Mack Elliott, 71, retired last week after 53 years at PJ Printing in Louisiana, but not before seeing his profession drastically change twice.
Elliott grew up in the Louisiana area but graduated from Mark Twain High School in Center after a family move in 1962.
“I helped my dad and his friends get their crops out and then in November I came to work here,” Elliott said on his last full-time day in the printing business on Friday, July 31.
When Elliott, arrived, things were quite different. PJ Printing wasn’t putting out millions of printed products then and he bounced back and forth from the printing shop and the Press-Journal newspaper, a practice that lasted well into his career.
“I worked in the hot metal” lead type when he first came, Elliott recalled. “I was taught the linotype and I did the hand-setting” of pages. “I was just learning and I did the engraving for pictures too.”
In 1965 when the Press-Journal went to the offset process, Elliott found himself screening photos in the pre-press department.
“I had just turned 21,” Elliott said. “They sent me to offset printing school in Long Island,” N.Y.
“The change was pretty neat,” Elliott said of shifting to creating metal plates to put on the press. “You weren’t up to your neck in ink and hot metal and by then we had air conditioning, so it was quite an improvement.
When offset came, it was still hard work though. “We used to work 60 hours a week cutting color and burning plates.”
Elliott also pasted up the Press-Journal for years by hand so that they could be photographed and burned onto the offset plates that are attached to the press rollers.
And then things changed drastically again.
“We got computers so I went back over to the printing area and then back and forth until we had too many commercial jobs,” Elliott said. “It still do the plates today,” for the Press-Journal.
Today, page images are burned onto a metal plate with laser images from a computer. There are no more large negatives needed to burn into the plates.
“The technology has really changed and that’s what kept me in the printing business,” Elliott said. “I don’t think I could have lasted all those 60-hour weeks anymore.”
Elliott loved the work and will miss “the people I work with. I never hated getting up to go to work.”
The retiree will take about one month off to get personal things in order “and then we’ll see how bored I get,” Elliott said. “I might come back and work here part-time. You just can’t sit on your behind in retirement, you have to do something.”
One thing will be spending time with family in the Louisiana area and Lincoln County.
Gerry Kufffer is the pre-press manager at PJ Publishing and Elliott’s former supervisor.
“Mack is the kind of guy that does things you don’t see because he learned his craft from people who knew it,” Kuffer said. “It will take all three of us left to fill his shoes. He’s a true trade smith.”
Elliott’s legendary ability for proofreading will also be missed, according to PJ Printing’s General Manager Jeff Guay.
“A lot of things pass by several eyes but Mack always catches it,” Guay said.