Patron Saints of Letterpress

As a huge supporter of anything that helps bring more beer into the world, Shop Boy was torn.

See, a brewery had been planning a relocation to a new municipality, which was thrilled — until the townfolk got a load of what the beermeisters would be contributing to the local sewage stream.

And nearly soiled themselves.

Enter Tom Beal, engineer, inventor, brother-in-law of Mary and, to Tom’s apparent dismay, previously described by Shop Boy as “a lumberjack of a man.” I meant it as a compliment, of course, seeing as how he could crush me like a bug.

Tom will one day help save the world from cholera if people will just listen to him. Of course, that means another earful of effluent about Bob Dylan‘s brilliance — um, OK. But when Tom’s the guy you’re counting on to build the waste receptical where new types of bacteria will eat beer-making wastes and save the local ecosystem, chill. Have a brew. He’ll get it done.

He’s also very responsible for the smooth operation of several of Typecast Press’ machines and was a large part of the reason Perry Tymeson, one of Mary’s favorite letterpress dudes, agreed to give up most of a weekend in Jersey City (Shhhhh! Don’t be rude–it’s got some killer kielbasi) to guide the refurbishing of a Vandercook No. 4, idle for nearly 30 dark, moist years, to proper operating condition.

Perry, a master printer, press fixer and a super nice guy, it turns out (where does Mary find these dudes — should Shop Boy worry about a pink slip?), had stopped by the shop during a previous visit to Baltimore and spotted Tom’s handiwork.

The term “friction drive” mean anything to you? (Oh, behave!)

It will. Perry Tymeson will soon see to that.

Heck, we knew it was cool, but little did Shop Boy know how potentially revolutionary Tom’s system was for the letterpress world. But if Perry hadn’t seen it before, that’s good enough for me. I did know that Typecast Press would’ve been sunk without it.

Anyway, Tom was sacrificing a weekend of brewery bilge blasting to once again enter the letterpress vortex. He and Perry would help Shop Boy — OK, mostly Shop Boy would help them — restore the No. 4 so long abandoned to cold, a leaky roof and mouse poop in an Arlington, Va., backyard printshop. Look, for every Vandercook expert and every brilliant machinist, you need the one guy on his hands and knees who reaches his arm into — oh, geez, eww, what is that? — and cleans the non-business end of the press.

Well, it took hours and hours of hard labor. But when Mary walked in and described the No. 4 as “bling,” we knew we were close to done. Oh, the chassis is a sight, despite Shop Boy’s best efforts at clearing the peeled paint and rust. But the press bed and the brass parts? Gleaming.

As for the friction drive? Shop Boy ain’t giving up the goods on this one. We’ll let Perry do the evangelizing on Tom’s system once he’s ready to help save his world from unnecessarily idle presses.

And Tom? As he headed back to wife Melissa and the beer gig — he’s basically designing the holding tank where the bacteria will do their thing — Shop Boy told him once again what an amazing guy he is and how miraculous the eventual yeast-away machine would be.

Tom modestly demurred, commenting: “If I were a brewer I wouldn’t want yeast-eating bacteria anywhere near my beer.”

And he laughed an odd laugh.

Not to worry. Tom’s on it. Which can only mean one thing:

That’s more beer for us.

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