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End of Era for This Printer —Cagle

March 2007
BITS AND PIECES

AMAZING HOW something that took a lifetime to build up can fade away in a matter of minutes. Such was the case for Tom Biehl, an owner of a small printing shop in the Pittsburgh suburb of Cheswick, PA.

Biehl, 53, had worked 20 years to put his own signature on Biehl Printing. The shop, in a detached garage behind Biehl’s home, was started by his father in 1958. The elder Biehl ran it for 20 years before turning it over to Tom.

In roughly one hour on January 22, a fire leveled the operation. Two fire departments battled for the better part of two hours to put the fire out completely, according to the Valley News Dispatch.

“At this time, we will not be rebuilding,” Biehl told the newspaper. “It would just take too much to start back up.”

Biehl provided customers with offset and letterpress printing. It is sad to hear of any company going under, regardless of whether it had 2,000 employees or two.

Tom Biehl had slowed down in recent years. Churning out 60-hour weeks as little as three years ago, several heart attacks and three bypass surgeries caused him to ease off the accelerator and cut free most of his big accounts. He had a few regular customers who came to him for letterhead, envelopes, raffle tickets and the like, which he produced on a trio of Multis—a 1260, 1360 and 1650. The L-shaped building also played home to a 36˝ cutter, drill press, stitcher and folder, among other gear.

Biehl lacked computerized technology, but more than made up for it with old-world craftsmanship tools. He estimates having $20,000 to $40,000 worth of old metal and wood type, with the wood blocks dating back more than 100 years.

Looking through his rear window on a frigid February morning, Biehl could only see the rear wall of the shop standing. What is left of the Multis is caked in snow, and Biehl doesn’t think the carcasses have scrap value.

“Imagine how hot it must have been. The aluminum water rollers on the 1360 melted into a puddle,” Biehl says. “That’s how intense the fire was.”

What struck many people about Biehl Printing was the beautiful, solid oak roof that sat on the shop’s head. Every woodworker in the vicinity eyed that roof with envy. It was less than 10 years old.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but it is believed to be the result of either an electrical failure or the shop’s wood burner.

Shortly after losing his print shop, Biehl’s brother lost all his possessions when a fire destroyed his apartment building. Understandably, Tom doesn’t want to think about printing or fire for a while.

Here’s hoping that Biehl’s love of printing and commitment to the craft doesn’t go up in smoke, as well. If you have a Multi going unused in some dark corner of your shop, maybe you should give this man a call. The friendly and sympathetic voice of a fellow printer might also be of value to Biehl.

SAVED FROM SCRAP: A 1911 Chandler & Price press has its big, fat arse to thank for survival. Otherwise, it may have been torn down for scrap value.

The Belleville (IL) News-Democrat reported that the 800-pound behemoth had been owned by an 83-year-old retired printer, Robert Browning, who is currently residing in an assisted living home. Browning acquired the big dog in 1963 for $130 and turned out business cards, greeting cards and invitations for a little extra scratch. But now it was time to part ways with the press, and Browning certainly couldn’t partake in its removal.

Fortunately, a fellow resident of the assisted living center recommended that Browning donate the press to the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum. Browning gave his blessing and a group of volunteers disassembled the press as much as possible and hauled it up the steps.

Instead of passing the days in dank darkness, the Chandler & Price has a new home that includes a couple of smaller presses of 1870s vintage. A more manageable weight could have resulted in its demise.

FINED IN THE U.S.A.: OK, this item really doesn’t have a lot to do with printing. But given the immigration issue, the article that ran in PI’s February edition and one of the most absurd suggestions for remedying the situation, this tidbit is somewhat hilarious.

A Southern California fence building company and two executives pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and paid a combined fine of $5 million. Golden State Fence admitted to hiring the workers between January 1999 and November 2005.

I would think that, instead of issuing a fine and giving two execs a six-month swing at a glorified Ramada Inn, the federal government could make Golden State Fence work off its transgression by providing labor, materials and consulting services toward erecting the ill-advised “keep out” fence along the U.S./Mexico border.

Ironically, the only way that would be economically feasible is to hire immigrants to build it at sub-minimum wage levels. Then, when the work is completed, we could ask the Mexican workers to leave the country. God bless America.

—ERIK CAGLE
 

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