The Duncan Banner

June 23, 2013

Oliver's imprint on Banner

Ed Darling
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Alvin Oliver wasn’t around when Col. J.P. Sampson published the first edition of The Duncan Banner June 27, 1893.

He didn’t work in that original building on Main Street, the one divided by a picket fence down the middle of the store to separate Sampson’s new community communications idea from his saddle shop.

But Oliver may remember and know more about The Banner and its intriguing history than anyone else. He spent more than 50 years working with a newspaper that was started one year after the first train come through, is 15 years older than Oklahoma’s statehood and begins this week its 121st year of operation.

He started Aug. 1, 1947 at age 13 as a paperboy, throwing The Banner to 225 customers in south central and southeastern parts of the city on streets like 7th and 8th, Sycamore, Cypress, Bois d’ Arc and across the railroad tracks on a bicycle with big long handlebars.

Each day he’d stop midway through his deliveries at Pop Armstead’s grocery store at 3rd and Magnolia to reward himself with a cream soda and Snickers’ candy bar.

On bad weather days, he’d saddle the driver’s side headlight of his family’s 1937 Chevrolet, put his bag of papers on the hood and throw left and right as his mom drove the car.

Newspapers, then, he remembered, weren’t rolled. They were flat folded in a square shape.

“Not many people had screen doors,” Oliver said. “You could fling those papers like a Frisbee, right into their houses. Nearly everybody took The Banner.”

He later worked part-time in the paper’s press room and circulation departments when The Banner was on the east side of 8th Street, north of Main, sandwiched between Central Motors (now an office complex) and Public Services of Oklahoma (PSO).

He learned a little about the eight-page flatbed Goss press but remembers more circulation manager John King giving him a dollar each day with instructions to go to Sunshine Market and buy him a pack of Camel cigarettes and a box of cough drops.

“It was as regular as clockwork,” Oliver said.

When The Banner moved across the street, he moved with it, keeping his part-time job. It was March 25, 1948. B.L. Abernethy owned the paper and The Banner installed a fancy 16-page Goss Tube rotary press that could print 14,000 copies in an hour. Curtis Richards, who became something of a second daddy to Oliver, was hired to run the press and quickly impressed everyone with his skills.

“He could build, fix or do anything,” his protégé admitted. “I never met a man who knew more than he did. He was a magician.”

When those considerable skills were noticed, Richards took a traveling job in 1959, fixing newspaper equipment across the country. Oliver, then an experienced 25-year-old, assumed control.

He had been making 71 cents an hour, a penny over minimum wage, and was raised $1 an hour.

“I thought I was the richest man in the world,” he said, laughing loudly. When Abernethy died, “Mrs. Ab” took over, brought in Joe Fleming and then Jack Wettengale to run it. She ultimately sold The Banner to Harrington Wimberly — who also owned The Altus Times — in 1963, and who, with son-in-law Al Hruby, built the current complex in 1972.

Oliver’s memories of the “8th and Willow” site remain warm.

“We loved all the windows on the south side,” he said. “We could watch all the girls go in and out of the post office and whistle at them.”

The move to 1001 West Elm was significant.

The Goss Tube press, more expensive to move than to abandon, remains buried at 8th and Willow under what is now BancFirst’s parking lot. A switch from “hot” to “cold” type exchanged 65-pound metal plates for 15-ounce aluminum ones and changed the printing world. A new automated Cottrell V-35 press — one he helped install — could print 24 pages at a time and 25,000 copies in an hour. And the state-of-the-art building remains exceptional 41 years after it opened.

Oliver, now 78, became every bit the magician his mentor, Richards, was, earning accolades statewide for the quality of his work and respect locally for his character and integrity. He retired in April 1998, handing his prized press to his able and trusted aide Bobby Williams.

“The Good Lord has watched over me,” he said, typically, last week. “I never expected to be there that long. I’ve met and worked with some really fine people and while the work was sometimes hectic and stressful, I never regretted a minute. Serving the public gave us all a special feeling. There was nothing like watching the paper go over the rollers and come out a finished product.”

That was especially true in the hands of a master. 580-255-5354, Ext. 130