Heavy Pile

We live on a hill in Baltimore. We’ve been there 16 years. The hill’s been there much, much longer, of course. So long that you’d think, over time, at least one of the city’s snowplows might have found it by now simply by — I don’t know, taking a wrong turn or something.

After a snowstorm, it’s a wrong turn for everyone.

So Shop Boy was literally sweating out the arrival of Mary’s folks for the holidays. The 20 inches or so of powder on the stairs and sidewalks wasn’t all that heavy per shovelful, but man, what a bunch of full shovels. Then Shop Boy had to dig out Mary’s beloved junker, the old Volvo, and create a path for it toward the icy center of the street.

That was plan A: Pray the Volvo up the hill and to the printshop for a few hours, then head to the airport, pick up Wayne and Mama, drive to the bottom of the hill and gun it, bouncing halfway up the block and slipping backwards into the cleared expanse that Shop Boy had dug. That is, if nobody else had taken it by then.

Plan B: Um, there really wasn’t one.

So Shop Boy stewed.

“Oh, it’ll be fine, Shop Boy,” Mary said smugly. “It’s a Volvo. They know snow in Sweden.”

They probably know how to plow hills, too, but don’t get me started. As Mary reminded Shop Boy, the mayor of Baltimore is looking at hard time on a felony rap. She’s not being re-elected. What does she care about disgruntled voters/taxpayers or cleared streets?


Well, somehow that stupid old car got us up the hill, with Mary, again smugly, pointing out that she didn’t even need the car’s “winter mode.”


At the shop, a heap of recyclables and full trash/rag cans awaited us from the late night before. Shop Boy ran those around the back of the building, returning to see Mary waiting out in the cold on the loading dock.

“I’ve got good news and bad news,” she called out.


“Bruce Baggan’s guys can move the presses into the new space.”

Awesome. We’d had friends offer to help, but you know how that goes. Something gets damaged, somebody gets hurt. Besides, these guys are the best.

“But they can’t do it till February …”

Shoot. We need the move finished by the new year.

“Or, they can do it at 8:30 tomorrow morning.”


See, one of the reasons we need the new space is that we’d gotten so cramped that, when not in use, the No. 3 and SP-15 Vandercook presses had been serving as tabletop storage for paper and supplies. With them out of the way, there might even be room for tabletops. And the No. 4, in storage across the hall, had itself been snowed under by the usual phenomenon that occurs in storage spaces during hectic times: Set it down, um, over there and we’ll sort it out later.

Did she say tomorrow morning?

I’ve found it best through the years to just go ahead and get the panic out of the way first. You know, scream, holler, throw fits, just basically freak out. It gets your energy up. Then you can get to work.

Alas, there wouldn’t be time for even a short freakout this time. Shop Boy bounced inside and began making mental notes about what was possible. We’d sort of mapped out where the presses would go in the new space down the hall. It was time to get serious. We measured the presses once more, then walked around the big space with the tape measure trying to imagine how they’d align best for our own production needs and for the foot traffic of the people we hope will come take classes in letterpress from us starting in, say, February.

Perhaps this means you.


Shop Boy and Mary poked their heads into the storage room, where the scent of lavender and the size of the job that clearly lay before Shop Boy were overwhelming.

But now it was time to pick up Mary’s peeps, so off we rolled. It was a real sleigh ride until we got to the main roads, Mary cursing all the dummies who clearly should have stayed inside rather than drive around scared and indecisive. (And, naturally, those who should have just bought an old Volvo like we did.)

We gathered up Mama and Wayne from BWI — great to see them — and turned for home, where the jalopy conquered the hill again easily, Mary guiding it back easily into Shop Boy’s cleared zone.

(OK, she can keep the car a while longer. Sheesh.)

So now we were 15 feet from getting Mary’s parents in without incident. Previous Christmases have featured various of us toppling over or slipping upon various obstacles. And of course, while we were away, snow and ice from the roof had crashed to the pavement, creating a bunch of slick spots. Shop Boy figured some gentle advice on navigating the icy sidewalk would be good, so I turned to Mary’s dad and said helpfully:

“I worked too hard to see you on your butt out here. Be careful.”

I think it inspired him.

Soon, Mama and Wayne were behind a steaming bowl of soup, and Mary and Shop Boy were off to the printshop, her to handle thinky stuff and make plates for a job that was looming and Shop Boy to clear the way for Bruce Baggan’s boys (with Mary’s guidance, of course).

And when the lavender powder storm had cleared at last, we declared victory — something of a miracle, actually — and retreated. Man, were we beat. Back home, Mary’s parents had gone to bed. We’d warned them not to wait up (and they run our house better than we do, so there was no worry about them entertaining and feeding themselves).

Mary and Shop Boy brainstormed a little more before going to bed, trying to work through any possible problems before the move — which could only be done once, after all.

It felt as though our heads had barely touched the pillows when Mama called down the stairs at 7 a.m. Mary groaned. Shop Boy couldn’t muster the energy to do the same. But soon the house was humming. Wayne wanted to come along for the move, even though chances are both of us — as guys — would be bored, and made to feel like weaklings, as John, Al and Jason did their thing.

The roads were a bit better, and we made it to the shop well ahead of the riggers, who’d had some truck trouble and ended up having to reload all their equipment onto a second truck for the journey. Then they hauled it all up the stairs to the Fox Industries building and — not being the types to mess around — had the little No. 1 Vandercook popped up on a pallet jack, down the hallway and into place.

Plan A for the bigger presses: Same as the first. Except the presses wouldn’t cooperate, size-wise, with the pallet jack. And they’d surely crush the wooden dollies. That meant these very clever fellows would need to get some different equipment. Or …

Plan B: Listen to Shop Boy, high priest of the carpet square — those little remnants that stores give out so you can see how the carpet will look with your furniture and walls. They’re rectangular, actually.

Well, turn them pile-side-down and …

“You know these presses will slide,” Shop Boy said to John. “Just put a carpet square under each leg and push. The floor’s smooth.”

He looked skeptical, but agreed to give it a try.

Boom. The SP-15, the lightest of the three larger Vandercooks, was in its new home. The No. 3 resisted a bit more, and I could see that the guys were sweating and breathing a lot harder than if they’d put the thing on wheels. But it sure was fast. Still, I apologized for the hard labor, and said they should just move the final, heaviest press the best way they knew how.

Turns out the best way was carpet squares again. But the No. 4 was a beast, Shop Boy jumping in to help push, and accidentally elbowing the cylinder gears-first onto Jason’s hand — yikes — as we maneuvered the press through a doorway and into position. More apologies all around.

“Oh, it’s no problem,” John said. “I just can’t believe we brought all this equipment and we ended up only using carpet squares. I gotta invest in some of these.”

Jason said he’s had worse injuries, which was nice. You know, especially when compared to clobbering me with his dented hand and all.

Done in an hour, and off they went to the next job. Another of Bruce’s crews was having trouble lifting some multi-multi-ton object onto a truck, and the boss was calling in the cavalry.

Hey, you forgot the carpet squares!

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