Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Great Northern

One of the printers’ gatherings I’ve enjoyed in recent years is coming up soon: the Great Northern. This informal weekend event, started by the late Bill McGarry and now run in his honor, began as a swap/sell meet in the Minneapolis area. Now it’s grown and found a home at Midwest Old Threshers Museum in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

Midwest Old Threshers is a working museum, complete with operational steam engines, old farm machinery (including threshing machines), dolls, an antique carousel, and a steam locomotive you can ride. It’s all wonderful to see. But to me the main attraction is Printer’s Hall. Thanks to the efforts of many hobby printers, Printer’s Hall is a working letterpress print shop full of antique machinery that’s fully operational.

The Great Northern Printer’s Fair is a golden opportunity to work with letterpress equipment firsthand. And there’s plenty of it: Vandercook presses, Linotype machines, a Heidelberg Windmill, an iron hand press, a steam-powered Babcock newsletter press, and an old folding machine that will amaze you as it reduces a full sheet of newsprint to manageable size. This year a Hickok ruling machine will be in action, too. All of these machines will be up and running for the Great Northern. But they’re not behind velvet ropes. You can actually work with them. In fact you’re encouraged to get inky and try them out. And if you’re new to letterpress, there are lots of experienced printers to help you out.

The icing on the cake is the Sale/Swap Meet on Saturday, followed by the Auction. Buyers wander around and study tables piled high with type, cuts, and every type of printing equipment you can imagine. There’s lots of opportunity to chat, share stories, and learn more about letterpress. My husband and I number ourselves among the hopelessly addicted, fascinated with what’s for sale and who’s there to talk with. And you never know when you’re going to score a terrific bargain at the auction on some item you’ve been eying!

Thursday starts with workshops, demonstrations, and instruction on the various pieces of equipment. Start a project and continue it on Friday, with expert help if you need it. Load up on letterpress type and gadgetry on Saturday at the Swap Meet and Auction. And get a chance to chat with some of the folks who love letterpress. In my experience, they’re some of the kindest, most helpful people you could imagine. What an opportunity for fun and camaraderie!

This year’s Great Northern runs September 16-18. If you’d like more information, contact Chuck Wendel at or Rick von Holdt at . Or check the July 7th posting on Briar Press:

Below are some pictures my husband and I have taken at the Great Northern over the years. We’ve certainly enjoyed being there!

Printing on the Chandler and Price platen press.

Demonstration of casting metal type by Skyline Type Foundry.

Preparing a form for the Babcock newspaper press.

Running the Babcock press is a two-person operation.

Take a ride on a steam locomotive at Midwest Old Threshers Museum.

Row upon row of old threshing machines greet you at the museum.

The Swap Meet in full swing. Old type, new type, cuts, gadgets, and equipment galore -- you can get it all here.


  1. The Great Northern sounds like it would be a ton of fun! I'd think about going if I didn't have plans already that weekend. Lots of nice pictures!

  2. It is fun! And it will happen again next fall, so you have another chance to check it out.

  3. Hi Carole! Your nephew here. The Midwest Old Threshers Museum looks really interesting. I'd like to visit someday. Maribeth and I really appreciated the card we received from you and Bob last year. It has a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. It still hangs on the fridge. Great blog! See you soon.

  4. Thanks for the kind words on the blog, Joe! It's a lot of fun to write. Glad you enjoyed the card, too. Yes, Midwest Old Threshers Museum is a fun place to visit -hope you and Maribeth get a chance to check it out someday!

  5. It’s in point of fact a nice and useful piece of information. I’m happy that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing. casting metal