Don’t Fear the Junker

We interrupt this typewriter blog post for an important public service announcement:

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

These days! What a time to be alive. This pandemic has opened up a can of worms, and here we are teetering on that rusty, jagged can lid of history. Given that, I have been thinking a lot lately about the following video that I saw before Christmas.

Everything about this just kills me: the comic menace of DePiglio; George Benson’s On Broadway soundtrack; the kid assessing DePiglio’s trajectory – it all just kills me.

I tried to engage my children in a serious discussion of this: is DePiglio Death? Do the kid and other characters symbolize cosmic indifference—or a healthy attitude to the inevitable? My children brushed me off and told me I was over-thinking it—DePiglio is just funny.

I am at an age where George Benson’s On Broadway triggers great nostalgia. I’m at an age where Existential Dread is for real, and we run from our mortality and the fears of our less-than-perfectly-lived lives. Perhaps it is this dread that drives me to find meaning and joy in Junkers.

My business card

We have a lot of Junkers kicking around the house. Last fall, my beloved 1990s Toyota was rear-ended, and it is looking slightly more crappy than usual.  The insurance company deemed it not worth repairing. It is still excellent for Junker typewriter hauling.  A couple weeks ago, a random guy spotted the derelict hulk in the driveway and stopped by to see if it was for sale.  I told him no, we’re keeping it.  His inquiry spurred a sudden burst of tenderness for the old Junker, and I went out and lovingly washed the algae off it.

Sometime after Christmas, my dryer gave up the ghost, screaming as it met its end.

It’s a Junker, probably close to 20 years old, with chipped paint and degraded gaskets.  However, it’s old-school and no motherboard — factors that are definitely in its favor. I was able to find a replacement drum bearing for it online and swapped the new one in.  I have now developed an almost unaccountable affection for this Junker washer/dryer set.  I think it’s the Ikea Effect.

I no sooner fixed my dryer than my husband broke and I had to take him in for repairs. 29 years of my companionship done wore him out, but he’s all better now.  Missing one or two parts, he’ll wobble along just fine, but make no mistake: he is now a Junker.

My son is a Junker Enthusiast as well.  He recently scored a bunch of very dirty vintage Knoll handkerchief chairs that were being thrown out.  That’s my boy!

My neighbor is also a Junker Lover.  She was riding her bike in the neighborhood and spotted a familiar case sitting on the curb next to a garbage bin.  She opened it and found a SCM Sterling almost identical to the typewriter of her childhood.  She remembers her mother coming home from work and typing her father’s doctoral dissertation after dinner on that typewriter. I cleaned it up, re-attached a detached clevis spring, and threw in a new ribbon. It types like the proverbial champ.

Typewriter Junkers are so appealing to me. Many collectors avoid these dirty, broken hunks of metal in decline.  Me, I like them. They’re cheap (people will give them to me for FREE sometimes), and they provide me with hours of entertainment. If a typewriter doesn’t work and looks terrible when it comes to me, how can I make the situation worse?

I spent a lot of time working on the DePiglio of junker typewriters this past holiday season. Dear Mr. E. sold me this one for next to nothing.

I pealed the crusty platen like a banana and applied several layers of polyolefin heat shrink tubing. The crumbly feed rollers got the same treatment.

It’s typing really well right now – the polyolefin heat shrink produces a very hard platen, but the imprint is very good.

I know probably shouldn’t drag home any more Junkers, but I have eBay email alerts set up for “typewriter parts repair” and recently saw a listing I could not resist. It was for an Olivetti Praxis 48 – a typewriter with which I am familiar. I’m not a huge fan of electric typewriters, but boy do I love the Praxis 48.  It is the coolest electric typewriter ever born.  I dare you to prove me wrong.

This particular Olivetti Praxis 48 on eBay had four things going for it:

  1. Low price
  2. A power cord (an oddball connector that’s often missing from Praxis 48s)
  3. Being sold by a typewriter collector who wrote “I collect typewriters and am familiar with how to ship them. Please do not send me packing directions.”
  4. Of course what sealed the deal was this in the description:

Maybe, just maybe, I would be able to get this thing to power on.  If not, I would just look at it and appreciate its modern coolness.

The package arrived quickly and I was dismayed at how small it was.  I opened the box and found a mashed Praxis 48.  Too small a box and too little padding for a heavy plastic typewriter.  Lesson learned: I will not buy heavy, delicate typewriters on eBay again.

The seller was great and quickly issued a refund – though I didn’t really want one; maybe I just wanted to lecture him on proper packing.

I was able to get it to power on after working the gummy on/off switch from the inside. It wasn’t typing, just buzzing at me, so I took it out to the garage and removed the bottom and front piece.

After a blast of air from the air compressor and a wipe down of the internal mechanics with mineral spirits, it was still buzzing and not moving.  I then moved up to lacquer thinner which is very smelly and corrosive, hell on paint and plastic.  I draped carefully and cleaned the interior with lacquer thinner and paint brush,  and the carriage return began to function.  Then a key and then another.  And then it was typing.

Time for a deep clean.

I took out the platen and paper tray for cleaning.

And a couple random pieces of metal fell out:

Now where do those go?  Fortunately I had TWDB Operation: OOPRAP’s Praxis repair manual in PDF to refer to and deep in the manual I spotted this diagram and was able to re-insert the intact spring:

I am still trying to figure out where the other broken spring goes.  The platen ratchet does not engage when turning the platen by hand, so it may be part of the ratchet pawl spring. Fortunately line spacing works fine on carriage return.

I ordered a ribbon for the Praxis, and have been wandering out to the garage intermittently to play with the machine.  It has gummed up repeatedly despite thorough cleaning.  I’ll get it running smoothly, and then overnight it will return to its immobile, buzzing state.

I will make this Junker sing again, I love it so much. Electrics are not really my bag, but the Olivetti Praxis 48 is worth it. If I can get it to run reliably, I’ll see if anyone has a parts Praxis so I can replace the smashed spacebar and front plate.

In conclusion, Junkers are surprising, satisfying, and entertaining. They’re mysterious! Junkers are full of stories. Junkers are beautiful. My motto is “Better living through Junkers”.  I encourage you to embrace Junkers.  Live with them and learn from them. They have certainly made me a happier person.

I leave you with this song by Nico from 1967 (written by a 16 year old Jackson Browne). The Praxis 48 probably listened to it. The song makes me cry a little—her voice is so moving and relatable, sort of like when I try to sing a song that’s way out of my range, but I power through on sheer emotion.

 

 

Jammed paper bail

Royal KMM: Broken Things and Fixes

A local lady heard through the grapevine that I liked to tinker with old typewriters.  K. had purchased a Royal KMM at a yard sale and was hoping to get it typing.  I was glad to take on the project since it would be a distraction from my Twitter horror scrolling and my hand-wringing over the broken state of the world. She brought it over a couple weekends ago, and here it is on my porch on arrival:

Royal KMM

1948 Royal KMM, serial number KMM-3577225

It was a rough, broken thing: twisted, rusty, dirty, and frozen.  Everything on the left side of the machine was bent and compressed: carriage return, paper bail, spool cup, line spacing mechanism.

Jammed paper bail

Paper bail jammed in there

It was so dirty. Just my type.

Royal KMM needs cleaning

I told K. that I would do my best, but the typewriter was severely traumatized.  Privately I thought to myself, these things are built like tanks, and it should be OK.  KMMs are so solid.  I think David McCullough is still typing books on his KMM.  We had one growing up, and my mom typed the family cookbook on our KMM:

recipe

Midcentury recipes are a window into a mysterious time.

Some people wouldn’t touch a typewriter like this: too broken, too rusty, too messed up.  To them, it’s a doorstop, a boat anchor, a parts machine. Me, I like them. I feel a moral obligation to fix these things.

After K. left, I wiped everything down with a dilute bleach solution (this is a pandemic after all). I took off the ribbon cover (nice explanatory video from Duane at Phoenix Typewriter). I then brought it out back and blew out the leaves and fur and greasy chunks with my air compressor.

I pried the paper bail out of the platen and straightened it using my patented Lady Gorilla™ maneuver.  Carefully I straightened the carriage return arm, the crushed ribbon spool cup, and the line spacing mechanism.  Once I got the carriage return lever clearing the ribbon spools, I set about cleaning the segment with mineral spirits.  Things began to loosen up and the KMM began to exhibit its legendary sprightliness.  The type guide had rusty burrs that caught the type so I did a little sanding.

Sanding type guide

The Magic Margins were not behaving themselves.  They are sensitive to dirt and congealed grease, so I carefully cleaned the Magic Margin mechanism.  The left margin improved with cleaning but the right was sliding all over the place and not catching.  On examination, I found the margin stop’s ears bent and it was failing to engage in the teeth of the margin rack.

bent margin stop

Bent margin stop

Fixing

All better.  Now I could set margins and they would hold.  Now is the time for my annual rant about Magic Margins:  they are not intuitive, notoriously finicky, and I don’t like them.

I began to address the last few bothersome issues.  The typewriter was missing screws here and there, and things were a bit loose.

Missing platen set screw

Missing platen set screw

Wobbly ribbon cover

Wobbly ribbon cover

I know just the place to get the proper machine screws:

Parts Royal 10

Parts Royal 10

Thank you, Old Friend.  You have given life to three other Royal 10s and now you help this KMM.

The shift was a bit low, so I made some adjustments (again, Duane from Phoenix Typewriter has a good video).

KMM shift misaligned

Good enough:

KMM shifted characters aligned

After a scrub down, I touched up the paint with some matte chalk paint I had on hand from a craft project and covered my repairs with some thick matte polyurethane for durability, brush stippling for texture.  Not perfect, but looks a lot better.

KMM

The last item that was bothering me was the faded keyboard legend. I am not a touch typist, and I was having problems testing since I need to know which keys I am striking.

faded key legend KMM

Richard Polt has a Royal key legend .pdf on his website which I could print out, but I wanted weathered, vintage replacements, and I had just the thing.  About a year ago, a kind lady at Herman’s gave me a box of Royal keys with nice, clear legends on them.

The tricky part is that I do not own key ring removal and replacement tools which easily remove and replace the key rings.  I am thinking about trading one of the kids for a set of those tools.

I used a pair of needle nose pliers to unbend each of the three key ring tabs that grasp the key top.  Then I carefully held the stem with pliers from the bottom while gently, gently twisted off the ring with pliers from the top.

One down and a bunch more to go.

I was perking along, happily replacing key tops when I managed to twist the letter “W” key top all the way off.  I was horrified, but grew philosophical.  I knew that I could get good results re-attaching the key top with J-B Weld epoxy and a little platform fashioned out of scrap metal.

JB Weld used to re-attach keytop

Time to put this KMM through its paces. Let’s fire up this old gal.

Blug. That new ribbon I ordered is very gloopy, and it looks like I need to clean the type a bit more.

Working on this banged up KMM gave me ample time to think my thoughts and ponder current and past events.  Here’s the loose change that rattled around in the dryer:

Typecast

Disruptive and disquieting, broad-based protests are incredibly powerful instruments of persuasion and change. Power’s reaction to protest is sometimes a damning tell, exposing loose rot propping up “institutions” we take for granted.  Like the women’s suffrage movement, Black Lives Matter is using protest to present evidence of broken systems and to demand change.

Frederick Douglass quote

There’s no easy fix, but there’s an opportunity and an obligation here to do better.

Royal KMM

Foster-Child of Silence and Slow Time: 1917 Oliver 9

I have recently been thinking a lot about this three-axle End Times van my son spotted in San Mateo a couple years ago.

In these uncertain times, I daydream about a Decameron re-tread in this van. Gathering ten or so of my ole buddies, we’d roadtrip to my concrete bunker in the country to party down and tell stories while we wait out the pandemic. We’ll need several big Frito-Lay variety packs, a few cases of beer – and a troubadour too.

I want to go to there. But of course, we’re responsible and sensible and we’re staying put, peering out the curtains like the Olds we are. We have the luxuries of remote work, a paycheck, and a fridge full of food.  I check in on members of the Extended Family Universe™ via some very chaotic Zoom and FaceTime calls and group texts.  I have attended three virtual high school reunions—really!  Physically isolated, we are surprisingly more socially connected with family and friends now than when we were immersed in the hectic normality of the Before Time.

My daughter and I have formed a small-scale Ladies Aid Society with neighbors and are sewing fabric face masks, a 21st century take on bandage rolling.

I bake bread, another Instagram-friendly pandemic cliché.

Beauty, eh?

I am suffering from pandemic mush brain, having problems with focus and attention. I should be taking this time to pull an Isaac Newton and write my own Principia. I should finish that novel I started last year. I should paint a picture for that blank wall in the family room. I should start a family band. I should invent something. During the plague years of the 1980s, Edward Van Halen invented this:

I think back back to my Holiday Christmas Typewriter Open House just six months ago and the close, sweaty gathering of people at a party seems like a quaint, old-fashioned, and alarming practice, like smoking Camels during pregnancy or packing four kids into a front bench seat without seat belts.

It was at that Christmas party that Typospherian John A. brought this nonfunctional 1917 Oliver 9 with a Polish keyboard. Cosmetically in very good condition, it has all the little pieces that tend to go missing with Olivers: spool cup lids, drawstring clip, wooden spool centers, spool clips, pencil holder. It has some rust and delaminated plating, but the decals are in great condition.

These Olivers are heartbreakingly strange and cute – the Baby Yoda of typewriters. They would make Werner Herzog cry.

 

Polish keyboard

Probably manufactured for the immigrant community in the US, it is packed with untold stories of happiness and prosperity and hardship and survival. What can this old one tell us about the long years of the past century? What of the Spanish Flu?  The Great Depression? The Second World War?  What was in the letters and documents it produced? Was it a parade of news, the happy and sad and matter-of-fact? Business correspondence or love letters?

John’s Oliver 9 was not typing and I guessed that it was a broken mainspring—it had no zing when wound.  For some reason, Oliver mainsprings seem to be very vulnerable to snapping: this is the fourth I’ve seen with a broken mainspring.  It may be because they are so exposed on the Oliver rear end and people play with them.

John left the Oliver with me until I could take a look at it.  I took the carriage off and opened the mainspring drum. On inspection, it was a broken mainspring:

Duane at Phoenix Typewriter has a terrific video that goes through the ins and outs of repairing the mainspring on an Oliver:

I fashioned a new end for the broken spring and re-assembled.  Ta-da!  A 103 year-old typing Oliver with the very nice Printype typeface:

Very nice! The type is a little dirty and needs a good scrub.  Unlike many Olivers out there, the alignment is pretty good. I am mailing out face masks to far-flung family and friends, and a companion note written in Printype is a nice addition. Let me know if you need one.

I work on my face masks in the evenings as a meditative exercise. The gentle thwump-thwump-thwump of my 1973 Sears Kenmore 158.1703 calms and focuses me. This loyal workhorse deserves its own blog post.

Producing something concretely useful is good for tamping down the many anxious thoughts that come to me. When I was a kid and in a snit about something, my mother would say, “Now, now. In the light of all eternity…” and trail off leaving me to contemplate the comparative magnitude of eternity and the small matter at hand. She wasn’t being dismissive, just serenely pragmatic.

The problems are bigger now, but I still find great solace in thoughts of eternity and the immensity of the universe. My own comparative insignificance is of great comfort to me. If I close my eyes, I can hear the gentle hum of the spheres.  We are small, overwhelmed by the vastness of time and space.

The Voyager I and II spacecrafts are out there somewhere, spinning through the darkness and silence, chasing distant light.

Voyager I trajectory. Tomruen / CC BY-SA

Voyager I and II both carry a Golden Record with images, sounds, and documents of Earth—the way it was in 1977.   If intelligent life intercepts these probes, they may find this information useful.

NASA/JPL / Public domain

The Golden Record’s message from Jimmy Carter makes me tear up a little.  It’s so full of the ambition, yearning, and hope we need now:

Garage Band

The  marathon of holiday events that stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is pounding along, and I am gamely holding my own.  Others may drop out from exhaustion; but I am a solid long-distance runner, and I will win this holiday season.  To that end, I hosted a Holiday Typewriter Open House.

My husband and I like to host a holiday open house at some point in December for family, friends and neighbors.  We’re shy types, but we like people.  Hosting an open house is a shy person’s social dodge: you know most everybody you invite and they know you and your peculiarities. If you’re feeling shy, you don’t have to talk to anybody because you’re “busy” doing party maintenance. You wind up the event and then watch it play out in the safety and comfort of your own home.

When I heard there was a DC-area typewriter meet up in Sterling, VA the same day as our holiday party, I was disappointed that I couldn’t attend the Sterling event. But then I thought, huh, what if—what if I invite the typewriter people over to our open house in Arlington after the Sterling typewriter meet up?  I’ll set a lure with food and drink and tables of typewriters in the garage and see what I can catch. That sounded good to me and my husband, and it was a done deal.  Many thanks to Jonathan Typewriter Posey who publicized both December 14th events on our group’s Facebook page.

In preparation for the open house, I cleaned and organized the garage – no small feat.

I put down some old area rugs to help with sound absorption—typewriters can kick up quite a racket and the garage is a hard, echo-y space.

I borrowed a few tables from neighbors, made some typewriter pads from rug scraps and rug pads, and started to set out my collection of 13 former junkers.

I had intended to ready the collection in the days before the open house, but the path to hell…etc. As I was setting out typewriters the night before the party, the issues of my former junkers began to rear their ugly heads.  These machines don’t get as much exercise as they should, so beyond cold and sticky keys, there were weird behaviors to contend with.

The SCM Coronet Electric needed de-gummifcation of a few keys since it was doing that thing where keys strike over and over and over again.

I popped off the bottom plate, washed the sublever pivot areas with mineral spirits and all was good.

The rebuilt Regal/ Royal 10 was good to go except for the line lock not engaging. It needed a good wipe down of the line lock mechanism underneath so that it rocked cleanly, and all was good.

Next was a Royal KHM that Mr. E sold me at some point.  It was very dirty, but typing like the proverbial champ except that it needed a heavy, “hot” touch to prevent letter piling of certain characters.  It responded to cleaning of the segment and a good workout.

This blue Silent-Super was more problematic.  It was blowing past its left margin on carriage return.  As you may recall, this typewriter has a traumatic past, having been banged around a bit. I think the left margin stop needs to be “formed” some, but I couldn’t fix it enough to reliably catch.  Lesson learned: start testing your typewriters long before a type-in.

My Voss De Luxe was only able to type in red. The ribbon vibrator was catching on a cracked plastic card guide. Oy. Couldn’t fix that on short notice.

And the carriage release button on the Rheinmetall KsT was sticking and not responding to cleaning. Yikes – that’s one of my favorites!

And last but not least, I wanted to have my new Underwood 5 running for the party. I picked it up at Herman’s in October when it was in pretty rough condition.

I did some preliminary cleaning and replaced the platen and feed rollers with polyolefin heat shrink tubing.  It is typing pretty well, but not perfectly. The front feed rollers need another layer of heat shrink for paper to feed well.

The rest of my typewriters were solid and dependable: the pink Silent-Super, Adobe Rose East the Royal QDL, a Torpedo 18a, a Consul 232, a Royal Signet, and a Hermes 3000.

I hung a sign over the front door, turned on the lights and got ready for the guests.

photo credit: Glenn Gravatt

The first to arrive were the typewriter people who had attended the event in Sterling, VA. Then the neighbors and friends came in and then finally the extended family started drifting in.

photo credit: John Askey

photo credit: Glenn Gravatt

A typospherian from Pennsylvania, John A. brought an Oliver 9 with with a detached drawstring and broken mainspring.  He kindly left it with me to play with.  The Oliver has lovely decals and all the bits that often seem to get lost on Olivers: the spool caps, the wooden spool cores, even the little metal drawstring hook.

Favorite moments of the evening:

  • The arrival of the typospherians carrying their typewriters—like the entrance of a conquering army.
  • My husband patiently untangling a few typebars and reassuring a distressed neighbor who thought she had broken the typewriter.
  • A young grandson typing on his great-grandmother’s Regal/Royal 10 that I had repaired. It had been used in the great-grandmother’s shop in Winchester back in the day.
  • My 88 year old father-in-law rattling off his ocho apellidos vascos after meeting a local typewriter enthusiast with Spanish roots.

Many. many thanks to Glenn Gravatt and John Askey for taking pictures and proving that this thing really happened.  I lost track of my phone and my head and didn’t take a single photo!

It was not so much a “worlds collide” evening  as a pleasant meshing of the things I love: family and friends and typewriters and food and funny stuff.  We are doing this again—for sure.

The typer hosters. Photo credit: Glenn Gravatt

Party On

In mid-October,  I attended the Typewriter Jamboree at Herman’s in West Virginia.  This is my third time there, and I get so much out of it.  I had a really good time re-connecting with those I’ve met before, meeting new typewriter people, geeking out over interesting typewriters and repairs, laughing my fool head off over typewriter-related antics.  Really, where else would you get all that kind of typewriter-related fun?

Unfortunately I didn’t take a lot of pictures.  It was huge crowd—the biggest group at Herman’s ever, I think. I took a couple pictures absent-mindedly, neither of which capture the event or its energy.  There’s a Twitter feed I enjoy called Uninteresting Photographs and my pictures would not be out of place there. Sorry, people.  This is all I have from what was in reality a very exciting time.

Here’s one picture. This is an awards ceremony, but it looks like Two Turntables and a Microphone with Richard Polt throwing in a funky dance move:

And here is an uninteresting photo of a presentation on 3D printing that was really terrific.

Ok, poor photojournalism notwithstanding, I brought home a couple typewriters: a distressed 1922 Underwood 5 and a super cute made-in-Holland 1962 Royal Signet with typing issues.

The Signet had typebars sticking up on the outer segment that collided with other typebars.

Royal Signet with typebars that stick up

I thought at first that there were bent connectors and tried adjusting the little wires that connect the sublevers with the typebars.  I fiddled and fiddled and fiddled. And then I thought, what if it’s just dirty?  The segment was clean as a whistle, but this area was gummy:

Cleany, cleany, cleany and hey those typebars behaved themselves and quietly returned to their proper homes with each key stroke.

I really enjoy watching Phoenix Typewriter’s typewriter repair videos —they are so relaxing after a long day in the salt mines.  Duane J. uses automotive-strength lacquer thinner in a little squeeze bottle, so I got some of my own:

I cleaned those nooks and crannies very carefully, making sure I didn’t get any lacquer thinner on the exterior paint.

The Underwood 5  from Herman’s that Mr. E gave me for almost nothing will also need an intensive cleaning.

Let’s take a look at this Underwood 5.  Cracked platen: check:

Crusty typebars: check.

Generalized ancient dirt: check.

Dog food stuck in the guts: check. At least I hope that’s dog food.

Yes, this looks like my type of machine. Weirdly, it still sort of types.  I love these old tanks.

The holidaze are fast approaching and as people of my generation (Gen X: the Coolest Generation, the forgotten middle child of generations) say, “Party On!”

On December 14 there’s a DC area meet up at the Sterling, VA public library from 12-3PM.  Following that,  I am hosting a casual drop-in holiday open house from 4PM – 9PM for family, friends, neighbors (Lawful Good) and that unpredictable element, the typoshpherians of the DC area (Chaotic Good).  I think it should be fine—low probability of swearing, fistfights, and police activity.

Many thanks to Jonathan Typewriter Posey who posted the events on the Facebook DC/VA/MD Antique Typewriter Collectors page.  I don’t use Facebook much, so I am indebted to him:

If you are here in the DC area and want to stop in at my place for the Holiday Open House & Typewriter Party, let me know.  I can send details, or you can check the events page if you are a member of the DC/VA/MD group.

The open house provides me with an opportunity to pull out my small collection of mostly portables, many of which don’t get enough exercise and are getting flabby and outta shape.  Here’s a list of typewriters I am going have on hand—most are durable former junkers and will be suitable for a mixed-age audience:

  • 1956 Smith Corona Silent-Super (pink)
  • 1957 Smith Corona Silent-Super (blue)
  • 1964 Voss De Luxe
  • 1963 Hermes 3000
  • 1957 Torpedo 18a
  • 1961 Rheinmetall KsT
  • 1955 Royal QDL
  • 1962 Royal Signet
  • 1967 Consul 232
  • 1937 Royal 10/Regal rebuild
  • 1940 Royal KHM
  • 1970ish SCM Coronet
  • 1922 Underwood 5 (if I can get it running)

I think I have another couple I could dig out, and I hope to have that Underwood 5 up and running. I left my big standards in California with my son, but I wish I had them for the party in Arlington, especially the Remington KMC, the Olympia SG3, the Olivetti Lexikon 80. They are crowd pleasers.

I worked this past weekend, organizing my garage which is where I’ll set out tables and typewriters for the open house.

Party On!

Me, the world’s oldest teenager, sings at the top of my lungs: