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Fire Destroys Gray Printing Plant
Thursday, December 29, 1988


Pix #1 - Scores of people watched the fire fighters battle the blaze throughout the early morning hours and most of the day. The photo shows the facility very soon after the fire. The house in the photo was the home of Gordon Gray at one time.

Pix #2 - The Gray Printing Co. when the new plant was completed.

Pix #3 - James Gray

(Author's Note: The history of the Gray Printing Company from its inception in 1888 when George M. Gray founded the printing plant started in the Dec. 15 article, and continues today. It is a narrative of the vision of its founder, the tragedies that were mixed with success and the continued growth, with members of the Gray family still active and in control.)

Gray Facilities Grew Like Topsy A hodge podge of frame and brick structure surrounded the original frame building of Gray Printing Co. on Cadwallader St. One section housed a large cylinder press and several small flat bed presses. The latter included two Miehles, two Babcock standards, four Gordons, a John Thompson, one automatic and one duplicating press. The equipment was the best available to turn out the high quality printing that Fostoria's largest printing facility could acquire at that time.

First tragedy struck in 1917

Passing down E. North St. at 5 a.m.. on Jan. 13, 1917, a milkman saw smoke belching out of the rear of a frame section of The Gray Printing co., and shouted "Fire!" W.D. Zuber, a neighbor, heard the cry and turned in the alarm. Although the firemen responded immediately from the firehouse less than three blocks west on North St. (where the Fostoria Historical Museum is today) and the firemen struggled all day to put out the fire, the flames continued to redden the sky long after sundown. Paper, ink, and inflammable chemical only added to the conflagration.

Scores of people braved blinding smoke, searing flames and freezing weather to carry finished jobs out of the burning building. Most of the company records were preserved by moving them immediately to the Eureka Planing Mill (later called East North Street Lumber company) on the opposite side of Cadwallader Street. Practically all the equipment was destroyed.

Three possibilities emerged as to what caused the fire; (1) a gas furnace that automatically turned on at 3 a.m. had malfunctioned; (2) an electric time clock may have short-circuited; (3) spontaneous combustion in the chemical department. A thorough investigation discredited all the above possibilities. It was never determined what caused the fire.

During an interview at the fire, George M. offered this advice: "Be prepared! Know what you are going to do in case you have a fire or similar catastrophe." He acted on his own counsel: Before the last spark was extinguished, he was preparing for the company's future.

Telegrams were sent to customers requesting them to re-submit their orders. Production was to be resumed immediately. He accepted invitation to utilize the facilities of the local newspapers and rented the third floor of the Security Building at the corner of South Main and South Streets to temporarily house his operation. Several presses were on order. One was in the express (freight) office waiting delivery. A new Gordon press had unfortunately been installed the day before and ended up in the heart of the fire.

Second tragedy three days later

Three days after the fire, Jim Gray arrived about 7 a.m. at temporary headquarters to see if a machine had been delivered the night before and place on the elevator. A clerk from the first floor tenant used his key to open the door. Just as the men entered the dimly lit elevator, they heard a thud on the cross pieces overhead. Before they could look up, something fell to the floor at their feet. To his horror, Jim saw his father sprawled out in from of him, groaning but still conscious. "Take me home and see that the house is well headed," ordered the victim of the fall as he was carried to a nearby couch. As soon as the ambulance arrived he lapsed into unconsciousness. His right arm was broken and he had internal injuries. It was a miracle that he had survived the three story fall.

George M. lived to tell story and guide future

Once he regained consciousness, George M. related how the accident occurred: "Although I entered our temporary headquarters on the third floor shortly after 6:30, I found Adeline Martin already on the job. She was busily cleaning up the small room to be used for her office, I asked if she'd like to see how were going to convert the ballroom into a pressroom. We crossed the hall and were confronted by two unmarked doors. When the door opened, I assumed this was the ballroom door because the elevator door must be kept locked. It was still dark at that hour so I stepped inside to find a light switch. What a dreadful surprise! Somebody had carelessly left the elevator door unlocked and I thought I was entering the new pressroom. Before I knew it, I was falling three floors down the elevator shaft. The next thing I knew I was looking up into my son Jim's face."

Despite fears he might die, George M. rapidly recovered. His cheerful spirit and smiling face camouflaged his pain. As soon as he could be propped up in bed, George M. was busily drawing plans with his left hand for an ideal printing plant. This one was to be absolutely fire proof, two fires in a lifetime were enough.

George M. was his own general contractor. He purchased all materials and supervised the builders. Each day of his convalescence was spent watching every phase of construction.

Walls, ceilings, floors were constructed of brick, concrete, steel or glass. The latest and most efficient sprinkler and ventilating systems were installed for added protection.

Son Jim's death third tragedy

Jim was the youngest of Mr. and Mrs. George M. Gray. Eight months after he was married, July 21, 1917, Jim was drafted into the army and stationed at Camp Sherman at Chillicothe. Upon their arrival, the recruits marched five miles in the rain and were required to put on their damp garments the next day, making them prime candidates for the influenza epidemic sweeping the country. Jim became a victim. Flu deepened into pneumonia while he lay in the camp hospital. Ten days after he left home amidst, the cheers of his many friends, he returned in a coffin.

Among the many tributes to Jim was the one written by Jim's father-in-lay, Frederick I. Ludemann: "JIM'S DOG. He sat outside the church door and waited. Every time the door opened he sprang up with a glad wag of his tail only to sit down and again wait. The man who opened the door was not he whom he sought.

"Presently he whined. He was becoming impatient. Why didn't his master come out? His intent gaze never left the door, the door where he had been scolded so often for following. Then he sat down again and waited. Once or twice he barked. He was only a dog and didn't know that his loved master would never speak to him again.

"He didn't know that the organ was carrying to Heaven the anguish of a dozen other faithful hearts for the boy-man master who was forever silent in his flag draped casket.

"To the throng slowly filing out of the church he was only a dog. But he was more than that. He was Jim's dog."

To be continued.

Heed God's word

Difference in Christians and sinners

Both Christians and sinners share a common lot in this world, blessed and burdened by the same humanity. And yet there is a difference. Yet they are so much alike says John the Apostle: "Christians live like Christ, sinners like the devil. Yet they are so much alike that no one is surprised when a dying Christian is given a transfusion of blood taken from a sinner. And yet so different that even casual observers, can tell authentic Christians from sinners. There is, however a special ingredient that explains the contrast. Consider:

1. Sin is more that Humanity with all its limitations: 1 John 3: 4-10 ... Humanity is God's great gift to man. But tragically, our human nature can be corrupted almost without limit. Sin is far more than the transgression of the law": it is also "lawlessness" (v.4) a spirit of rebellion against God's guidelines or restraints. Therefore, says John "No one who live in him (Christ) keeps on sinning." By definition sin and Christian living are mutually exclusive. To be continued next week). (Excerpted from Enduring Word digest.)

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