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My Love Affair With Letter Press

by Judy Richardson | Published July 29, 2021

My Love Affair with Letter Press and Chuck Wendel

Chuck has been gone for nearly two years and as time passes it becomes easier to recall and write about our time together. As I try to write our story, it must be centered around our letter press work. Working in our letter press print shop is what kept us happy and occupied, especially after his second stroke. 

Chuck and I began our acquaintance via the Internet. As we became better acquainted, we discovered that we had met briefly at a school board convention several years before. Telephone conversations, held at 6 am in the morning, followed and we finally had our first “date”, a trip to Hannibal to see Mark Twain’s boyhood home. There we visited a printing museum, and I got my first introduction to an old-fashioned platen press. 

Our next trip together was to Printer’s Hall where I first truly fell in love with Letter Press and the unique and special man, C.H. Wendel.  I had always loved print shops. During my career in education, I worked in a technical high school and often had worked with printers to develop marketing materials.  As a high school student, I had watched a printer set type on the Linotype. To see the awesome equipment in Printer’s Hall was astonishing.  

Later when I was planning to visit my grandson for his third birthday, Chuck flew out to Colorado, to drive home with me.  Because he had never been to Colorado, we took our time to visit some of the places I had seen that I thought he would enjoy. It was on this trip that I learned of his love of trains. We visited the Georgetown Loop railroad, and because he had friends there, we were treated to a ride in the locomotive engine. That is a thrill I will never forget.  Later we encouraged Chuck to work on his long-planned book on trains.

I had planned a trip to a family wedding in Scotland and during my time in Edinburg and London we continued to talk, in spite of the time gap.  When I returned, I had my first experience with Printer’s Hall at Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. We stayed in Chuck’s camper and that was a first for this city girl, who had camped with a tent and sleeping bags but never in such luxury.

I was very impressed with the whole Old Thresher’s event. I had never seen so many tractors.  The huge steam traction engines were beyond impressive, but the printing equipment in Printer’s Hall was the highlight of my experience.  Before the event, I had helped Chuck count and package the tickets and passes he printed on his Heidelberg. 

He had printing equipment in his basement and huge three bay garage. We did our first printing project together in the basement of his big and very old Amana home. Part of it was at least 100 years old and it had two front doors. He had done a tremendous amount of renovating which we continued until his second stroke.

Chuck had built an elevator from the ground floor to the basement, it was used extensively in his move into the house, and when we moved to the new location which a was all on one floor and easily accommodated his wheelchair, it was a life saver.

The new place had a big, attached garage where we located most of our shop. There was also an unattached double garage that had formerly been a woodworking shop. It was there we set up the linotype, magazines and other tools we moved from the old house.  When I think back on what we had to move, it seems impossible that we did it. His many friends, neighbors and family helped in the process.

He had an amazing ability to visualize spaces. Everything fit, somehow. Though there were still magazines, type and paper in the big garage, the old house was finally empty.


And so began my Letter Press apprenticeship, which also included learning how to use numerous hand tools, woodworking saws and drills, and polishing tools for linotype and Ludlow mats.

It began with lessons on the Heidelberg and Vandercook. Type setting was easiest using the Ludlow. As time passed, I learned to handset foundry type. One of our biggest projects was the printing of Chuck’s biography of Carroll Coleman. He had already set it on the linotype before his second stroke, so we just had to run proof pages and make any corrections. That is when my love/hate relationship began with the Linotype. I was very proud to finally be able to set type and borders on that monster machine.  It took a lot of maintenance. When there was a problem, Chuck’s ability to see into the innards of the machine made it necessary for me to take pictures of the part of the machine so he could tell me what to do.  Lucky for us, Dave Seat and Jim Daggs, and Steve Wendel, came to our rescue when the lifting or mechanics was heavier than I could handle. 

We added a new cutter, stitcher and some beautiful Ludlow mats to our inventory. In addition to that one a trip to Illinois to help a gentleman figure out how to move his Heidi, we acquired some very beautiful wood type. It came with a huge cabinet for type cases, which we refinished. It had a heavy marble top that when polished looked pretty good.

Besides our printing projects or the AAP (Association for Amalgamated Printers) we spent time using Chuck’s many reference books to identify wood and foundry type origins and age. We put that inventory on our computer and thus had a very good record of what we had in the shop. It was always fun to discover a trademark and age of a type font.  But most of the hours we spent in our shop were doing print projects.

I hope to show pictures of some of our work in future posts.

Also posted in Letter Press