By Susan M. Thigpen © 1987
Issue: March, 1987
It's been four years this month since the first issue of The Mountain Laurel rolled off the presses. It was something entirely new to us. We had never done anything like it before. That first month we had to learn everything. We quite literally started from scratch.
When we decided we wanted to print a paper, we had no idea what was involved. The first thing we did was make an appointment with the general manager of an established newspaper. I walked in armed with nothing but my ignorance and a Muppets notebook. I know it looked awfully unsophisticated, but it was the only kind of notebook the store I stopped in had to offer.
We sat down in the manager's office and started asking questions and taking notes. We were told about the basic tools of the trade, Flats was the name of the paper with lines ruled on them in blue. The lines were printed in blue because the press cameras wouldn't print that color. The lines were to guide you to get your articles and ads straight. The manager produced little rolls of extremely thin tape that was to be used to make the borders around ads. We were told that it came in different widths, both plain and fancy.
The biggest joke of all was when we were handed a Uhu glue stick to attach the articles and ads to the "flats." (Only we didn't know how funny it was at the time.) With all these basics explained, we made a date for our first issue to be printed one month later, and left.
I'm sure those folks were sure they'd never see us again, but one month later, there we were, ready to print.
We couldn't afford a typesetting machine and to pay someone for the use of theirs was also beyond our means. We sunk practically all of our money into an electronic typewriter that would right margin justify the print. That typewriter was a miracle machine. It would do anything except make coffee. Coffee, we soon found out was also another unofficial tool of the trade. Without it we wouldn't have made it through many a long deadline night.
I hadn't typed since the eleventh grade in high school. Needless to say, I was a bit rusty. Okay, I was a lot rusty. The flats were divided into column widths. We measured the columns, set the typewriter margins to that width and started typing the articles to go into the first issue.
We asked how much advertising we should sell to go into the paper. We were told that 50% was a good goal to set to break even on the costs involved. We got on the phone and started selling advertising. Can you imagine what it must have sounded like to a business owner when we talked to them? It went something like this:
"Hello, we're going to start a new publication about the Blue Ridge Mountains and the people who live here and the beautiful places. Would you like to buy an ad?"
We had nothing to show prospective advertisers because the first issue was yet to be printed! In spite of that handicap, there were many wonderful people who took a chance on us. They will never know how much their support meant to us. They took a chance on faith alone. We are proud that many of those advertisers who were in the first issue are still in it today.
When we added up how much space we had sold in advertising, it went beyond 50% of the space of the eight pages we had originally planned to print. We expanded the number of pages to twelve.
The day before print date, we started laying out our first issue. Keep in mind that our only tools were a typewriter and a glue stick. When a mistake was found in my typing, there was nothing else to do but type it over. When a piece of article was pasted down crooked, it had to be torn up and retyped. All night long it was try, retype, try, retype. But, by 7:00 the next morning, we were ready to go.
Because of the severe limitations of the font styles a typewriter could produce, the printer was to set the type for the ads. We were told that this could be done in a matter of a couple of hours at most. I really don't think they thought we would be able to sell much advertising. We arrived and the professional typesetter started to work on setting our ads. We were handed the sheet of typesetting and laid out the ads ourselves, using their work tables. It was at this point that we made a big discovery. They weren't using glue sticks; they had a machine that melted wax. The back side of the paper was coated with wax, making it easy to stick down on the flats. That wasn't the miraculous part. The miracle was that waxed paper could be pulled up and moved over and over again if it wasn't straight! You better believe that by the time we started on the second issue, we were the proud owners of a $45.00 hand held waxer. We still use it to this day and never forget how important it is.
Well, back to our progress laying out the ads. What the printer thought would take only a couple of hours took nearly eight. There was no time to print our first issue after it was completed. We were told to come back the next day. The negatives were shot that first day, and we stood looking at them, so anxious to see the finished product.
We were there bright and early the next day to see our first issue roll off the press. Nothing can describe our feelings on seeing it. It was like looking through the window of a hospital nursery at a new born child. We were more like proud new parents than publishers.
In one short month, we had learned so much, but by no means had we learned it all. We were still rank greenhorns. The best thing we had going for us was the subject we had chosen to write about; the Blue Ridge Mountains and the wonderful people who live here.
The mountains and the people; you might say the story has told itself.