Both of the cast iron beauties with whom I dance while producing my poetry have a story to tell.
Chandler & Price
My Chandler & Price New Style 10x15 letterpress, designed in1911, was cast in Cleveland. Chandler was the heart and soul of a South Seattle print shop until sometime in the 1960s. When she was surplused, her last operator was so distraught or thoughtless that he left green ink all over her platen and rollers. That took some elbow grease to clean up! I don’t know where she passed the decades, but in the 1990s she ended up in the south end garage of Gary Oswald, along with tons of other antique machinery.It so happens that my brother David restores and races hydroplanes. Gary invited us over one afternoon to look for old motor parts. In the midst of everything David spied the printing press. "What are you going to do with that?" he asked. From across the garage came the voice of Gary's wife. "He's going to get rid of it, do you want it?"Now, working with hydroplanes, David has use of a large truck with a hydraulic winch on the back. Before you could say “Dream come true!” he had lifted that cast iron behemoth, strapped it on the truck, and driven north to my Kenmore home. He slid Chandler into my garage as neat as could be, and then stayed around to help demolish a wall to get the press into my shop. I rebuilt the shop around the press and went right to work printing! I completed Rapture of the Deep, my first book using Chandler, in 1998.During her commercial life, Chandler had been used with an electric motor and a drive belt, but I wanted a treadle for her. The internet was my salvation. With that most modern of all tools I found an ancient ironman willing to cast a new treadle for a C&P press … Johnny Hern, of North Idaho. The circle was complete, and since that day, East Point West Press has never stopped producing.
Golding Pearl Press
The graceful little 7x11 Pearl Press that I learned to print on was cast in 1888 by the Golding Foundries in Boston. She currently resides on family property at East Point in North Idaho. My parents, Dick and Carole Williams, acquired her in 1949. They were both commercial artists traveling west from New York in a caravan of post-war dreamers. In the small town of Plummer, Idaho they came upon a print shop that was upgrading their equipment. Mom and dad agreed to do some lay-out work in return for the obsolete press. A few years later, at the University of Idaho, my dad got a work-study position at the University’s letterpress shop and learned how to really use Pearl. He put those new skills to work at Lakeland Village, a residential school for special-education students near Spokane, Washington. Dad ran the school print shop and taught dozens of special needs students how to set type. A short while later he got a job as a teacher with the Seattle Public School District. We moved to the suburbs, in Bothell, Washington; all of us, parents, kids, pets and the press.
Pearl found a home in our garage. My sisters, brother and I all learned how to use her. We printed our names on thick stacks of notebook paper to use at school. Pads with our initials, stationary and invitations to parties were subsequent projects. Each year momma would carve a beautiful linoleum block illustration for a Christmas card and dad would print it up. I remember the smell of the ink, the musical sound of the press and his foot pumping the treadle.
Alas, a childhood indiscretion in the 1960s resulted in the press closing upon a piece of wooden furniture. This broke the main crank shaft, and Pearl fell silent. While in this dormant phase, little Pearl had a cameo role in the 1969 Bothell High School production of “You Can’t Take It With You.” I’ve always been proud to know that, even when broken, our Pearl cranked out subversive tracks for the community!
The broken press was stored at our family property in East Point, Idaho. In the 1990s, I was now a school teacher as well as a struggling free lance writer. I collected far too many rejection slips while placing my writing projects in magazines and newspapers. One day I literally said “To Hell with it!” I stormed out to the garage and disassembled our pretty little Pearl. Leaving cast iron parts all over the floor, I piled the kids and dog into the car, wrapped the broken crank shaft in a greasy rag, and began driving from machine shop to machine shop until I found someone who could fix the piece. His name was Jimmy Collier. He hated my shoulder length hair, but he loved machines, and he brought Pearl back to life.
My Uncle Herb, an incredible mechanic, helped me reassemble Pearl from the pieces I had thrown about. Dad gave me a few more lessons on print shop operation. Momma showed me how to carve linoleum and lay out a good page. Then I was off and flying. Compound Eyes, my first book, was printed in 1991. Since then I have produced seventeen more books. I got another press and set up shop in Kenmore, Washington, but I still return to, and often use my first love, that sweet little 7x11 Pearl.