Under the Knife, Under the Wire

As the ambulance pulled away, Mary let her mind drift to the worst-case scenario.

Our 12×18 C&P was a goner, and we’d have to find a new way to print just the type of job we’d acquired the machine to handle, a large, solid block of color. Like, pronto.

The patients in the back of the rescue vehicle — OK, it was a truck, but work with me here — were the C&P’s main shaft and attached cam and gear. The C&P had gone through a few cycles with such force and noise, we knew we had a problem. We’d trouble-shot as much as we could. Externally, the machine looked OK aside from a few large welds that suggested previous abuse. The problem had to be within the main shaft, but there was no way mere mortals — thank you, but Shop Boy is mere flesh and blood just like you — could get at it.

Shop Boy wrote a post on this turn of events a while back, but I realize that I never mentioned how one machine’s life was saved and by whom. I was still a bit shaken at the time. Typecast Press was facing nothing short of catastrophe: leaving a favorite client in the lurch.

We did what we always do in this situation. We called in a ringer … I mean rigger. Namely, one Bruce Baggan. Bruce owns North American Millwright Services Inc., a company that moves massive equipment from here to there. No mess, no fuss. It was here, now it’s there. Mary can’t watch sometimes, but she’s missing quite a show.

We first met Bruce at his warehouse. I think he wanted to chat with us because he wondered if we could possibly be serious: “You want to move what? What the heck do you want that for? I’ve been scrapping those for years.”

Presses. He was scrapping old presses. He clearly had not seen what some of these babies were going for on eBay. At one point, Mary asked whether he’d come across any available Miehle Verticals … 3-ton presses.

“I’ve got one out in the dumpster,” Bruce said. “You can have it if you like.”

It was upside-down and in pieces, alas. Not that Mary wasn’t tempted.

Bruce, an old letterpress guy himself — and by “old” I mean that he ran a press in high school and as a college job, not to suggest in any way that he couldn’t still inflict pain upon anyone who’d suggest he ain’t 25 anymore — has become Typecast Press’ indispensable scout and friend. He’s still amazed that folks want this outmoded stuff. But he’s also really pleased. He’s always hated dumping the dinosaurs but had no clue there was a letterpress subculture out there. Bruce handled the heavy lifting in moving the 12×18 C&P into our shop, taking a break from surgery/rehab for a torn bicep!!! Mary calls him Santa Claus.

Who else would we call now?

He’d run these machines. He knew guys who’d run these machines. Did Bruce know anyone who could take one apart and, we prayed, fix it?


Enter Al, one of Bruce’s key guys at North American Millwrights. He came, he saw, he puzzled. He was up for it. Hadn’t seen one of these in a while. But Al’s been inside the guts of so many distressed machines that he’s apparently one of those people who can simply listen and it tells him what ails it. Yes, the machine was fighting itself. The main shaft and cam gear needed to come off. In essence, the machine needed to be stripped. Is that all? Bruce’s son Chris showed up to dead lift the heaviest pieces out, and off they went.

After they had gone, we looked over the skeleton of the C&P. The flywheel and gear shaft had hidden another huge weld on the cast-iron frame. Truly, this thing had to have been dropped out a window at some point. Jeez. We also looked at the calendar, talking over scenarios. We had no choice but to wait.

And sweat.

Until one day, Mary called Shop Boy at work in D.C.

“You won’t believe it. It works,” she said. “Not only did it get operated on at the hospital, but now it’s getting its teeth flossed!”

OK, she was giddy. But Al and Eugene, a machinist from North American who had performed some of the surgery on the C&P’s bits, were indeed “flossing” the gear teeth. Oh, the new shaft sparkled. And when Mary mentioned that the C&P throw-off lever — which controls which mode the machine is in — was nearly impossible to move, Al unstuck it.

Well, to make a long story just a little bit longer, Typecast Press made the deadline, the client was pleased, and Shop Boy slept easier that night.

Mary? She stayed up late trying to craft a proper thank-you for the new toy that Santa Claus had brought.

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