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Riding with the Rangers: Planes, molten lead and remembering a visiting Ranger regular

Sep 27, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

On an airplane trip back east not long ago, the mode of transport on the final leg from Philadelphia to New Haven, Conn., was the turboprop airplane called the Dash 8. It's a 37-seater with a single aisle between two rows of not-so-bad seats.

The Dash 8 is just a tad bigger than the Brasilia 120 that serves Riverton Regional Airport.

I was on the airline beat for The Ranger back in the 1980s when there was a real air war in Fremont County. Once upon a time there were three airlines flying three flights daily to Denver. One flew the 50-seat Convair 580 that Frontier Airlines used as its flagship equipment for more than 20 years. There was a 33-seat Gulfstream plane as well, and a little 14-seat commuter plane as well. All told, there was a time when Fremont County travelers had 846 seats a day to and from Denver.

That didn't last very long, and no wonder. Today, the most seats flying out of Riverton daily is 90, and sometimes as few as 57.

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As various commuter airlines were elbowing for position back then, in the days immediately following the deregulation of the airline industry, there was talk of the Dash serving Riverton, but to my recollection it never did.

The big design difference between Dash 8 and the Brasilia is the Dash's high-wing design. The fuselage "hangs" from the wings above, so every seat has a clear view of the ground -- no wings in the way.

It's fun to watch the landing gear on takeoff, which is in full view of the passengers because of the high wings. When the gear is retracted, the wheels are still spinning fast as the gear folds up into the engine compartment and the hatch swings shut.

Another noticeable part of flying the Dash is how fast it gets off the ground. In Philadelphia, on an 80-degree day with every seat filled, the Dash was in the air in less than 20 seconds. Put a watch to the next plane you're on and see how it compares. Most commercial airliners of any size take 30 seconds or more to lift off once they start gunning it.

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We showed a job applicant The Ranger's "back shop" a few days ago, including our new direct-to-plate system that pretty much allows us to build a page on a computer screen, hit the "print" button, and have a finished press plate come out the other end. It means no more paste-up by hand, no more camera room where a photograph of the page is made, processed into a negative on film, printed onto a photographic aluminum, and finally put on the press. With direct-to-plate it's, well ... direct to plate.

The very next day, Frank Bach walked through the office and recalled how as a kid he used to earn a dollar or two sweeping up the back shop with buddy Leonard Sostrom in the old days of the Riverton Times -- that's before 1953 -- when the floor would be littered with lead shavings and pieces of type produced in the old days of "hot metal" printing.

Frank recalled that if you had a paper cut on your hand while you handled those shavings, or got nicked by one of the pieces of lead, it could itch for days.

Once the metal was swept up, it usually would be dumped right back into the huge, bubbling cauldron of molten lead that stood along the east wall, the fumes drifting merrily through the entire building.

Today's safety inspectors would have a stroke if they saw such a thing, but every newspaper printing plant in the country had one of those.

Times definitely have changed. We executed a technological change-over in 1973 that got rid of our lead pot forever, but the leftovers of the huge equivalent of a range hood still are bolted to the ceiling of The Ranger mailroom.

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From time to time I mention the "regulars" who come to The Ranger newsroom. They are part of what makes our office an interesting place. One of them was Kincaid Duran. Most Ranger readers didn't know him, but most downtown business people did.

There's no point in portraying Kincaid with false flattery. He was drunk most of the dozens of times he came in. He didn't want to leave without a couple of bucks in his pocket, and I obliged him, perhaps more often than I should have. Usually I urged him to use the money to get something to eat, but most of the time I know he drank dinner, such as it was. He was well-known to the police. He spent a lot of nights on the street. He got into fights. It was a tough way to live.

But I liked him. He wasn't stupid, he had a good sense of humor, he knew a lot of things about a lot of people, and he never just asked for a handout. Usually he wanted to sell something for his $2, most likely a drawing that he had made (although I once bought a "rare" penny from him for 25 cents).

He had some talent as an artist, and I usually felt the drawings were worth a couple of bucks (even when I had to donate the paper, pencil or pen to the cause). I still have a few original, signed Durans in my office -- and that rare penny too.

Kincaid Duran died earlier this month. He was 42 years old. No one who knew him could have been shocked. Life was a battle for him, and anyone who lived as hard as he lived wasn't bound for longevity.

He always read the paper if he could manage it. Sometimes it was just to see if his name was in the cop column, which it was many times, but he also remembered headlines and stories, and he like to follow the high school wrestling teams.

Kincaid used to wrestle. In a way, he never stopped.

He could be a royal pain in the butt, but I'll miss him, and so will the others in our office who got to know him while they were Riding with the Rangers.

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