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Modine the Magician was a press wizard

An employee who for more than 15 years has made a major difference in the Tri-City Herald every day is retiring.

Leroy Modine, our printing operations manager, is working his last day at the Herald after a career of making newspapers across the Northwest look better.

In his time at the Herald, Leroy has chased down every conceivable problem a printing press can have -- and there are a bushel-basket full -- so that each morning's newspaper can offer appealing, attractive print, photos and advertisements.

Proper registration of the four printing plates that are required for a color photo or ad so they are within a hundredth of an inch of exact match is the difference between crisp, snappy reproduction or a murky, muddy-looking mess.

Pulling that off on newsprint, which rolls through the press at high speed, is no small feat. One of our former publishers used to joke that a newspaper is printed "on wet toilet paper rolling past at 40 mph."

Leroy took all that in stride and much more to present an attractive paper every day. Along the way, he taught our editors a lot about his craft.

I learned, for example, that not all newsprint (the type of paper the Herald is printed on) is of the same quality. Want to add recycled material? Well, when you do it makes it harder to print a crisp image. But Leroy made our recycled newsprint look great.

Have a problem with the paper tearing as it pulls through the press? (That's called a web break in press crew lingo.) It might be that the paper was made on a day when the paper mill was in startup mode and quality suffered. Leroy could get that paper replaced darn quick, collect an apology and a little extra newsprint for his trouble.

And best of all, Leroy was the best I've met in nearly 40 years of newspapering at finding a way to make a press do more than its designers ever dreamed.

If a press was created to waltz, he's a wizard who can teach it both the polka and the tango. And give him a few moments to scratch his head and think, and he might be able to add the foxtrot to its repertoire.

Ken Robertson: 582-1520; krobertson@tricityherald.com

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