Nuts & Bolts by Terri Likens: Mike Garner: The magic behind the printed page

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An explanation of how things work in the news business

I can’t remember the date, but I’ll never forget the day.

Make that the evening.

I was covering the Kingston City Council about eight years ago when someone walked into the council chambers with a newspaper.

From afar, I enviously admired the crisp colors, clear lettering and the smudge-free look of what I considered a competitor’s newspaper.

Suddenly, I realized the person was holding a fresh-off-the-press copy of the Roane County News.

I was astonished that the old press we had at the time was capable of printing so clearly. It never had before — at least during the year or so I had been there. Up until then, the results were always … disappointing.

I soon came to learn that the difference was one man, press foreman Mike Garner.

On a cantankerous press that sometimes seemed held together with baling wire and duct tape, he often did the impossible.

In those days, on that ancient Harris press, Mike and his small crew’s jobs sometimes seemed to be more of bull-rider.

They worked fast and held on tight to a giant, pulsing piece of machinery that seemed determined to throw them.

Mike, though, is a legacy.

His father, a man Roane County News old-timers called “Big Mike,” had worked his own version of print magic on the press before his son stepped in to fill his shoes in the large, dimly lit press room at the back of our building.

As a young man, Mike worked at the Roane County News with his father for a spell.

He didn’t just learn about press operations under Big Mike’s tutelage; he learned about pride and a never-give-up work ethic.

Those are qualities that Mike, who returned to the Roane County News as press foreman in the early 2000s, brings in to the newspaper office every day.

He has become a go-to guy for our corporate office on other press and print management projects, and you usually can bank on what he tells you.

Mike is old-school that way.

For a while, Big Mike, although retired, advised his son on problems with that since-been recycled press. But after a while, he looked at his son and said something like, “I believe you can run that press better than I could.”

Mike also played a big role in the installation of our newer press some years back.

Mike’s father is gone now, but the younger man has two children of his own. It is unlikely that either of them will operate a press.

But one thing I am sure of: His son and his daughter will learn from their father a sterling work ethic and the pride of accomplishment in whatever they do.