The Electric Slide

A couple weeks ago I worked on a Lettera 22 with a slippy and sliding carriage that would not catch.   In a weird coincidence, I came across another slippy and sliding carriage this week.

I was running errands on foot when I came across a neighborhood thrift store that I had never been in before.  I went into this teeny crowded thrift shop and saw a typewriter.

Not just one but two typewriters. Look!  Over there!

$10 for each.

I decided to take the Coronet since the paint on the Electra 120 wasn’t in great condition. The Electra is pretty cute (I have a thing for blue typewriters) and I might come back to play with it.

I tested the Coronet in the shop.  The lady at the register oohed and aahed over the pretty two-tone blue Coronet and said that even if it didn’t work, it would look cute on a shelf.

I plugged it in, turned it on, and it made a horrible sound that freaked out everyone in the store.  It began to type multiple letters spontaneously.

 

And the carriage slipped and wouldn’t catch, flying over to the left.

 

Cute, but messed up. I think the proper term is #cutebutpsychobutcute.

I have seen the haunted typer situation before, a Smith-Corona Electra 210 that repeatedly typed the number 5 when initially turned on.  When I saw the Coronet acting up at the thrift store I said, Oh! Oh! I think I know what’s wrong here.  I felt like Hermione Granger hopping in her seat and waving her hand when she knows the answer in class.

 

I figured the Coronet was worth $10 just for the fun.  I felt confident that I could fix the haunted typing issue and had a pretty good idea of what might be wrong with the carriage that wouldn’t catch.

I took it home, removed the bottom plate (two screws) and blew out the dust and dirt in the guts.

I confess that I am not 100% comfortable with most electric typewriters, but this Coronet looks just like a manual typewriter with a small motor. It even has a manual carriage return, so no complicated carriage return clutch to deal with.

I immediately saw a problem area in the levers and linkages under the keys:

These linkages and levers should all be standing at a attention in a row like little soldiers.  That group in the middle was all wonky.  Testing them with my finger I found them to be stiff and gummy, so I cleaned carefully with mineral spirits and manually worked them with my fingers to free them up.  I went through the whole row of linkages and levers and cleaned and tested each with my fingers.

From the top, on the keyboard, the letter “B” was immobile.  I was not able to depress it.  I found its linkage underneath and cleaned and cleaned and eventually it came free.

I flipped the machine over and hurray, no more haunted typing.

I then turned my attention to the slippy and sliding carriage that wouldn’t “catch”.  The Lettera 22 I brought home recently had a similar sliding  carriage problem which was solved by cleaning of the escapement area. The Lettera 22’s escapement is either buried or weird looking because I didn’t immediately spot anything familiar.  I simply cleaned and lubricated in an area where an escapement *might* be and hoped for the best.  Fortunately it fixed the sliding carriage right off the bat.

The escapement on this Smith-Corona is very accessible.  It makes cleaning so easy.  I doused the area with mineral spirits and worked the parts with my fingers.  I checked the carriage.  Still not catching.

I then doused the area with PB B’laster and followed up with denatured alcohol.  Nope, no luck.  The carriage was still sliding.

Hmmm.  I needed to bring in the big guns, so I downloaded Ted Munk’s Smith Corona 6 & 8 Series Electric & Cartridge Ribbon Typewriter Repair Manual:

He has archived a whole collection of typewriter repair manuals at TWDB Operation OOPRAP.

I figured that it was an escapement problem since that’s what most internet resources point to when a carriage is wayward.

I read through the troubleshooting section of the manual and wondered if the escapement pinion gear was meshing properly with the rack.  I couldn’t see very well and decided to pop out the platen.  Fortunately, Joe Van Cleave has a great video on a manual Galaxy 12 (a non-electric twin of my two-tone Coronet) and at around the 10:02 minute mark, Joe describes how to pop out the platen.  So easy!

So I popped out the platen. This is going to make cleaning the hardened Wite-Out off the platen and plastic guides a lot easier too.

I peered under the carriage. There was more light with the platen out. The pinion and the rack seemed to meshing just fine. Back to the escapement in the underbelly.

In the repair manual, I read through the section on the escapement and pondered these sentences.

Well, Spring H was not urging anything.  Spring H was doing NOTHING because the rachet dog (?) was glued solidly to the escapement rocker(?).

I took a screw driver and very carefully pushed on the rachet dog.  It was so gummy and stuck.  I doctored it with mineral spirits and pushed carefully until it moved freely and finally Spring H began to urge. The carriage caught.

Flipping it over, I plugged it in, turned it on, and began to type. Yes, I know what you are thinking: I rule. 10 Points for Gryffindor.

 

The moral of this story: sometimes you have to figure out how something works so that you clean in an effective way.

What a nice little typewriter!  I need to finish cleaning the shell and the type slugs.  The carriage return lever is bent down and just lightly scrapes the top of the ribbon cover.  I found the typewriter upside down in its case at the thrift store, so I can see how the lever could get mashed down.  I will need to carefully bend the return lever up a bit before it starts getting scratches on the ribbon cover.

It’s a sweet little thing and types just beautifully.  It’s not very noisy at all.  I am sure that I will be able to find a good home for it. Now I am thinking about the one I left behind at the thrift store, the Electra 120:

14 thoughts on “The Electric Slide

  1. OldGreyBeard says:

    Quick question: Do you download and print the manual yourself? I’ve seen the print on demand service but reckoned that shipping to the UK would be quite high. It would probably be cheaper to get the manual printed and bound locally!

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    • The typewriter service manuals at TWDB Operation OOPRAP are available for instant download in PDF format. I bought my service manual at TWDB Operation OOPRAP, downloaded the PDF file, and read the PDF using a PDF reader on my computer. I didn’t print anything out (though I could have printed out selected pages for close reference in the workshop). Adobe offers a free PDF viewer for a variety of operating systems (Windows and Mac):
      https://get.adobe.com/reader/

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  2. Jacy says:

    I’ve got a real thing for these old Smith Corona electrics. In fact, I have far too many of them. Really simple, but robust mechanics. Much easier to work on than any of the other electrics I’ve worked on (IBM Model B, for instance). And I have the only cursive typewriter in my collection from an Electra 120 I found at a garage sale.

    I think the Electra 120 is one of the earlier models, so it might be worth it to go back and get it. At the very least you’ll have a good story at that price point!

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    • I am going to to have to go back to the Electra 120 and at least plug it in. It may misbehave in an even more alarming way, and of course at that point I will have to bring it home for treatment.

      I plan to check with Richard Polt to see if WordPlay Cincy/Urban Legend Typewriters needs any electric typewriter donations. The Electra 120 and the Coronet are pretty cute.

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  3. 100 points for Gryffindor! I consider your blog posts a model of how one should approach the mostly age-related issues these machines have. Step by step, look at what’s happening, if something looks weird, clean it, wiggle it around then clean it some more. A lot of times we say “clean the machine” like we expect people to know what that means – but it means a lot to show exactly what that means. (:

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    • The service manual from TWDB Operation OOPRAP was a life saver. I didn’t understand the sequence of events that causes the carriage to catch, and the manual showed me the way. Blind cleaning was not cutting it.

      I am going to create a pie chart of causes of typewriter malfunction in the 21st century. About 95% of the troubles I have encountered are related to disuse, poor storage, and the break down of non-durable materials. Congealed gunk, rust, dust, dirt, and disintegrating rubber and plastic are generally what I’m dealing with.

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      • That sounds like a great idea. You know, there’s a concept: “High-Mortality Parts” that is mentioned often in manuals, which became very important during WW2 as civilian repairmen had to keep machines running much longer as no new machines were entering the civilian market. The 1946 AMES “high mortality” parts catalog is very instructive regarding what usually breaks on machines made between the 1920’s through the early 40’s – all of which were still pressed into service in the States. It will probably prove to be relevant as we get deeper into the 21st century. 😀

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  4. Great job troubleshooting the problems. These are great machines. I have a Coronet Automatic 12 that I’ve done virtually no service to, it’s been in my garage for several years. Yet it churns along admirably. I think the one weak spot will be replacing the two drive belts, if they break.

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    • I love Smith-Corona 5 and 6 series portables. They feel just perfect for my way of typing which is very heavy-handed.

      I am so glad I came across your Galaxie 12 video. I didn’t realize that removing the platen was so easy. Thank you for your typewriter video series.

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  5. Karen Menard says:

    I bought a baby blue Smith Corona Coronet Electric 12 with my first real FT paycheck in 1972 after I graduated high school. I adored that typewriter and used it for 15 years with regular cleanings and one or two repairs at the typewriter guy’s store until it could type no more. By then I was a software developer and didn’t need a typewriter, I had monitors and keyboards (no mice back then)! Imagine how thrilled I was to discover this cache on Ebay of the same machine. I am now 65 and have a pristine version of the same typewriter, with some wonkiness of it’s own but since when I turned it over to check the bottom 46 years worth of dirt and eraser leavings fell onto my table (didn’t they ever hear of WhiteOut typeover papers?) I figured a serious cleaning was the best first step. I feel empowered by your blog!!!

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