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.

 

 

11 thoughts on “Don’t Fear the Junker

  1. Nice work on the Praxis. I had one in the early 1980s, my first typewriter. I later traded it for an IBM Selectric-II because I could get different typing elements, and file folders fit the longer platen of the IBM. Still wish I had kept the Praxis-48. They are such cool typewriters.

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    • You know of which I speak. I love the mod late 60s/early 70s Praxis look – and I love the way it types. The keyboard feels good to me. The two Praxis that I have dealt with were a little persnickety in performance (I think due to aging electricals/plastic/rubber) but so worth the effort.

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  2. You know – when I digitized that Praxis manual, I didn’t think anyone would care enough to want one – but the P48 is really starting to get a lot of love these days. That’s one of the main reasons I do basically unwanted books (like the Adding machine ones, still unwanted). I am always surprised and delighted by the changing attitudes. 😀
    PS: Grat work – I hope you find a space bar and front shell. (:

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    • I panicked when those two loose pieces of metal fell out – then I remembered that I had a copy of the TWDB Operation: OOPRAP Praxis 48 repair manual. I would have been out of luck without it – there is no way I would have figured out where that spring went without the diagram. I am so grateful for your digitizing efforts because they save kooky weirdos with niche interests (e.g. me) who find themselves in head-scratching situations.

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  3. I always enjoy your posts and am inspired by your brave repair projects.

    Caring for broken, neglected things does feel like a humble but real way to resist death and despair. Bring on the DePiglios!

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  4. Derrick says:

    Thank you for providing the name of my latest project. A rusty, beat up, bent RC Allen Visomatic with a missing carriage lever that shall be named DePiglio. I thought of and was inspired by you as I made an offer to the seller. It will be my biggest tw challenge to date. But with pink keys and knobs, I couldn’t resist!

    RC Allen with pink keys
    RC Allen with pink keys

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  5. Cat on an Olivetti Lettera 22 - 1950 says:

    Enjoyed your reflection on resurrecting the machine and “These Days” by the young Jackson Browne – actually the first time I heard Nico’s original version. I have seen your blog before; now I have bookmarked your blog – I was reminded of your blog from one of the typer/writers at One Typed Page: https://onetypedpage.wordpress.com/
    Please do type something up and send to us. We need more women writers!

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