It was 1918 when Thomas Ryther seized his chance to start his career as a printer.
His beginnings came almost as an afterthought. When a friend left to fight in World War I, Ryther was chosen to replace him as a printer in Alton, a small northcentral Kansas town in Osborne County.
During a recent interview, Ryther, now 90, leaned on the Model 10 Linotype on which he cast his first slug. The now-archaic machine gave Ryther a scare at first; it was big, and it was complicated.
But he soon learned how to master it at $12 a week.
Ryther, professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University, now directs the Ryther Printing Museum and does volunteer work at University Archives.
The museum acquired the Model 10 Linotype on May 7, 1977. The linecaster's history dates back to Jan. 30, 1912, when it was installed at the Osborne County Farmer.
ONLY 581 of the short-magazine machines were manufactured by Mergenthaler between 1911 and 1913.
Ryther now spends his days preserving printing and KU history. It keeps him going, he said.
Ryther came to KU as a student printer in 1922. He was working foreman from 1930 to 1937 and was superintendent of the printing department and assistant professor of journalism from 1940 to 1966. Ryther, who lives at Presbyterian Manor, taught courses on the history and art of printing as an associate professor from 1966 to 1970, when he retired.
The printer says he's lived through nine decades because he's had something to look forward to each day his print museum and his work at KU's archives.
"I'm 90 years old, and I'm still having fun," said Ryther. "I have something to look forward to each day. You have to or you deteriorate physically and mentally."
Ryther financed his education at KU by working afternoons and weekends in the print shop.
"BEING A printer got me through KU," he said. "Printers always had work, even during the Depression."
The Model 10 Linotype on which Ryther first learned his trade is now displayed in the print museum, housed at KU's Printing Services on West 15th Street.
"It was the first Linotype I ever saw," Ryther explained. "I learned on it in 1918, and I kept track of it during the years."
The Linotype is just one of several machines that have found their way into Ryther's museum. It stands in a small room near a rare Simplex typesetting machine and an Army press that dates back to the Civil War.
"It was carried on horse to print instructions during the Civil War," Ryther explained.
He has files on each piece of equipment, as well as a guide to printing museums across the United States. The Ryther museum was launched in 1952, when the first dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications acquired a Washington hand press and a Prouty cylinder press. The dean asked for Ryther's help, and Ryther was quick to oblige.
BORN IN the Ozarks, Ryther made 50 cents an hour working during high school.
Ryther then replaced his friend in Alton and made $12 a week during the summer and his last year in high school.
"People were rushing off to the war," he explained. "And my friend's supervisor said, `If you can find someone to take your place, you can go.'"
Friends and family were suspicious about the offer, but it got Ryther started in printing.
Now visitors come from across the country to see the Linotype and other machines that are part of the KU collection. Ryther and his wife, Marjorie, celebrated his 90th birthday this past August at the museum and said a lot of his family traveled to Lawrence for the celebration.
ED KEHDE, an archivist at University Archives, said he enjoys working with Ryther.
Ryther has completed several projects during his 20 years of volunteer service, including a listing of all KU athletes and files on every campus building.
Kehde said Ryther does a great job as a volunteer.
"He's done a tremendous job," he said. "The guy keeps on trucking. The guy's 90, and he's here five days a week. He's really a tribute to mankind."