The Hines Brothers: After 44 years of printing, pressmen retire

By Daniel Silliman


Willie Hines will wake up early Monday morning, even though he doesn't have to.

He won't have to get up in the dark and put on his dark blue slacks and his limp, shapeless ball cap.

He might not even set his alarm, but he'll wake up, anyway, and he'll lie there and think, "Now, I am retired."

Down the street, in Grantville, Ga., his older brother, 66-year-old Oscar Hines, will get a start on some remodeling projects, getting up and going into his kitchen.

He's going to re-do the floors, now that he's retired.

What the Hines brothers won't do on Monday morning is get into Oscar's Chevy Scottsdale and drive 50 miles up Interstate 85 to go to Jonesboro, to the Clayton News Daily, to work in the pressroom.

After 44 years of full-time printing, the Hines brothers retire on Friday, April 25.

"When Martin Luther King was assassinated, we were printing then," said Willie, 65, "and when the planes flew into the towers [in the 2001 terrorist attacks], we were out there in the pressroom. Every day, we were printing, but it's different every day. I love printing. I'm pleased with my work that I've done here. I'm proud that I was able to reach this point and can leave on my own."

The brothers started working around the press in 1963, part time, in the afternoons after high school. Printing was one of a number of odd jobs they had, said Oscar, who figures he's been working since he was 12.

In September 1964, they started full time, Clayton News Daily employment records show. Willie worked on the press, and Oscar worked on the press and in the darkroom.

The press was purchased by Jim Wood and, at that time, printed about 15 newspapers from around the region. In 1969, according to Wood, the press was moved to Jonesboro and, two years later, a few weekly papers were merged into what is now known as the Clayton News Daily.

When the press made that 50-mile move northeastward, the brothers went with it.

"The Woods," Oscar said, "they treated us like they were our own parents. It's the way they were. They never treated us in any bad way."

At that time, the brothers recalled, it was an offset, cold type, web press, a press that inks arrangements of metal type onto long rolls of paper. It was an advanced machine, for the time, the sort of pre-computer, industrial elephant developed when machines were meant to be operated manually, with skill and patience.

When the three sheets of a 12-page newspaper came off the printing press, in those days, the Hines brothers used to have to fold them by hand.

"Well," Willie said, "we had to do everything manually. I guess we were a lot slower then."

"Like making halftone," said Oscar, referring to the now-obsolete craft of photoengraving with grids of dots, a craft Oscar has mastered.

"Now they do it on the computer," he said, "but I made halftone by hand. It'll take you at least a month of practice to learn how to do it. I don't think kids these days have that kind of patience. They want to go in and get it done, but to get real quality out of it, you have to know the real base of making halftone."

Both brothers recall that in their 44 years of working as pressman, they've learned patience. Some of that was learned along with techniques that aren't used anymore, like hand-crafting halftone and hand-setting type.

"I thought it was more enjoyable," Willie said. "Now, we have the image setter, but when it was manual type, I got more joy from it. When you're finished printing and you feel pride that it looks good, that does something to you."

Things are faster now, more automated, but for the Hines brothers, some things never changed. Every day, for almost four decades, they made the drive from their Grantville home to Jonesboro. Used to be they would trade off driving, Willie driving, one day in his Chevy, and Oscar on the other, but Willie's eyesight went bad about 10 years ago, so now Oscar drives them in his Chevy everyday.

The drive, they said, gave them time to talk, time to be careful and deliberate.

"For that time, we're really together," said Oscar. "We can figure things out. You know, 'two heads.' Any time I have a question, I would come to him and talk about it and get his thoughts on what should be said. When you get angry, you say the wrong thing. We'd get together and talk about it, so I'd know how to approach the person in the right way."

That 50-mile talk, that 'two-heads-are-better-than-one' deliberation time may be one of the reasons Willie can boast that the brothers never had any problems working with anyone.

"With all the time we've been working here," he said, "we've always been willing to help people. Not just with printing, but with life and other things. I don't know how many guys I've trained, how many pressmen. They're making a living out of it now."

On the other hand, Willie said, sometimes the drive is just the two Hines brothers being together, like they've been together since they started working the press in 1964.

"Passing conversation," he said. "They're doing construction on 85, so we talk about that. This morning, he had his blinker on, he was trying to turn, but this lady wouldn't let him in. So finally, he just pushed over. We laughed about that."

On Friday, after 44 years, they'll make that commute one last time. The brothers will drive from Grantville to Jonesboro in the morning and then Oscar will work with the negatives and burn plates to be printed, and Willie will check the ink levels on the press and wheel out another giant roll of paper.

They will read this article. They will hear people say congratulations. There will probably be cake, and then they will drive home again.

"We put a lot of time in here," said Willie, almost like he was apologizing for leaving.

"I'll be glad to get out of the darkroom," said Oscar, "because I've been there so long, mixing those chemicals and everything. I feel like I need to get out of there, but I'm going to miss the people I work with."

On the way home, the Hines brothers will be quiet, for a moment, as Oscar's Chevy hits the main vein of evening traffic. Then, maybe, they'll try to say something that sums up 44 years of work, or maybe they'll just talk about the construction and what they'll have for dinner. Passing conversation.

Oscar might mention he's thinking about starting to play music again. He plays the bass guitar and Willie plays lead guitar. And once, they played as "The Nights of Rhythm."

They haven't really played in 12 or 13 years, though. Haven't had the time. But now the Hines brothers are retired.

Maybe, they will say, they will call themselves "The Hines Brothers."