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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.
 

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