You never know what you’ll find in an old barn

Posted on May 25, 2009


While I was wandering around the King family’s orchards taking pictures of spring blossoms and swarming bees I ran into Betsy King, who was, as always, busy doing something.  (If we could bottle Betsy we would have no need for imported oil.)  On this particular occasion, she was clearing out the odds and ends that had accumulated in an ancient barn.   She’d found printing plates for the Central Lake Torch.  Would I like to see them?  Yes.

The Torch was a weekly newspaper published for approximately a century in these parts, gone now for a good 20 years.  The crumbly paper archives are treasured sources for local history, which is something of an obsession here.  Open any cornerstone—like the one opened by the First Congregational Church this year on its 125th anniversary— and you’re likely to find a copy of the Torch.  The trove in Betsy’s barn was a pile of aluminum offset plates from 1983.  Betsy didn’t know how they’d gotten there, and she was going to take them off to the recycling center along with the other scrap metal.

Betsy King with old Central Lake Torch printing plates

We pawed through the pile and found one she wanted after all: the 1983 Apple Picking Guide to 134 Michigan orchards. There on the list at #9 is the King farm, owned by her very young self and the equally young John, Jim and Rose.  The Torch printed the whole statewide list, which begs the question, Why would anyone want to leave this region to pick apples? 

Torch - Apple picking guide

There were lots more, and they’re stowed in the trunk of my car until I can clean them up and parcel them out between the Wilkinson Homestead Historical Society and Lois Dawson over at the Knowles House Museum in Central Lake.

Torch - Front page

As for why the plates were in the barn, John came along and explained it all for us. He happened to be in Central Lake when the Torch was throwing out old plates, and he picked them up because, well, sheets of anodized aluminumm could come in handy. He sided his fish shanty with some and stowed the rest in the barn because, well, you never know. “That old fish shanty is back in the woods someplace,” he said. “It might make interesting reading.” 

As I left the Kings with my trunkload of scrap metal, I reflected that it’s good that I do not have a barn to store things in, let alone a woodlot that could swallow a whole fishing shanty.  You do not want to see my under-the-eaves “attic” or the interior of my garage.

In case you’re wondering how pictures and text appear on aluminum plates and end up printed on newsprint, you can read a comprehensive description of offset lithographic printing on the website of the Printers’ National Environmental Assistance Center. I find the whole process fascinating but not fascinating enough to summarize here.

There will be more about the Kings next week, as Betsy will be the speaker at the first Wilkinson Society summer series.