There goes the press, and here comes a flood of memories

Art Cullen with the press he used to run, loaded on a truck bound for Carroll.



Monday marked a day of history as our Mighty Harris newspaper press went out the door and onto a truck for about 5¢ on the original dollar invested, so it was just as well that Fearless Leader John was not here because the realization might just have given him the big one.

Our publisher was in Rochester, Minn., to have his heart shocked and body probed by the experts at Mayo Clinic. He has suffered from an irregular heart beat the past couple years — it all started with him taking his first vacation in 25 years — and felt so punky the past few weeks that he reported to the ER of the world headquarters for medicine.

He stayed for a couple days of more tests and no doubt will return hearty and hale.

And when he does the pressroom will be empty except for residual grease, ink and recently discovered tiny allen wrenches on the floor.

A lot of newsprint through the folder over 23 years.

A lot of miles on John, 66.

We print in Sheldon now. It’s lovely. We are running more color on more pages than ever. We are turning a profit. And John doesn’t need to come in if he doesn’t want to. He can go to Dubai for tests if they will accept Medicare. And he doesn’t have to be back on Tuesday to run the mailing label machine.

So as John dances with the Grim Reaper, and the press rumbles down the road to our friends at the Carroll Times Herald so they can expand their vintage Mighty Harris line, it gave me pause to reflect on the long road John and I have travelled.

I was born on May 10 and brought home on his birthday, May 15 — Dad’s birthday was in September and he could maybe get a little boozy. Eight years older, John didn’t have much to do with me as a kid. John always was a camera and gadget buff. He was supposed to be a movie producer, but Daryl Zanuck stood in his way. Instead he became a sportswriter and photographer in 1972 for the Storm Lake Register and Pilot-Tribune.

He was at home when dad died in 1974, and helped steer me through my turbulent final years of high school and college. I bemoaned the fact that I was broke in college with little financial aid. John told me to get a job. I did, at the Minneapolis Tribune as a copy boy running errands for night editors.

By the time I matriculated from book learning, John had moved on to Algona as a photographer. Through no merit of my own, John got me hired as a summer intern and eventually as a reporter. He became editor, and eventually I followed him as editor when John decamped to Storm Lake for a job in public relations at Buena Vista University.

A pattern was emerging.

He grows a mustache, I grow a mustache. He gets a job in newspapering, I get a job in newspapering. He gets married, I get married a year later. He starts a newspaper in Storm Lake, three months later I join him.

There have been too many editions to count. I just remember running the press at 1 a.m. with John catching, or on Saturdays just the two of us throwing mail bags for 20,000 copies of The Progressive Populist (our brother Jim’s national newspaper).

We lived in his tiny apartment together in Algona and his mobile home until he evicted me. Good move. Because he lured me to Algona — the last place in the world I wanted to live — I met my wife Dolores.

He taught me how to write fresh out of college. He instructed me never, ever to crop one of his photos. He taught me the difference between a halftone and a photomechanical transfer — completely useless information today. He was the first Iowa newspaper publisher to use a Macintosh to lay out pages, the first to produce a newspaper digitally and one of the first community publishers to run full color every issue.

He was Iowa’s Press Photographer of the Year. He was published in the National Press Photographer’s yearbook. He and I can take the same photos and words for a news design. His design will be airy and brilliant, mine will be jammed and not nearly as good. He was born with the eye. I was born with BS. He is one to see the job through, I am one to bag it all. He can write faster than anyone I know.

We can grunt and understand each other on deadline.

He knows how I feel when I see that press go out the back door.

So it’s just as well he had wires up his nose at Rochester. He wouldn’t have liked it, seeing $150,000 roll out for a song. Like the old Minneapolis Moline corn sheller, the 1973 Harris V15A is something of a collector’s item these days. It will sit in Carroll’s basement as a parts inventory. We don’t have a grove to park it in.

As the press jockeys ripped it all apart Saturday and Sunday I thought about John and our history. I should thank him. On second thought, that would be maudlin.

He will come back and launch several indecisions from that chair, and one day fall out of it when his ticker strikes midnight. Then we will put him on a truck for Carroll, where they will store him with some plate cylinders until he is found by a museum curator.