Our First Elrod

Model E, Gas-fired, s/n E 4129 G, from 1956

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This is not advice on how to move an Elrod or instructions on how to do so. In writing this account I am not advising you to move an Elrod (or any other piece of heavy machinery). Moving machinery such as Elrods is the business of professional, insured machinery riggers with experience moving printing machinery.

In presenting this account, I am merely describing what I did myself. Think of this as you would think of an account of someone who had climbed Everest, or of a war correspondent. An account of climbing a mountain or surviving a war isn't a recommendation that you should try to do the same! It is just an account of what someone did. I have, by the way, also flung myself off a cliff strapped to a set of wings. I don't advise you to do that, either!

So please realize that this is just a personal account. I specifically disclaim all liability for your actions. In no event will I be liable for damages for your use of, or misuse of, or inability to use, any information presented here, whether or not I have been advised of the possibility of such damages.

2. So What Is an Elrod, Anyway?

(This is something I try to cover in greater detail elsewhere, so I'll be brief here. The Elrod, though, is a machine which isn't necessarily familiar even to some of those involved in hot metal printing.)

An Elrod Strip-Casting Machine is a typemetal-casting machine which does not produce type, but instead produces the lead and rule used between lines of type (it can also produce slugs and "base" material (extra wide leads, basically) for supporting the T sections of Ludlow slugs and for backing thinner plates). It was developed by Benjamin S. Elrod in Omaha, Nebraska in 1917 and was manufactured from 1920 on by the Ludlow Typograph Company of Chicago. (See Richard E. Huss' The Development of Printers' Mechanical Typesetting Methods, 1822-1925 (Charlottesville, VA: The Univ. of Virginia Press for the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia): pp. 282-283.)

To the historian of technology, the fascinating thing about the Elrod is that it is a continuous-casting machine. Molten typemetal in a crucible/pot passes through a tubular mold and emerges as a continous strip of solid cast material (which is then cut and stacked automatically). It is a style of manufacturing technology more associated with the 21st century than the early 20th.

(To the surrealist or postmodern poet, the fascinating thing about the Elrod is that it can be used to cast everything on the printed page that you can't see.)

Other machines made typographic "material," of course. Moreover, most (all?) of them did not suffer from the one disadvantage of the Elrod: the inability to make a printing decorative border. The Elrod possessed one unique (?) advantage, however. Because it employed a continuous process, creating material from a bath of typemetal without any chance for air to enter into the mold, the material it produced was structurally solid (free from the voids which plagued all other typecasting processes, including even foundry type).

In a sense, the Elrod completes a trio of machines which constitute one style of hot metal shop: the Linotype or Intertype, the Ludlow, and the Elrod (together with ancillary machines such as the printer's saw and remelt facilities). Of course, the strip material produced by the Elrod could be used anywhere strip material was needed - especially with handset type. But there is a similarity in the "feel" of the technology of the three machines. Benjamin Elrod was a Linotype machinist, and Huss notes that the first experimental Elrod was cobbled together using a Linotype pot. By way of contrast, the Monotype family of machines seem to form a different world - driven by compressed air and controlled by paper tape. In any case, this Elrod seems to fit right in next to the Ludlow and Linotypes/Intertypes in my shop.

For all that, the Elrod is nonetheless quite distinctive. You can sense it in the machine, and see it in the documentation. The documentation produced by the Ludlow Typograph Company for their Ludlow Typograph Machine (their main product) is, quite honestly, terrible. For the most part it errs on the side of the cryptic, assuming perhaps that anyone who could operate a Linotype could pick up on using a Ludlow without thinking. Perhaps this is true. The documentation for the Elrod, while of the same physical format, is different. It is much more detailed. It contains warnings in bold type never to leave the machine during certain operations. I think they mean it. Strange things are happening in the Elrod - this is after all Space Age technology emerging unexpectedly less than a generation after the death of Queen Victoria. How, for instance, are you going to melt a pot of metal and then start pulling stuff out of a hole in its side without just having it all pour out the side? Given that a mold must be lubricated, just how are you going to lubricate the entrance to a mold submerged in liquid metal? Lubricating oil within molten metal? Hmmm... This is by no means an ordinary machine.

3. Skidding the Elrod

The conditions in which I obtained this Elrod were difficult, and time was short, so I was not able to document it to the same level of detail that I had with my earlier equipment. Thanks are due to Jenny Addison for causing this equipment to be saved (at great personal effort), helping to load it, and taking photographs of the skidding and loading process. Without her, this Elrod would not have survived.


(A note on the photographs: The photographs of skidding and loading the Elrod were taken by Jenny Addison and are used here by permission. They are her property, and she owns the copyright in them. They are not licensed under the same Creative Commons license used for the rest of this page. Please respect this and do not copy them without her permission.)

4. Loading the Elrod


5. Unloading the Elrod


(Note: The photographs of unloading the Elrod back at the farm were taken by my wife Rollande Krandall and myself. Unlike the earlier photographs by Jenny Addison, they are covered by the same Creative Commons license as the bulk of this page.)

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