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Ordinary rambling.

March 15, 2016

Writing, I sit in our basement with an electric heater making the kind of racket a fan makes. Comfort.

In the 5th grade I used to have an electric heater fan in my darkroom.  I took a picture then.Darkroom in basement 1960

About the same time in Missoula my brother Tom and I would have huge fights (which I always lost) and in the back room of our house where it was cold, I could close the door to the kitchen and turn on an electric fan-heater.

I kept my chemistry set there in the back room. That, and the foot-tall stack of comic books. I don’t remember what table was back there, but it was probably a card table with metal folding chairs. I did some of my most important experiments back there.

I melted quantities of sulfur and lots of rubbing alcohol to make fires.  Why?  I was in the 5th grade.  Kids that age like to make fires.

My father had long since died of cancer, so I had little adult male supervision.

One time we got a visit from Don Coe and his son Douglas, who had driven over from Plains, Montana.  Don was a colleague of my father’s.

Douglas, an only child, saw my chemistry lab, complete with glass apparatus with a flame issuing, but he said, “I’ve got a better lab than that.”

Douglas eventually became a college organic chemistry professor in Butte. He was also a swimmer.  The Plains school had a swimming pool.
The last time I saw the Coes was at a triathlon at Frenchtown pond. Douglas’s daughter and my son Todd competed. Douglas told me he was surprised that someone would come all the way from Billings for the event. I am tempted to say Todd trounced Douglas’s daughter, but I am not certain.
In the 1940s Don Coe was editor and publisher of the Plainsman, weekly newspaper of Plains, Montana. My sister Carol said she used to enjoy watching the linotype and flatbed press when Don set type and printed his newspaper by letterpress. Don smoked a pipe, a strong memory.

Douglas was a year older than me and always beat me wrestling. His mother, Betty, whom I visited at a hospital in Missoula when she had surgery and I was still in journalism school, helped publish the paper even in the mid-70s when I visited her. By then they used a different printer who used an offset press, set type with a computer, and used a machine called a “headliner.”

I got one of those about 20 years ago and I got rid of it, although I have the cartridges of photographic paper that went with it. They are in my basement, and probably fogged by now.

I believe the headliner machine came to me through one of our kids’ friends, whose father bought the Laurel Outlook. I also got the Outlook offset press which I eventually put in my garage and made work, but I sold it for scrap after I got tired watching it work.

I’ll never forget the huge electromagnet at Golden Recycling, hanging from a crane. The magnet swung over to the press, still on the bed of a trailer. When the woman energized the magnet many levers and knobs flipped erect to face the magnet. The crane and magnet easily lifted the press, swung it to a pile of scrap, and let it fall with a nice crash. I think I got $20 or so.

1980 Indian Mt L.O.

At the Priest Lake District lookout tower on Indian Mountain.  In back are my sister Carol, her daughter Beth Angel Rohrer, Diane Judd Sinclair and in front of them: Bob Struckman, Tom Angel, and Todd Struckman. I’m in front. Note that Todd is wearing his pajamas. Penny must be the photographer.

In 1980, when our family drove our two VW vans to Priest Lake, Idaho, to work on a Forest Service lookout tower, we stopped in Plains for ice cream.  Don Coe happened to be after ice cream too, and he had his camera. He was interested in our llama, Andy, which we carried in one of the vans.  We bought Andy to carry our water to the tower.

He photographed our son Bob astride Andy and published a story in the Plainsman. He noted in the cutline that he had been friends with my father, Robert Powers Struckman, who died when I was 4. The only other fact about Don that I remember is that prior to Plains, he and his family had lived in Miles City where he worked on the newspaper there.
In 1976 I returned to journalism school in Missoula after a 7-year military enlistment. In the J-school library were stacks of newspapers from all around Montana. I was astonished and dismayed by the lousy quality of the Plainsman.

The type and makeup was a mishmash of ordinary typewriter, computer print, and some unedited press releases and blotchy unscreened photographs. Margins were ragged and the type went up and downhill. Later I learned that Don and Betty had had some sort of emergency and the paper had been published by some untutored friends.


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