Part of Metal Type’s Printing Advice section, here Phil discusses the long-lost art of paper ruling.
PAPER RULING was my Dad’s first trade. He apprenticed to this at the age of 14 and worked a good part of his life doing this. Dad eventually had to get into printing as it turned out to be impossible to earn a living in small town Regina doing paper ruling only.
Dad established our small shop as a partnership with his brother, Joseph in 1929. Just in time for the Great Depression.
Regina had a population of about 40 thousand at that time and there were 16 commercial printing companies here and one multigrapher at this time.
There was also a total of 5 ruling machines here in our small town. We eventually acquired all of these machines and I wrecked all of them. I saved all of the ink and all of the pens, but the rest got salvaged to build work benches and such like. I did sell all of one machine to a home handyman for use in his workshop.
My Dad and his brother ran our machine and incidentally, our machine was in a good many locations. It was down two different house basements and in two locations in our shop. Then the partnership broke up and my uncle bought our machine and moved it into two different printing shops here in Regina and ended his career doing paper ruling.
My cousin was the hand feeder for this machine and hand fed many thousand sheets of paper. One job that they got until the end was a records keeping sheet for the Land Titles Department of Saskatchewan. This was a sheet on high quality rag paper called Krypton Extra Strong and it was made in two styles; glazed and unglazed.
I still have some samples of this and other forms including some 30 column synoptic sheets and some smaller ledger sheets. Much of the work done was for records keeping and as such was on good to very good paper and there really was no room for error, so make-ready was done on plain bond paper.
One of the plumb jobs of paper ruling and subsequent printing was the main daily record book for the Regina Light and Power Company. Regina made it’s own electricity at that time in a (large for it’s day) power house that was built especially for the purpose just four blocks down the street from where I currently live.
This power house used high pressure steam to spin turbines to make all the electricity that Regina used. The heat was produced by steam coal and this was delivered by a special trunk railroad line from the main cross Canada CPR railroad. This line ran right down the center of the street some two blocks east from my house and coal was delivered several times a week.
I can’t now remember how much coal, as I was only a small boy at that time, but the coal was delivered in bottom dump rail cars and these would have held about 30 tons each.
But to get back to ruling . . .
The main record keeping ledger of this power house recorded all the temps and pressures of all the furnaces and boilers. I seem to remember that there were four main boilers.
This record book was huge. The sheet size was 22 x 28 inches and it was ruled and then later imprinted with all of the column heads and was on No. 2 ledger of thicker than regular weight. Ledger at that time commonly came in one standard weigh and was available on order in the heavier weight.
As this was filled out every day, a sheet was naturally required every day. This job cost a fortune and took a fully equipped shop two weeks to turn out. The sheets were custom punched to fit the very heavy binder and round cornered and green edged. But memory is frail here. The sheets may not have been round cornered, but I think they were.
My Dad tried for years to get this job as it was so expensive and profitable that it would have counted for half a year’s business at least and maybe more. But it was not to be. Even though my Dad had the ruling machine and a 24 x 36 inch cylinder press, to imprint the column heads, the job went to the biggest printing shop in Saskatchewan and that was that.
Eventually the City of Regina sold this electricity generating plant to Sask. Power who now make all the electricity in Saskatchewan and these recording ledger sheets were no longer required.
I still have several ruling pen catalogues and cherish them. These are amongst the very few books that I will take to the retirement home when and if the time comes.
Paper ruling was a pretty big part of my life and pretty much all of this took place before I was old enough to be of much help as a hand feeder nor did I ever have an opportunity to set up the pens. I did however spend a lot of time inking the felts as my Dad hand fed the machine.
These machines were inked with a liquid and water based colored ink that was applied to the felts (read here ink fountain) with a common ordinary paint brush. Dad showed me how to do this and I was mostly a quick study and it really was not hard.
The machine mostly ran slow especially if one was ruling a ”strike,” job. And the machine was pretty quiet anyway.