Terry Warner was 19 years old and living in bachelor rooms a few blocks away in downtown Medford the summer he worked at The Star News.
The year was 1974. Medford’s downtown was a busy place. The rumble of freight cars rolling through town punctuated the workday and people were out and about on the streets.
Warner described himself at the time as being a longhaired hippie type of person with all the stereotypes that went with it. Well, as much as anyone with generational ties to north central Wisconsin could ever be described as being a hippie.
Warner went to college to get a deferment from being drafted and while the U.S. military’s involvement in the Vietnam War was winding down at the time, he still didn’t want to the take the chance.
He said that when people called him a draft dodger, he would point out his great-grandfather had chosen to emigrate from Prussia to settle in Wisconsin to avoid serving, and potential dying, in the Franco-Prussian war a century prior.
Warner’s great-grandfather had come to Taylor County to farm on cutover land. You couldn’t beat the price of the land and the chance for a new beginning away from European wars. The major caveat was that you needed to clear the land of the massive stumps left by the logging camps rolling through.
Warner tells of his ancestor getting off the train in Medford and walking to what would be the family homestead along the Mondeaux River. He says he thinks of how long the drive is now from Medford to the property and can’t imagine walking it with supplies, a wife and a child. The family still has the property with their cabin on it.
Warner spent the summer of 1974 training to be a Linotype operator.
For those unfamiliar with their printing history, Linotype allowed the printing of an entire line instead of each character on the paper. The process allowed the “quick and easy printing” of things like newspapers, magazines and books.
Warner talked of working with the grizzled veterans at the paper - people like Howie Long and Burt Amacher whose legacies at The Star News still linger today.
As low man on the proverbial totem pole, Warner got the less than fun tasks such as using the bubbling pot of lead — yes there were really pots of melted lead — to pour castings for printing things like advertisements. As anyone who has attempted to handle something bubbling hot knows, it is not always a clean process. He pointed out the spots where the molten metal would splash out and burn his clothes and skin.
At the time, Linotype machines had been the standard for decades after first being developed in the late 19th century. However, he had his sights on wanting to learn the new-fangled web offset press process — which is how we print The Star News today.
The big excitement in Medford in 1974 was the community’s centennial celebration. A century prior, the first settlements were built in the area and by 1875 the paper that would become The Star News began operation in a small building on what is now Main Street.
Warner, like everyone else, was caught up in the excitement even dressed up in old-timey clothes and hair styles for the big parade that marked the celebration.
Warner stopped in Medford Tuesday morning to pick up a copy of the paper and pay a visit so many decades later.
He may have only spent a relatively short time working here, but it left an impact so that nearly 50 years later he could still rattle off stories like they had happened the week prior.
I think of all the people that have come in and out of The Star News in the past 27 years and wonder if they have as many stories. I think of the lingering smell of stale cigar smoke that was a tip off that Joe Kay had been in over the weekend to write “Drop a Line” or the stories Don Woerpel would tell of butting heads with Bob Anderson and of checking the masthead every week to see if he still had a job.
There is a certain camaraderie among those who work at any job, a connection that spans decades and generations. In today’s transitory world where what is new is old and forgotten in the blink of an eye it is good to renew those connections and hear the old stories again to remind you that you are part of something bigger than this week, this month or even this decade.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.