Legacy of Washington Post’s printing presses featured in ‘The Post’ alive in Hamilton

TORONTO — Retired Hamilton Spectator operations boss Bill Repath watched the Oscar-nominated film “The Post” with keen interest, knowing more than a thing or two about the roaring newspaper printing presses featured in the film’s climactic sequence.

Parts of the printing presses used by the Washington Post decades ago are now pumping out editions of the Spectator and several Ontario dailies, including the Waterloo Region Record, Peterborough Examiner, St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune and London Free Press.

Repath says the Post got rid of its aging presses some 30 years after famously publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, as depicted in the Steven Spielberg film that’s up for the best picture Oscar on Sunday.

Some pieces of those presses ended up being purchased in 2002 and 2004 for upgrades to two of the Spectator’s three presses, says Repath, adding that the massive machinery is awesome to behold in person.

“It sounds like a plane taking off when you start them up,” says Repath, who now uses a hearing aid after 40 years in various roles that included machine operator, supervisor, manager, and ultimately, director of operations.

“The Post” delves into the Washington Post’s decision to publish top-secret information about the Vietnam War. Meryl Streep plays publisher Katharine Graham while Tom Hanks portrays executive editor Ben Bradlee, both hard-nosed newshounds whose extraordinary efforts unfolded in an era when clacking typewriters, corded telephones and Rolodexes still cluttered office desks.

The New York Post’s printing presses were used to film the pivotal scenes in “The Post,” and Streep said it was “thrilling” to see them at work.

“It was like stepping back in time,” Streep says in the film’s production notes. “It gave me the chills.”

Repath was less impressed with the authenticity of how the machines appear onscreen, however, suggesting not enough was done to turn back the clock.

“Their towers and the conveyor system they have is quite modern compared to what they would have had back in ‘71 when that story was broken at the Post,” he says.

Properly maintained, newspaper presses can have unlimited lifespans, he says, and it’s not unusual for them to move from paper to paper. He notes that other parts for the upgrades in Hamilton came from the Miami Herald.

Repath helped source and negotiate the purchase of the Post’s old printing press, acquiring the parts from a salvage company that overhauls used equipment for resale.

The main reason an outlet might unload their press is if they changed the cutoff — or length — of the newspaper, Repath says, noting that can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in newsprint.

Now retired two-and-a-half years, he has fond memories of being in the middle of the action while a web of newsprint wound its way through spinning cylinders.

“If you’re in there and they’re running, it’s pretty amazing,” says Repath, who adds that over the years, Hamilton’s presses have also churned out pages for the National Post, the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, the Brantford Expositor and the Guelph Mercury.

“You can see all the type going through the air and when it comes out the folder it’s a full paper. It’s pretty neat.”

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