Letterpress Gets Crude

It was the cheap look that caught my eye, the tight, neon-colored wrapping that called out, “I haven’t seen soap in a while. Take me home.”

Lust, lust, lust.

A heated dash back to the shop where, eager to get busy, I fumbled to take that top off …

Oh, stop it!

I’m talking about motor oil, people: SAE 30 motor oil. No detergents or additives.

Come on, now. Shop Boy’s been off the market for a while.

And apparently, so has detergent-free oil. The last time we’d met was at a really dumpy gas station/food mart. I’d been to service stations and home improvement places all over town looking for it. And we were close to empty in the old cans that we’d somehow acquired with the presses. It was like nobody was alive anymore who’d heard of detergent-free motor oil. Now here it was, at the local supermarket next to the mousetraps and the wasp spray. I nearly cried.

What’s the big deal? Today’s machines need the high-end oil to run clean. Old letterpresses and paper cutters? To a certain extent, clean kills. I’m told that detergents in motor oil can worm their way into microfissures in the metal and perhaps add to the damage. You don’t have to tell me twice. OK, maybe about some things.

Not this: The C&P likes its oil. So much so that there are, according to this mostly indecipherable but lovely old illustration we got, 37 oil holes on the thing. And if you take a flashlight and about a half-hour, you can find at least 31 of them. The rest introduce themselves one by one over time.

“What’s that noise?” Mary will say.

“Huh? Marilyn Manson. Why?” Shop Boy will respond.

“No, I mean on the press. Something’s different.”

I don’t need to hear it to know she’s right — and that we’re going hunting. Truly, it is amazing where they stuck some of these oil holes. With a few, all you can do is get within 6 inches, take a guess and squeeze the can, adjusting your aim and getting a little closer with each miss. Some spots look like oil holes but are instead designed merely to funnel the stuff directly onto the floor.

We make notes about each new discovery, pledging never to neglect the spot again. Lordy, that C&P runs smoothly when we’re done oiling. And we can get back to work without worrying about when the machine will need more.

It’ll tell us.

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