Out with the Old, In with the New: Olympia SM

J. is a local typewriter enthusiast who brings me problem typewriters from time to time.  She doesn’t just admire her lovelies on a shelf, she works them hard, typing daily.  Her Olympia SM3 below is beloved.  Not only does it look truly scrumptious with that box-o-chocolates keyboard, it types like an Olympia—that is to say, like a mechanical dream.

This Olympia, however, has a problem.  The carriage won’t move.

J. is a very resourceful gal and has figured out a work-around.  She engages the caps lock to free the carriage and types in ALL CAPS.  She loves this typewriter so much, she will type in ALL CAPS if need be.

When J. told me about this situation and her solution, I thought to myself: sounds like the notorious Olympia Bad Rubber Washer/Spacer/Bushing Problem.

So, let’s take a look.  All four rubber washers that pad between the machine guts and the outer casing were mashed into disintegrating blobs of tarry goo.  Once the rubber flattens, the machine guts sink and the carriage starts rubbing or grinding or stalling on the casing. Engaging caps lock raises the carriage and allows it to move freely. Unfortunately, few people other than J. will want to type in ALL CAPS.

It looks like someone added modern washers on the outside of the case when the inside rubber disintegrated and the screws got looser and looser.

Typospherians have documented this very common situation with Olympia SMs. It is a well known problem with a “One Weird Trick” solution.  When I see this condition, I think about a ten-year-old blog post at clickthing  which I am sure has helped many, many Olympia SM owners over the years.


Duane at Phoenix Typewriter has a good video that details the fix on Brownie’s twin sister:

Duane cuts his own spacers from rubber tubing and Richard Polt has used flat pieces of rubber. Me, I use rubber washers similar to these.

Though I had bought some rubber washers at the local hardware store, I decided to use the extra washers that I found on the exterior of the case.  The washers are about 1/8″ thick and looked brand new. I am guesstimating that the outer diameter of these washers is about 1/2″ to 5/8″ and the inner diameter is 3/16″ to 1/4″.

The old washers, melted and compressed, glued the machine to its casing, so I had to pry the frame from the case with a screw driver and pick out the old rubber.

I took clickthing’s advice and swapped out the four rubber washers one at a time so that I didn’t need to futz with lining up the holes on all four washers and screws at the same time. Here is a new washer going in:

That looks very good—1/8″ or somewhat thicker seems to be a good size:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an Olympia SM sitting a bit too low, must be in want of new rubber washers.

I tested, and all was well.  I was able to type in lowercase, and there was no carriage scraping or stalling on the casing.

Gosh, this Olympia is so nice. Why don’t I own an Olympia SM3/4 portable? They come to me, and I always let them go. I used to complain that the carriage shift was too heavy for my delicate lady paws. Heck, if J. can type in ALL CAPS for the love of an Olympia, I can suffer the occasional carriage shift. Therefore, be it resolved: the next Olympia SM3/4 I run across, I’m going to keep for a little while.

While I was working in the garage, I heard the sound of a siren. I opened the garage door and peeked out. The sound became a hot shriek. There’s something funny going on out there.

Calm down, Olympia. No need to shout.  I fixed your washers!

Those are members of Brood X, an enormous group of periodical cicadas. Here in the eastern US, they crawl out of their holes every 17 years to eat, mate, and have babies—all while making an insane racket. They are numerous and noisy, but harmless.


The molted exoskeleton of the 17-year periodical cicada

Looking to get lucky

I’m actually happy to see them.  I saw them last in 1987 and have been eagerly anticipating their 2021 arrival. Far from feeling like a biblical plague, they are a comforting reminder that ancient cycles continue despite global pandemics, human dumbassery, and whatnot.

After All

I am a 15-month cicada, slowly coming out of my shell now that I have gotten my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Like many around me, I’m crawling out of the pandemic hole and looking about hopefully. This summer, I’ll see many friends and family for the first time in a while. My son arrives from California next week for a long visit.  I haven’t seen him in-person since Christmas 2019.

Walking around the neighborhood, I see a lot of masks on the ground, a trashy human version of molted cicada husks.  I have been taking pictures of them because I don’t want to forget what the last year has been like.  We humans are so flighty and forgetful. I don’t want this experience to fade into the mists of time with nothing learned.

Diversions: SCM Electra 120

I am friendly with a local gal who loves typewriters and writing. J. has a really nice collection of typers, and I have worked on a couple of them. She had had a beat-up Olivetti Lettera 22 I fixed up a couple years ago.  It eventually became a favorite typewriter for her.  She gave it to a friend and now misses it very much.

She contacted me because she had an SCM Electra 120 that was having issues.  She dropped it at my place, so I could take a look at it.

I always say that I am not an electric typewriter person, and then I handle one of these SCM electrics and fall in love with it.  They’re small, fairly lightweight, quiet, and nimble (when clean). The clear, consistent imprint is a wonder.  They are as close to a manual typewriter as you can get. Nothing weird or impenetrable in the guts: all simple, understandable Smith-Corona mechanics.

Joe Van Cleave made a fun video in which he compares his “electrified manual” Coronet with his manual Galaxie:

The Electra 120 is similar to Joe’s Coronet but has a manual carriage return which I prefer.  It’s one less thing to break in a complicated way.

I took the Electra out to my workbench and examined it. The symptom was a typebar stuck in the up position:

I was unable to get it to move. When the typewriter was plugged in, the typewriter hummed and remained stuck in place.

Before she brought it over, I had suggested that J. take off the bottom plate and clean the lever and sublever cams . These can get gummy and cause certain keys to stick.  Unfortunately, that didn’t help, so J. had to bring the typewriter over to my place.

The key was really stuck, so I flipped the typewriter over.  I saw something white behind the affected lever/sublever/cam.  Perhaps a blob of paint? J. teaches art, so that wasn’t out of the question.

I then noticed a small piece of plastic rattling around inside the guts that I was able to pick out with some needle nose pliers.

And the problem lever had a similar piece jammed behind it:

The white plastic piece behind the lever was really stuck.  I couldn’t get it out with dental tools, mini clamps, or tiny pliers.  The piece was wedged behind the cam, so I got a very narrow punch and tapped it out.

You may want to consider a $9.99 punch set from Harbor Freight. I use them a lot for typewriters and other things.

Those little pieces of plastic debris were the source of the problem.  They must have come from the broken casing clips:

I swabbed down the cams, sublevers, and levers underneath and and popped a clean ribbon in for testing.  Just beautiful!

The space bar felt a little gummy.  It became responsive after a thorough wipe down of pivot points with mineral spirits.

To give the typewriter a little exercise, I decided to type out a page on the machine for One Typed Page (OTP).  What a great site. Writers submit one typed page for posting.  Some posts are stories, some journal entries, some essays.  The thing they all have in common is that the content is short – e.g. “one typed page”.

I am trying to come up with ultra-short stories for OTP, and let me tell you: it’s so, so hard for me.  I come from a long line of long winded people. My father was a fantastic story teller. He had one story about throwing up in a hat on a city bus that he spun up into an hour-long monologue dense with description and layered with larger meaning.

I got a book of Hemingway short stories to train for OTP.  Most of Hemingway’s stories are only a couple pages long. I read one called “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” and it took me half an hour to describe the plot and characters to my husband. The story is 2.5 pages long.  The CliffsNotes may be longer than the story.

I also read Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms as research for my Great American Historical Romance Novel which is set post-WWI.  I am using my teenage daughter’s marked-up school copy, and her notes are the funniest thing ever:

I highly recommend OTP for writers.  The ultra-short format is beating the hell out of me – in a good way. It’s excellent writing exercise for me. I want to boil down my thoughts to the essentials and get to the point. What I am writing isn’t particularly coherent, but I’ll get there.

Anyhoo, here’s a story I tried to write for One Typed Page, but it turned out to be about three pages long. I decided not to submit because I’ll be violating the spirit of OTP if I submit over-long pieces. The site is not called “Several Typed Pages”.

It was good exercise for the Electra anyway:

Super Duper: Smith-Corona Super-G

I’m a Facebook lurker, and a recent post on the Facebook Mid-Atlantic Typewriter Collectors Group caught my attention.  The poster was having trouble finding time to work on a distressed S-C Super-G, so he was giving it away:

[Facebook Post about free SCM Super-G]

Yes, please!

I’m making good progress on the Great American Novel, so this typewriter was a nice reward for my hard work.  I had initially described my novel as a historical romance, but I think it’s more of a historical comedy. Or maybe a historical comedy-drama.   I have the first draft completed, and gosh, it’s funny.  The romance scenes are rough. I don’t know if I have the necessary mettle required for romance writing. Here is a sample love scene in the current draft:

There’s a whole lot of tragedy and death in my novel too.  I keep killing off major characters because people died a lot in the old days.  I am getting a little concerned by the body count. Maybe I’ll let them live. As an author, I am very powerful.

Anyhow, in recognition of my excellent ahead-of-schedule novel-writing progress, I am rewarding myself  with a special treat: a broken typewriter.

Tim, the  guy who was giving away the Super-G, runs a bike shop near my place.

I drove over and we did a safe, socially-distanced typewriter transfer:

Thanks, Tim!

I really didn’t know much about Super-Gs before I got this.  I didn’t even know they were made by Smith-Corona.  With those racing stripes, the Super-G looks a lot like my brother’s 1972 Saab Sonett III (designed by Sergio Coggiola, who worked at Ghia at one time).

Anders Jensen, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons

I was thinking maybe the Super-G was an Olivetti.  Duh, NOOO.  It’s a good ole British-made Skyriter in a  sleek Italian-style shell:

This little racing Skyriter, this Formula One Corsair was designed by automotive designers Tjaarda and de Tomaso of Carrozzeria Ghia SpA.

The Super-G I got from Tim is from 1974 by serial number 7YP124855 (7YP Series 1)

So here’s the Super-G on arrival.  It was in pretty good shape except the return lever problem, a bent ribbon vibrator, jammed-on spools, gummy typebars and escapement.

The racing stripes on the Super-G are just super excellent—so much classier than painted flames.

With a bent return lever mechanism, there was no communication with the platen, so it wasn’t line spacing.  I assumed that the pieces inside were all bent, but I couldn’t see anything.  It was time to judiciously dismantle.

To familiarize myself with the typewriter functions, I downloaded a Super-G typewriter users manual from Richard Polt’s manual archive:

Click to access SuperG.pdf


I vaguely recalled a blog post by Ted Munk about replacing a teeny return lever on a Skyriter with a larger one from a Corsair.  This post came in handy during dismantling:

Yes you can swap the long return lever from a Corsair for the vestigal return arm of your early Skyriter!

I downloaded the Smith-Corona 6YC Series Typewriter Repair Manual in PDF format for diagrams and service reference material:

And after removing the return lever,  right platen knob, and the platen, I got to this point.

Ugh. This looks weird. What do I do here?

I found this video from Duane at Phoenix Typewriter very helpful in dealing with this plunger assembly:


I removed the plunger assembly, paper tray, carriage feed roller assembly, and page gage assembly.  I was finally at a point where I could see what my problem was:

It’s not supposed to look like that. The linespace pawl assembly was sitting on top of the linespace lever arm.  That’s bad and wrong.   It’s supposed to look like this:


After some careful forming (bending) of the linespace pawl assembly,  I got it into a position similar to the diagram:

Now it should line space and the return lever should work properly.  I wouldn’t know for sure until I got it back together.

Could not get the spools off easily – they were jammed on the wrong way.  They had to be eased off carefully so I didn’t  damage the teeny spools.

So here’s The Rule: you cannot let a dismantled typewriter become Parts in a Box.  Reducing a typewriter to Parts in a Box brings shame onto your entire family. I knew I must work quickly to get it back together. I figured I had about 24 hours after dismantling before the parts became vague and forgettable.

The clock was starting to tick. I had 24 hours to get this typewriter back together. I needed to peel out. Burn rubber.  Make tracks.

I get to work. I become one with the machine. I become Super Duper: I am a S-C Skyriter with racing stripes.  I am small and unassuming, but fast and driven by vast ambition, full of powerful hidden talents.

It is done. The typewriter is reassembled.  It types. I bring honor to my family.

It makes a loud plastic clatter when typing.   It makes you feel like you’re really accomplishing something while you’re hammering away. The print baseline rolls like a ship at sea. The typewriter  was whacked real bad at some point, and everything’s a little askew.  I think maybe I like that.

My tips for dismantling and reassembling:

  • Take lots of pictures – you’re going to need them.
  • Stay organized with boxes, cups, bags.
  • Work on a soft white surface so you can easily see dropped screws and little springs.
  • Get a long thin flat head screw driver.
  • Magnetize your screwdriver.
  • Operate in good light.  I use a rechargeable headlamp.
  • Download a service manual.  For me, the diagrams are invaluable.
  • Reassemble a dismantled typewriter as soon as possible to avoid Parts in a Box syndrome.

It’s a sweet ride, this machine.

This typewriter is a generous source of the best band names ever:

After I finish the Great American Novel, I’m going to start a band so I can use one of these names.

Thank you, Tim of bikes@vienna.  Regarding bikes, my family has gotten into this YouTube channel Not Just Bikes which is sort of about bicycling and how great life is in the bicycle-friendly Netherlands.

Platens, Writers, Readers, and Livers

I’ve been getting some questions about platen recovering recently. Last year, I recovered a Remington Portable #2 platen and an Underwood 5 platen that were in sorry shape.  In their cracked condition, the bad platens made the typewriters unusable.  I thought: well, what’s the worst I can do?

Since I am into typewriters for the journey, I decided to recover the platens myself with heat shrink tubing instead of sending them out. Keep in mind, Steve Dade and JJ Short will do a much more professional job on your bad platen than you or me. [Please note: sadly, Steve Dade passed away in January 2021.  He was a skilled craftsman and a generous sage of the typewriter world and is greatly missed]. Regarding DIY platen recovering, there are a lot of naysayers and opinion-havers out there.  However, if you are into typewriters for funzies and personal growth, heat shrink recovering is an entertaining project.  I have found that I have accumulated many interesting tools (electronic calipers, heat gun, durometer) and materials during this journey of personal growth and self discovery.

I used about five layers of heat shrink polyolefin tubing for the platens—1.5″ for the Remington Portable and 2″ for the Underwood 5. A gentleman with whom that I have been corresponding used bicycle inner tube as layer under his heat shrink. It looks really good in the pictures he sent, but he still needs to reassemble.  I am interested in his final results.

So my platen recovering  was over a year ago: how did all that work out? The Remington Portable went back to its owner and then probably to a charity, so I don’t know its current status. However,  my Underwood lives in my garage workshop, so I stepped out there to see how it’s doing 1+ years down the road.

The 2″ heat shrink produced a very hard platen on the Underwood, and I got a 96-98 reading by my cheapo durometer.  It’s a little chilly in the workshop, so the platen may be harder in the cold.

The imprint is still good.

I think the heat shrink worked out fine.  I don’t think I would recover an intact platen, only a cracked or broken one, since the polyolefin heat shrink that I used produces a very hard platen that may be too loud for some people.

Beyond platens, I have been keeping a low profile online and avoiding the internet for mental hygiene reasons and because I have a bunch of different projects that need my undistracted focus. One of those projects is to finally finish up my Great American Novel that has been years in the thinking.  Folks, it’s a historical romance. Historical romance is my guilty pleasure, my secret shame, my sin, my soul.  I want to write something that I want to read, and historical romance is that.

I am a hyper-recursive writer, writing bald and fast first. I then go back over and over and over again. My writing progresses in three stages:

Right now I am in stage 2 with a first draft completed. It is very unlikely that I will ever get to stage 3.  Right now, it’s so bad, it’s embarrassing. I won’t even let my husband look at it, and he saw me give birth twice. There’s a lot of work to do here.

Last thing: if you are a writer or a reader or even just a life liver, check out the following book:

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

This book is so sweet and humane. I cried in parts, it was that good. And don’t take my word for it, here’s a review:


That’s it for now.  No new typewriter projects for the time being—well, unless some fascinating project typewriter crosses my path. I’ve got to get back to writing, reading, and living.

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.