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!