Andy Keck purchased his Intertype, fondly known as Eloise, in 2008 and started off with a few sizes and weights of Bodoni and Caslon. By 2009, he had amassed faces that a working shop from the 1950s to 1970s would have: Helvetica, Futura, Times New Roman, Cheltenham/Cheltonian, Trade Gothic, Bank Gothic, Erbar, and various slab serifs. And he continues obtaining typography for the machine today.
Jason: Linotype and Intertype: what's the difference?
Andy: My machine is an Intertype, not a Linotype. Functionally and visually, they're nearly identical, but even today you can get a rousing discussion going on the internet should you ask which is better. The correct answer, of course, is that the Intertype is better. Sometime around 1917 I believe, a core group of engineers left Linotype to develop a competing machine since the patents had just expired. They took the opportunity to fix some of the more questionable decisions that had been made up to that point. I believe they patented 51 improvements to the basic Linotype design.
Jason: So what's the backstory with this thing? Where did you buy it?
Andy: I bought my machine from a guy named David Lord on Marrowstone Island, not far from Port Townsend, WA. He has a letterpress shop called Scow Bay Press. I found the machine by responding to an ad on craigslist posted by a gentleman whose name I've forgotten. This particular ad was for an entire letterpress shop and the owner had been hoping to sell it off as package deal. Fortunately, he was also from the vicinity of Port Townsend and happened to be a friend of Mr. Lord's and so he made the introduction. Dave had not advertised anything for sale, but he must have mentioned something at one point and word got around. That seems to be how things work in the typecasting community.
Jason: I have one friend who bought a DeLorean for a number of reasons, most of which relate to Back to the Future. But why buy an Intertype?
Andy: I got my start in design and prepress right as computers really started to take hold, so there was lots of overlap with guys that came up through the ranks working with the older traditional methods. On slow days in the computer department, I was able to help out in other departments, so I got to hear lots of stories of the good old days, some of them probably even true. I was absolutely flabbergasted when they described how typesetting used to work. At that point, many printers still had Linotypes tucked away in storage areas, and would send them out for scrap when they needed to reclaim the space. It felt like an injustice to me, that all this great old equipment was simply being broken up and thrown away, but that was easy for me to think, not running the business and not having any better ideas about what to do with the machines. The seed was planted there.
So probably the primary reason I bought all this stuff was to preserve and to better understand the equipment and methods that I had worked so hard in my career to make obsolete. It's also a nice bit of continuity, pushing words around on a screen all day and shooting PDFs all over the world for industrial scale printing, then getting to come home and play with a lot of the same ideas, only in the physical world.
Plus, to be honest, I simply find it fun to cast type. I've always liked mechanical things and am always taking stuff apart to see how it works. The Linotype and Intertype represents the height of the pre-electronic levels of mechanical complexity, so of course I wanted to know more about how it worked. There was virtually no option to satisfy my curiosity by looking at someone else's machine, so I was on my own, so to speak.
Jason: It's a machine that's large and heavy. How did you go about moving it?
Andy: Besides making me a very favorable deal, Dave provided a lot of handholding as I worked though the logistics of what kind of trailer to rent, what tools to buy or borrow, how many people to enlist for moving help and a number of other details I'm forgetting. A couple years before I bought Eloise, I made a trip down to Yamhill, Oregon to meet Bill Spurwell. He operates a number of Linotypes and has several more in various states of disassembly in containers on his property. At that point, I had yet to build the freestanding garage that I use as a shop now, and would have had to somehow drag the machine up a steep, badly eroded driveway. Also, the machine he had for me was substantially more complex than Eloise, being a mixer with four side magazines and a quadding unit. It was also partially disassembled. I feel that I could tackle such a restoration now, having learned a thing or two in the last four years, but back then I don't have any idea how I would have reassembled the machine, much less brought it to working order. One thing that I am eternally grateful to Bill for is his recommendation to have eyebolts cast into the foundation wall of my shop. They are perfect for attaching chains and come-alongs to and made the final part of the move much much easier. Dave also was selling a 30s or 40s era 10x15 Kluge Automatic letterpress. Quite conveniently (for him) it was located in between the loading door and Eloise. The easiest way to get the press out of the way was to move it onto the trailer first. That's how I ended up with a press that I wasn't necessarily intending to buy when I started looking.
Jason: What kind of maintenance is involved?
Andy: The various manuals call out a lengthy regime of maintenance operations categorized by frequency: by shift, by day, by week, by month, by year. Primarily, it's all oiling (the manual lists three densely set pages of oiling points), but there's a good chunk of periodic cleaning to be done as well as some tolerance setting procedures to follow. Maybe most important is that there are a handful of safety mechanisms that have to be adjusted and tested so that no damage is cause to the mats, the machine, or the operator. Any good-sized shop would have had to have had a full-time machinist to handle all the maintenance duties.
Jason: Do you run it long enough to warrant a full maintenance regime?
Andy: I have the advantage and disadvantage of not running the machine at anything like production volumes, on the plus side, that means that a lot of the maintenance can be done here and there as I have time. On the down side, there are a lot of components that would be better suited with much more frequent operation. Things get gummy or even a bit rusty, and other things dry up. The last couple of years, the machine will be running very well the last time in the fall that I run it, but when I fire it up the next spring, nothing works right. It takes a day or two of tinkering to get things running smoothly again, as long as I don't need parts.
Jason: And in terms of educating yourself, have manuals come in handy or websites?
Andy: The manual I find most useful, such as it is, can be found on Archive.org. Back in the day, the machine didn't come with a book of instruction as it was expected that you'd go to the factory for formal training and/or work through an apprenticeship. The book I posted the link to, while actually published by the Intertype Corporation, didn't come out until the machines we much established. The other common instructional text Mechanism of the Linotype and Intertype, commonly known as Abel and Straw, after the authors' names, also came out relatively late, begin a compilation of a series of articles from the "Inland Printer" publication.
Jason: What's with the name?
Andy: Why Eloise? Sadly, I don't know. The previous owner told me she was named that by the owner previous to him, if not even farther back than that.
Jason: So where do you go from here?
Andy: Now that I've had the machine four years, and have recently made a number of contacts through my work helping to organize a local screening of Linotype: The Film, I've come back to the thinking that I've only begun to scratch the surface, in terms of understanding the operation of the machine, its history, and the mechanics behind it. I've also come to understand that there are far, far fewer of these machines left that I had thought, and that I am becoming a reference for expertise and parts whether I feel qualified or not. Now that my open house has passed, I'm beginning a more organized, methodological approach to understanding the machine. I am, one sub-system at a time, reading the documentation in full, disassembling, cleaning, bringing everything back to proper tolerances, and reassembling, I figure it will take me a while, but hey. It's better than coming home and watching a lot of TV, right?