Joe W. Collins put our world in registraion

When most people think of the word “registration”, they think of signing up for something.

In the printing world, it means to align things so perfectly that they come into sharp focus.

Joe Collins did both.

Over his career, Joe signed up to work for the FBI and then later to be a pressman. He worked in various locations including the Advertiser-Herald in Bamberg County, but spent 26 years of his career at Metro Press, the operation that printed The People-Sentinel, the Hampton County Guardian, Sylvania Telephone and numerous other publications. While it was a separate company, Metro Press was essentially owned by the same folks and operated under the same roof.

What most people don’t realize is that Joe was responsible for the final product that came through the mail or was sold at local stores.

While editors and reporters wrote and edited stories, took pictures and worried over what the headlines should be, Joe and his staff were the ones who took those pages and created the whole package of a “newspaper” and got those papers to their destinations.

Joe and those he directed took half-ton rolls of paper and 50-gallon barrels of ink and created magic.

When I first came to work with this group of weekly newspapers, Joe would create plates by shooting light through a huge camera onto a big sheet of light-sensitive aluminum. A bit of a chemical bath later, the plates were ready and locked onto the process. Later, a more computerized setup made making plates faster and cheaper.

Every day he “threaded” the paper through the press, made sure the ink stations were filled and hit the button to start the press.

Always, it started a bit slow like a jogger getting into rhythm.

First went on the yellow, then the red, then the blue and finally the black ink was applied.

Each layer had to align perfectly to create the pictures and copy in focus. Joe would look at an initial copy, make an adjustment, and take another look, finally increasing the speed just a little.

It wasn’t until Joe was satisfied that he allowed the press to run at a faster speed, all the while keeping watch on the printing, cutting and folding that turned rolls of paper and barrels of ink into thousands of newspapers.

While this description is simple, the actual orchestration of making it all work and work together was complicated and hard. It took precision.

Like Joe’s heartbeat, the press had a thump, thump, thump that could be heard all over the building.

Somehow it was soothing to know our work was almost complete. If the press was running, all was well. Our lives were in registration.

In my entire career I’ve only gotten to say “stop the presses” one time and the look on his face was stunned. But, once I explained why, he concurred and hit the stop button. That one action extended his workday by several hours but it was worth it. He didn’t complain. He was a newspaperman.

On normal deadline days, most of us were done by early evening but Joe’s work often went long into the wee hours of the next morning as those papers not only had to be printed, but sections put together, inserts added, labels attached, mailbags stuffed and bundles readied for the delivery folks.

If we were late to deadline, he was late getting home.

Joe was feisty, determined, sometimes stubborn but also caring and patient about the people who worked for him and the craft he worked. It was those characteristics that made him put our papers and our lives in registration. His attention to detail made all the rest of us look good. His commitment to quality made all of us work harder. His devotion was visible every day, but rarely recognized or acknowledged by the greater public.

In 2007 he retired after 26 years at Metro Press.

To put his life in registration, Joe was devoted to his wife Linda (who still works at The People-Sentinel), their melded families, his land, his tools and his God. He loved “piddling” to make things work or projects complete. He staunchly supported the Gamecocks and enjoyed time spent with family. He was known to enjoy a “chaw” of tobacco. Hilda was home and the only place he wanted to be.

On Sunday, the presses stopped thumping for Joe. Their silence means his life is complete, his legacy brought into sharp focus.

And now with God, Joe Collins is in perfect registration.