The print shop on the frozen lake
We all have dreams. Some are remembered, some not. For the most part I rarely recall a dream, all I do is wake up and it's gone. One night though, recently, I had this dream about a printers shop.
A bit of backgroundI was a graphic designer and part of the package of that was knowing how to produce graphics and imagery for print jobs. Whether it was a brand, an advert or an entire corporate identity, somewhere along the line the product ended up in a print shop to be emblazoned on a sheet of paper, card, envelope or such.
Prior to engaging in graphics, I used to be an IBM main frame computer operations specialist and analyst. Agencies would get in touch, usually with a job that required me to help bail them out of a messy contract. Often because other contractees had dropped out, did not show up or the agency hadn't the remotest clue how to handle some wild card computer manager.
Not all print shops are the sameThe dream began with me (having been given a contract for one night) arriving at this place, after dark, and wondering what on earth is going on. This is not an IBM installation. I stood aghast at the spectacle which lay before me.
There was this huge contraption, comprising of two parts, joined together by a sort of coupling device. The front part was shorter than the rear, which had these kind of flaps sitting at 45 degrees angles in various places. Both units were held up by what looked like very heavy duty, sled runners. This assembly was sitting at the edge of a lake frozen over with thick ice.
The manager, upon realizing a mistake had been made said, "Don't worry. If you can operate an IBM, you'll not have any trouble with this. It's only for one night. Besides, there's plenty of beer and pizza."
All of a sudden there was this very loud, explosive hiss, from the front section and the entire thing began to movequite rapidly. On top of the rear unit, two flaps descended with a clang as they hit the surface of the main body.
Another flap sort of hung looser, on the right hand side of the curved top. I could not see the whole of that, because of the curve.
A guy was in the front, wearing a multi-colored wooly hat, goggles and wild hair flying straight out behind his head. As the entire thing accelerated, I notice he was hanging on for dear life with a strange look on his face. It took off, curving out over the icy lake at about a hundred plus miles per hour. Ice and snow were thrown up into the air, from the runners, as it turned and the "driver" could be heard yelling at the top of his lungs, a sort of battle cry.
A few minutes later the mechanism had completed a circle and slowly slid back to almost the exact same spot it had been on before all the caffufle.
The manager noted my expression and then told me what was happening.
"The front bit is a kind of steam engine. We stoke it up to a very high pressure, then Mick (the driver), pulls that big green handle down. All the steam is released at once through two large holes in the back and that propels the entire printer forward."
"A printer!", I said in disbelief, "This is a printer?"
"Yeah. Works pretty good doesn't it. What happens is: as the steam goes through the rear part, a vacuum is created. That sucks down the two top flaps. The front flap has a blank envelope under it, sitting on a kind of grid (for suction). The inside of the flap has the plate and as the steam is released the ink roller goes over it and then down it comes. This prints the company logo and address on the envelope."
He then went on to explain the next flap. This was for the letterhead and the same process used to print one sheet. The sheet of paper was not rectangular, just sort had a kind of uneven shape with no straight sides.
"The flap on the inside curve," he continued, "is for the compliment slip. As the printer goes around in a circle, centrifugal force brings this flap and inked plate down to print the slip. Then the momentum of the entire machine runs out and it completes it's circle, ready for the next envelope, letterhead and compliment slip. Pretty neat eh."
"So, let me get this right", I said. "You print one of each: per circle, over a frozen lake, in the middle of winter, yeah? What happens if you have a thousand to print?"
"Oh, that's why you're here. To give Mick a break every now and then, he gets a bit worked up after several runs and has to go smoke a joint to calm down. This is going to take all night."
"Rrright, okay. Why don't you just get a couple of Xerox machines and let them do the printing?"
He said he would think that over, Then said, "Ya wanna have a go?"
I asked about business cards and was shown another flap on the lake side of the rear section. A blank card had to be slid into a slot and it worked similar to the compliment slip part. Leaflets, posters and the like were printed using another rear unit, which could be coupled onto the power section.
Once a run had been done the letterhead and compliment slip (both of undefined shapes), were cut to size on a large, orange colored, guillotine. Envelopes and business cards were already the correct size so did not require anything but stacking up until the job was completed. About this time, Mick came over.
"Yuuuh haaa, you wanna have a try? You're gonna love it. This is one awesome ride man." He stood in front of me with this silly grin on his face, his hair still standing straight back behind his head and his eyes were the size of saucers.
"Umm, okay then."
It was really quite simple. The big green handle, once pulled was let go and I was to, very quickly, grab this blue sort of bar. The object was to press down as hard as I could on the right side to keep the runners in place for the circle. Also to hang on very tightly as I would be pulling about 5 G's as this monster took off across the ice.
Fuel was quite an affair. A mixture of empty pizza boxes, chocolate chip cookie wrappers, empty beer boxes, bits of paper that had been cut away using the guillotine, old cardboard boxes from envelopes and a fair portion of Poteen. All of this was ignited by a purple with yellow polka dots, butane gas fire lighter.
While the others were getting the next run ready and Mick "Yuuuh haaaing" his way to a small hut for his break, I climbed into the power unit and began filling the firebox with fuel. What happened afterwards will probably go down in history as one of the most unique printing experiences of all time.
"You'll get used to it," the manager said, "....we've been doing this for years."
The Poteen was poured over the burnable bits, the flame introduced and the firebox door rapidly shut. It only took a few seconds and the needle of the meter crossed the red line, a bit too far. I grabbed the green handle, pulled it down and immediately flung myself on the blue bar as the behemoth took off, my feet sliding backwards before I could brace myself.
It didn't take too long to realize that I had too much power and instead of beginning the circle, the whole deal slid toward what seemed to be a mountain of ice and snow. I ploughed right through it, all the while trying to get as much of my weight as possible onto the right side of the blue bar yet not become airborne. It seemed an eternity before it came under control, but by then the whole process of printing was finished and I was heading toward the end point.
Dismounting, I found that the printer had stopped only a few inches away from where I had begun.
The manager said that a couple of Xerox's was a great idea and while I was on board he had ordered them. Also that I'd done pretty good for a first run, now let's do the next one.
My body was still trying to catch up with itself when the realization hit that this was going to be repeated all night long!
Then I woke up.
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