My First Two Linecasters

And a Platen Press

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1. Introduction

I honestly don't understand why everyone doesn't have a Linotype in their garage. Yes, objectively I know that they're huge heavy pieces of industrial history and that this doesn't appeal to everyone. I'm not being entirely disingenuous, though. They're beautiful. They're like Jazz; if you have to ask what it is, you'll never know. To me, not wanting one in your garage is like not wanting to listen to Bach's music, or see Calder's mobiles. It is incomprehensible. Not to love them is to reject the human mind's potential for elegance. So either it will be immediately apparent at first glance that these are some of the most beautiful creations of the human mind, or you'll never understand.

So the story of how I acquired my first two linecasters has a certain inevitability about it, even if it's the illogical inevitability of a folktale. I've wanted one ever since I knew what one was. I've really wanted one ever since I saw one in operation two decades ago. I never really believed that I would have one, but somehow I was always preparing for it. We moved to our present home, for example, in large part so that we could pursue interests such as this (and blacksmithing, and machining, and glassworking, and metalcasting, etc.) Still, although it may be that fortune favors the prepared, and I was indeed fortunate, I was hardly prepared!

The story involves two threads which met up in August of 2008. Several years ago, I had a lovely dinner with a colleague and her significant other. Both are skilled in the graphic arts, and although both postdate the linotype era, when the subject came up (as it inevitably did), they were able to direct me to a friend of theirs in Texas who was a linotype repairman of the old school. He might, they thought, know of how I might get one.

This still seemed entirely unreal to me, so I didn't do anything for some time. Then, a couple of years later I got up the nerve and contacted him. Nothing much happened for nearly two years after that, as there weren't any machines that he knew of that were plausibly near to me. Then, completely unexpectedly, in August of 2008 I received a letter from him indicating that one or more machines might be available nearby. This led me to the two machines, and to the second, much sadder, thread of this story.

A few years ago, a retired printer in Wisconsin, Edmund Dagenais, decided to start a museum of printing. He acquired an array of equipment, but then died unexpectedly and very suddenly after a quick illness. Had he lived to accomplish his dream, it would have been a fine museum indeed. He knew what he was doing, both as a printer and as a historian. He had managed to assemble examples of most phases of commercial printing in 20th century America: hand-set cold metal ("foundry") type, hot-metal linecasting, platen and cylinder letterpress printing, offset lithographic printing, photographic platemaking, and binding and folding. I never met him (he passed away about a year before I acquired only a small part of his equipment), but I hope that in a way my restoration and use of this machinery will be a sort of a small-scale memorial to his dream of a museum of printing.

His passing left to his daughter and her husband the huge task of extracting this equipment (much of which was still in the printing shop in which it had been used) and preserving it. They have been able to keep and use a part of it, but had to let some of it go.

The upshot of this is that in August of 2008 I found myself about 100 miles from my home, in the "driftless lands" of rural Wisconsin, looking at not one but two linecasters: a Linotype (of as yet undetermined original model, refurbished/updated by their competitor, Intertype, and called, by Intertype, a "Model X"), and an Intertype model C4.

Here's the Linotype(/Intertype) "Model X", as it appeared in their shop.

[It is probably no longer necessary to mention it in this age of universal Internet literacy, but click on the smaller images on this page for larger versions. I've found, though, that some browsers (such as Firefox 3) will automatically shrink the larger image to fit the screen; if it appears that this is happening, try clicking again on the larger image when it appears.]

Here's the Intertype C4. Note that the upper portion which holds the magazines for the matrices has been removed, so this machine appears much lower than it really is. (This is good for transporting it; they are tippy.)

There was really no question from the moment I saw them that I was going to get them. What surprised me, however (and, yes, I really was surprised) was that I ended up getting a printing press and related equipment as well.

Why was this a surprise? What good, you might ask, is a line-of-type-making-machine without a way of printing the type it makes, after all? Well, if utility was my purpose, I'd simply use a computer and laser printer (and I do). Despite my general interest in letterpress printing, I would have been perfectly content just having and operating a linotype as a work of kinetic art in its own right, without any regard to using its output.

But my wife Rollande noticed a lovely little Chandler & Price platen press (a 10x15 inch, "New Series" model from the 1911-1915 timeframe, as it happens). This could be used to print the linotype output, and also to print conventional cold metal foundry type. One thing led to another, and although I acquired little type, I did get much of the general apparatus of a simple printing shop.

My thanks go out to Edmund Dagenais' daughter and her husband. Not only did they sell me this equipment for a very fair price (less than its scrap metal value), but they ensured that I had bits and pieces that I (a rank beginner) didn't even know I would need. They were just so nice throughout the entire process (especially when I was more nervous than any expectant father with the linecasters forklifted four feet in the air). Rollande and I both really appreciated their help. Thanks!

2. The Context of the Move

An early model Linotype weighs in somewhere around 2200 pounds or more. This one had full magazines, later updates, and a full pot, so call it 2,500. An Intertype C4 is something on the order of 3,000 pounds. I had originally thought the Chandler & Price platen press (New Series) was a 10x12, which would have put it at 1,050 pounds. In fact it is a 10x15 (1,800 pounds). That's 7,300 pounds just for the three big machines. There was also a saw for trimming the slugs, which taxed the efforts of two really strong guys to lift - so call it 250 pounds. The EasyKaster is at least 300 pounds. The Hamilton imposing table took a forklift, so call it 500 (this might be an overestimate). And there were enough miscellaneous bits to weigh down the back of my father-in-law's car so that Rollande noticed it when climbing hills - call that another 500. All in all, it's a pretty safe bet that it all came to something on the order of 9,000 pounds (certainly not less than 8,000), much of it in the form of heavy-but-delicate machinery.

All of this was 100 miles away, on small windy roads (through exquisitely beautiful country). Altogether we put 1,000 miles on three vehicles (three round trips in the car, one in my truck, and one with a friend's truck and trailer).

It took a total of four days to accomplish the move. The good news was that the weather was clear - rain would have been a real problem. The bad news was that the weather was clear - so it was about 90 degrees of humid Midwestern heat. It was utterly exhausting. (Two days later as I write this I'm still discovering new parts of me that are sore but which I didn't even notice earlier, so tired I was.) I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

3. The "Little" Stuff

We brought everything home, or nearly so, over two days. The first day was spent in getting together all of the hundreds of little bits and pieces (well, thousands if you count them individually), as well as a few which might have seemed big save by comparison with the linecasters. Everything on this day made it home in the car and the back of our old pickup truck.

The large olive-green item in the picture above (the thing with the vertical handles) is a lead ingot/plate melter/pourer. It's a Hammond EasyKaster, made by Hammond Machinery Builders of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Model EK-5B, s/n 4502. Propane fired. The olive-green unit is the main body of the machine. The part with the handles is a mold for casting printing plates (ingot molds are separate items). The shorter unit to its right (with the row of small holes in it) is the actual melting pot. In use it sits atop the main unit.

The first picture below is a better view of the main body of the EasyKaster. A couple of long ingot molds happen to be sitting below it. The second picture is a better view of the melting pot. A mold for multiple short ingots happens to be sitting in front of it. The third picture is the rather nice logo/nameplate affixed to the handle (though, appropriately, the real maker's plate is a casting affixed to the main body).

There's an irony in this machine. In a way, it's coming home. I live quite literally atop abandoned lead mines, near Mineral Point and Linden, Wisconsin (indeed, the lead discovery which created the mining industry in Wisconsin, which lead (no pun intended) to the presence of a miner on our state seal, and to the adoption of the badger as our state mascot, happened on the creek which runs through our pasture (though I don't think that it was on our portion of the creek)). So it is entirely possible that some of the residual lead in the type metal in the melting pot was mined in the tunnels underneath our farm.

Here's the saw. It works along the same lines as a conventional table saw, but it's designed for trimming slugs of lead and is built like a machine tool, with dovetail ways. As shown here, the part of the table which slides in the ways on the right has been removed for transit (since replaced), and another part of the table has been held down with the inevitable duct tape (since removed and cleaned up after). I have not yet been able to determine the make of this saw. It's a whole lot heavier than it looks!

When we bought this equipment, the EasyKaster and the saw were hefted into my truck by the seller's husband and one of their sons, both of whom are impressively strong. My dad and I are in relatively good shape, but we unloaded them using pallet forks on the frontloader of our tractor. (Appearances can be deceiving; most of the body of the EasyKaster is empty - the saw turned out to be the heavier item by far.) You have no idea how handy a forklift on a tractor can be until you've used one around the farm. (Thanks, dad!)

Of the really little stuff there seemed to be no end. It ended up (fairly) carefully packed in many bags and boxes, and layered in several well-padded layers on the folded-down back seats. Here are sample views of three layers:

The first picture above shows a tray with Linotype matrices, spacebands, and fiddly bits. Behind it are some plates sitting on galleys. To the right is part of a broken, rusted chase. The second picture shows three magazines for the Intertype C4. The third picture shows the two magazines for the Model X (whether these are Linotype or Intertype parts I do not yet know).

4. Loading the Big Stuff

We moved the "big stuff" the next day (Sunday). There were only four items, but the process was nontrivial. I was fortunate in having the help of my friend Stas' and his big truck and trailer. I really appreciated his help, his equipment, and most of all his experience. (Thanks, Stas' !!)

First came the imposing table (Hamilton Mfg. Co., Two Rivers, Wisconsin). It looks from this angle like an ordinary table with drawers. The top is a slab of stone (marble, I believe), however, as was traditional in older printing shops. This one has seen some pretty heavy use, both top and side.

This was an easy load onto the trailer with a forklift. In fact, this was the only part of the entire move that was easy!

Here's the Intertype C4 on the trailer. Although it is much (much) heavier, it was almost as easy a lift (with the forklift) because it has a nice flat base and the magazines and their frame had been removed. Still, I should have tied it down to the forklift just in case. The risk, given that the forklift is strong enough and the weight is balanced, is that the driver might accidentally tip the forks forward and it might slide off. (There are further related risks when using a loader-style forklift rather than a "real" forklift.) Fortunately, the forklift driver in this case was very, very good.

Next comes the scary one: the Linotype. It's older, it's higher in its present form (with the magazine frame on), very tippy, and it has an uneven X-shaped base designed to have been bolted (not simply screwed) to skids. It was designed to be shipped by rail in the days of cheap, strong labor: many hands. We had fewer people, but a forklift.

The first view below shows it on the forklift. Because of the way it had been situated, it came out of the shop on a pallet jack. This whole arrangement, in turn, was simply lifted with the forklift, so that it ended up on the pallet jack on the trailer. The process of lifting it was, shall we say, an intensely nervous one for me. Had it fallen from even this height, it would have been damaged beyond salvage. Once on the trailer, we maneuvered it into place with the pallet jack and then set it down on two 4x6 skids. (I would have liked to put these wide-side-down, but that was not possible with the pallet jack's height.) We then screwed it to the skids with lag screws.

It all went well, but I will never forklift this machine again without strapping it securely to the lift forks or other available appropriate frame.

The first picture below shows it being lifted. The second shows it on the trailer being screwed to the skids. (Stas' is on the left; I'm on the right.)

The fourth and final machine was the Chandler & Price press. This was lighter, on a pallet, and generally easier. Still, I should have strapped it down to the forklift.

Getting them onto the trailer was just the first step. Securing them took longer. In general for the three machines we used two trucker's chains for each (using load binders), and one strap. These straps aren't the ordinary little 1 or 2 inch straps you get at the hardware or auto parts store. They're professional trucker's straps of the type used to secure loads to full-sized semi trailers. I got them five years ago for moving things in my pickup truck, and endured five years of people wondering why I should bother with such oversized straps. I can't express how glad I am that I had them, even if the set of four did cost more than any one or two of these machines.

The only thing I would now do differently is to use two more chains on the Linotype, such that actual chains secured the cast iron of the base. This was true in all of the other machines (where chains went over and through their basic structural members. I should have; I had the chains. Still, no part of the load shifted by any perceptible amount.

The imposing table was first embalmed in many layers of 80 gauge economy stretch-wrap. (This was done by the owner's son, who had never done stretch-wrap before but who did an excellent job.) This kept the drawers in. It was then secured with a heavy strap.

Stretch-wrapping the imposing table was just the beginning. All of the machines were mummified in stretch-wrap (that's why I got the economy size rolls). I did the three machines, though, and didn't do quite so good a job. You really have to stretch stretch-wrap.

Also, although it doesn't show up in the photos above, I went through each machine and removed (and mostly bagged) everything which might have rattled loose in transit and tied down every small part which moved with cable ties. I also went through the machines and tried to find and bag any loose matrices which had fallen into them. A surprising number had, and to judge from the grease covering them had done so a while ago. For all that, I found more matrices on them when we finally got the trailer home, and one last matrix on the trailer after we unloaded them!

A loon and his linecaster, exhausted but happy.

The drive home was hard on my nerves, but completely uneventful. The load didn't shift a millimeter.

5. Unloading

"Home" is a relative term, though. We don't have much flat land, and pretty much anything that is flat is tilled (or no-tilled, nowadays). In particular, there's not nearly enough room near the house to unload a truck and trailer of this size. So it had to stay down near the entrance to the south pasture. Here it is, seen from the house, after having been covered for the night with a tarp. So close and yet so far...

We drove home on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, so Monday was a holiday. This meant that unloading couldn't happen until Tuesday. This was actually good (given that it didn't rain, and it didn't) because it gave me a day to take the magazine frame off the Model X to reduce its center of gravity. We also used the pallet forks on our tractor to unload the imposing table (but didn't take any pictures of this process, alas).

We went through many possibilities for the unloading. It's harder to get a regular forklift out here, and in any case a forklift proper is designed for factory floors, not farm roads. The heaviest load was just at the limit of what my tractor might handle, and well beyond my limits of skill. The solution, in the end, was to call up K&L Bobcat in Darlington and have them unload it. They brought out a most wonderful little machine for this.

I've finally figured out what this vechicle really is: it's an industrial dune-buggy! It had no trouble at all with the work, and its driver was both skilled and very patient (and he liked old machines, which helps). Here they are unloading the press and the Intertype.

After we got the Chandler & Price off the trailer, we decided to strap it to the pallet fork frame for the trip up the driveway, and to strap everything down before it moved substantially in the future. (Not that there was a problem; we/I just felt safer that way.)

Also, when we loaded the Intertype the idea (at that phase) had been to hoist it off with chains. So we didn't load it onto skids so as to increase its stability. Fortunately, there's an open space under the middle of all sides of its base, so we were able to pry it up (with a heavy 5-foot prybar, not an ordinary crowbar) onto 2x4s to get enough room under it for the pallet forks.

Last came the Model X. This was the hardest. Recall that on the loading we screwed it into skids. This was good, but now we had to get under the skids with the pallet forks. (There were many other alternatives discussed, but this one seemed best in the end.) I don't have a pallet jack, so we used the Bobcat to lift up each side of the machine less than 2 inches so as to get boards under the skids. Then we blocked the machine away from the back of the Bobcat's pallet frame using 4x4s, so that it wouldn't hit. (The elaborate cam on this side of the machine is as fragile as it is beautiful.) Finally, we tied it to the frame and brought it home.

You can see in the last picture above how much shorter the Linotype is without the magazine frame.

It doesn't look like much of a printing shop right now, but here they are, safe, dry, and home. (It did rain that night. I was very lucky). They're a bit dishevelled (various parts are distributed around the shop) but awaiting what amounts to more of an overhaul than a restoration. The garage shop is already getting that delicious smell of old machine oil. I will run them again (and may well run the Chandler & Price with hand set type earlier). All it will take is time and care; that's what long winter nights are made for, and fall is nearly in the air now. This will be fun!

6. Analysis

6.1. Things We Did Right

The mindset and timeframes for finding and packing thousands of fiddly little bits is different than that for shifting a few heavy objects. The two don't mix.

Unless the forklift load is easy, balanced and flat (like the Hamilton imposing table) - that is, if it's heavy, tippy, or delicate, like the linecasters - STRAP IT DOWN TO THE FORKLIFT. Do this even if it annoys the forklift driver (but be nice about it, of course, and ask, and ask advice - it's his or her forklift).

One cannot simultaneously do all of this and take pictures of it. It's a matter of practicality and safety; one's mind must be entirely on the task at hand. A photographic record is good to have, though. So get someone to do nothing but photograph. Let them know that they'll be ignored completely (which is good from a photographer's point of view) but that their task/help is really, really appreciated. It is.

6.2. Things We Did Wrong, Or Should Have Done

and finally:

Linotypes were delivered originally bolted to skids. A lag screw just isn't as reliable as a bolt; it can pull out. A lag screw affixing a skid is better than nothing; a bolt affixing a skid is better than a lag screw; trusting neither and tying down through the machine frame is essential

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