Despite the digital age, Carl Warner has been plying his trade for 50 years now at the Richmondville Phoenix print shop with equipment that dates from an earlier era.
He still selects letters from small piles of tiny lead castings from each compartment of a wooden drawer in a printer’s type case. He sets each letter in the metal composing stick or small tray he uses to form words and sentences for printing a run of letterheads, business cards and other printing jobs that come his way at the business on Holmes Street in the village.
Once assembled, the lines of composed type — set upside down and backward — are secured in a metal frame and locked onto a 2,300-pound Heidelberg Original Windmill Letterpress, purchased new for the Phoenix in 1965. Its origins can be traced back more than a century ago in Germany, where it was invented.
The press is dubbed “the windmill” for its rapid back-and-forth sweep of moving arms that grip the paper after it’s lifted by suction cups, and feeds it to the platen — the flat plate that presses the paper against the inked metal type — then lays the printed sheet in a stack and grips another to print.
Except for a photocopier Warner uses to copy an image for a metal engraving he’ll have made to lock onto the press, there’s no high-tech, lightweight computer-generated printing equipment here. To create type, he uses a nearly one-ton, bulky black Intertype typesetter manufactured in Brooklyn in the early 1900s that casts lines of hot lead type, similar to the Linotype machine invented in 1884.
When typewriter-like keyboard letters on the Intertype are pressed, clunky sounds of moving gears, pulleys and belts, and the clinking of brass letter molds that drop from chambers into metal channels echo throughout the building, with its high ceiling and wooden floor.
Molten lead from a 20-pound hunk of metal called a “pig” melts in a pot on the machine, and when pressed against the line of brass molds, casts the line of type.
In 1943, Warner’s parents, Albert and Velma Warner, bought the printing business, which was originally situated in a building on Summit Street in the village, and later moved to a former furniture store on Holmes Street. They published the now defunct Richmondville Phoenix, a weekly four-page newspaper that boasted a circulation of about 700. The paper ended publication in 1985. They continued to print letterheads, business cards, and raffle tickets for fundraisers for local organizations, event posters, political posters, booklets for various group-sponsored activities, publications for local government, and more.
In 1962 after a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, Warner joined his parents in the print shop.
“When I first started in the business, I had to learn how to use the Intertype machine,” said Warner. “The machine is noisy and hot,” he said, noting the lead melting pot reaches a temperature of over 500 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the lead liquid for casting the letters in the molds.
“I’d go through two or three pigs a day.”
He started his day early in the morning by melting the lead to pour into forms to create the pigs. Then he and his parents cast type, each using one of the shop’s three Intertype machines.
“It was rough at times, six days a week job. And it was tedious. Sometimes we worked very late at night to get the newspaper out by Thursdays,” he said.
“Once the paper got done we did our job printing: booklets, letterheads, envelopes, business cards, business statements.”
Yet over the years, Warner still found time for what he calls his “civic duties.” He was a member of the Richmondville Volunteer Fire Department. (His father had served a term as chief.) He recalled leaving the shop to answer fire calls and returning to finish his printing jobs in the evening. He also served on the Richmondville Village Board for seven years, three years as trustee and four as mayor.
Crammed into the 2,000-square-foot shop are wooden type cases with drawers divided into compartments for lead-casted type, and larger sectioned drawers for lettered type made of wood or metal used to handprint posters, three Intertype typesetters and the Heidelberg Original Windmill Letterpress. And several other printing presses dating from the early 1900s or even earlier, including a Miehle Vertical Press, Chandler and Price hand-fed press, and a Babcock Flatbed Press used to publish the newspaper, operated by an electric motor though originally designed to run by a belt connected to the flywheel of a small steam engine.
Fluorescent fixtures hang from the ceiling. A Smith-Corona typewriter sits on an old wooden desk along with framed photographs of Warner’s parents and his grandchildren. Shelves in wooden cases are stacked with various printed items such as posters from an earlier time that publicized antique car meets, stamp shows, chicken barbecues, notices of candidates running for local government offices, and a “Polka Dance with Music by Happy Times Trio” in Summit.
This month marks Warner’s 50th year since he began working in the shop. He became the sole operator of the business after his father retired in 1988. Both his parents are now deceased. His father died in 1993, his mother in 1987.
“It has always been a challenging job, always something different to work on, ” said Warner. “I was brought up in this business, and I was determined to make it work for me even though it’s not the modern style of printing. It does demand more time than the way printing is done now, but it’s an art and still competitive.”
Warner said he plans to retire soon. “Some of my customers have had their printing done here for more than 50 years, even before I took over the business. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to them.