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Sterling's Flood-Damaged Antique Linotype Press Gets New Lease On Life

Grace Hood
Sterling's Overland Museum spent $80,000 restoring this type-setting machine after Colorado's 2013 flooding caused severe damage.

Restoring any one-of-a-kind historical artifact has its own unique set of challenges. So it's hard to imagine the monumental task Sterling's Overland Trail Museum faced when the swollen South Platte River caused $1 million in damage in the 2013 flood.

"The water came a little different direction than we anticipated," explained Museum Currator Kay Rich, as she stood outside the main building of the Overland Museum.

Named to commemorate historic westward migration through the area, the museum sits near a green courtyard rimmed with 14 small buildings — many of which were covered with 4 feet of water in the September flood.

Some of the most expensive damage happened inside their printing shop. Walk inside the low-slung one-room shop and you see a towering black cast-iron steel contraption known as an Intertype "linotype" machine.

Although built in the 1920s it glimmers in the light as if it's new.

"[It was] completely just really destroyed by water," lamented Rich. "Just covered in rust. Just an absolute mess."

Workers painstakingly restored the 4,000 pound machine, which includes belts, pulleys and other parts. At the front of the machine is a small black, white and blue keyboard.

Rich explained that workers used machines like this starting in the late 1800's to melt lead and make lines of type, which were then imprinted into small lead pieces and set in a block.

"…and the block is taken over the printing press and printed," said Rich. "So I know myself personally, I didn't have any idea what went into printing."

Watch the machine at work

Overall, insurance paid to restore most of Overland's damaged artifacts. But the Overland Museum's print shop needs to be rebuilt on higher ground to withstand future flooding.

The change means officials will begin fundraising. For those who don't have the philanthropic budget, Rich said equally welcome are first-time visitors.

"Sometimes we feel a little forgotten, a little cut off from the rest of the state," she said. "It's worth the drive. We have people tell us that all the time."

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