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:

18 thoughts on “Diversions: SCM Electra 120

  1. Nice work on the SCM.
    I use a lot of neat tools from Harbor Freight, even their. $50.00 air compressor, The punches can be i very handy at times, I have the long set also which work great for recentering Underwood bearings on some of their carriages when I need to remove and reinstall the carriage. Long thins screwdrivers work also.

    Contact me through my blog, not WordPress. I have something you will find very handy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My son gave me a gift certificate to Harbor Freight for my birthday – bought a bunch of nice little tools and didn’t make a significant dent in the gift card.


  2. Based on the story that you’ve shared here, I hope that you’ll continue to work on your wordsmithing in order achieve the appropriate One Typed Page. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for your work over on OTP as I look forward to reading more.

    FYI: I’ve been struggling with the same by the way — maybe we need to search out the site Two (or Three) Typed Pages? Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m working on it, and I *think* I can come up with an intelligible one-page story. Even if I am not successful, the writing practice is really good for me.


  3. Rose says:

    Mary, your words on One Typed Page are spot on. I’m glad to see you there and hope word gets out, so to speak. It is a challenge in a one page format to follow some sort of story arc, stay focused and not meander, include vivid details, and make a point and connect with a reader. It’s even tougher using the half-letter size paper I prefer. Running out of room at the end is the worst, and sometimes a piece just ends with a clunk. Beginnings and endings are often the hardest parts anyway, so this is good practice. However, I try not to discard or rewrite too much – as a perfectionist, it’s a challenge to submit something while thinking “wait, that could have been better, just a few tweaks…” When in doubt I just grit my teeth and submit it. Editing is a huge part of writing, but I know my problem at this point is just putting something on paper – can’t backspace on a typewriter – and noticing how satisfying it feels to “finish” something. A personal growth exercise if nothing else. Anyway, sometimes I write about something that I know will need more than a page, and that’s OK too! It happens all the time. As one contributor said, “it’s *our* One Typed Page”. Now I’m going to quit editing this comment and post it. Ha!


    • Rose – thank you for your kind thoughts. I’m thinking that with practice, I’ll be more successful with the one-page format. The OTP structure is a good challenge for me personally since I tend to meander.

      See you at OTP!


    • That’s an idea! If I have a particularly action-packed story, I could serialize it. I’m going to continue to work on the one-page story challenge for a bit though. It’s an interesting puzzle for me – how do I reduce a story to the most important details and create something interesting and coherent?


  4. Robert Merritt says:

    I have maybe only read one Hemingway piece, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and that was for high school English. Didn’t get it, and I remember thinking I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. But I will have to reconsider, especially if there’s as much content in the page and a half of “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” as you say there is. I do recall the story of him (on a bet maybe?) writing the shortest sad story ever, in the form of a classified ad: “For sale, one pair of baby shoes, unused.”

    In your OTP submission — looks like you cut and pasted in an italic “their” in the third paragraph — that’s dedication to the craft!

    The Electra 120 — is not this Robert Caro’s preferred tool? Maybe it’s a somewhat newer model. We had one of these growing up, and I’d like to find one now — the manual carriage return always made sense to me. Much less…violent.


    • I read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in high school and didn’t find it very interesting at the time. I re-visited it a couple weeks ago, and was blown away. I tell my kids all the time that education is wasted on the young. I don’t know why they make high school students read that short story. You really need “life experience” to understand it and be moved by it.

      I love the manual carriage return on the Electra. Robert Caro uses an Electra 210:

      Some time ago, I saw a funny tweet about Robert Caro and his work habits:


  5. Amanda says:

    Hey! I came across this blog because my cyclinder knob stops after a few turns and I can’t load my paper. (I’d love any advice there) but the reason I’m writing this is that I have a baby blue Royal typewriter that I’ve had for over a decade but living in Hawaii now it’s all rusted and I don’t know the first thing about caring for it. I want to get it to someone who would appreciate it. Was wondering if that would be you or anyone else you know? Thanks!


    • Hi Amanda! Your platen turning and paper loading problems might be related to flattened feed rollers under the platen. Take a peak at the feed rollers under the platen – are they round and turning? If not, you may need to replace your feed rollers. Correctly diagnosing the problem and correcting it may take a skilled professional or a committed typewriter tinkerer.

      I would sooo love your rusty Royal – however, shipping it from Hawaii to Virginia might be expensive and hard on the poor old thing – it might not survive the trip. You may find someone local in Hawaii who is into typewriter tinkering and you may be able to get them to fix your platen/feed problems in exchange for your rusty Royal. Win-win!


  6. I missed this post when you first published it. Very enjoyable, and I laughed at how long it took you to explain a 2.5-page Hemingway story. Consider writing something for next year’s volume in the Cold Hard Type series—we have a generous limit of 5000 words!


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