Oak Root Press - history and setting up shop
December 2007 to March 2008

I became fascinated with letterpress in early December, 2007. Within days of researching online I knew what I was getting into, and that I wanted to get into it. I tracked some eBay listings and found the Briar Press website online, a vast treasure trove of guidance and information. My first committment to acquiring a press came in mid-December, when I spoke with Mark in Herculaneum about buying his Union treadle press (Kelsey made, in Meriden CT), and made him an offer that he accepted. My second committment was to purchasing a 10 x 15 C&P Old Style (1902) from the Ken Ticket company on Tennyson in Denver - my old neighborhood - in mid-January. My third acquisition was the Chandler and Price Pilot in Seattle, which I paid for in February when my brother Don picked it up for me. A Kelsey 3 x 5 was part of that deal. These await me in Oak Harbor, WA. Finally, I located online an amazing Old Style Gordon in Taylor, MI - a true vintage press (ca. 1890) in great condition, with a 7 x 11 chase. Ironically, this last find became the first press that I actually took possession of, during a cross country trip February 15 - 21, 2008. If you have a vision, you have to mobilize and make things happen!

February 13, 2008. Plans are underway to acquire three presses. One may not ulitmately transpire, but two will. On Friday I rent a cargo van and drive east. First press to be picked up is the Old Style Gordon (see pics below) made by Schienewend & Lee in Chicago. Probably dates to ca. 1890. A true classic, and pretty uncommon. It's in Taylor, Michigan, and comes with accessories, rollers, and a cabinet. I plan on arriving in Taylor less than 24 hours after leaving Ft Collins, and taking 3 to 4 hours to load the Old Style Gordon.

It comes with an incredible array of type, chases, rollers, a cabinet, and other items for a fair price. This press is in great condition and has a 7 x 11 chase. It's also fairly lightweight - lighter even than a C&P O.S. 8 x 12.

After picking up this stuff, I'll sleep in the van overnight somewhere, and be in North Olmstead west of Cleveland the next morning (Sunday). It's a last minute Craigslist find that I will have the option to buy or not. The pictures are difficult but in talking with the seller, and comparing with measurements of the nice C&P 8 x 12 O. S. at the Loveland Museum, I've determined it to be a Chandler and Price 8 x 12 Old Style. He thinks he has the treadle, and he has at least one chase.

Compare it to the nice looking C&P O. S. 8 x12 at the Loveland Museum:

If he does have the treadle, that would be incredible, and I could get it for a good price. The trick will be taking it apart and loading it. It's in a garage, ground level. This may put my new come-along winch to the test. I'll try to take photos to document the process. He says it's been sitting in his Mom's garage for 30 years, after he used it once after he bought it. The flywheel guard suggests it came from a shop, but Osha didn't enforce guards more than 30 years ago. It looks to be in pretty good condition, and an 8 x 12 is manageable. If I decide to buy it, I'll have to spend some time removing the flywheel, the roller arms and the bed, platen, boards, and throw off lever. This could be a bit dicey, but I'd guess three hours. Then, the frame (which will still probably weigh 400 pounds), could be winched up my home made ramp into the truck. It might be an all day job, but I could wrap it up by early Sunday afternoon. Then off to St Louis (Herculaneum), a nine-hour drive. I'll cut through Columbus, Indiana, Springfield maybe, and sleep along the way somewhere.

Mark owns the Kelsey Union; it's in Herculaneum, just south of St Louis. He says he isn't working on Monday (President's Day), so I could get there early and work with him to load it. He says it should be easy. Here's the Kelsey Union Press:

The Kelsey Union Rotary Press

Above image, and more info, at: Briar Press Kelsey Union page

Those were all Mark's pictures. The story is that it was the printing press used in the Springfield, Illinois capital building. Mark bought it from a guy who kept it in storage after buying it at an auction in Springfield many years ago. So I'd be the fourth owner. It was never motorized. I got a chance to see John Henry's Kelsey Union is action, in Iowa just after Christmas.

My brother Don already picked up the Chandler and Price Pilot Press, the 3 x 5 Kelsey, and miscellaneous drawers, in Everett, Washington:


Actual picture of it:

And let's not forget the ongoing work with Lloyd O'Neil in Denver. On 1-7-08, thanks to my friend Stevyn Prothero, I got a lead on a printing shop in Denver that is closing down. I'm going to make an offer on a Chandler and Price 10 x 15 press. Here are two pics of it:

Offer accepted! This press was brought to the building in 1969, and was part of the shop when it relocated in 1948 to 46th and Bryant. The serial number 12844 indicates it was built in 1902. It's an old style press with a 110 volt motor, three-speed pulley, lost foot treadle, Reddington counter and an ink fountain. I also bought Lloyd's antique composing table, quoins, a composing stick, a slug cutter, and a paper hole drill. This is the motherlode that will supply the main workhorse elements of Oak Root Press! My new Chandler and Price Old Style (1902) letterpress printer in action, January 16, 2008.

As of February 23, I haven't picked it up yet. But I spent many days at Lloyd's shop, replacing the rocker with the great help of Tom Parson. And then I jacked the press up onto a custom made skid. It's ready to be moved, but Lloyd is still emptying out some cabinets and so on. No hurry at this stage, but would like to get it after the Los Angeles conference March 1 weekend. It's going to be a big moving day when it comes - sometime in the next couple of weeks. So, the shop space will be tight for awhile. Here's what we have:

1. Chandler and Price Pilot Press O.S.
2. Kelsey Excelsior 3 x 5 hand press
3. Chandler & Price 10 x 15 Old Style (1902)
4. Old Style Gordon Schniedewend & Lee, Chicago, 7 x 11, early 1890s
5. Kelsey Union "Rotary" Press, 10 x 14, ca. 1900.

I hope the truck rental and the drive goes smoothly. After picking up the Kelsey Union, I'm going to Mike Hagan's in Columbia, Missouri, for a radio interview Monday night and a talk on Tuesday night. Then, weather permitting, the long drive home on Wednesday the 20th. Unload on the 21st and return the van to Ft Collins. One week.

Update February 21, 2008. Mission Accomplished! Wow, I don't think it could have gone any better. They gave me the van the night before, charges beginning the next morning. I took advantage of that and left Windsor at 3:45 am. It was smooth sailing and in Joliet, Illinois, at about 7 pm, I took a nap in the van for about 45 minutes. Then I continued and made it almost to Ann Arbor by midnight, where I parked near a Denny's and slept fitfully till about 4 a.m. Temp outside (and inside the van) was 5 degrees. But I had my sleeping bag and blankets. Had breakfast at Denny's and lingered till about 5:30 then took off for Detroit (actually Taylor, just south of I-94). It was still early, though the sun was now up, and I parked in a grocery store parking lot and slept for about 45 minutes. Called Lance and Melissa Provost and by 8:30 I was gazing upon the Schniedewend & Lee Old Style Gordon. They were very helpful. It was pretty chilly. I set up my ramp and with the help of Lance Jr we muscled it into the van, no problem. Anchored it in on three sides with pressure straps. Loaded 14 drawers of type, some interest dingbats, and the wood cabinet and four boxes of stuff, including six rollers and three chases. The flywheel was already removed and I only took off the throw off arm and the feed boards, so it was easy, and by 11:30 a.m. I was heading for North Olmsted near Cleveland.

I called Tom Pickett from a Toll Road rest stop along the way, and we met in North Olmsted at 2:30 pm. The O.S. C&P 8 x 12 was pretty nice, but he didn't have the treadle, there were three or four weld spots on the roller arms and piston piece, so it seemed like the press had fallen over at one point. He was also adamant about the $250 price, even though the listing said o.b.o. Most annoyingly, he would not allow me any time to carefully remove the flywheel and the bed. He seemed pressured for time, a bit cagey, and just wanted to push it into the van as a whole unit. He seemed to think it weighed only 400 pounds (it weighs at least 850 pounds). I didn't like the pressure and he was somewhat anxious and discourteous. I couldn't think straight, and although the press moved smoothly there were several issues with it. It didn't feel right and I declined. I wanted to take at least an hour and disassemble it so it would fit nicely in the van and not break my ramp. We might even have to winch it in. But he just wanted to "get rid of it quick." He wasn't willing to leave me alone with it in the garage, either.

Later, as I was driving south out of town, I thought that a solution would have been to take 5 minutes to push it on rollers out of the garage. I'd pay him, he could lock the garage and leave, and, since it was a decent day weather-wise, I could then work on it in the driveway and winch it up the ramp myself. But there was some frozen snow in the driveway, and I was quite tired. I almost called him from a rest stop fifteen miles out of town heading for Columbus, but I talked myself out of it. It might have been a good 8 x 12. I'm glad I didn't push it, because later I read the van's operating manual and noted that the weight limit was 2200 lbs. All three presses, me, my tools, the type, and everything else would probably exceed that, at least by a little. So I cashed it in early at a hotel north of Columbus (Ashland?). Slept well and the next day, Sunday, I moseyed through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to a hotel just north of Herculaneum in Missouri. I hit some antique malls along the way, which was fun. I bought only an old vintage car jack for $11. After getting a hotel in Pevey north of Herculaneum, I called Mark and confirmed the appointment the next morning. Weather through four states was good, except for a harsh rain squall in Indiana that lasted ten minutes.

Met Mark and his Dad, Joe, the next morning. Clear skies, nice guys. We chatted and I reassembled my wooden ramp. We walked the rare Kelsey Union "Rotary" press up the ramp without much difficulty, put the flywheel back in place, and strapped it down. Mark showed me how the pieces went back together. He had a few miscellaneous items including an odd-sized chase that may be for a Pilot press. Now the van had two rare vintage printing presses in it, and it was pretty crowded. If I had snagged the C&P 8 x 12, it would have been way packed and over heavy. Was heading for Columbia by noon. Stopped at a few antique malls along the way, and got to Mike's house just west of Columbia by 4 p.m. It was a blur; we hung out a while, chatted about his AIDS research, and went into town around 9 p.m. Met Ian Tobin and some other people at the Blue Fugue bar, had a few beers. Then we did the radio show - it was a better dynamic in the studio than via phone. Went to 2 a.m. Next day, Mike went to work and I went into town. Met up with Ian, had lunch and coffeee, then we went out to Mike's house for dinner and then to the Blue Fugue at 6 p.m. for my talk. It was well attended and very enjoyable. Sold about $130 work of books and CDs and DVDs. Met some great people. We were heading back to Mike's by 11:00 or so.

Next morning I departed for Colorado at 6:45 a.m. local time, just as the sky started to brighten. This night would be a full lunar eclipse. I had to pass on visiting with John Hoopes in Lawrence, which was a bummer, but I wanted to get home quick, unload, and save some money by returning the van early. Made good time, hit some weird fog in eastern Colorado, but no problems, and got to Windsor by 6 p.m. My neighbor, Tony, helped me unload the presses that evening. The next morning, however, instead of returning the van right away I went to Louisville and picked up my old '78 Honda CX-500 motorcycle. It had been sitting at Kathy's house since 1996. I had it sort of started that summer, but the carb needed cleaning. I hadn't really ridden it since 1994, when it just turned 40,000 miles (bought it at about 14,000 miles). I wanted to get it out of her way, but don't know what I will do with it. Maybe take it apart and restore? Now it's stashed behind the garage here in Windsor, out of sight.

I returned the van a day early. I had possession of it for just under 6 days; and they charged me the week rate. Enterprise has a strange rental policy - if you rent it for a week, you only get 6 full days (?!). The way they calculate is to their advantage; it's one day less than the actual time you pay for. The trip went 3,100 miles. It may have been a bit crazy to go so far for these presses, but when you're following your bliss, the sky is the limit! Turned out that a new friend I met in Columbia is a rep for Sony and is going to give me a much needed new laptop computer, worth probably $2000. So, the universe responded to my expenses with an unforeseen boon.

Now, the Oak Root Press studios can begin to be assembled! Pictures coming soon.

February 22, 2008. Got both presses assembled and spinning today. It was hard getting the flywheel onto the Gordon, but I managed to do it. I discovered that the paper holders are missing on the Gordon, unless they are in a box somewhere. It won't be hard to find replacements, however. I oiled the Kelsey Union and it spins very smoothly. The Gordon was a bit stiff; after I oiled it it runs more smoothly. Here's the Union (click on image for a movie):

And the Old Style Gordon:

March 5th, 2008. Yesterday, I returned from a ong weekend, speaking at the 2012 conference in Hollywood. It was a successfull event, and I was surprised when my interview with a Fox News reporter was used in a 4-minute news clip they broadcast the evening of the conference (March 2). It's on Youtube here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=0AK-eXlygv4. I was also interviewed by NBC for a documentary on the Crystal Skulls and 2012 that is going to air in collusion with the release of the new Indiana Jones movie in May.

After returning home on the 4th (my 44th birthday), I decided to mobilize the next day, as planned, and pick up Lloyd's 10 x 15 Chandler & Price Old Style, the imposing table, cabinet, and other miscellaneous items that will complete my Oak Root Press Book Arts Studio. My friend Stevyn Prothero generously helped with the move. I rented a 24-foot truck with a 2500-pound hydraulic hoist from Budget in south Ft Collins. Got to Lloyd's shop by 11:30. We used a pallet jack to lift and roll the press (using my custom-made skid), and it went right onto the lip of the hydraulic lift out the back door (we had to remove the door - an easy job). We hoisted it up and manually lifted the heavy jack into the truck so we could move the press to the back corner. (Weight estimate, sans flywheel and ink disc = 1400 pounds.) Three straps held it tight. Then, the imposing table was angled onto the jack and it went right onto the lift as well. No problem. We were heading north by 2:30 p.m., avoiding rush hour traffic on a rather gray and cold day. Home in Windsor, we took a break and had pizza and a few beers, then unloaded. Done by dusk. We returned the truck together and picked up my car and then I drove Steve back to Denver. I was home by 11 pm. I didn't get any pictures of the move, but here are some from the 6th:

March 9, 2008. Today's a beautiful day after a few chilly ones and getting drawn away by other activities. I started cleaning the 10 x 15 today; I think we'll be running in less than a week. My set of 12 pt Caslon is in the mail, and Lloyd has some Century Schoolbook, 10 and 12 pt for me. My first project will be a 3-tryptagonal broadside.

That is the story of how Oak Root Press came to be.

My first print was made on the 10 x 15 C&P Old Style (1902), on March 14, 2008. It was a block image given to me by Lloyd O'Neil. I set it in the chase and locked up furniture. After cleaning the ink disk and rollers, and installing the replacvement roller arm that Tom Parson gave me, I adjusted the platen, inked it up, added some gauge pins and packing and - voila! I practiced feeding with the chase removed and the throw off on, and then proceeded to crank out about fifty copies. I'm hooked.

As of March 22 I've been a total of four distinct prints, including a hand-set test run on one tryptagonal using some old type from Taylor, MI. It came out well. Now, I've sorted my 12 point Caslon sort and am preparing to do a three-tryp broadside, a limited first edition run of 250 copies, testing different weight and style paper and strength of impression. Oak Root Press is born!

est. 2008