May 8, 2024 at 12:00 a.m.

Wonky move eliminated the wobble

Back in the Saddle

Editor’s note: This column is being reprinted from May 7, 2014. It is, only occasionally, a dangerous proposition to be at work on the weekend. Usually the result is an empty office, free of distractions and prime for good work to get done. Other times, like the story Jack shared here, one can find themselves dealing with the latest equipment problem that has popped up. But as long as everything is ready to go again Monday, everything is OK.

It was about 2:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. And there I was, standing in the stairwell at the back of the newspaper building in Portland, halfway between the landing and the first floor, trying to make my way up from the basement. I was bent over like a creature from The Lord of the Rings. On my back was an eight-foot-long table. And I got the giggles.

“Talk about a beast of burden,” I said to my fellow table-movers.

It all started Friday morning. When I was passing out paychecks in the pressroom, it was pointed out to me that one of the tables used by the inserters who stuff pre-prints from Menards, Walmart, Main Street Market, CVS, Walgreens and others into the paper was wobbly. The reason it was wobbly was that it wasn’t really a table. It was an old door lying across a sink. The sink had been out of commission ever since we made the transition to computer-to-plate technology. The door — who knows where it came from — was placed atop the sink to create another work station.

It was a patch job. One of those things that seems to make sense at the time. But it really didn’t make sense. Though it was a good height and a decent work surface, it wobbled.

When I mentioned it to Brian Dodd, our production manager who doubles as a recipe columnist now and then, he got right on it. In fact, I figured he knew it was just a matter of time before someone pointed the problem out to the boss. By that afternoon, he’d found a suitable replacement table in the basement of the building. Though I told him it wasn’t a pressing issue, Brian indicated he’d work on it over the weekend with his son, Aaron.

The real challenge, he thought, was to disconnect the plumbing from the old sink. He was wrong on that one. The plumbing turned out to be the easy part.

When I spotted Brian’s truck at the office Saturday afternoon, I stopped by. My plan was to offer a few words of encouragement and maybe some strategic advice. Funny how that turned out.

When I got to the pressroom, I found the sink was gone. Disconnecting the plumbing was no problem. But I could hear voices from the basement. Brian and his son were debating how to get the table up to the first floor. They’d tried the elevator, and the table wouldn’t fit. I could hear bits and pieces of their conversation coming up the elevator shaft.

At this point, it’s important to explain that in this particular case the definition of the word “table” is a little vague. The piece had apparently been built in the basement of the newspaper building with whatever pieces of lumber happened to be wandering by at the moment. The top looked like 19th century beadboard, used with the beadboard side down to create a smooth surface. That surface had been topped off with used aluminum offset plates, some of them still bearing images from the 1960s. The legs were 2x4s from back in the day when a 2x4 was a real 2x4. And it had been hammered together using spikes that were at least 4 inches long. Not something you’d want to take to the Antiques Roadshow for an appraisal. And it was heavy.

Before I knew it, my words of encouragement had been translated into sweat equity. Brian and Aaron had concluded that the “table” wouldn’t fit in the freight elevator. And they were right. But over the next 45 minutes or so, it wasn’t at all clear that the stairs were a better option. 

The newspaper building has been around for more than 100 years, and what it lacks in youth it makes up in strength. The three of us soon found we were dealing with more fixed objects than we’d like. The concrete steps weren’t moving. The iron pipes that made the stair railing weren’t moving. And the brick walls sure as heck weren’t moving.

The only give seemed to be in human flesh and the “table” itself. But we pressed on, until that moment when I got the giggles, bent like a coal miner, carrying the thing on my back. That’s when Brian suggested perhaps it wouldn’t be a good idea to have the boss die in the stairwell on a Saturday afternoon. I agreed, which should come as no surprise. So we tried new tactics. 

We rotated. We shifted. And finally we knocked off some of the legs, with Brian hauling out those spikes like they were dragon’s teeth. Then, and only then, it went through the door from the stairwell into the pressroom

 I checked it out on Sunday, and it looks like a safe and functional — if funky — solution.

The best news: It doesn’t wobble.




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