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(a little off) Iowa Rules

Pratt's Printing Press Continues Family Tradition
By Mike Augspurger
The Hawk Eye

     Susan Pratt is creating another generation of lines - ones that are
straight and perfect.  She is one of few people left in the United States
who prints rules that usually are red and blue on large sheets of paper.
The lines make columns, or sometimes form squares and rectangles - places
for numbers, people to sign names or record information in large ledgers
kept in courthouse offices.
     Riverside Ruling is based on a machine with personality - a Hickok
line ruler printing machine.  Her Hickok is an antique classic. Some say it
looks like a rug loom. Others believe its wooden configuration - along with
gears, pulleys and string - resembles a long poster bed.  It's one of 25
Hickoks still operating in the country; the only one in Iowa.
     Pratt inherited the 6-by-24-foot press from her now 81-year-old
father, John Weaver, who was in the printing business for about 50 years.
He passed on the personality of the line ruler machine that was built in
1937. Serial number 11986 is recorded with the company's headquarters in
Pennsylvania.  When her father decided to retire, she decided to keep the
business going.  "I hated to see it stop," she said.  With ink in her blood
- a phrase often used by people in the printing business - Pratt took
control of her father's company in 1984.
     The machine has no nickname, but she knows how it sounds when it's
running right. The gears, the ink drips, the suction and paper shaker all
must mesh together in order to make the perfect product.  In a normal run,
she can print around 2,000 sheets an hour.
     "There is still a need for the written record," Pratt said of printing
ledger sheets for courthouse books.  The paper is high-quality and made of
cotton, which means it won't yellow with age.  Most of her printing work
stays in the Midwest, although she's bad some in California and Arizona.
The ink goes into a cup that drips the ink into the zephyr.  Finding that
perfect drip, though, often takes a couple of taps on the twist lever.
Yarn is wrapped around the zephyr to help ink flow to the metal tips,
called pens.  "It's kind of messy," she said, as she climbed around the
machine to wrap the inky thread around the metal.  She sometimes has to use
emery paper to clean clogged pens. She doesn't want to rub too hard,
though, for fear of losing the edge on the hard-to-find instruments.  The
antique machine does break down. Getting parts is out of the question,
unless she can find one on her spare. Sometimes she has to create a part to
make everything work.  A piece of duct tape, for example, helps keep one
gear in sync.
     She has plenty of ink on hand, some of it in containers that are 60
years old.  "It goes a long ways. I think I've bought three pounds since
I've been in business," she said.  Three beams hold the ink cups. She uses
four or five colors at the same time on many occasions. The machine can
hold up to 12 colors.  Humidity is a tough cookie. It can create a field of
static electricity that makes paper sheets stick to each other.  "It seems
like in the winter time we're always fighting the humidity," she said,
noting their humidifiers keep at least 50 percent moisture in the air.
     When she was growing up, her father made a lot of notebook paper for
his children to use in school. She now does the same for her grandchildren.
She twists a knob. She turns a crank. The machine sends another series of
paper through its printing system. Her grandchildren will have plenty of
notebook to write on this month.  She's a long way from retirement, but
doesn't know what will happen with the machine when she does. Her
stepchildren aren't interested in it. And noting the advance of
electronics, she said:  "There may not be much of a need for a ruler
printer by that time."

Riverside Ruling
P.O. Box 451
West Burlington, IA  52655

Fax:  319-752-3808


Happiness bought and paid for
is happiness none the less.



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