Larry, The Plastylite Guy

Larry Creveling,  Plastylite press operator, mid-1960s

I was at Plastylite from Oct, 64 til Jan, 66 when I got drafted into the Army. Just prior to that (’66), they seemed to be getting ready to or, were actually moving out some equipment. I recall seeing one of the Amo (their last name) guys there (checking on the company, or actually moving stuff out, I don’t recall) Amo family was, I somehow knew, in the pressing business (we all grew up in North Plainfield.) I left at the end of Jan in “66, so I suppose it was sometimejust after that that Plastylite stopped vinyl pressing (they also did Bakelite [thermo-setting] molding-parts for electrical applications and such.) My brother pressed there from about mid-1961 to later in 1962 when he went into the Air Force. He was discharged in late 1966; he had written me when I was in Viet-Nam; he was back at Plastylite, but I believe he said he was just doing some B.S job there-not pressing records, so I assume by mid-66 or so the pressing stopped. I don’t know how long they stayed in business after that doing Bakelite stuff. I was out of the Army in late 1967 and my brother was then working at Union Carbide (Bakelite.) I don’t recall him mentioning anything more about Plastylite. He has since died, so…
LJC had some questions for me, so you can check my reply there for more info.

 

Before I left in ’66 for the army, they were transferring equipment to, I assume, Liberty. I guess Liberty was owned by the Amo family, from North Plainfield where I was from (two sons whom I knew.) While I was in Viet-Nam (’66-’67) my brother wrote that he had been discharged from the air force and was back working at Plastylite but there wasn’t much left, production-wise, just the Bakelite molding (they did a lot of that in addition to the record pressing.) I came home from the army in October, 1967; my brother was then working for Union Carbide (formerly Bakelite) in Piscataway, NJ. Union Carbide supplied the raw materials to Plastylite for the Bakelite and record molding. I assume Plastylite was about gone by then. I still lived nearby, but don’t recall if they were actually there or not. At some point the place was a claims office for Allstate Insurance. Now vacant…

 

Thinking about it, I recall doing a lot of runs of 200 (plus 20.) Perhaps we did longer runs, but it all escapes me after over 50 years (gee, maybe I AM the only guy on…..) I don’t think, though, that we did any REAL LONG runs of Blue Note- seemed like I was always changing stampers for a different title. When I first started pressing, the presses were on a 60-second cycle; they whittled that down to 45-seconds after a while. So, in an approx. 71/2-hour shift on a steady run with no “SC’s”- stamper changes, one could press up to 450 records on the 60-sec cycle, or up to 600 on the new 45-sec cycle (that’d be the theoretical max.- it took a few minutes to get the biscuits heated in the beginning of the shift and after each break, plus allowing for any problems.)

On really long runs of other-than-Blue Note stuff we never changed stampers, just went and went…” A “first pressing run of Blue Note”…???Never heard of it, and I don’t think we EVER did any runs of 800, and certainly not 4000. It was almost always low-number runs. I’ve also read (here, or on another site) about “test pressings”-never heard of that, either. No one ever said, “let’s do a test pressing of this, or that.” Seems to me that the stampers went and went. You could, though, tell the older, more used stampers……ahhh, the much-bandied-about “deep groove.” I gotta go shortly, so I’ll get back to the “groove” another time. Back, for a second, though, the “new” 45-second cycle…obviously, more records could be pressed, but also, they were using less vinyl somehow (hotter press?…I don’t know), but the records were much thinner(on 45-sec) than when I first started there. We called them “oil can” records; if you held one between your palms and shook it up and down it made a “boinka-boinka” sound as if you were using an oil lubricating can. Very floppy…

 

(Plastylite had) maybe seven or eight total record presses; not much more than that, perhaps less, can’t really recall. One was a ten-inch press, the others were all12-inch (we never called the records “albums” or “LPs”, just “12-inch.”) All but one of the 12-inch presses were the same, the “other” was a different thing, made in Belgium, I suppose, as we called it “the Belgium press.” I ran it for a while, a different animal; pressed 12-inchers, but took some getting used to as it was a different design and operated differently. It was newer-looking than the other presses, but it was there in 1961 when my brother was pressing at Plastylite. I saw a posting somewhere where someone stated that Plastylite had gotten some “new equipment” at some point (owing to the “deep groove” theory.) I doubt that, other than perhaps the Belgium press. More on the “deep groove” later…..

 

I suppose you mean, by different “addresses”, the physical address of Blue Note as printed on the labels. I didn’t quite realize that at first. We never checked any of that, just that the stampers and label numbers matched and that A-side to B-side were correct going into the press. Maybe some old stock was being used up, or perhaps new printings had come in and just mixed in with older ones before the older ones were used up. I don’t believe old stock/new stock was an issue, they just checked that the A and B sides had the correct A/B labels and the record number matched the label number. I could be wrong on that, but then again, that wasn’t my area….(No, I don’t mind all the questions….ask away…)

 

I think the stampers just went and went; nobody ever told us or brought out a new stamper to use. The stampers were prepared for attachment by sanding the rear surface with emery cloth, blowing off the sanding dust with compressed air, wiping the rear with solvent, blowing off again, cleaning off the press face, blowing it off, then putting the stamper(s) in the press. One of the inspector/packing ladies would take a few of the newly pressed records before you got too far along and inspect them. The biggest problem with a new run was “dents”-they were just that- tiny pockmarks in the record caused by speck(s) of dirt/dust/debris or whatever between the press face and the stamper. With so much pressure involved, anything behind the stamper would cause a dent in the record. The stamper had to be removed, cleaned and reattached. You didn’t get paid for this re-cleaning whereas you got paid for a stamper change on a new run. We were paid an hourly rate, plus so much for each record, or a certain amount over a set amount (don’t recall exactly), and so much credit for a “SC”- stamper change.

Another problem would be “side sway”-never did know exactly what that was, I think the thickness of the finished record was uneven side-to-side. You just loosened the stamper (s?) and rotated it, or them, 90 degrees or so. Seemed to always fix the problem. There was a counter on the press, so when you hit the number of records to be pressed, you changed stampers. You always worked ahead, getting the next run’s labels heated, so when done with an “SC”, you were ready to go. You didn’t get paid for rejects or “dents.” Sometimes there’d be greasy-looking stains on the record. Don’t recall where they came from, maybe something in the vinyl, or grease from the press. Funny, they were called “shit-stains.” One of the ladies would come over to your press and “you have shit-stains.” Comical to hear ladies (especially back then) speak that way. I think we just wiped down the stampers with solvent. Occasionally the center of the stamper would pull away from the attaching “die”—-that’s another dissertation coming soon (involving the “deep groove.”)

 

It wasn’t a bad place to work, it was only a half-mile from my house and the pay was excellent. Contrary to a Sept., 2014 posting by one Bob Djukic, we at Plastylite were NOT “incompetent, underpaid, mistreated, undereducated, abused [and on and on.]” With that much vitriol, one wonders why Mr. Djukic would be even remotely interested in the [great] product we produced…

With the aforementioned being said, A 12-inch stamper was greater than 12-inches in diameter, allowing for the stamper to be mounted/secured in the press head. The outer perimeter is flared toward the rear (away from the music groove side [I say “music groove” so you don’t think “deep groove”] much like a dinner plate, with the music grooves cut into the underside of the plate (where it rests on the dinner table.) The press head(s) have this same dinner-plate shape contour, so the stamper fits exactly in/on the press head, like nesting one plate on/into another.

The outer perimeter of the stamper is secured to the press head with a sturdy steel ring using six allen-head bolts. The center of the stamper has a circular opening, about 2 7/8 inches in diameter (I eyeballed one of your photos of the “deep groove”, then measured across a BN label I came across [not a record, just a Blue Note paper label- 4050-A, Jimmy Smith, Home Cookin’; it’s been laying around all these years] This center opening has a lip, or flange, or rim in it that is about 1/8-inch wide by 1/8-inch deep. You can just make it out in the bottom left photo in your “slacker’s guide to pressing.” I suppose it’s akin to the rim that keeps a street man-hole cover from falling through its opening and allows the man-hole cover to be flush with the street surface.

The center “die” (I don’t think we had a name for it but I’ll call it a “die”, since you like that term) exactly fit into the stamper center opening and held the center of the stamper tight against the press head by pressing the bottom of the stamper’s 1/8-inch center flange into a machined area of the press head that matched the flange. The back side of the die had a female-threaded shaft, perpendicular to the die face maybe 5/8-inch in diameter by 1 1/2 inches long; this threaded onto a male thread in the press head to secure the die (and stamper center) in the press. For the life of me, I don’t recall how we tightened this die into the press, but there must’ve been some tool we used to get it in and out…(Shouldda paid more attention back then… or laid off the ethanol……….) This die, then, would be about 1/8-inch thick, to allow it to seat against the stamper flange and remain flush with the stamper face. It had a nub that you’d put the label on, just like the nub on a turntable, maybe just a little taller (this is the bottom, or B-Side; the top, A-side is different.) I’ll continue later, have a sick friend I have to check on, and I fear my computer may act up before I can post this. (Do you want my Jimmy Smith label? I ‘ll make a color copy for myself and mail you the label if you want it, let me know. Also have a photo of the old Plastylite building some where.)

The A-side stamper went on the top press head which was accessible once the press opened after a cycle. The hydraulic ram was at its lowest/bottom point, the upper press head opened, clam-shell like; you could then attach the top/A-side stamper. An outer ring held the perimeter, just like the B-side. A center die held the center of the stamper in, but was different than the B-side. The B-side had the nub/protrusion onto which the label was attached, but the A-side had instead a hole all the way through it. There was a retractable rod, the same diameter as the B-side nub (and label hole), in the A-side press head that protruded through the die for label attachment when the press was open at the beginning of the cycle and would be forced into the press head during the pressing cycle by the B-side nub as the stampers [almost] met and with the A-side label then held in position by the B-side nub which was then slightly inside the hole in the A-side center die. The A-side rod end, where the label was attached was square-ended, not like the rounded-end B-side (like the nub on a turntable.) This gave a flush fit in the hole so vinyl wouldn’t get jammed in the hole. This center rod was pneumatically operated-less pressure during pressing so it would retract into the head, and more after a cycle so it would re-protrude for label attaching for the next cycle. The center die, as I said, pressed against the rim/lip of the circular stamper opening to secure the center of the stamper to the press head.

One of the problems was that this rim/lip would, on many occasions separate/split away from the stamper center rendering it useless. Once it started to split, it would be snipped completely off and a different center die would have to be used. Newer stampers, with less use were more likely to have an intact lip, and older, more used stampers would be more likely to have their lip torn and snipped off (it could go either way, though.) You could, though (and often did) have one stamper with a lip and the other without it (in the same label number/run.) So, each side on the same pressing could have a different type of die. The die used on a stamper without the rim/lip was slightly “stepped”, in that it overlapped the stamper center hole to hold the stamper firmly in the press head, then stepped in slightly to fit inside the stamper center opening. The die used on a (usually) newer stamper was flush with the the stamper since it recessed into the opening and against the rim/lip giving a flatter vinyl surface under the label. This arrangement seemed to have a more snug fit between the circumference of the die and the stamper opening. So I would say a pressing having little or no groove would be an earlier pressing on a relatively new stamper… a pressing with a groove and / or slightly depressed area in the label area wiopuld be from a more used stamper.…Just a general observation, as a newer stamper may have had its rim/lip removed, and an older one with an intact one

 

Am not a big audiophile, although I have an appreciation for music and do enjoy jazz as long as it’s not too “improv.” While pressing at Plastylite I was 18 and 19 yrs. old and a product of the 50s/60s and a “rock’n’roller”, too bad. Maybe, though, you’all at LJC have kindled something in me…Was just looking at Blue Notes on Ebay, and realized I may very well may have pressed some of those. I do have an old Edison cylinder player that I crank up (literally) on occasion (it ain’t no Akai with a Plastylite BN on it.) Belonged to my Grandpa who, ironically, worked for Edison in the ’20s. Anyhow, “pressing matters”- the “brains of the outfit” that controlled the press was a series of metal wheels stacked on an axle rod; the wheels were, as I recall, about three inches in diameter, perhaps less and stacked/attached side by side on the rod which was mounted in a control panel and driven by a small motor (motor could’ve been electric, or maybe pneumatic-don’t recall.) This whole contraption rotated as a unit, somewhat like a camshaft in an engine, but with the wheels instead of cam lobes. There was one wheel for each specific operation of the press, with each wheel having a tab protruding from its circumference. There was a row of little valves positioned above the row of wheels, one valve for each wheel. As the stack of wheels rotated, each wheel’s tab would click open, or click closed a valve, as necessary. The valves were attached to air lines which ran to servos that opened/closed hydraulic lines, steam lines, cold water lines and an air line for the A-side label shaft/rod. Somewhere between eight and 12 of these wheels (???…50+years ago.) The whole stack would, of course, make one revolution per record, automatically stopping at the end of a pressing, ready to begin anew with the start button being depressed. I believe I’ve pretty much covered the entire process…any more questions???

A bit of trivial digression-I recall Plastylite being there seemingly forever, sitting at the bottom of the Watchung Mountains, part of the Appalachian Chain. in the ’50’s, partly into the ’60s, beyond the plant and up the mountain, it was mostly wooded, an area where us local kids played, building tree forts, rope swings, damming up a stream for a swimming hole, shooting our weapons of the time-pellet rifles and bow-and-arrows. On the way up to the mountain we would pass Plastylite (it sat on a gravel/dirt road then) and rummage through the drums of reject record cut-outs—five-inch vinyl squares with [most often] Blue Note labels affixed. These squares made the perfect flying-saucer-like toys for zinging around at all sorts of targets (usually at each other.) Fifty-some years later I’ve still got a scar on my ‘throwing hand” where one of the rejects ripped into it. We kids always wondered as to the origin of these little “square records.” I stopped by the plant a year or so ago on a whim. It’s completely built up with housing around the plant, and the building was up for lease. If it was still wooded, there’d be many hundreds of those rejects lying around; I wonder how many more had to be swept off the flat roof when, undoubtedly, the building was re-roofed at some point…There was an old, somewhat derelict mansion on up North Drive (Plastylite’s address)-“Hyde’s Mansion.” It’s gone now, replaced by an apartment complex. Going the other direction on North Drive, the mansion’s stone gate house is still there (we always called it the “Clock House” as it’s got a clock’s hands and numerals attached to the stone chimney.) It’s a residence, has been for some time now, an impressive building. We always avoided the mansion, as local lore (from the “older kids”) had it that the residents were insane (actually, I believe it was a small nursing/old age home.) and the nutty caretaker roamed the grounds with a double-barreled shotgun containing shells loaded with rock salt (so as not to kill any kids that wandered there, just maim them.) You could always find someone who “knew some unfortunate kid who got shot by the crazed caretaker”………Ahhh, the adventures of youth, and of Blue Note pressing….

 

It wouldn’t be a vinyl batch identifier….the extruder guy would pour the vinyl bags of pellets (from Bakelite [Union Carbide]) into a hopper that would feed them into the extruder. He’d collect the vinyl extrudings (about 6″ X 8″ X 3/16″ or so)off the end of a belt and wheel them out to the six or eight record presses (we also did lots of Bakelite [thermo-setting plastic] moulding.) He’d collect the flashings (cut -off slag from trimming the moulded record) and any rejects. After the labels were cut out of the rejects, they and the flashings were fed back into the extruder. So, with all the bags and bags of vinyl pellets, and all the flashing and rejects from all the presses, each pressing a different record, there was no way or even need to track batch numbers.

I I never paid attention to the “9M” or the “W6”, but would take a stab in the dark that it may very well be a “W” as the owner of the company was Mr. Weinraub. Someone in an earlier post mentions Plastylite’s metal finishing department…..there was no such department there. We did pressings for several labels, two that I recall were Folkways and United Artists (a VERY long run of UA’s “Shirley Bassey Sings Goldfinger.”) Mostly did runs of 100 pressings of Blue Note (actually 110, to cover any quality control issues.