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Riding with the Rangers: The things some people do when it's Mining Edition season

Jun 18, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

I've got a fair number of Ranger Mining Editions under my belt, but a visitor to this office on Tuesday has me topped. And he's got some skin in the game -- literally.

Gilbert Wozney was The Ranger's head pressman for something in the neighborhood of 43 years, and that's some neighborhood. Only two employees ever drew a Ranger paycheck longer than Gilbert did. My dad, the late publisher Bob Peck, was on the payroll for 58 years from 1949 to 2007, and longtime editor, columnist and senior staff writer Carolyn B. Tyler logged 51 years.

Then comes Gilbert, whose tenure covered the early 1960s to well into the new century.

He worked on three generations of Ranger presses, supervising the installation of two of them. Actually, that 1973 press was expanded three more times, and each one seemed like a full installation in itself.

The most recent was the second-story color "tower" we bought in 1999, which allowed us to begin publishing the Sunday Ranger and brought full-color capability to us in a manageable way.

Prior to that, Gilbert knew all too well how difficult it was to produce a full-color photograph on the smaller press. About the only time we every did it was this time of year -- for Mining Edition. I remember driving early in the morning to a commercial printing laboratory in Salt Lake City to pick up the four precious color "separations" -- film negatives with each color separated from the others, so that one negative had only the part of the film required for the blue portion of the finished picture, another for the red, another for the yellow, the fourth for the black.

When all the inks were applied in the right places and right mixtures on the paper, the full-color photograph would be complete. In printing, a picture reproduced this way is called a "process color" image. Today, the same thing can be accomplished via computer with a mouse click -- something Gilbert Wozney probably envies in retrospect, kind of the way Tom Hanks felt in "Cast Away" when, at his welcome home party after four years on a deserted island, he flicked a small candle-lighter over and over, a wry smile on his lips.

Like many pressmen of his generation, Gilbert was injured by the machine that was his livelihood.

Once, around 1970, he and a fellow pressman were in early, prepping a section of the Mining Edition. Many modern safety features of today's printing presses didn't exist then, including the bell that rings before the high-compression rollers are "inched" so that paper or plates can be loaded or unloaded.

Gilbert was on one end of the press, his partner on the other. They couldn't see each other. Just as Gilbert reached to the pinch point of two rollers, the other man "inched" the press.

Something had to give, and it was a couple of Gilbert's fingers.

He went to Riverton Memorial Hospital, where doctors found that the crushed digits could not be repaired, nor would they heal. They were amputated, one at the first knuckle, one at the second.

This, unfortunately, was a common story from newspaper press rooms in earlier decades. What I'd guess wasn't so common is what happened next

Gilbert came back to work. Right then. The two stumps bandaged and, no doubt, hurting like Hades, he came back to 421 E. Main.

It's become part of Ranger lore that has been told for a generation already, and will be retold for years to come.

Embellished? I don't know. I was just 10 years old.

But I've seen Gilbert's hand, and I know the man. Sounds right to me.

I asked Gilbert about it once. His answer was simple. That Mining Edition section was late, and the daily Ranger was waiting.

"It was Mining Edition time," he said. "The work had to get done."

When Gilbert stopped in at our front counter this week for a small bit of business, seven years removed from his retirement, joked "I've come to apply for a job."

Sorry, Gilbert. No can do. You already gave us your best. And then some. As much as anyone, and more than most, you know what mid-June means when you're Riding With the Rangers.

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