Articles by Fred Bivins Published
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These are articles by Fred Bivins that have been published in nationaly distributed printing newspapers.

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A Tale of Two Miehles
Cosmic Tumblers - Myth or Reality?
From the Letters Home Series #1
From the Letters Home Series #2

A Tale of Two Miehles

By Fred Bivins

It was the best of times, it was the worst of time…it was the season of Darkness. Well, at least it was dark and it was early, which is not my best time anymore. So with my apologies to Charles Dickens--read on.

The day dawned quite awhile after I actually met Speed Gray for the first time. We had spoken on the phone previously, but our first face-to-face took place in early morning dark in the driveway at Vinecroft Studios. That is when I climbed into his Ford Excursion as we set off on a printer’s quest.

My entrance into the world of antique presses had occurred by accident some years ago when my only goal was saving an ancient proof press and two Chandler & Price presses, a 12” & 18” and an 8” x 12”, from the iron monger. The presses we were now going to “rescue” represent a maturation of a hobby, business, illness, (pick one) that makes grown men leave their warm beds and loving wives early on cold mornings. What magic can one ascribe to that force? It is simply the most powerful motivator know to men of a certain age; the concept of free. The magic words had been published several weeks prior in an ad in the Owosso Journal; “One Meihle V45 and one V50…You haul and they’re yours…Ask for Terry.”

Terry had seemed pleased when I called, but he told me I was the second person to respond and the first was already arranging transportation. After a brief discussion about what might have been I asked Terry to call if there were any changes in plans. Several weeks passed and I forgot about the presses. Then the fateful call came. It was just another hectic day of trying to get my own Christmas cards printed in the midst of making everyone else’s Christmas brighter. Terry said he had not heard from the guy who was number one on the list so the presses were mine. Without hesitation I said great and then it sank in, I really did not need nor did I have room for, two Meihle Verticals. “Might I take just one? The V45.” I asked. Terry said that by coincidence there was another fellow in Grand Rapids who wanted the V50. He gave me the phone number and I called. That was my introduction to Speed Gray, or more accurately my introduction to Speed’s wife who painted a picture of Speed that sounded all too familiar. Savior of tired iron…willing to go to great lengths to pick up free and cheap old equipment, working long hours for little return. I left a message. Speed called later that evening.

After several calls to Terry and Speed we made the arrangements that brought us out this cold Saturday. The drive to St. Joseph gave us a chance to get acquainted. Being men of that certain age, we learned we are both on medications that make frequent pit stops necessary. After examining the restrooms at every McDonalds between GR and St. Joe, we found our way to Great Lakes Letterpress. Terry and some local help were already taking steps to facilitate the removal of the presses. When I saw the presses I felt I may have finally gone too far. This was a larger project than I had anticipated. With the aid of a very old and recalcitrant Nissan fork lift and a very new and large John Deere tractor/front-end loader we moved both Meihles out. We painstakingly inched them into a comfortable riding position atop Speed’s custom-built press-hauling trailer. I paused to think how lucky I was to have only wanted one press. Had I not balked at taking the V50 I would have been at this point with a rented truck, proba bly a couple fewer friends, and a very big headache. As it was there would be more than enough work to go around, but Speed’s experience with Meihles had come in very handy and took the anxiety out of the project.

One of the things Speed and I had discussed prior to the pick-up date was the method of getting the V45 into my studio. He had suggested that I dig trenches deep enough for the trailer to be pulled in level to the sidewalk that abuts the building. With Speed’s trailer dimensions, my trusty, but rusty, pickaxe, and a stout shovel I had tackled this minor engineering problem the evening before we left. Success had come at the price of sore shoulders, but Vinecroft Studios now had a workable short-term loading dock.

The ride home was as blessedly uneventful as anyone hauling six thousand pounds of cast iron can hope to have. After several tries and a bit more digging on my part, Speed backed the trailer into the trenches. When we were finally ready to attempt the transfer, we nearly called it quits for the day as I did not have an iron plate to bridge the small gap between the trailer and the concrete. I cut some wood and we decided to make the attempt. Success was gradual. We used a pallet jack, blocks, a long pry bar, a chain saw, and numerous muscles, but today I have the Meihle V45 setting on blocks, proudly dripping oil on my concrete floor.

When I get the press located in its drip pan and wired it up I plan to invite my new friend Speed to the dedication ceremony. Not only does he deserve at least half the credit for the press getting here, he holds a bit of knowledge crucial to my using the press---he actually knows how to start it up.

copyright 2004 Fred Bivins
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Cosmic Tumblers – Myth or Reality?

By Fred Bivins

“How about that chase?” I asked. John said, “Go ahead and take it, and that box of junk too---if you want it.” Want it…boy did I want it. It was free and it was printing junk. How could I not want it? I had no idea what most of the stuff in the box was, but there was a quoin key and a couple of speed quoins. John added, “I don’t know what it’s all for. It was here when I got here and no one ever used any of it, but we just couldn’t throw it out.” He was glad I took it. That meant there was one less box of junk he had to pay to have dumped. He did seem a bit disappointed that I didn’t want his drum scanner. It was as big as a locomotive. He was getting a bargain having to pay only a hundred bucks to have a guy haul it to the scrap yard. John confided in me. The real disappointment was that he had paid a quarter of a million dollars for it and now he couldn’t find anyone who wanted it. “Computers have really changed the printing industry,” he bemoaned. My thought was, “Just think about what that drum scanner did to the printing industry in its day. That’s progress. New technology hurts people who have invested in the old technology. And of course a whole bunch of workers. How many dot etchers are there today? Or a century ago how many wood engravers lost their jobs overnight?” What I said was, “They sure have.”

Collecting junk from printers who are going out of business seems to have become my hobby. This was my sixth, or was it the seventh, time I have been through the process. Different day, different printer, different junk, same complaint. It ‘s the same every time. Do a little haggling over the big items, write out the check, coyly ask, “How about that chase, type, cabinet, slug cutter, typewriter?” or whatever you see that you might someday have a use for, or something you just think would look cool in the studio. Just fill in the blank. After they have your money printers see little value in the rest of the junk so for the most part it is yours for the asking.

This particular box of junk contained a bunch of wood furniture. God knows that there is no shortage of furniture, either wood or metal, at Vinecroft Studios. Every box of junk has had a compliment of furniture. Then too it seems to just grow---everywhere.

It took me five trips to get that box, the chase, and everything else either home or to my studio. The chase I leaned against the wall by my big press. It stayed there for months. I thought it might fit my C & P 12” x 18”. I never tried it. It was leaning there this week when I thought to try it in my new press. It seemed kind of spooky. Something I took just because it was available and now there could really be a use for it. It fit.

Several weeks have passed since Speed Gray and I drove to St. Joseph and picked up a pair of Miehle Verticals. It has taken me days to get mine in place, clean it up, find lubrication points, wire it up, and clean it some more. In fact it took me a whole day just to nudge it into its drip pan. A week was spent moving everything else, except my imposing stone, around, and around again, to make the space usable again. The Miehle is the behemoth of Vinecroft now; the proverbial elephant in the room. This press has taken command of time and space---at least of my time and my space.

Today I was again musing about how the cosmic tumblers lined up and fell into place for this Miehle. It has begun to seem that no matter what else might have happened this press was going to call Vinecroft home. It has all lined up. The ad said two presses---free. The first taker backed out. I only wanted one so Speed got involved because he wanted the other. Speed had the trailer and the experience to haul Miehles. Everything keeps falling into place. When it came time to wire it up I found that the motor draws just over 18 amps. The only breakers that were not being used in the main panel were a pair 20 amps. And now the chase fit. I thought of looking around for Rod Serling.

As the day progressed I found even more oil holes and I even figured out how to take some parts off the press to clean them better. My ink knife scraped grunge out of places that I had not known existed. I poked and rubbed, washed and scraped some more. It was only when I dumped out the Gladware container of bits and pieces that Speed had told me to take and keep safe, when we left St. Joe, that I had a strong sense of déjà vu. I had seen these parts before. Where? I have only run hand-fed presses. These were little suckers for a vacuum system. Maybe it was in another print shop…or in some box of junk. The clatter of the ink knife hitting the floor had not died when I burst into the storeroom. There it was; that box of junk from John. After taking a plastic bag and a couple of clocks off the top you can guess what I saw. That’s right. Cosmic tumblers---a whole box full of them. Although they were in the shape of Miehle parts.

It seems that Miehle number V7466 and I were meant for each other.

copyright 2004 Fred Bivins
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From the Letters Home Series From the Letters Home Series

Just a few lines to you folks back home to let you know all is well.

We’re celebrating International Printers Week here. It started on Sunday. After we went to church we had a big lunch of French toast. We had Swiss steak for supper. It would have been super if we could have had Canadian bacon too, but we saved that for Tuesday Night. I guess you have to spread out these international week things.

My boss is great. He said not to plan on printing anything this week. He gave me Monday off to do the traditional Printers week Monday thing—taking the Christmas tree down. The rest of the week I’m just supposed to work around the shop, getting the new press running and stuff. Tuesday was sort-and-put-away-the-furniture day. I got everything put away but a few of the reglets. We had the big Italian Spaghetti Night after work. That’s when Bob brought the Canadian bacon. I made turkey meatballs to honor Ben Franklin. He’s kind of the patron saint of printing in this country and said the turkey ought to be the national bird. He knew all those government people and we definitely have a lot of turkeys in Washington these days so I guess in a way he got his wish.

It snowed all day Tuesday and we had about six inches on the ground when we left. It did get up to about twelve degrees so it’s not that bad here.

Wednesday a tramp printer came in. This guy prints can labels in Lowell in the morning and then he works for anybody who has an old press. I’ll say this for him, he works cheap. He’s not a very colorful guy. I don’t know how he makes any money, but he must be fast. His name says it all--Speed Gray.

We spent the afternoon trying to get the Miehle to pick up paper. Speed taught me a lot and even gave me homework. I have to read the manual before he’ll come again. Boy you should have seen the mess I had to clean up after he left. I started at the top of the press and scrubbed it with spirits. After a couple of hours I should have had some spirits myself, but as you know I’m not a drinking man. Speed suggested I clean out the vacuum holes on the transfer table. To do the job right I decided to take it apart—all thirty four screws worth. That alone took me half an hour. It was pretty clogged so it was a good move.

Thursday I picked up where I left off. I put the transfer table back together and filed down the sides of that brass slider thing that holds it in. I’m sure there’s a name for it, but I haven’t got that far in the manual yet. Someone used a hammer to open and close it for a few years. After cleaning all the levers and gears and everything else on the cylinder it was time to tackle the ink fountain. I swear there was sixty five years worth of ink under the flex plate. It took half and hour just to get to the bolts to get it off. The ductor roller was stuck in dried ink as fast as Shackleton’s Endurance was froze in the ice. There was a ton of ink there. As I chipped though black and blue I found yellow and read and green, purple and orange, all the colors of the rainbow. Thinking that there must be a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, I talked to a fellow at the ink plant. He said I could truck in the dried ink and he would run it through the pigment grinders. All he has to do then is add the resin and binders and mix it all together and we would have an almost respectable black ink. He said we could make a good return selling it to the guy who prints the Letterpress Green Sheet. Sounds like that fellow is not too particular where he gets his ink. I heard once he even buys it at auctions.

Well I’m getting ready for the big Thursday Printers supper. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it since I heard it’s some kind of goose. Tell Aunt Grethel I sure miss her turnip soup. Write soon,

Yours truly, Fred

copyright 2004 Fred Bivins
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From the Letters Home Series

Dear Folks,

It has been cold here and the snow is deep. We shipped out the old paper cutter last week. It took the truck a number of tries to get in the driveway. The packed snow just crumbled under the weight and now the whole parking lot is like a white mud. It is even hard to walk through. But the cutter is on its way to a printer in Maine. I think it may have been easier to just keep the thing; except for the space it took. Since the truck could not get close to the door I had to lay boards down and roll it across the snow to get it to the truck. Fortunately a friend had stopped by to say hello and I pressed him into service. He seemed happy to help. He is out of work right now. Imagine that, he has a PhD and can’t find a job.

The Miehle has been a real puzzle. It seemed to harbor a gremlin that does not like to be clean. Since I spent days cleaning the thing it would not pick up paper. Looking on the positive side I did get to know the cylinder trip mechanism really well. I took it out first to see if the diaphragm was good. It was. I cleaned the spring and lever and put it back to gather only to have it fail again. I was starting to feel like I was stuck in the shampoo instructions loop; lather, rinse, repeat. Shampoo is no longer a necessity though as I have pulled out all of my hair. The gripper bar, other than the wear marks, now looks brand new. I spent a day taking out the gripper pins, cleaning and lubricating them, scraping off years of encrusted ink, and reassembling it. I even found a gripper pin in a box of junk to replace the one missing.

After several frustrating attempts to run paper through the press I took the step of taping the vacuum holes on the gripper bar. The darn thing cycled every time. I took that as a sign that the vacuum was working properly.

That tramp printer, Speed Gray, stopped by again to help out. I’ll tell you this; he knows a lot about Miehles, but even this problem stumped him. He couldn’t stay long this week as he had a job fixing a roof. Hey, if PhDs can’t find work I guess tramp printers can work as roofers. After he left I took apart the cylinder trip again. This time I took it all apart, right down to the shaft. “Ah-hah,” I thought when I saw the shaft. Years of that lever moving a quarter inch had worn a groove in the shaft and I was sure that was causing it to drag and not work right. I sanded the edges of the groove flat and cleaned up the burr left on the lever. After adding a little oil I put it all back together. The Miehle Company should have put a hole in the lever so it could be lubricated. That idea came to me only after I had the screws tight so I decided I would add that hole the next time I had it apart. In the meantime I decided I would just remember to add a few drops of oil every time I changed the tympan.

There was just one other nagging problem to fix before running the press. I was so eager to see if the cylinder was fixed I almost skipped it. Then I decided, just like you taught me, to do the right thing. As long as I had the tympan take-up bar out I would find out why it was so loose on the right end. The pin it rotated on for sixty-five years was half worn away. That made the tympan loose on that end. At first I thought I could add a bushing. After seeing the pin it was obvious the wear was only on one side. A bushing wouldn’t help. With a good grip of the Channel Locks the pin started to turn. After half an hour I could see half an inch of good pin. There was something mathematical at work here and when I did the calculation in my head I saw another hour of work to get the pin out. I also saw--that’s it--a saw. There was not a lot of room to cut so the hack saw did its work with an inch of the blade. In a few minutes the bad part was history and after a few strokes of a file I inserted the shaft, tightened the bolt and pulled the tympan around the cylinder.

I was so excited. I just knew the problem was solved. That was, until I fired up the press. It acted just like before. The paper stayed put. Mighty Casey had struck out. I knew how it felt to be in Muddville that night.

I decided to give this problem a long thought. While I was heating up some of last night’s spaghetti I went over everything I had done to the cylinder. By the time my lunch was finished I had a new plan. Speed had brought me a smaller sheave that would slow the press to 2400 sheets per hour. We both thought this would be better when I got it running. Since I have never run a press like this slowing it down would definitely improve my odds of keeping all my body parts. When I pulled the old pulley I saw that the key was almost chewed off. This press has been one darn thing after another. The Miehle Company at least had thought to put a hole in the shaft so I was able to take a punch and pound out the woodruff key. It may seem as odd to you as it did to me, but hardly anyone sells woodruff keys anymore. It was the old hardware that came through with one after tries at several other places I was sure would have one. The day was almost shot when the new sheave was finally on. Even though I knew the press would not transfer paper I decided to run it to see how it looked going slower. It was then that I noticed the transfer table rock after it came forward. Immediately I saw the problem. There was no way the paper could cover the vacuum holes on the gripper bar because it raised up when the board rocked back.

When I cleaned the press I took a lot of grunge out of the slot that holds the transfer table. That left a little room for play. That was all it took. In a hurry to try my latest theory I wedged a piece of cardboard in to hold the transfer table and started the press. Yahoo. It took off and picked up sheet after sheet and ran them around the cylinder. I was so happy I just stood there watching it fly. A few minutes ago I was looking at a pile of junk. Now this thing actually looked like a printing press.

Well that’s all I got to say for now. I guess I won’t hear much from you until spring when the mail can finally get to you again. Tell little Jimmy he can come and work for his uncle as a printer’s devil this summer. We all know he’ll fit right into the devil part.

Yours truly, Fred

copyright 2004 Fred Bivins
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