A pressing matter

Way back in the late 1980s, we had completed the restoration of the buildings, and I received a telephone call from a very pleasant gentleman called David Morton, who informed me that he had sold a newsagent shop in the town of Dalry.  His family had run a newsagents and printing business in the town since the turn of the century, and he wondered if we would be interested in having the contents of the print works, which entirely unknown to me occupied the back shop of the newsagents.  At the time, the contents and philosophy of the Museum that we had created were still being worked out, so I said I would come and look – nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for what was in this not entirely huge room, but dominant was what I was informed was a Columbia Eagle Press.  David told me that this had been delivered to Dalry in 1903 and had been worked by three generations of his family.  It had printed posters, wedding invitations, funeral notices and generally kept the society of Dalry informed as to the comings and goings of the various churches, societies and other organisations in the town, by way of advertising in the shop windows.

The printing press which I found was not as pristine or colourful as the example above, but it was to all intents and purposes the same machine.

To say that it took my breath away would be a understatement, especially as David made it clear that it all had to go and quickly!, like in a week! Now, those of you who have read the blog before know that I am a great believer in happenchance, or to put it another way, using an old Scots expression ‘what’s for you will not go bye you‘.  It just so happened that in the intervening weeks I had been helping the Junior Chamber of Commerce by listening to the proposed speeches that they intended to give in a forthcoming national speechmaking competition in Perth, and I did accompany them to the event where they did extremely well.  So, standing in the midst of the photographs above, I thought how on earth do I get this out, not only of the shop, but also of the street and the town, in the time offered!?  And then I remembered: as I was dropped off sleepily at home in the early hours of the morning after this speechmaking competition, one of the participants said ‘thank you Rob, and if you ever need any help you only have to ask‘! How silly was he!  But I have to give him credit, it only took one phone call, with an explanation of the situation in the back shop of the newsagents in the neighbouring town in Dalry, mentioning in passing that the printing press weighed three tons, and could they possibly help to get it to the Mill.

The rest as they say is history, in the mental fog that has consumed me for fifty years, and I cannot actually remember how they did it or how many of them there were, but I remember JCBs, tractors, cars and trailers, and lots of grunting and groaning before the entire contents of the back shop were deposited in what has become known as the white building at the Mill and Museum.  Sadly, the intention of setting up a replica little printing works was overwhelmed by other developments in both the family and the Museum, and when the Charitable Trust was setup, the heavy contents, ie the printing press now in many pieces, were transferred to the old Mill, which of course has since 1622 been liable to flooding.  The small printing presses and print cabinets were safely stored somewhere dry, however forty-five years later, the printing press looked like this:

To say that I was disappointed if not ashamed that the Trust had allowed it to get into this condition goes without saying.  But again, happenchance was waiting round the corner: it seemed an uneventful telephone call, when the secretary of the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce rang and mentioned that she was looking for a fairly major piece of work that the six engineering apprentices at Hunterston Power Station could complete for entry to Modern Apprentice Challenge – and someone had mentioned that we had a printing press that we would rather like to have restored one day. Would I be interested?  There was a pause, as I did several handstands, then in a hushed and reverential voice said ‘oh alright‘. Again, I don’t think any of us involved had the slightest idea of what it was going to entail, but the photographs below will give you some idea of what they learned and what they achieved.

The photographs above show the apprentices and their supervisors moving the pieces of the Columbia Eagle Press on its way to be carefully hand restored.  What I wasn’t aware of was that for the Challenge the work had to be completed in six weeks, and even with six apprentices, the carefully orchestrated specifications I had given for it to be hand sanded etc, had  no chance of being done. So without recourse to further discussion, the powers that were sent the pieces off to be sandblasted and then zinc-dipped and then returned to the power station, where we were told a passing contractor saw the pieces lying and said ‘would you like me to take these away and powder coat them for you?’.  The result was little short of astonishing as the following photographs will show:

And we are happy to say that the Eagle press has continued to be an attractive asset to the Mill and Museum, as the flyer for the workshop held in 2015 will demonstrate:

Happily with new volunteers we are working towards producing some hand printed Christmas cards, hopefully to bring in some much needed post-Covid income! We remain grateful to all those involved in the restoration.

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