Tons of Newspapers
The truck that delivered the News
By Ken Rossignol
Photos of early delivery trucks used by Washington, D. C. newspapers in the early twentieth century assist in telling the story of how readers were able to get their news.
The process all started when rolls of newsprint were offloaded from ships to tractor-trailers, delivered to newspaper printing plants, and then finally the presses would roll, the news of the day was printed and spewed off of the rollers to collating machines, spun through a bundling process and sent flying onto a pallet which would then be lifted and taken to a loading dock where a truck would be waiting to receive for delivery to stores, homes and post offices in the next few hours.
The historical photos of a line of 1920’s delivery trucks won’t be replicated today. In most cities, most of the printing plants are closed as fewer newspapers exist with smaller circulations and send their small papers of significantly reduced quantity to an ever-dwindling number of printing locations. Then they are shipped in box trucks to a distribution center, with the plain white truck telling observers nothing about the contents.
Today’s news cycles are so fast; it is hardly worth putting words on paper and sending them through printing. The news is hyped, bought, sold, flavored, tainted, and twisted in a New York minute with talking heads on TV stretching and contorting their jaws, mouths and smirking grimaces in ways that should warn the viewer to grab the remote and switch to an old movie before the images jump out of the TV and control your life.
The bulk of twenty years’ worth of ST. MARY’S TODAY weighed over one thousand tons of newspapers
The weekly loads of newspapers that eventually appeared on newsstands for my readers to view and absorb went from the application of ink from large barrels to the whirling sheets of paper and to their hands – sometimes with the ink not quite dry – in less than 12 hours and nearly 100 miles. The bulk of twenty years’ worth of ST. MARY’S TODAY weighed over one thousand tons of newspapers, and most of that was hauled in my GMC Suburban.
The truck was finally cut loose and sent to pasture this week, with many parts of it likely to live on as it becomes scrapped – lots of them excellent parts – while some parts are just plain worn out at over 305,000 miles. The 1997 Suburban has new tires on it; they have less than 5,000 miles on them as the final years of the Suburban were spent only doing dump duty about twice a month. Otherwise, the glory days of delivering the news, hauling newspaper machines, and rushing off to news events of murders, bank robberies, yes, even more murders, fires, drug dealers’ arrests, and traffic mayhem were over.
Many trips were made at eighty-four miles each way in this Suburban to Broadcast House on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., to take video to WUSA in the era before the transmission of still photos and video clips over the internet. With the most prominent TV news station in Washington commissioning and paying for the rights to use the video and photos, it spread the work of the ace photographers and reporters of ST. MARY’S TODAY far beyond the Southern Maryland area. The arrangement that lasted more than ten years was set up at the suggestion of renowned WUSA police and fire reporter Dave Statter.
When the CIA’s former director William Colby disappeared, ST. MARY’S TODAY photographer Dusty Cassidy was there and broke the story with WUSA and Dave Statter.
When an arsonist set fire to over twenty-six homes in a new subdivision under construction in Indian Head, ST. MARY’S TODAY photographer Terrence Greenhow was there and broke the story with exclusive videos and photos with WUSA.
When a farmhand killed a young Amish farmer’s wife, beat her children, and ended his own life, I was there for ST. MARY’S TODAY and broke the story with WUSA and Dave Statter.
When a killer tried to rape and murdered a teenage girl in Longview Beach, ST. MARY’S TODAY and WUSA reporter Bruce Leshan was there; and when the killer was paroled twenty years later and allowed by the State of Maryland to let the convicted killer and sex offender to live next door to a Waldorf elementary school, both myself and Bruce Leshan were there to tell the story and interview the killer, Keith Green.
When the El Toro II charter boat sank in bad weather in the Chesapeake Bay, taking three lives, and a presidential helicopter crashed in Nanjemoy, killing five Marines, ST. MARY’S TODAY was there, and our photos appeared on the front page of the Washington Post and around the nation.
Many of these news videos and photos were picked up and published by national and international news organizations such as the Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Associated Press, WRC, WJLA, NBC Washington, CBS News, ABC News, 20/20, World News Tonight, BBC and more. ST. MARY’S TODAY ace photographers Natalie Himes, Patrick Pena, Hung Dang, and Mike Carrico were fearless when covering the news and capturing the scene in video and photos.
The significant number of photos in each edition of ST. MARY’S TODAY brought the news to life and expanded the story for our readers, contributing to the assessment by an expert that ST. MARY’S TODAY had the most reader-supported customer base of any weekly newspaper in America. With a GMC pickup, a Chevy van, and my Suburban acting as the workhorses to get the newspaper delivered from the printing plant to the newspaper route drivers for distribution to stores, vending machines, and post offices over nine routes in three counties, many miles were covered.
The Suburban often doubled as a place to sleep when waiting for cops to walk a perp or the printing presses to complete their work. The only collision in all those years took place when a small herd of deer rose out of a dip in the median strip and rushed into the path of the truck, wrecking the front end and causing over ten thousand dollars in damage. A cowcatcher, known as a brush guard, was added to the front, and no deer ever again dared to adorn itself on the bow of the Suburban.
Late in its twenty-four-year life, historic tags were finally earned at the cost of $25 annually. Now the tags must be returned to the motor vehicle administration as the insurance will be canceled, and the proud old truck is retired, recycled, and remembered. This truck might have been just a truck, but to me, it was part and parcel of the weekly effort to gather and print the news and as vital as any other aspect that made ST. MARY’S TODAY an indispensable part of keeping a newspaper operating and winning the paper the most important landmark first amendment decision in the last fifty years, Rossignol v. Voorhaar 2003 4th Circuit COA.