Houston, we have a problem!
I have hesitated to speak of this publicly.
The weight of this story’s outcome is potentially great.
When Geppetto’s door opened August 26th, 1974, Ma Borsotti was making her delicious ravioli by hand. I’ve heard said, it would take her six days and many expletives to make seven days worth of ravioli. Around that time, Tom, her son, heard tell of a man in San Francisco making ravioli for United Airlines at the time. The man wanted to buy a bigger machine and was interested in selling the smaller one.
How Tom learned about this guy and his machine for sale… without the internet is beyond me. Regardless, his sister’s husband was sent to San Francisco to pick it up. For Christmas 1974, Ma was given the former United Airlines ravioli machine. It came without instructions and no owner’s manual. Tom tells some great stories about the trial and error days as they perfected the new way. Ma’s life was made much easier and that machine is still in use to this day at Geppetto’s. At least it was… until two Saturdays ago.
There is a lot to making Ma’s Ravioli. The fresh pasta, the filling and the process of bringing the two together are all important. It is an art. An undeniable change in the end result has unfortunately revealed a problem. Yield and quality have diminished. Something has gone wrong and we can’t make Ma’s Ravioli with her machine unless it can be repaired. It has no identifying markings as to its manufacturer. All we know is that it was made in Italy. Probably quite some time before 1974. The machine’s technology is simple and smart and beyond our ability to make any kind of definite diagnosis as to the problem.
Looking over the old girl, I remarked aloud, “We need that “older guy” who likes to tinker with stuff. The kind of guy who can figure anything out. Does the world even make those kind of guys anymore?”
Just then, twenty-four year Geppetto’s server/bartender, Jamie, a man of few words, softly spoke one name, “Shelby.”
“Really?!” I asked.
“Oh yeah, he said. That guy’s amazing. He can figure anything out when it comes to machinery.”
Shelby and his lovely wife, Robin, are true friends and regular Geppetto’s customers. A Ma’s Ravioli fan, all it took was a quick text and Shelby was on his way. He looked like a surgeon in his headlamp as he observed the machine. I watched in admiration as he studied how the mechanisms worked over and over again. I showed him an example of our latest batch which had not been broken up yet.
“It’s definitely a delivery problem.” Shelby said.
Discerning that narrowed the field and he was able to identify the source.
“It’s a timing issue.” He said. And this gear (which could fit in the palm of my hand) is the problem. That metal star has turned so many times it’s just plain worn out. Its points have worn unevenly and that’s where the problem lies. With this machine… timing is everything. You need a new gear.”
We spent a week attempting to track down manufacturer, specs and information to no avail. One night, at dinner here, our son-in-law made the suggestion of using 3D printing to manufacture a new part. I forwarded the link to Shelby assuming he would be too “old school” for that. Nothing could have been further from reality. He jumped at the opportunity to learn.
“I’ve always wanted to learn about 3D printing.” He said. Shelby came back to the restaurant the next day to remove the part. He took it to a guy in Portland where it will be reverse engineered and its original size determined. When ready the specs will be sent to a 3D print company in Bend. They will manufacture the part and only then will we know if Geppetto’s coveted machine will live to produce again.
Some have said, "Why bother? Get a knew one." It's not that simple. And I believe, the machine and Ma and Tom and Shelby and many others deserve our best effort to restore what was once great.
We’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile… say a little prayer… and give thanks for the “older guys’ who like to tinker and aren’t afraid to learn. We won’t make it much longer on the number Raviolis we have left in house. What Ma would do in this moment has crossed my mind. What she would have to say, I imagine, is perhaps too colorful for publication and matches my sentiments precisely.