Carried by the Steel Rail

A local gentleman contacted me recently via email about a Royal KMM.  Jonathan had inherited his grandfather’s KMM and hoped to get it running.

He described it as  “a bit sluggish and the space bar does not advance the platen.  The front bar under the space bar is also broken.”

kmm

OK, good.  The special Royal spools are there.

Hmmmmm.  These things are built like tanks, so that was a hard fall.

Inspecting the emailed photos, I said sure, I’d take a look at it.  Inwardly, I was a little concerned. It had obviously taken a hard hit what with that cracked frame.  The nonfunctional space bar seemed ominous.  I worried that there was damage to the escapement or bent rails or something else I couldn’t fix.

That said, I was excited about the project. Family and work and my poor scattered brain have conspired against me spending much time at my garage workbench, but here was a mission with a clear goal: improve the function of this KMM.

Jonathan delivered the KMM to my garage—such a pleasant person. He gave me a little backstory on the typewriter which had been his Grandfather Ralph’s office machine when he worked as freight agent for the D&H Railroad:

Grandpa started with the Delaware & Hudson Railroad as a freight agent in Albany, NY sometime in the early 1930s.  D&H then transferred him to Fork, MD in 1948 and then to Winston Salem, NC in 1962.  Given the serial number placed it around 1940 he probably acquired the typewriter in Albany and then it moved with him to Fork and Winston Salem.  Dad was unsure during which move it suffered the fall that cracked the front.  Grandpa retired from Delaware & Hudson in 1973 and he passed away in 1996 so the typewriter has probably been silent since then.

Grandpa Ralph around 1962. He was also an amateur radio enthusiast.

By serial number, the KMM dates to 1942 per Typewriter Database:

On arrival, the carriage was in center position and not going much of anywhere.  After checking the margins and wiping the rails and segment with a little mineral spirits, I pulled the carriage and hit a key. The KMM left the station.  I was able to get the escapement to trip properly and step forward.  A great weight lifted from me.  This old KMM *might* be a-OK.

Still pulling gently on the left, the carriage passed on the rails in a gummy crawl, as if moving through peanut butter. Furry dust and chunks of feathery debris coated the interior—the typewriter perhaps a victim of WD-40 or overly generous oiling.

KMM greasy dust

I sent Jonathan on his way and turned my attention to the KMM.  I could get the carriage to move when I typed a sticky letter or two if I pulled firmly to the left. The situation looked promising.

I felt a deep sense of responsibility wash over me – this is a precious family heirloom. I don’t usually engage in this form of High Stakes Typewriter Repair.  I generally only work on Junkers that people happily give to me for free, but here was something special—nonfunctional but special nonetheless.  I swore to myself that I would dutifully follow the Typocratic Oath:

I planned to do a good cleaning and then take in the lay of the land. First up: I needed to take that top lid off to see things properly.

I’d like to signal boost Duane Jensen’s Phoenix Typewriter YouTube channel. He has a ton of KMM/KMG/KMH Royal standard videos on his channel. I have used his channel as a resource countless times for a variety of typewriters.

Here’s a good one for people preparing to clean a KMM: “Royal KMM Manual Typewriter Lid Cover Front Panel Removal for Cleaning Access Side Panel too”.

Now, I can get in there. Dab, dab, dab, cleany, cleany, cleany, blow out.  I dabbed in mineral spirits and a little bit of lacquer thinner in the mechanical guts and used my air compressor to blow out the dusty chunks.

The typewriter had been worked on before.  I noticed modern felt applied under the top plates and several screws missing or damaged:

I may have a spare set screw for the platen

The typewriter was so much happier after a preliminary cleaning, but I still felt some resistance in the extreme outer margins – perhaps mechanical binding?

So I went to the Facebook Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group to research KMM carriage binding. I don’t use much social media because of Reasons, but I enjoy occasionally lurking in the FB Typewriter Maintenance Group.

I am surprised by the number of posts that start “I want to take the carriage off my XYZ ” or “how do you get the carriage back on an XYZ?”  My recommendation: don’t take the carriage off unless you

  1. know what you are doing or
  2. want a parts machine.

That’s enough Facebook for me today. There are a few typewriters that have easy-off carriages, but the vast majority don’t have them.  On rare occasions, I will dismantle a parts machine in the name of science, but I say to you: don’t let your fine eBay typewriter score turn into Parts in a Box.

A couple years ago, my niece found this battered Royal P with a detached carriage on the curb in New York City. I don’t think the carriage just fell off.  I have to figure out how to get it back on. It’s in my queue, waiting patiently while I think of a work-around for the missing bearings and pinions. Ball bearings I can find. Those star-shaped ball pinions though…

Many times, a careful cleaning of a nonfunctional typewriter will be all that you need. Don’t overthink it.  You’d be surprised how disabling clumped dust, rust, and congealed oil can be.

My father-in-law has a saying:

This applies to typewriter carriage removal as well as the discussion of deep, dark family secrets.

OK. Back to cleaning.  Things were progressing.  The carriage was moving somewhat more smoothly on its rails, but I knew that a certain point, I’d have to remove the platen and paper pan and clean underneath.  Thank you again to Duane for this video:

I am sure glad I removed the platen.  Despite my initial flush with solvents and compressed air, it was pretty bad under there. Look at that nest of greasy dust.

Flush, dab, dab, dab, flush, cleany, cleany, cleany, blow out. The typewriter moved much, much more smoothly.

I reinserted the platen and went to town typing with a new ribbon.  I would have to make some adjustments to the shift motion since the uppercase and lowercase were misaligned:

and the line lock did not engage at the end of each line and letters piled up there:

Underneath, the rubber spacers near the feet were a melted mass of tarry badness that obstructed the line lock mechanism.  Once again, Duane at Phoenix Typewriter has a very good video detailing the fix for this.  I bought some rubber washers and pieces of rubber in the plumbing department at the hardware store and fabricated ~1″ x ~1″ layered rubber spacers about 3/8″+ thick for each corner.

These old spacers had seen better days, and the ones on the right had become a obstructive problem for the line lock mechanism.

And here’s a new layered rubber spacer in place by a back foot:

Perfect.  New spacers above each foot fixed the line lock problem on the right, and my shifted alignment was better too. Huh!

The cracked frame obstructed the motion of the spacebar, so I repaired the front frame with a little KwikWeld epoxy that sets in six minutes. That wasn’t strong enough because the repair didn’t hold when I started moving the 40 lb KMM around.

I brought out the big guns—a stronger epoxy with a longer set and cure time. I like that 5020 PSI formula.

I also reinforced the repair with a discreet metal plate underneath and clamped it for 48 hours and so far, so good. It’s holding.

I even got the cursed Magic Margins to work after a thorough cleaning.

Among the last few items on my to-do list was to continue researching why the carriage felt somewhat tight at the extreme outer rails. Perhaps still a little gummy? I cleaned the heck out of it, but there may be a spot I missed. And there are so many reasons for a carriage binding beyond dirt and grime and rust:

The ball bearing pinions looked to be in the correct position.  I am thinking that a rail or a rod is not straight and true. The machine had taken a hard fall. I could adjust the carriage clamps…

But this is where I stop with the carriage.  I have a perfectly functional KMM with margins set at 10 and 85.  No need to get crazy and make adjustments that may have unintended consequences.

I cleaned the crinkle/wrinkle paint of the shell with a little warm soapy water and Simple Green after testing in a discreet area (old paint can be surprisingly fragile).  The Simple Green removed the thick gray grime nicely and exposed the soft velvety surface of the black wrinkle paint. That’s a beauty.

The bell was rather hit or miss despite cleaning the bell mechanism behind the tab tower shroud carefully.  This little silver finger (I think it’s called the “bell trip”) that hangs down from the right Magic Margin mechanism was still slightly gummy and should swing freely.

Dab, dab, dab, cleany, cleany, cleany, lube. Ah yes, now I hear the voice of the bell as the carriage approaches the right margin. It’s like the long whistle and clanging of a train as it nears its terminus.

Super Chief + freight mashup because anything is possible with Lego

To me, a functional bell is close to mission-critical. I am not a touch typist, so I never know how close I am to the right margin. But beyond the necessary alert it provides me, the bell is part of the the full sensory experience of typing: the magic of my typed thoughts slowly revealing themselves on the page, the smell of a fresh ribbon, the taste of coffee, the feel of a sprightly Royal leaping to my fingers, the thump-thump-thump of my heavy hands — and the sweet voice of the bell. That sound enhances the whole typing experience—and stirs memory.

Seriously though, trains and typewriters carry me to a place of wistful contemplation.  They bring to mind things and experiences and people gone now many years. Long trips on the Coast Starlight. Homemade recipe books carefully typed. Diner cars and high school term papers. Grandfather. Grandmother. Father. Mother. I walk abandoned train tracks. I re-read old typed letters.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sensitive to the pathos of things.  Changes and losses have made me aware of the transience of everything we experience on this journey. The fleeting, uncertain nature of life makes every moment more dear.   I hear that feeling deep and sweet in Young Arlo’s version of the “City of New Orleans”.  It brings a lump to my throat every single time.

 

Mono no aware. Arlington, 3/12/2022: a late snow on early cherry blossoms, together in a brief, beautiful moment.

10 thoughts on “Carried by the Steel Rail

  1. M says:

    Reading your adventure with this old typewriter makes me very happy… I have a typed installation up at the Sasse Museum of Art in Pomona right now.. typed mostly on a 1950s Royal Quiet DeLuxe portable.  I have an old Royal 10 desk model that needs a right platen knob? Can you help.. Here’s a photo of my 104 pages (41,518 Words). michael sheehan

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    • Hello Michael! Congratulations on the typed installation at the Sasse Museum. Unfortunately your photo of 104 pages didn’t come through – if you send it via email I can post it for you
      mail
      Regarding the platen knob – I have already donated both platen knobs from my parts Royal 10 to needy typospherians. You may want to check in the Facebook Typewriter Maintenance group as someone may have a platen knob or be able to 3D print one.

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  2. Keypoker (Mikertyper) says:

    This was a thought – and emotion – provoking entry for me on a lot of levels. I was raised in the D&H’s “home” in the Hudson Valley. I’ve been a railfan my whole life. I’ve hit the age where it seems everyone is passing on – Father, aunts, uncles, even my older first cousins. And one of my favorite typewriters, not least because it’s in remarkable fine shape, is my KMG I’ve named Wisconsin for its battleship grey (the only real difference from the KMM) and the shop docked in my wife’s hometown of Norfolk, VA. We still visit there each year because though all have passed on her side of the marriage, it’s still home for her – and I like it too. Yes I give my typewriters names; one of my new acquisitions is an FPS named Higgins for the (1980’s) Magnum PI character who used one (frequently visible behind his desk when he wasn’t using it). Higgins has a 16 inch carriage, nigh identical in design to the KMM/G (if shinier), and arrived damaged with it’s right platen knob shattered and carriage jammed. Maybe it had to do with the pinion and bearing I found on the rug after I took it out of the box… It required me to remove the carriage, and I dreaded it, but it turned out to be pretty easy even if patience was required, so I’m sure you could do it, as I’ve seen you tackle worse in your posts. I had the end binding and needed to fix it because the long carriage exacerbated it. It was the finicky bearing and pinion location coupled with some necessary adjustments to the clamps. I wound up concocting the procedure of installing the carriage with the clamps really loose so I could lift it just enough to slide a pinion/bearing in place from the end of the rail. There is nothing like the feeling of triumph solving a difficult issue and having the solution work well. The knob’s super glued together, and it’s not perfect, it’s “patina”. The FPS’s background, owned by an accounting exec whose job was much like my father’s, I only found out after I got it and suddenly this hunk of metal had a special significance beyond it’s appearance in a favorite TV show. Connections upon connections. Great post!

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    • Thanks for writing in and sharing a bit about your Royals. Like you, I’ve found typewriters fascinating from a mechanical perspective and even more interesting on a human level. My typewriter “thing” has a lot to do with connecting with people, those in the past long-gone and those around us now.

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  3. Jonathan says:

    Mary, thank you does not seem quite enough. Not only did you repair, lovingly repair, my grandfather’s Royal but you’ve shared some of his unique story with the world. He truly was a remarkable man. Sadly I can appreciate his character more today than I could when I was a kid. Then I was only interested in my Arthur C Clarke or Tolkien books. I spent most of my youth traveling through space or Middle Earth, my thoughts rarely on family or grandpa’s story. For years he tried to persuade his grandsons, and possibly his granddaughters too, to become amateur radio operators like himself. For a brief time I did but my call sign was rarely on the air and eventually the licensed lapsed, my key silent. When grandpa died in ’96 I realized then that it would have brought us so much closer had I embraced the hobby. And so when dad offered grandpa’s Royal I thought it would be nice to have a piece of his story here with me. I have begun to dabble in ham radio again but my shack pales in comparison to the photo you posted here. I am truly an amateur. But I will add the Royal to my shack. Perhaps I will become more inspired to not only write his story, but one of my own.

    73s Grandpa

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    • Jonathan – thank you for providing the background details on your grandfather’s typewriter. The details add a layer of meaning to the past and the people and things from it.

      Working on the KMM was such a pleasure – a real trip down memory lane for me. We had a KMM at home when I was growing up.

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  4. Hi Mary — I had bookmarked your last post against the happy day I got my hands on my own KMM, and yesterday a 1952 KMG fell in my lap for $25 and a short drive. So I did initial cleaning last night — so much gunk, I think it has never been covered — and fired up the computer this AM to look in on your most-authoritative earlier post, and was thrilled to see you were back at it just this month!

    This project feels different from others; it seems so historic, this machine and its later cognates. How many millions are out there but but this one is mine. Old typewriters are at once so special, each one, and so banal. They are still just old things to most people. But I remember when our 66 Mustang was just an old Ford, and now you almost never see one. It feels almost spiritual to be part of honoring the past through caring for its artifacts, but a lot of folks think I am nuts when I try to explain why I get so hung up on an old typewriter. You get it!

    Thanks for all your detailed photos and video links too. Question: is this a PB Blaster / Soft Scrub / Turtle Wax thing in your opinion? The KMG does not have a crinkle finish that I can see — it is really more like a battleship than anything, so I would think it would take Soft Scrub and wax pretty well. And the bell functions but only when you move the carriage at speed; the contacts are just too worn to work right now at usual pace. So there’s something I have to figure out…

    You are one of my favorite typewriter bloggers. Thank you!

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    • Hello Chris! Thanks for the kind thoughts and congratulations on your KMG.

      My recommendation on cleaning the typewriter is to start with the least aggressive method and chemicals and move upwards as necessary. For the shell, start with some warm, soapy water and a soft cloth, maybe a gentle toothbrush. Move up to Simple Green and then more powerful chemicals like Soft Scrub if necessary. Always test in a discreet area because old paint can be fragile. Turtle Wax on shiny paint works, but your KMG may have a slightly textured/matte paint (not crinkle paint exactly) and the wax may dull the finish. Test in a discreet area.

      I used to use a lot of PB B’laster and for rusty or corroded parts, it’s my go-to. However, the smell is so, so bad, so now I use it in very small doses in a well-ventilated area. It also leaves a residue so I have to flush and blow out the residue after using. I have an air compressor which has come in very handy. I would start with alcohol or mineral spirits to get the mechanical gumminess out and move up to worse-smelling stuff as needed. Be careful on painted surfaces: some solvents will eat through paint in seconds.

      Consider becoming a member of the Facebook Typewriter Maintenance group – lots of discussion there about cleaning:
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/typewritermaintenance/

      About the bell: clean it really well. The little finger that hangs down from the right Magic Margin that trips the bell mechanism can get gummy. Also, remove the shroud over the tabbing mechanism and clean the bell parts there.

      Good luck!

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  5. O you are so right. I got 90% of the way there with a toothbrush and soapy water, and some soft scrub on my finger took care of the last grime on the ribbon cover. I am just going to clean and clean and clean the bell and the typebars — I got the bell working bout half the time, seems it is just worn but it comes back to life when it is RILLY RILLY clean. No wax needed obvs. And I got my platen off and cleaned under there, empowered by your lead! (And helped by the video.) I respect your “don’t remove the carriage” rule. It is like “don’t go to the vault” in “Point Break”: know your limits! 🙂

    I will keep on plugging — time takes time. Thanks for the tips!

    Like

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