A couple of years ago a friend of mine bought an old printing press. He never found the time to use it so, last summer, I traded him an old Dodge truck for it. All the truck needed was a motor, a transmission, tires and a paint job and it would be as good as new, so I know he got the best of me on that deal.
Some friends helped me wrestle the press into the cabin where I set it up on some steel plates so it wouldn't crash through the floor.
When it comes to machinery, I always thought of myself as being smarter than the average bear. This thing would make my fortune: all I had to do was fire it up and start printing books, magazines, wanted posters, whatever.
Cathy Robertson of Yukon Instant Printing (now Copy/Copy) was kind enough to come out and give me a half-hour lesson and then I sent for a video tape on running this type of press.
I mentioned what kind of press I had to Sam Cawley of Willow Printers. His advice was: "Never turn your back on that model of press."
My first job was to print a book written by a friend of mine. At the Canon dealer I bought some paper at $8 a ream, got some ink and fountain solution and there I was, in the printing business at last.
I filled the input tray with paper, and slopped some black, gooey, sticky ink into the intake holder, threw the switches for the vacuum and air and then fired up the press.
At lightning speed, the pages rushed through to the other side where they heaped up in a tangled mess. Some pages stuck to the blanket roller and worked their way up through all the ink rollers where they disintegrated into a billion shreds of fibre.
In the meantime, the pages rattled through, turning blacker and blacker all the time.
I shut her down and started my first press wash. When I lifted the ink tray off, long goobers of ink left snaky trails all over my lovely press. Pages were tangled in the belts below the press and I had paper everywhere you could see.
Three hours later I looked like the master mechanic in a tar factory but the press was clean.
I started again and the same thing happened.
So I washed it down then fired it up again and the same thing happened, but not right away.
By the tenth try and five thousand pages later, I actually got one page to print
"I've mastered you now, you son-of-a-b----!"
So I piled a thousand sheets onto the input tray and kept adjusting water, fountain solution, buckle settings, vacuum, air, and so forth. Some pages came out faded, some were too dark and some had little rips in them here and there.
Sometimes I would forget to set just one little lever and all hell would break loose in the little cabin. This old press can make a mess quicker than any five-year-old in his mother's kitchen, believe you me.
It took several trips to the Canon store for paper but I kept at it until one day I printed ten different pages and they all looked pretty fair to me. A real printer wouldn't agree but in the Yukon, these pages were passable.
"I've got you now, you son-of-a-b----!"
My ego returned after the humbling days and weeks of fighting this machine. The weather had turned cold and dry and I learned some lessons about humidity and humility.
In the middle of a run, the old press started whacking and rattling and thumped itself right up off the steel floor plate. By the time I hit the switch, it happened twice more. I figured the whole works was shot.
What happened was that ten or more pages stuck together with static electricity and went through the rollers all together. A vaporizer from Canadian Tire solved that problem and I actually got a book printed (Ghost Towns & Trails of the Yukon). If you happen to come across one of those books, you'll know it didn't come easy. Darn that old Sawatsky anyhow.
Since I wrote this article, I have printed several books, thousands of business cards, and 11 issues of The Yukoner Magazine. The old press still acts up on almost every run, but now I can figure out what's wrong. Needless to say, it is much easier now.