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August 22, 2003

My friends down at The Journal office experienced some real discomfort earlier this month when the air conditioners in their building failed to work during the most intense heat of the summer. I felt sorry for them, and I understood how they must have suffered. To help remedy the situation, the present employer permitted them to leave the work place earlier than usual. But, just like in show biz, the paper had to be written and printed each day, and the usual Journal was produced without missing an issue.

That little problem took me back in time several years ago when I still labored at the PDJ. That period began in 1941 when only a few businesses made any pretense at air conditioning. The Roxy and the Annex Theatres were perhaps the first locally to install evaporative coolers, guaranteeing customers that it was "20 degrees cooler" inside. We thought that was marvelous. Eventually, other merchants took the plunge. I believe the Famous Department Store, operated by the Gottlieb families on the south side of the square, where LJR Enterprises is now located, was about the first to install an air conditioning system in a non-theatre setting. Kraemer's Store on the east side, operated by Ott and Marguerite Edson, also was among the first to install an air conditioning cooling system.

Most of us enjoyed those evaporative coolers except when the humidity was high. Then they just added to our misery. Refrigerated room air conditioners came along at a reasonable price, and they were much better at cooling shoppers. In just a few years most homes and businesses had them in operation. At the PDJ, we were divided into two elements—the "back shop" where the printers labored and the "front end" where the rest of us were toasted in the Oklahoma heat. The building was quite large, and the Linotype typesetting machines in the print shop used heat-generating pots of molten lead, so it was assumed that we would just tough it out and pray for an early, cooler autumn.

Trying to make things better, in the meanwhile, management installed ceiling fans in the front end and pedestal-mounted fans in the print shop. Theoretically, that should have helped, but in reality all those fans did was stir up the hot air. My desk in the front end was a good example of another problem. I had scraps of paper and note pads spread all over the surface. Without fail, someone would pull the cord on a ceiling fan and the breeze thus created quickly cleaned off the desk. Folks in the ad room and the business office had the same problem. By the way, I believe those ceiling fans were purchased from the defunct City Drug Store, which our family operated on the north side of the square for many years with no air conditioning of any type.

About that time, the late Olin Randall disposed of some big evaporative coolers at his Ford dealership one block north of the square, where the O'Reilly Auto Parts store is now located. The PDJ snapped them up and eventually installed them on the south end of the newspaper building. It was hard to appreciate the difference they made because so many places already had refrigerated air types, and we were spoiled. I do believe, however, that we probably appreciated whatever temporary relief they provided. We soon noticed that the moisture from those evaporative coolers was causing rust on some of the newspaper's machinery, including the big Goss flatbed press which printed the daily paper, and they were soon turned off. Eventually we also had refrigerated air systems and began feeling human again. So, to the present-day work crews at the PDJ, I would say, hang tough! Things will get better. They always have.