Preserving the past for the future
Most of the equipment was no longer used when I walked into the newspaper office for the first time. The machines were big and black and looked, well, complicated. Over thirty years later, when I finally had the opportunity to buy the Donalsonville News, none of that equipment was being used at all.
Carolyn McLeod had already talked to Landmark Park by then, considering a donation of the old printing equipment for a future display. After talking with Landmark Park myself, I realized that it could be years before they would realize their vision of having an old working press room.
“What if we did a museum here in Donalsonville?” I asked her. After all, this equipment had never been anywhere else. It is part of the history of the community and certainly a part of the history of her husband, longtime editor and publisher, “Bo” McLeod.
She graciously agreed and we slowly began the work of moving the equipment out of the old newspaper office. The pieces of equipment were so heavy that Bud Youmans and his crew had to build a special cart and sling to be able to move them. Some were so big that we had to knock out the back door to make a hole large enough to get them out of the building.
The Linotype, the Heidelberg Press and other equipment were pressure washed to knock years of dust and grime off the frames. They were scrubbed with wire brushes and then meticulously cleaned using everything imaginable, including Coleman fuel and tooth brushes.
What seemed an impossible task slowly transformed into a workable project. We discovered a 70+ year old photograph of the newspaper with some of the very same equipment we had saved. We have a great photo of “Bo” sitting at the Linotype.
We even discovered a 50 year old movie on the internet that showed how type was set and the machines were used.
It was only when watching the movie that the machines came alive to me. What a feat of engineering they were for their time. Everything seemed incredibly complicated to operate. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must have been to get a newspaper out on time in those days.
Thanks to our staff, Rhonda Worrell, Jennifer Welch, Mason Welch, Caroline Maxwell, Sammy Alday and particularly David Maxwell for their hard work and dedication to this project. Thanks also to Ernest Ponder for his construction expertise. Sometimes something good happens simply because someone stubbornly refuses to let an idea die.
The Donalsonville News Museum opens Thursday, August 22. It isn’t the fanciest newspaper museum in the country and we still have improvements planned for the future. However, it is our museum, preserving a part of our own past for others to enjoy in the future.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com