Monday, December 15, 2014

Ackley Publishing Co. Part 1

Walk down Main Street in Ackley, IA.  Across from the Pizza Ranch you'll see one of the oldest buildings in town, built in the 1870s as a Chinese laundry for railroad workers.  Today the exterior looks relatively new, and no one would ever guess the intriguing history of the building that has been home to Ackley Publishing Co since 1895.
Ackley Publishing is owned and run by Ackley's popular and well-liked mayor, Jim Daggs, and his wife Pat, a cheerful, energetic lady who is also a nurse.  Mayor Daggs' mother has said that he was born with printer's ink in his veins.  That might not be so far from the truth.  

Jim and Pat Daggs
At the age of 13, Mr. Daggs began apprenticing for the Eldora newspaper, and eventually helped the newspaper make the adjustment from linotype to more modern printers.  In 1975 and '76 he worked in Ackley.  He left for Cedar Falls for two years, and then returned to Ackley Publishing as a part owner.  Eventually Mayor Daggs bought the business.
The Heidelberg printer shown in the first photo is what Mr. Daggs calls the Volkswagen of printers.  It's a German machine made in the 1950s: an example of top quality workmanship.  Around 100,000 of these letterpress printers were made.  In 1950 a printer like this would have sold for  about $3500.  By the time Heidelberg stopped manufacturing them in the 1980s, they cost $18,000.  They have interchangeable parts, making them easy to work with.  

Ackley Publishing prints 500,000-700,000 popcorn bags every year using the letterpress method.  Besides the large wooden type, there's regular type and rubber-like stamps. 
Now let me introduce you to a more modern counterpart.  The Heidelberg above is a 1998 model that was purchased for $30,000.  At top speed it can print 10,000 pages per hour.  It is an offset printer which works on the principle of oil and water repelling each other.  The black sheet that looks like a negative is the image carrier copies are printed from.  (Read more about offset printing here).  Ackley Publishing has two even more modern machines which do a good deal of the work.
The machine above punches holes in calendars.  The punched-out circles are shown in the upper right hand corner and work very well as confetti.  When some of Mr. Daggs' friends married, he helped prepare their car for the getaway by pouring it in the defroster vent.  For the next five years the happy couple were reminded of their love for each other whenever they turned on the defroster.
Stay tuned: Part 2 will be posted soon!

42 comments:

  1. cute confetti. :) we did that to a coworker's van years ago - filled it with tons of hole-punches. not exactly appreciated, but...

    the printed word is still a bit of a miracle, i think.

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    1. It's important to show coworkers how much they are loved and appreciated ;) *grin.*
      I agree.

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  2. Love seeing that old press. Can't say I would like those hole punches in my car! lol

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  3. That is so interesting! Love the confetti too. :)

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  4. I love letterpress!! How wonderful to see some of that goodness in action and that people are keeping this art form alive! Nicole xo

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  5. Wonderful to see that old printing press.
    Nowadays it's all about a lot easier.
    Beautiful photos Bethany.

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    1. Right--with digitalization everything is much easier. Still there's something special about the old ways: they'd still work if the computers crashed!

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  6. Very nice post! As a collector of antique paper I am always curious about the printing process. I wonder if some of my old railroad brochures were printed on a machine like Mr. Daggs' Heidelberg. Your photos are excellent and I will be looking forward to Part 2.

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    1. I would think that it's very likely some of your brochures were printed on a machine like that; they used to be state-of-the-art printers.

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  7. I love old printing presses and things that had to do with those early newspapers. What a fun "tour" here today. xo Diana

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    1. It was fun for me! Yes, it is neat to learn about the old printing methods--especially for those of us who love to write!

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  8. Very cool post! 10,000 pages per hour? Amazing. And I love that confetti story.

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  9. I would like to see how are working all these old things :) Thank you for posting this lovely article. Liuba x

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  10. Very interesting post, Bethany. TexWis's description of printing as a "bit of a miracle" really hits the nail on the head. You have done some extensive research, learned a lot, and taken the time to pass that on to your readers. Thank you! As for Mr. Daggs, I love that he has carried forward his love of all things printing related since the age of 13. Finding a passion so young in life that never for a moment loses its appeal is a rare and beautiful phenomena.

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    1. True! It is rare to meet someone like that. Mr. Daggs shared a treasure-trove of information, so most of the research I did was just listening to him.

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  11. Great post Bethany, I've never seen an old printing machine before, it is really neat. looking forward pt 2.

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  12. How cool. What a neat piece of history. I would have never guessed these printers are still in use today.

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  13. sometimes I think it is a dying art. my mom use to print the church programs on a mimeograph machine (if you even know what that is)...I guess progress is a good thing!!!

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    1. You know, I don't think I've seen a mimeograph yet...I've heard other people talk about using them though.

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  14. haha, i love that little bit about the confetti in the defroster. what a character!!! i absolutly LOVE stuff like this. a railroad Chinese laundry? that's stuff i've only read about! SO COOL. i just love old machinery. eagerly awaiting part 2!

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    1. I agree on "so cool!" In so many episodes of shows I've watched there's been excitement at the old Chinese laundries. I would never have guessed that there was one in Ackley, much less that it was the printing shop!

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  15. Fascinating, Brittany, so great to see an old press!!! :)

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  16. German engineering is amazing. Thank you for bringing us such an interesting piece of your local history.

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    1. I agree. If something is made in Germany, it's usually high quality, and it works!

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  17. If ever there would be value in a time machine it would be to show old school printers some of today machines. Nice post.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. If printers could talk, they could have some pretty interesting conversations at Ackley Publishing!

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  18. This is a fascinating post. I love the 1950s Hiedelburg printer! Beautiful! And I love the owners' dedication to the printing craft! The fact that the building was once a laundry for the Chinese railroad workers was also so fascinating to me.

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    1. I was definitely surprised to hear of the building's history since there are now very few people of Chinese descent in the Ackley area. Chinese laundries are what I've only seen in TV series.

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