Reviving an old Campbell "Century Pony" Book/Newspaper Press

update on the Campbell "Century Pony" cylinder press restoration and use

I need your support. In the late 19th century, and early 20th century, these big cylinder printing presses cranked out newspapers in towns and cities across the country. They weighed several tons and once in place, they were bound to stay there until it was time to haul them away to the scrap yard. Today, there are painfully few of these presses surviving. Even if the desire to save a big old press exists among letterpress enthusiasts, the expense and difficulty of moving it all too often ends up with the same result --- off to the scrap yard it goes. This was sadly the case just recently, when two flatbed Miehle presses from Globe Printing in Baltimore could not be saved.

The legacy of printing in America — which paralleled the rise of industry and steel manufacturing, followed by the Detroit car making boom — is fast becoming a fading echo, a legend of when America produced lasting things of quality. It's a testimony to solid engineering, design, and attention to quality, that many of the old Chandler & Price platen presses are still around today. They're lighter than the big cylinder machines, and because of that many of those are still to be found in hobby shops. But a big three-and-a-half-ton beast like the Campbell newspaper press? What are the chances of one of these 19th-century goliaths making it into the 21st century? Well, not very good. When I heard of one in a garage near Denver, I had to investigate . . .

There it was, under piles of boxes, hoses, bikes, and boards. It apparently had been running about ten years ago. The inking rollers were fairly shot. One of the form rollers wasn't too bad, and the 220 volt 3.5 horsepower motor looked relatively new (as in circa 1970s). The father of the seller acquired the press in the 1970s, so the story went, from Leadville, Colorado. Since these presses simply didn't move around too much, I suspected that it might have been a workhorse in the printing company that printed all three of the local Leadville papers back in the early 1900s. It might have kept working, doing various jobs, up into the 50s or 60s. A trip to the history museum up there in the high country will no doubt sort this out.

The Campbell Printing & Manufacturing Company produced presses as far back as the 1880s. It's "Century Pony" press came in three sizes. This one is the smallest, with a printing area of 22" x 34". Advertised as a "book press" capable of consistent registration over long runs, it could also be used to print the standard newspaper sheet.

Campbell two-revolution press of 1885

The "Century Pony" presses were apparently made between 1894 and 1905, with the bulk of production on the front end of that timeline. No serial numbers can be found on the press for precise dating, but I estimate that it could date to around 1897-1900, because an old counter was found in a box with a patent date of 1897. Production always trailed off toward the end of a model's lifespan, so very few presses were probably made after 1900. After all, it was promoted as the "Century" press, a turn-of-the-century wonder..

And so, in January 2011 it was decided. It would be saved and moved to my modest shop in Fort Collins. Here's how the adventure unfolded. First, my friend Don Hildred and I pulled it out of its corner, using two pallet movers (with the help of a Jeep and a long chain).

We situated it at the door of the garage, and came back two weeks later with a truck. This truck, unfortunately, blew the transmission before we even began loading. I had locked my keys in my car, there was snow on the ground, and all things pointed to mission aborted. I managed to jimmy my car door open with a coat hanger, and we all went away disillusioned. This is what I call "the challenge of raising the beast out of the cave" --- the gravitational inertia of 3.5 tons of iron can be energetically great, warping nearby time and space. We came back three weeks later with another truck and Don's home-made two-axle trailer. With the help of Don's brother, Steve, all went as planned. We winched the beast out of its cave and onto the trailer.

Click here or on the above image for a little video clip

Driving slowly up Highway 287 from Denver to Fort Collins, we lost a trailer wheel near Lafayette. No worries; we bolted it back on and continued on our way. The plan required parking the trailer with the press at Don's farm near Laporte. It was safely inside, out of the windy cold March weather. I prepared my shop near Old Town Fort Collins, moving other equipment over to the side, clearing a path so the Campbell could be rolled into the back part of the shop.

March 11th, moving day, arrived. We discovered that, due to space limitations in the alley, we had to remove the garage door of my shop. It was a tight squeeze in the alley, with Don's 1962 shorty pickup hauling the long trailer. Don had to expertly jack-knife the trailer pretty sharp to get us an angle that would work for unloading. We lowered the press down the trailer slowly with the winch, and eased it into the garage with the pallet movers. Steve Sedam came by to lend a hand, and take many of these pictures.

We were done by noon, and the Campbell Century Pony press was now in my shop, ready for restoration. Cleaning, fixing paper tapes, getting new rollers, rewiring the motor and switch, installing safe 220 volt plugs and lines. Did I say cleaning? I spent two hours scrubbing decades of dirt and oil and barely made a dent. The wooden boards started to glimmer with a nice patina, and the brass arms (I couldn't tell they were brass until I started scrubbing) started to shine. That's going to be a lot of work.

We did the move, and now we need assistance in restoring this rare cylinder press. Please support by clicking on the link below. We need your help. Let's do it!

A Campbell Century Pony press with an automatic paper feed installed on top (above)


Gears and iron - rapidly being sent to the crusher. Don't let it happen.

I had coverage in the "Forgotten Fort Collins" series and in the Matter Journal. I have proceeded under my own personal funding with the restoration and revival of the Campbell press. Housing it in my smallish garage-shop, I've cleaned it, examined it, replaced paper tapes, gone through two motors, figured out and consolidated the wiring for 220 volts, and other miscellaneous things. Life can be filled with demands and distractions, so it's taken over three years to get it rolling. But now, as of November 1, 2014, I have all the problems figured out and have hand fed some test prints for poster paper and newsprint paper. Here are two mpg movies, the latest one from October 2014: