The Breaking Point

For all its heft, cast iron is pretty fragile stuff.

We found this out when we bought a tiny old “Baltimore” press (had to have it — we’re in Baltimore!) and had the seller ship it … after offering very specific tips for how to do so.

See, we’d already lost one press this way, a little 5×8 that arrived with a broken arm — the cast iron snapped just at the spot that needs to be the strongest. So Mary explained to the Baltimore press’ owner that the rollers should be removed and secured in the box. The ink wheel, ditto, so it didn’t get loose and smash something. The arms and other extremities should be safely immobilized and padded. And then the whole thing should be locked down and packed firmly in nuts or other packing material.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the guy assured Mary. “I’ve packed stuff like this before.”

“No, really,” Mary said, “please pack it well. I’ll pay for the shipping.”

Well, its trip home was a rough one, and the Baltimore press — pretty paint job and all — arrived, yup, busted. It’s now a paperweight. (A stuffed toy rat — very Baltimore — lounges across its ink plate.)

Next, we ordered a spare chase — used — for the big C&P. Bang. Broken at the corner during shipping. Now we’ve got to get it welded and hope for the best.

Aside: What is up with shipping? When was the last time you received a box that didn’t have a gash of some sort on at least one side? When was the last time you didn’t need to cut around a corner of your paper order because the box got rammed with a forklift or something? Geez.

Anyway, imagine our joy/trepidation when artist and teacher Shell Acker, a friend of Mary’s parents, Wayne and Mary Mashburn of Colorado Springs, Colo., let us know that she had an old press, a Challenge Craftsmen Superior, that needed a good home. Not even Shop Boy could say no to this. We’d been dying for one just like it. The Craftsmen is a perfect press for what we’ve been discussing: giving classes in letterpress and taking the show out to small street festivals and the like. The Craftsmen is, by my guess, about 150 pounds, light enough for a couple of determined printers to lug there and back.

This one was, however, most of the way across the country.

In our favor was Wayne Mashburn, who’ll be darned if anything he’s in charge of getting shipped is going to arrive broken. He’s amazing. Shop Boy’s just guessing here, but I’ll bet Wayne had some, um, suggestions for the shipper.

Because, man, this thing was packed. I mean … palletized, all its movable pieces perfectly restrained and padded. Nuts from here to next week. Metal straps holding the whole shebang together. It took me two hours to free the press.

I’m pretty sure Mary held her breath that whole time, because the exhale when we saw everything was solid and righteous was long and emphatic.

“It made it!” she cried.

It needs a little TLC — don’t they all? (Yes, they do.) And it could use some new rollers. But we can already tell that the Craftsmen is going to be a favorite press.

Now … where to put it?

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