When Pi left a sour taste in a printer’s mouth!

Printing back shops and the men and women who worked in them
Life in the Back Shop by Robert MacGregor Shaw

Among the nightmares that haunted printers during hot-metal days was the specter of the instantaneous destruction of hours of work. Printers called it pieing type. When it happened, it was equally instantly accompanied by a barrage of non-deleted expletives.

Bob Shaw remembered pieing stories in his marvelous book Life In The Back Shop.  One of them was recounted by Earl Clark. It happened in 1943 “just before Memorial Day.” Clark recalled: “I thought it would be a good idea to print an honor roll of all the boys from Deshler, Ohio who were in the armed forces. To help this patriotic effort I sold ads in which merchants could point out their own contributions to the war effort. I took professional pride in working up a layout, which would be spread out over two center pages–several hundred names arranged in a pyramid inverted from the top, with ads banked along the sides and the bottom.

“I labored with painstaking care over all this . . . thinking proudly of the impression it would make on our readers. At about 11:30 p.m. that Thursday night all the type was set and in place and proof-read. We tightened quoins and carefully tested it lifting it a few inches above the stone and peering under to see that no piece of metal was slipping out. I took hold of one end of the form, Bob grabbed the other, and we raised it outward over the edge of the stone. Then we tilted it vertically, grunted as the sharp corners of the chase bit into our palms, and approached the press’s bed. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. No mother ever laid babe in cradle more gently than we fondled this heavy load. We started to ease it on to the bed. It held together perfectly.

‘It happened quickly. In the next second we were standing there with a totally empty chase in our hands and up to our ankles in an avalanche of Intertype slugs, foundry type, casts, strips of border and hundreds of pieces of spacing material. We stood there, slack-jawed. I searched my mind for appropriate words, found none adequate to the event, groped for the small iron step behind the press.

‘I sat down, stared blankly at the still shop, and I could feel tears trickling down my cheek. It took three hours to clean the shop floor and it was six o’clock before I straightened my aching vertebrae, locked the quoins on the re–made double truck, and threw the switch on the press .”

Until later . . .

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