Last week I got a desperate “help needed” text message from J. As you might recall from a previous post, J. is a typewriter enthusiast who lives in Northern Virginia. She teaches 4th grade art and has begun integrating typewriters into her classroom. I had fixed up a rusty Underwood-Olivetti Lettera 22 for her and she has been using it for journalling. It has become her most favored typewriter because of its touch and light weight. Unfortunately, the drawstring snapped last week and she was devastated.
I have been out of touch with the typosphere for the last few months – busy with work and family and projects and the holidaze, and very distracted by all sorts of digital junk. I gave up Twitter last week, and my brain is already clearing and functioning better. I’m not much into Facebook or Instagram, but Twitter clicked with me. It’s so good and so bad. Though it fed my craving for constant news and smart unwholesome comedy (especially important in these anxious times), I had the uneasy feeling that my brain and soul were rotting. I was on the way to developing “internet brain”. I need to think and process thoughts in chunks larger than a few characters, so I stopped visiting Twitter.
I’m generally kind of “meh” on minimalism, but I recently listened to a podcast about digital minimalism and some of it makes sense. I’m a little turned off by judgy people and scolds, BUT when I really thought about it, I found that my compulsive digital habits were crowding out “high quality analog leisure activities” like typewriter fun and writing and deep thought.
J.’s distress signal about the Lettera’s broken drawstring came at the perfect time.
This past weekend, I headed out to the woods where J. lives. I brought my little repair kit with replacement drawstring, scissors, bamboo skewers, etc.
Ordinarily, a drawstring repair is very straightforward and takes about 10 minutes. Robert Messenger has a very good description of drawstring/drawband replacement. However, J.’s Lettera had a frozen carriage as well.
After the drawstring had snapped, J. had continued to use the typewriter and typed almost another entire page by pulling the carriage to the left (she really does love this typewriter so much). The carriage jammed after that.
My first thought was that the other broken end of the drawstring had migrated into the guts of the machine and was impeding the passage of the carriage.
I took the bottom cover off and looked around with a flashlight. No drawstring remnants. I really wanted to remove the top shell, but with the carriage frozen, there was no way to access one of screws holding it on.
I took a closer look at the frozen carriage. Let’s zoom in, shall we?
The type guide is sitting way outside the furthest left margin. A metal piece from the margin release mechanism was sitting outside the carriage.
I was able to get the piece from the margin release mechanism to scoot under the carriage a bit by depressing the margin release button, but once there, the carriage hit a wall and wouldn’t budge. It felt like a hard, metal barrier, not squishy like a drawstring remnant.
I regretfully I told J. I would have to bring the Lettera back to my home workshop and ponder this situation.
Back home I turned to the typosphere for guidance and was not disappointed. I downloaded the Lettera 22 user manual from Richard Polt’s archive to refamiliarize myself with the Lettera’s unlabeled keys. I don’t use a Lettera very often and the mysterious unlabeled keys always throw me.
I found a Ted Munk post about a repaired Lettera 22. In the comments, someone asked for advice about a jammed carriage, and Ted wisely suggested that she look at the pins on her tabulator rack as they could be impeding travel.
I didn’t even visually examine the tab rack, I just went ahead and cleared all the tabs per the instructions in the Lettera 22 user manual:
Hurray! The carriage moved! I examined the tab rack with a flashlight and saw a few strands of drawstring – perhaps that was enough to lodge a tab pin in a bad situation. I cleaned all the stringy bits out.
Now that the carriage was moving, I removed the shell and looked for additional pieces of broken drawstring. I didn’t see anything else, so I set about replacing the drawstring with some heavy duty waxed thread, about 13″ long.
My first attempt at threading the drawstring through the machine went badly. It followed too high a path and interfered with the tabbing mechanism. The correct path is lower so that it almost sits in the groove by the mainspring.
The Lettera was back to typing. I tested and found that there was some letter piling with shifting.
I gave the mainspring another rotation in case it was a tension-related issue. It seemed a little better, but not perfect. The uppercase “Q” and the “+” character – both furthest out on the segment were piling with shifting.
I took the bottom plate off and lubricated the rails and tiny hole behind which the toothed escapement wheel hides.
I tested the shifted “Q” and “+” and all was well. I replaced the bottom plate – and the letter piling problem returned for those two keys. I took the bottom plate off, and again all was well.
The Lettera 22 is a flatty, low-slung creature, so I guessed that the mechanics were rubbing against the bottom plate while in the shifted position. It’s a segment shift typewriter, so everything goes down on shift. The quarters are tight and clearances are small. I had some thin rubber washers, so I added them to the feet to prevent the bottom plate from being over-tightened and pressing into the mechanical guts.
Perfect. No more letter piling on shift.
I have a lot of affection for this beat-up specimen with its jaunty burping lid. I am thrilled that it has become a most favored, beloved typewriter for someone.
J. was very excited to hear that the Lettera was back in typing condition. She rushed over after work to retrieve it. I do love it when things work out like this and weird little mysteries like jammed carriages are solved neatly.
I now return to the high quality leisure activity of slowly reading through all the Typosphere.net posts that I have missed in my distracted state over the past few months. Though not technically an analog activity, it’s close enough for me. Now I am reading, and funnily enough, a post by Type the Clouds in January describes a digital addiction similar to mine. Wow, I am a little late to the Cal Newport party because here’s another post about Digital Minimalism… and here’s another typospherian who is paring down digital habits…