Monday, January 25, 2016

The Adventures of Scott, Brett & Georgina - The Printing Press

Last November while I was in Massachusetts doing my residency at Zea Mays, my husband Scott decided to take on the adventure of transporting Georgina, my 2200 lb wrought iron 1920s London Leeds George Mann Lithography printing press from my in-laws garage in BC to our garage in Nova Scotia. Those of you who follow my instagram and facebook accounts watched this adventure unfold. But I thought I would let Scott tell it all in his own words, I invited him to be my guest blogger for this one entry. Enjoy! 

Georgina's Adventure across Canada


In September 2012, shortly after we moved to Halifax, Maria was offered a printing press from Print Zero studios in Seattle if she could get it out of there by the weekend. My parents are in BC, about five hours north of Seattle, and so we asked my Dad to run down to Seattle and pick it up for us. He wrangled together a truck and trailer and was on the road a few days later. The next day, the first leg of Georgina’s trip was complete. A local construction worker with a bobcat was offered a case of beer to unload the press, and it was in the garage by sundown. We did not have a concrete plan for getting it across Canada, and as a result Georgina had to wait more than three years before her adventure continued. 

Not that we didn’t feel bad about that. We researched half a dozen ways to move it. The train was an option. Hiring a trucker was an option. We looked at putting it in a POD, but they only went as far west as Calgary. A similar company in BC, Big Steel Box, only comes as far east as Ontario, but they helpfully offered that we could buy a container for $12,000, plus shipping costs. There is a sketchy seeming Craigslist for truckers with no loads that we looked at. Every option had some major drawbacks: price in most cases, but also inconvenience. A lot of options would ship to Halifax, but then we had to go pick it up from the yard. We drive a Mazda 3 that slows down when you put a third person in the back seat. A 2200 lb piece of wrought iron? Good luck.

The more research we did, the clearer it became that the best option was going to be to fly out there and drive Georgina back. By buying a truck there and reselling it here, we were able to make the move relatively cheap, and driving cross Canada is something all good Canadians are supposed to do at least once, right?

Maria was accepted to a residency in Massachusetts in November 2015, so I realized my destiny was in front of me.


Buying a trailer was pretty easy. I called a couple of shops in BC, got the cheapest quote, and made the order. It was ready for pick-up a couple weeks later. The truck was tougher. Dad loves to shop for cars, and he is usually pretty good at getting a deal, but his process involves starting and stopping on seemingly dozens of options, and it is not for the faint of heart or those who might get attached to any individual truck. Three times I thought we had a truck bought before we actually got one. After much back and forth, eventually we did get one, and everything was in place. Good thing we started three months early in the process.

This is the route we ended up driving.

Planning our route was fun, and in fact I had two different routes planned out – the first one was going to avoid Ottawa, but when our good friend Anne-Marie visited us earlier this summer I realized we had been promising for ages to come see her new condo and we kept putting it off, so I changed things up to allow us to make a stop there. The total trip, according to Google, was going to take about 56 hours and would be 5,618 km. It was going to be a straight shot across the country: sketchy motels were picked out in Swift Current, Kenora and Sault Ste Marie, we would be at Anne-Marie’s in Ottawa, and then home on the fifth day. At Maria’s request, a stop was planned at Ikea in Winnipeg, changed to Calgary for both timing and tax reasons, and short breaks for meals were included, but this was not going to be a sightseeing trip. We were on a mission.

I flew out on Tuesday, after work. I met up with one brother in Vancouver for dinner during a layover, and my other brother came in to Kamloops to visit while I was there. Devon has recently received his pilot’s license, so he took me up for a flight. After landing, he told me that he would not have gone up in “this weather” if there had been more than a one day window of time available. I had thought it was a pretty bumpy ride, turns out I was right. Sweet that he has his own plane though.

Loading the press onto the trailer was tougher than expected. The guy with the bobcat that had worked so well to unload it in 2012 was replaced with a guy with a winch on a tow truck that did not work nearly as well. In the span of about an hour, the press was nearly dropped, twice, was almost put through the bed of the trailer when the guy misjudged the angle, and the trailer was tipped back almost 90 degrees when the guy tried to put the press down before it was securely on the bed. This all happened around 2 in the afternoon on Friday, well, well late of our 3 pm Thursday appointment which he just straight up forgot, and the 9 am make up appointment that he didn’t even bother making an excuse for.

Finally, we did get the press on the trailer. I spent the rest of the afternoon securing it to the trailer and then tarping it down. I thought I did a pretty good job, and we were ready to hit the road the next morning.  We finished packing the truck after a nice dinner with Mom and were ready to go.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The schedule I had put together was just a guideline, but it was a pretty detailed one. Arrival and departure times for each day were scheduled, the distance and time on the road for each leg of the trip was noted, and breaks were listed by ETA and location. The first of 31 milestones was to be on the road at 7 am Saturday morning.

I was awake before my 6:15 alarm, was showered and fed and ready to go by 6:45, and had the last few pieces into the truck by 6:50. Still no sign of dad. I figured: he knows the schedule, he knows his body, I guess he is just trying to maximize sleep and will roll straight out of bed and into the truck.

Finally, I knocked on the bedroom door. My trust was clearly misplaced, but Dad was relatively quick in getting himself ready to go. We were on the road by 7:35, already behind schedule. It was a harbinger of the next couple of days.

Half an hour later, I proudly announced that we were 1% of the way there. We promptly celebrating by stopping at A&W for the first of several unhealthy meals during our travels.

We were into Revelstoke (4%) by about 10 am, and the first sign of trouble with the tarp had already appeared, as the pointy part at the top of the press had pushed its way through. We took what seemed like the prudent course of action and ignored it. By the time we were into Golden (6%) it was clear that ignoring it wasn’t going to work, so we bought a $10 roll of duct tape at the gas station and taped the tarp back together.

That lasted for about 2 kilometres before the duct tape blew off. Unfortunately, Golden is basically the last town until you head over the Rockies, so Georgina was just going to have to live with a hole in the tarp.

Weather wise, we were very lucky through the entire trip. November is probably not ideal timing for a cross-Canada drive, and in fact BC got hit with a major winter storm the day after we left, but the only weather we got the whole way across the country was a little bit of snow as we came through the Rockies. It was just enough to make you grip the wheel a little tighter and to make it tough to see the amazing scenery.

We were into Calgary by about 4 pm, about an hour behind schedule. No worries, I figured, I had factored in a bunch of extra time for the Ikea stop. Silly guy.. without my beloved wife there to guide me, I remembered very quickly why I never used to like Ikea at all. After wandering around in a dazed stupor for almost two hours, we finally had almost everything, save two pieces that were kept in the back to avoid damage. Unfortunately, Saturday afternoon is prime Ikea time for the good people of Calgary, so the wait for those two extra items from the warehouse team was almost an hour. Dad and I made the most of that hour by trying two different ways of packing the 20 or so boxes we just bought into the back of the truck with, if I’m being generous, middling success. Finally, we gave up and went across the parking lot to have a beef dip at Ricky's Grill.

Post beef dip, we were now about 2 hours behind schedule. We got the last couple of pieces from the warehouse and headed down the highway a few kilometres to Canadian Tire to pick up a new tarp, another couple rolls of duct tape, and a set of tie downs to secure all the Ikea stuff together under a tarp. We pulled into the parking lot at about 7:55, with the store closing at 8. Dad dropped me at the door, I ran in and got the stuff, and we spent another hour in the parking lot repacking everything. My beloved wife is also the good packer, and it seems like my Mom must serve that function in their relationship too. Dad and I are ok at pointing out what won’t work and why each other’s plans are dumb, but coming up with a good plan took a long while.

While we were at it, we also re-wrapped the press with another tarp, this time also with a pair of sweatpants over the point on the top to try and avoid having it poke through immediately again.

Finally, we were back on the road around 9, now three full hours behind schedule. We adjusted the plan and made it as far as Medicine Hat, Alberta, 16% of the way there and about 225 km shy of the original goal for the day. We pulled in to the Satellite Motel just after the office closed, but through persistent banging on the door the guy came back out and rented us the last room in the house, a smoking room with brown shag carpet and floors crooked enough that the bathroom door would not close. It seemed like the kind of place one would go to blow their brains out, but it was cheap and neither of us got any sort of rash from the bed or anything, so I can’t complain too much.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Neither Dad nor I were feeling particularly like taking a chance with the shower in the Satellite Motel, so we were back on the road bright and early the next morning, and were treated to a beautiful prairie sunrise.

It’s a good thing too, because we spent all day on the prairies and that was about as exciting as the scenery got. 

We stopped in Swift Current for a bathroom break and to get some snacks, and we were treated to some of that classic small town hospitality that Canadians are always bragging about, too:

Not that any immigrant in their right mind is going to choose to come to Swift Current, Saskatchewan anyways, but seriously, wtf is that?

Anyways, it became clear a few hundred kilometres further down the road that we were getting terrible gas mileage, and that our most recent tarp solution was again not working. Everything had basically come loose and we were hustling down the highway with a 2200 lb parachute opened behind us. Another roll of $10 gas station duct tape was sacrificed to patch things up again, and we had to take off that second tarp we had spent an hour putting on at Canadian Tire the night before.

This still was not a viable solution, so another hundred km down the road we were stopping again in Regina (24%) to visit three different hardware stores looking for a good tie-down option. Finally, we got what we needed, repackaged the press for what seemed like the 40th time in three days, had a sub and got back on the road, now almost six hours behind schedule. The good news: from this point on, other than some minor tucking, the tarp was pretty much under control. The bad news: our gas mileage didn’t improve. We are talking almost 25 litres/100 km, or about 9 mpg if you prefer.

We pulled in to Winnipeg (35%) at about 10:30, both of us dreaming of fried chicken and with a straight line mapped out to Chicken Delight. Unfortunately, Google had their hours wrong, and the place was closed. Another one several blocks away was supposedly open till 11. I called and confirmed it, and we got there about 10:50.

We got a bucket of chicken, a bucket of gravy, and about 6 lbs of crinkle cut fries, and made our way to Motel 66, our second sketchy motel in as many nights. No shag carpet this time, and the bathroom door did actually close, so that was an improvement. Unfortunately, in the dark we could not see that the parking lot did not have enough space to turn around, so our plan to head all the way across Canada without having to back up the trailer was shot. We both got a pretty good night’s sleep, and were feeling confident that, tarp issues settled, we might make up some time and get back on schedule the next day.

Monday, 16 November 2015

The slighter nicer digs allowed both us to have a nice hot shower and a restful sleep without having to worry about anything chomping down on our ankles. We were back on the road by 6:30 the next morning, and were in to Kenora, ON by about 9 am. This was where we were supposed to spend the night before, so we were getting back on track and were only about three hours behind now. Plus, Kenora was the nicest looking city, scenery wise, since Banff mid-way through the first day. Very cool landscape, it’s almost like the Earth was shattered and there are just fragments of rock, river and land all over the place. We had a nice breakfast at A&W, gassed up again, and were generally feeling pretty good about ourselves.

And then: disaster. 45 minutes outside Kenora, the truck died. I had no idea what the hell was wrong – it felt like something snapped with a sickening “chunk”, the check engine light came on, an error came up saying engine power was reduced, and when I pulled over the engine was huffing like an asthmatic. We turned the truck off, took a look under the hood (which accomplished nothing), and tried the engine again. It came back on and sounded ok, but the check engine light remained on. Nervously, I pulled back out onto the road, and we seemed to be doing ok for about an hour, then it happened again. Again, we pulled over, restarted the truck (it took two tries for it to sound ok this time around), and tried to limp on a bit further. No dice – this time we only made it about 500 metres before it died. Luckily, we were only about 10 minutes outside Dryden, and I had signed up for CAA just before leaving for the trip.

I called the first garage I could find (turned out they were an auto parts store, not a garage) and they pointed me to the GM dealer. I called them next, and they told me they were booked until next Thursday, but bring the truck by and they would at least hook it up to the machine and be able to tell us what was wrong with it. Good enough – I called CAA and arranged a tow truck to take us there. Then I called Canadian Tire (like I hadn’t seen enough of those already on the trip) and talked to the guy at the service counter. I explained what had happened, and he knew right away what it was (a throttle control sensor issue) and that it was under recall with GM. They also had no room that day, but he said best to go to GM anyways since they should be able to fix it for free.

Now: I am not a religious guy, but it does seem to me that karma is a real thing. I do my best to do well by people and help out when I can. And it is a good thing I do, because I think I cashed in all my karmic chips in one fell swoop that afternoon.

First of all, we were about 10 minutes outside of Dryden. Northern Ontario is a sparsely populated part of the country, and we could have easily been a hundred kilometres from anywhere. Dryden is no metropolis, but considering some of the dumps we passed through over the last couple of days, it had some character and was an ok place to be stuck. When we got to GM, they had been waiting for us, the guy came out right away to test the truck (it was indeed a throttle control sensor), and he said it was a pretty quick job and they could probably get us in that afternoon, as long as they had the part in stock. They did. And it was covered under “an extended service notice” – two different guys at GM almost fainted when I said the word recall. Apparently they don’t have recalls at GM, they just had parts that fail for no reason whatsoever and that they will fix for you for free. I have to think that if that racist wall scribbler in Swift Current had been the one whose truck broke down, he would still be on the side of the road.

So we spent the afternoon in Dryden. I can’t say that I was blown away, but it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. There is a river through the middle of town, with an urban park and walking trail that follows it, and what has got to be one of the world’s smallest suspension bridges crossing it.

There is an honest to goodness downtown. There was a tiny little old art gallery with a little old lady who got pumped up when I told her I was from Nova Scotia. Turns out she had grown up in Antigonish and had moved to Dryden 45 years ago to marry a guy, only to find out that he was seeing someone else. Two days later she found another guy, and they have been married ever since.

Dryden is also home to at least the third largest moose statue we saw. This moose has a bald eagle friend to hang out with.

Dryden also has the only intersection in the entire country that managed to fell my dad.

Notice how the railing ends before the sidewalk and the road really meet? Dad didn’t. He went skidding down the hill chin first. Luckily he was wearing a thick jacket. He escaped with basically just a scraped knee and a severely damaged ego. To soothe his jangled nerves, to kill a bit more time, and to get out of the rain that opened up on us, we ducked in to this cute little pizzeria.

Having exhausted most of what Dryden seemed to offer, at least in the rain, we made our way back to the dealership. It was raining pretty hard, and my Dad’s bald head was getting the worst of it, so I loaned him my toque for the couple blocks walk back to GM Dryden. He promptly lost it.

We were back at GM Dryden at about 4, a couple hours ahead of when they said the truck would be ready, planning to drink some free coffee, eat some free donuts, and read the complimentary magazines to kill a bit more time, but it turns out that they had gotten the truck in even earlier than they had planned, and it was ready. We hooked the trailer back up and were back on the road, feeling pretty good about how lucky we had gotten, relatively speaking. I don’t think Dryden is really held up as a top Canadian city, but I was impressed with our short stay there, and the GM dealership sure did a good job of rescuing my opinion of the truck. I would have preferred to not break down, but like I said: I’m glad karma was on my side when we did.

All that said, we were still at 4 pm on the third day of what was supposed to be a five day trip, and we were still only about 41% of the way home. The weather front that we had been racing across the country, and staying just a bit ahead of, had caught up to us, and it was absolutely hammering rain from the time we got back on the road until we called it a night in Thunder Bay. All the optimism from leaving Winnipeg this morning, and we made it a total of about 700 km all day. The dark, rainy night had just exhausted both of us, and we were 700 km behind where the plan said we were supposed to be. Stopping in Thunder Bay was an admission of defeat for the day. We stayed at the Super 8, which was another marginal improvement in accommodation, and we were in bed by about 10 pm. I spent a few minutes rejigging our plans, figuring we were probably still 3 days from getting home, and that we were probably not going to get to see Anne-Marie after all, since we would likely be going through Ottawa in the middle of a work day instead of pulling in relatively early for a nice evening as had been the plan.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

When we woke up, the rain had cleared out, just like in a corny novel. And sure enough, things went much more smoothly all day.

We were on the road before the sun was up again, and something magic seemed to take over. Instead of having to stop every 200 km to fix the tarp or to get gas or to buy more damn duct tape, we just cruised. All the towns that I knew were in front of us blinked by the window one after the other. We actually made some progress. Neither of us even had to stop to pee.

When we were in Dryden, we had thought maybe we could get to Marathon, ON (52%) if we hustled after we picked up the truck. We didn’t make it that night, but we were through there at 11 am this morning.

An hour later we were at White River (54%), where we had, naturally, A&W for lunch. We were at Lake Superior Provincial Park (56%) an hour later, and we were through Sault Ste Marie (60%) before 4. It was about this point that we realized we were actually making pretty good time, and we started to get excited. My revised schedule had us making it to Sudbury (65%) this day, but we were now just about three and a half hours away, and it was still sunny out. We hit the only traffic delay across the entire country just outside of Sudbury, but that only delayed us about 20 minutes. We had dinner at Wendy's (for variety’s sake, you know) in North Bay (68%) at about 9:30 pm, then got back on the road and informed Anne-Marie we would be in around midnight.

Everyone knows that Ottawa is boring, but did you realize that the suburbs of Ottawa stretch on for like 100 km to the west? We made good time all day, but the drive in from Renfrew to Anne-Marie’s place seemed to take forever. We were really pushing it by the end, but eventually we did make it. We probably looked like zombies as we peeled ourselves out of the truck, but deep down we were feeling very pleased with ourselves. Just like that, we were caught up to the original schedule – all it took was driving 1500 km straight.

Anne-Marie, it should be said, is awesome. She waited up for us on a work night, had our beds ready (easily the best accommodations on the trip), and was generally a great host. Plus, her apartment is really nice. Dad is wanting to sell the house and downsize, and he said that Anne-Marie’s condo would work just about perfect for them. Plus, she has a funny dog named Peeta.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

We were feeling pretty much unstoppable after Tuesday, and we were back on schedule. The last day, driving from Ottawa to Dartmouth, was always going to be a long one, but when it is scheduled to be like that it doesn’t seem so bad. We were on the road by 7:15.

We were through Montréal during morning rush hour, as was expected. Dad was driving, and I gave him the pep talk about driving in Montréal before we arrived. He did great, and was even able to pull over for an emergency pit stop on the side of the 40 when it was required (my fault, not the truck’s). We were through the La Fontaine tunnel and past Montréal before 10am. We stopped at Tim Horton's in Boucherville and beat a hasty retreat when they burnt something in the kitchen and the entire place filled with smoke. I was disappointed to discover that the stupid plastic cowboy hats the Timmy's crew in Medicine Hat had been wearing were not actually an indication of just how country Alberta is, but was part of a national promotion. No cowboys in Boucherville, but the same crappy cowboy hats were being worn. Too bad.

Just like the day before, the milestone towns ticked by quickly, with the added bonus that I was back onto a road I was familiar with. It always seems faster when you know where you are going, and the entire day went very smoothly. We were through Québec City around 1, turned right at Rivière-du-Loup to head for the Maritimes by a little after 3, and we got to the New Brunswick border before the sun even went down.

New Brunswick always takes a while to drive through, but it has milestones along the way to let the towns keep clicking by. Edmundston (87%), then Fredericton (92%), where we had a buffet dinner, then Moncton (95%), then Truro (98%). At one point in New Brunswick, dad ran over a bunny rabbit. That last hour from Truro in to home was a surreal experience, travelling along a road I’ve probably driven 20 times in the last few years, but having driven for five days to get to it. We arrived at 12:38am, 22 full minutes ahead of the original schedule.

This picture was supposed to include the total mileage for the trip, but we were both feeling a bit sleepy and I didn’t realize that the “Passenger Door Open” sign was showing instead. Oh well.

I would like to say that I backed the trailer into the driveway flawlessly on the first try, so I’ll just say that. We unpacked the truck and had just the best sleep, happy to have made it in one piece and, despite everything that went on in the first few days, on time.


The next day was beautiful, sunny and warm. I slept in until my alarm at 1 pm told me to call the tow truck guy and remind him to come help unload the press at 3. A shower and cup of coffee later, I went out and unpacked the press, which had made it across the country without shifting an inch.

When I booked the tow truck, I explained to the guy exactly what we were doing. He said they had unloaded printing presses before and knew that it wasn’t going to be any trouble. That was not exactly the case, and when the guy showed up he again did not have the right equipment to just lift the press up and off the trailer. We managed the rig something together where he lifted it up, we drove the trailer away, and then he backed it up into the garage for us, with the press dangling in mid-air. I don’t think there are too many jobs where the tow truck guy takes a picture for himself, but he was enjoying this one.

The level of relief felt when we finally had Georgina in the garage was both profound and short-lived, because Maria had us back on the road the very next day to pick up another press from Annapolis Royal. That was only a three hour drive. Piece of cake.


To read about the little Spider press that Scott & Brett picked up in Annapolis Royal from Elephant Grass Print Collective, please click here!

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