Story research unearths hole in history

Call it the mystery of the missing issue.


It all started one recent Tuesday morning when I sat down with old copies of The Western Producer to start researching my weekly From the Archives column. 


The old copies are contained in what we call bound volumes, which organize many issues of The Producer between big book covers. These books, dating back to 1923, fill up most of a room at Western Producer World Headquarters in Saskatoon. 


My research that morning began with news items from 75 years ago, and because I was writing the column for the March 19 issue, it meant finding the March 21, 1940, paper.


I dug out the fragile bound volume containing newspapers from the first few months of 1940 and began looking for March 21. Only, it wasn’t there. My fingers flipped from page 32 of the March 14 issue to the front page of the March 28 issue.


What the heck?


My first thought was that possibly the worst nightmare had come true for those journalists from 75 years ago: they hadn’t been able to get out a paper. What could have caused that: a broken press, German saboteurs, a slow news week?


The only way to get to the bottom of this mystery was to dust off the microfilm machine. 


Does anyone remember that old technology, which seemed so cutting edge in the 1970s? A photograph was taken of individual newspaper pages, and a ribbon of film was produced comprising a multitude of these individual images. Then, by running this film through a microfilm machine, the photographs of these newspaper pages would show up on the machine’s screen.


It wasn’t that simple for me, however, because no one really services microfilm machines anymore, and the years haven’t been kind to our old machine. But after a few minutes spent with a roll of packing tape (don’t ask), we were in business and slowly creeping our way toward what would hopefully be March 21, 1940.


There was page 31 of the March 14 issue, then page 32 and finally, the front page for March 21, 1940.


So, in the end, it wasn’t enemy spies or faulty equipment. Instead, it appears someone back in 1941 simply forgot to include the March 21 issue while making the bound volumes for the previous year. In other words, it was just plain, old-fashioned human error.


Hey, it happens. Mystery solved.


bruce.dyck@producer.com

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  • John Baker (in Scotland)

    Hurrah for the Old Lady Microfilm. She saves the day despite having re-invented herself more times than Madonna.
    John
    IM Consultant with a microfilm background