'Brave' printing move marked

21:08, Jul 24 2014
 Nelson Evening Mail printers
GROUNDBREAKING: Nelson Evening Mail printer Ron Tucker, right, with the new press when it started operating in 1964.

A printing revolution has been marked with the 50th anniversary of the Nelson Mail's web offset press.

The press was the first of its type in Australasia when former Mail managing director Rex Lucas initiated the switch from the old letterpress printer in 1964 after returning from a trip to the United States - a move that was well ahead of its time.

"Rex was a very, very brave man," said retired former printer Murray Simpson. "[Switching presses] just about broke the company."

 Nelson Evening Mail printers
GOING DIGITAL: Former Nelson Evening Mail printers Murray Simpson, left and Roger Steffens show how many fingers they lost during their many years at then Nelson Evening Mail.

Simpson and fellow former colleague Roger Steffens were among those who marked the anniversary of the web offset press at the Mail yesterday.

Current print production manager Shane Trainor said the difference in technology between letterpress and web offset presses was enormous, resulting in a huge learning curve for the skilled printing staff.

An American engineer spent a month in Nelson helping the printers to use their new machine. After he left, they were on their own. "Some of them could handle it and some couldn't."


Simpson said the main advantage of the web offset press was an increase in print quality. Other papers from around the country, such as the National Business Review were then printed in Nelson.

Trainor said the Nelson Mail had a proud history of running and maintaining printing presses in-house. He said the current staff of seven boasted a collective 172 years of experience at the press, which services more than 20 publications.

Steffens and Simpson have permanent reminders of their former trade - Steffens lost two fingers on his right hand, while Simpson is missing the tips of three.

Trainor said safety standards had since changed to make sure such accidents were less common.