mark Adams and his father, Silas, Chaparral Press, ca. 1958 Russell Lee MARCH 13, 1998 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER