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Welcome to the blog of Ian Wilson, author of the award-winning Canadian Branchline series, the King's Highways & Steam Trains series, and the Angus Wolfe adventures series.

Press check for Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! (FIREBOX CHAT #13)

April 29, 2018

You’ll be happy to know that Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! was fed through the Mitsubishi press at Ampersand Printing in Guelph this past Friday... at the rate of 1/3 of a second per eight pages! You can see the monstrosity here—so big it had to be barged through the Panama Canal—weighing as much as a CNR Hudson Type on a custom-poured concrete pad and assembled in place by a team of specialists.

Make no mistake, good things come in big packages, and your copy of Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! was in able hands on the state-of-the-art printing press. That’s me above, speaking to Mike McDonald (Ampersand Printing owner) while pressman Mike gets ready to feed the dust jacket through.

And here, seconds later, is one of the first sheets off the press. A high-tech scanner, tied in to more sensors and buttons and LED status indicators than I can understand, is analyzing the ink densities of this “pull” to make sure they’re consistent across the sheet. That’s a Canadian Pacific red I chose for the jacket, by the way, matching as closely as possible the tender panels on Royal Hudsons, Jubilees, Selkirks and the like. Not to mention the classic CPR passenger cars.

We were happy with the red, but played with the black ink density while scrutinizing the three locomotive pictures on the jacket (ignoring the small mug shot of the guy wearing the Speed Graphic camera tee-shirt, a Christmas gift from son Duncan, in the picture, along with wife Mary-Jo and friend Jim Brown). Here, I’m signing off so the pressmen can run off the rest of the jackets, two-up.

We have a good rapport with Ampersand Printing, and have worked with them for 18 years now. And know that the copy you ordered has been scrutinized thoroughly, not only in the proofreading stage but here at the press—son Duncan (who will package your copy for shipping) is also signing off on the sheet.

Mary-Jo, who maintains your name on our lists (email and direct mail) and formatted this Sunday broadcast—also gave the press sheet her approval.

Son Spencer will print your shipping label—the one you’ll see affixed to your package containing your copy of Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! He’s also happy and signs off on the dust jacket.

Jim Brown, whose work has appeared in all of my hardcover railway books, was at my side for all the press approvals on Friday. Here, he also affixes his signature to the jacket sheet. That’s a copy of Steam Memories of Lindsay in the background, should we have needed it for comparison sake (I don’t do hardcover books very often, so keep that in mind if you haven’t ordered—it’s been a full eight years since the last one). 

Moments after the dust jackets had been transferred to a skid for conveyance, they were whisked offsite to have a 5 mil plastic lamination applied. That will make your copy glossy and protect its finish over the years ahead.

We’re into the “guts” of the book now, a “signature” containing some colour. Jim and I, with pressman Mike nearby, are scrutinizing the black, magenta, yellow and cyan ink levels on a press sheet. We’re working with images taken 61 years ago, so every decision is based on an overall compromise across the whole sheet. Adjust the ink densities for one, adjust them for all. Set-up sheets are in the bin in the foreground.

After half a dozen pulls, and having “backed off” on all four ink levels, I signed off on press form 7B—the one containing a spray of images taken on the CNR’s Owen Sound Subdivision on July 23, 1957. 

For press form 8B, I pulled out a copy of Steam Over Palmerston, printed for us by Ampersand in 2001. For my money, the reproduction in that book is optimal, so Jim and I wanted to make sure we measured up to that standard. The pressman grabs two sheets for every “pull”, one for us to examine and one for the densitometer to read. 

Presto! Less than ten minutes later, there are more than 600 lbs. of signature #8 resting on the skid at the output end of the printing press. Your copy is in there somewhere. When the ink is sufficiently dry, a couple of hours later, the pressmen will run them through for form 8A. 

Final press check of the day is form 12A, the last signature in the book. It contains some colour for the Hagersville Subdivision, so I wanted to have a look at it. Also, a number of night shots. Here, Jim and I are deliberating over a picture of a CPR yard engine in the shed at Goderich. We’re comparing it to the proof Ampersand supplied to us several days earlier.

Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! is the definitive and final account of the travels and photography of John Rehor, Don Wood and Herb Harwood in Ontario during 1957—everything they took of note during that wondrous year, available nowhere else in one place.

What’s next?

Ampersand printed all the pages for Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! in one go this past Thursday. By Friday—to my knowledge—the job was in a truck heading for the bindery at Campellford. As for the printing plates, they’ve already been discarded, so we won’t be able to go back and ask for a few more (you have already ordered, correct?).

I spoke to the people at Beck Bindery last week. They’ll do their best to get on the job as soon as they can, but they do have a number of school yearbooks coming their way as well. I’m hoping that we’ve sneaked into an opening they said was there for a couple of days.


We’ll keep you posted as to progress at Beck Bindery. The plan is to pick up the job by truck as soon as they complete it. Depending on that timing, I may schedule an informal launch event in the GTA. Stay tuned for news on that when we know better.

Otherwise, it will take us two weeks to package and ship the mountain of pre-orders, including yours. We’ll dispatch them according to the date your order was received. Only after all our direct orders are filled will we turn to shipping copies to retailers. Unless you have ordered from us, you won’t see the book anywhere for several weeks after release.

Goodies in your package

You’ll find a few extras in your package containing Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! in appreciation for your pre-order. And some other things to pass along to friends. More on that later.


The photographs contained within Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! depict a series of moments, long vanished. Even these images from April 26, 2018 are over. The book itself is a flicker in time—the stocks will evaporate as surely as the smoke and steam from the locomotives in 1957 diffused into the atmosphere.

Thank you

Thank you to all who pre-ordered Speed Graphics and Steam 1957! Without you, this book would not be ready for binding now. You had the foresight to order a copy and now there’s one with your name on it waiting in the queue. Even if you haven’t ordered—but do now—you’ll receive your copy and exclusive bonuses before it ends up on retailer shelves. Head to the book page at

and we’ll squeeze you in.

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