Letterpress List No. 32: Brass Ones

One way or another, the stinking press was coming out.

So … what way hadn’t we tried yet? Did Shop Boy say “we.” I mean “they.” As in: When a guy in a forklift being lowered slowly by a winch from the tilted flatbed of a huge truck tells you it might be a good idea to stand back, “we” are gone.

And soon enough, the flatbed truck was loaded, the Vandercook No. 4 proof press having grudgingly surrendered its place in a dark, dirty corner of the doomed building to John, Frank and Don, the rigging crew from North American Millwright. (We’re getting to know these guys a little too well.)

When it was done, Mary and Shop Boy decided to look around the old shop once again. We’d taken the filthy No. 4, two lumbering turtles (mammoth metal tables on wheels), a totally old school tabletop Vandercook No. 01, assorted tools and measuring implements … and Shop Boy’d even found a stash of Challenge Hi Speed Quoins (cha-ching!) — the cleanest things in the shop. Even an old red tabletop vise would soon be cluttering up Typecast Press, waiting with countless job trays and letterpress ephemera for you-know-who and another dose of elbow grease.

Still, it wasn’t what we got but what we had to leave behind that was toughest on Shop Boy. The Intertype machines, the Ludlow, more tray cases, reams of newsprint too large or damaged to take, a big lead cutter, a smooth-operating C&P, an old Miehle, a pile of nasty, nasty rollers … oh, wait. You must be thinking, “Geez, you were just moaning about having to clean all this junk a week ago.” True.

But there’s something weird about going through a dead man’s printshop, especially finding printed evidence of his passion — a couple of salvageable issues of The Scandinavian Scribe, a little newspaper he put together — or even his life’s work (rotting in a filing cabinet were his notes and, chapter by chapter, the original copy of his book on Norwegian philatelic history or something).

It was sad. And it made Shop Boy wonder what Typecast Press will look like to the next printers who come along when we’re long dead. Will they appreciate our flair for arranging so many oddball machines into a cohesive — and usable — space? Will they thrill at finding a store of our printed materials, noting our creativity and Mary’s exacting standards for straightness and an even impression? Will they notice the care we took with the various papers, dies and press rollers? Will they smile at our decorating skills and giggle at the girlie calendar, with blue die-cut hearts stuck anywhere a model’s image seemed a bit too, well, blue?

Or will they do something like carelessly pull out a tray full of flawlessly arranged typeface matrices (they tell hot-lead Intertype machines which letters and characters to create) and “pie” the contents into the dirt of the demolition site? Sigh. Think of the old cartoon gag where the little dog grabs the tiniest bone from a brontosaurus skeleton at the Natural History Museum and the whole irreplaceable thing falls to dust.

Shop Boy, mortified, began dejectedly gathering the scattered matrices from the dirt and dropping them into the wheelbarrow we were using for trash. (Anything we didn’t take was going to end up in the scrapyard or the dumpster.) Then I set about more carefully securing and setting aside trays of matrices for additional typefaces just in case a last-minute hero arrived looking to save such things.

This was when Shop Boy noticed the “You idiot!” look on the face of the wrecker, one of two dudes sent by the contractor to tear the long-stuck bay doors off the structure so the presses would come out. He was standing over the wheelbarrow, shaking his head. “That’s pure brass, man,” he said. “You’re throwing away pure brass. That’s not just metal, it’s pure brass. You can’t throw away pure brass.” He was right, but he didn’t have to keep saying it. I felt lousy enough … and he was drawing a crowd.

Soon, five people were standing over the wheelbarrow shaking their heads. What kind of dummy would throw away pure brass?

Great. Shop Boy wandered off to find a bucket. And the fact that I didn’t put it over my head and run away to cry somewhere showed, in my opinion, great restraint. It could also have been all the mouse poop I’d shaken out of the thing, but whatever.

As the dude filled the bucket with pure brass, Shop Boy went looking for Mary. She was lugging a rusty, cast iron trough used to mold molten lead into “pigs” — hardened chunks that refreshed the typecasting machine’s lead pot as lines of type were made. “We need this,” she said giddily, apparently oblivious to EPA standards. “Oh, and let’s go upstairs and grab the foil stamper.”

What the heck is a foil stamper? I still have no idea, but it’s a heavy little bugger with two power cords.

“And should we take these?” Mary asked, motioning toward a stack of what looked like wooden boxes that had been strapped together for all these years.

“Sure, why not?” answered Shop Boy. Mary had turned crazy boxes into all kinds of cool receptacles at the studio.

Well, we’d learn back in Baltimore that they were not boxes but drawers that held type matrices for the Ludlow, Mary thinks. There are seven rows in each drawer, tilted sort of like a Scrabble letter holder. And of course, the first word of this particular game would be M-I-L-D-E-W. Triple word score!* Oh, the smell.

Next would come the words trisodium, phosphate, bleach, water, sun, goggles, gloves, smock and mask. All in all, it took Shop Boy about four hours to “play.”

History, and perhaps some future Shop Boy picking through the rubble, will judge who won.

Letterpress List No. 32

How about an hour’s worth of music … that you can repeat three times while slogging through traffic from Arlington, Va., to Baltimore. Dang! The North American Millwright trucks went one way, we went another and everyone arrived at Typecast Press more than two and a half hours later.

(By the way, Shop Boy’s not sure how you folks do this D.C. nuttiness every day — I’ve made it a point never to learn the way to work by car. All I know is that it’s south. Don’t get me wrong: Shop Boy commuted by car for two years from Brooklyn to the middle of Long Island, 45 minutes on a good day and four hours or more on a bad one. I’d leave at 1 p.m. to get to work by 5 p.m. Honest. You had to. But at least you felt like most New York drivers had a clue. Here? People!)

Most of these songs should be available in the usual places. Great and goofy videos are from YouTube.

Work SongHerb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (The video clinches it.)
American PieDon McLean (What was the deal?)
Long Line of CarsCake (Keep repeating, D.C. drivers: It’s all because of me.)
RosesOutkast (Just playing.)
Rust in PeaceMegadeth (Power chords.)
Take on MeA-Ha (From Norway. ;-) )
WordsMissing Persons (What are shirts for?)
Left Behind Slipknot ( … and not happy about it.)
Brass in Pocketthe Pretenders (Made me notice.)
Feel the Pain Dinosaur Jr. (Is it up to me?)
Truckin’ the Grateful Dead (Together, more or less in line.)
Lead BalloonLiam Finn (I blame myself … and so do you.)
My Poor Brain Foo Fighters (Duh …)
Long Way HomeTom Waits (Norah Jones does it, too, but Mary can’t stand her. And she really hates this slightly different Supertramp song. Enjoy!)
My FaultEminem (Crazy.)
Get the Funk Out Ma Face Brothers Johnson (History finds it rather funky indeed.)
Die, Alrightthe Hives (But not right now.)

*NOTE: Never play Mary in Scrabble. Take Shop Boy’s word for it: You’ll hear the phrase “triple word score” more often than you can stand. (And the end zone dances … ugh!)

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