My neighbor was getting rid of an old, broken typewriter that he had picked up at a garage sale. My daughter spyed it lying derelict on the curb as we were walking home from school. She begged me to let her bring it home and I reluctantly agreed. Despite the fact that we don’t need any more broken machines in our home, the simple mechanical beauty of the typewriter spoke to me and we hauled it inside. It weighed a ton – probably 25 lbs or more. Initially skeptical, my husband joined our fascinated investigation of the old thing.
On inspection, it was worse than it looked. It seemed irrevocably broken.
Major problems with our curbside rescue:
- Broken carriage drawband – my husband noticed some threads hanging from a broken strap under the right side of the carriage. The remainder of the torn drawband was still wound on the mainspring on the left side of the carriage. This resulted in the carriage not advancing when the keys or space bar were struck. Update: read about the fix.
- Frozen and stuck keys – the internal workings of the typewriter were a gloppy mess of oily dust. Almost all the keys were very sticky, failing to hit the platen roller or failing to return after being struck. A few of the keys were completely frozen, stiff and unmoving. Update: I cleaned them and got them moving again.
- Stuck margins – left margin was stuck near the center of the page and I couldn’t seem to adjust either the right or left margins. Update: I learned about KMC and how it works.
- Completely dried out typewriter ribbon – it was very crackly and dry. Update: I replaced the ribbon with 1/2″ nylon ribbon from the office supply store.
- Bell doesn’t ding as you near the end of the line. Update: I fixed the bell!
- Missing T key – the bare stem was rusty and sharp – could be painful typing “the”. Update: Swapped a key.
- Dirty type hammers – many of the letters were filled with gunk. Update: cleaned them up and now the type is much crisper.
It has been many years since I have used a manual typewriter. Growing up, we had an old Royal, probably circa 1940 on which I typed out many high school papers. I did not experience electric typewriters until I hit college.
My husband, daughter and I poked at the old typewriter, re-familiarizing ourselves with basic operations. Thanks to the internet, we found lots of general information on manual typewriter operation and soon we were able to identify many of the part names and functions.
Even in its broken state, we had a lot of fun with the typewriter. We manually pulled left on the carriage to make it advance and typed out faint messages with the keys that worked: