Monday, February 20, 2012

The Press

Hello, Blogland. Today I want to share the story of how a Chandler & Price New Style letterpress machine came to have its own bedroom in my house. It's kind of long and text heavy (there's not a great time to take photos when you're covered in motor oil), but it's a good story.

Fully reassembled C&P New Style 8x12 Press
The serial number dates this press to 1920

In the winter of 2010 (December-ish) I was working here and there at Igloo Letterpress. One day, a gentleman came into the studio asking if Allison knew of anyone with the need for a press. It had belonged to his father-in-law and the family had decided it was time to send the machine to live with someone that could use it (it had been sitting, retired, in a basement in West Virginia for at least a decade). Allison told the man that she didn't have space in her studio for another press, but she would be glad to help him find someone that would treat the machine well. I'd practically been salivating the entire time, so the moment he left Allison turned to me and said, "It's all yours if you want it."

I went straight to Northstar and cornered Sean. He showed genuine enthusiasm and we started making plans right away. I contacted the gentleman that had come into the studio and we discussed the machine's condition and travel plans. After a bit of back and forth we settled on a day in early March to caravan down to West Virginia and take on the task of disassembling and moving the 800lb press (keep that 800lb number in mind).

Accompanied by two mechanically inclined, Kelly and Troy, we went to work on step number one of disassembling the press (as detailed to us by Allison's very helpful husband Jon). Step number one is "remove the flywheel." The flywheel wouldn't budge. That was just the beginning of the most physically challenging day of my adult life (I have plenty of adult life yet to face, but shy of wrestling a baby elephant, I think this experience may take the cake for awhile). Not the least of our problems was realizing once we arrived that the press actually weighed around 1200lbs fully assembled. That's right, I said 1200lbs. A full 400lbs more than originally estimated. We took the machine down as far as we could, but the largest piece still weighed around 700lbs. After about six hours and much heaving, we finally got the press loaded into a UHaul trailer. We were all exhausted when we finally arrived back in Columbus around 10:30pm.

Since it was so late when we got home, we waited until the next morning to unload the trailer. I should start by saying that we did this whole thing the wrong way. We didn't know it at the time, but that's the truth. Do not do what we did - hire movers. For reals. Anyway, in order to remove the main section of the machine from the trailer we had to wrap tow straps around the center section and then toss the straps over the top of the trailer. Then, we stuck a 2x4 through the tow strap handle and I stood on the 2x4 and acted as a counterbalance so the three fellas could guide the press safely to the ground. Each time the press needed to be lowered I would lift myself up little by little until I was eventually laying completely prone on top of the UHaul trailer. I'm sure my neighbors were thrilled.

And then the press sat, for months, in our shed (no one was going to steal it) until we had the spare room to devote to a machine. Finally, in November, we were able to get piano movers (we got smart) to bring it from the shed into a first-floor bedroom. We had them check our floors beforehand just to make sure it would be safe.

Main Frame; this is the largest section that wasn't disassembled

And then it sat, again, until this weekend when Sean, my Dad, and I rolled up our sleeves and set our minds to reassembly. We had everything set out and ready to go when Dad arrived on Saturday just before noon.

Bed, Roller Arm (aka "Small Dog Bone") with Counter, Back Throw Off Connection

Main Shaft, Gear Housing, Shaft Collars, Bed Shaft, a bunch of labeled parts baggies

Roller Frame & Platen

Top of the Bed, Side Arms aka "Dog Bones", Throw Off Lever, Ink Plate Bracket

After all the trouble we had getting the press disassembled, we were sure it was going to take a full day or two to get it put back together, but it only took three hours. Three. To say that we were relieved is an understatement. Now there's a fully-functioning (once it gets new rollers) 1920 letterpress living in our back bedroom. She looks good for 92 years old.

Thanks for checking in today. I have a bit of work to do this week, but I hope to post an actual project soon. Have a great day!


Cheryl said...

I could have lent you this: :)

Suzanne :O ) said...

wow, what an ordeal! can't wait to see what you make with it, though! :D

Randi said...

You'll turn out something amazing!

Moonegirl said...

Jealous! Not of your heaving around dead weight and lying prone in front of neighbors, but of owning such a beautiful piece of history! I love presses!

Cindy O said...

Wow, Lizzie, great story. So glad it has a happy ending! Love it that the old press found a good home with you.