Foster-Child of Silence and Slow Time: 1917 Oliver 9

I have recently been thinking a lot about this three-axle End Times van my son spotted in San Mateo a couple years ago.

In these uncertain times, I daydream about a Decameron re-tread in this van. Gathering ten or so of my ole buddies, we’d roadtrip to my concrete bunker in the country to party down and tell stories while we wait out the pandemic. We’ll need several big Frito-Lay variety packs, a few cases of beer – and a troubadour too.

I want to go to there. But of course, we’re responsible and sensible and we’re staying put, peering out the curtains like the Olds we are. We have the luxuries of remote work, a paycheck, and a fridge full of food.  I check in on members of the Extended Family Universe™ via some very chaotic Zoom and FaceTime calls and group texts.  I have attended three virtual high school reunions—really!  Physically isolated, we are surprisingly more socially connected with family and friends now than when we were immersed in the hectic normality of the Before Time.

My daughter and I have formed a small-scale Ladies Aid Society with neighbors and are sewing fabric face masks, a 21st century take on bandage rolling.

I bake bread, another Instagram-friendly pandemic cliché.

Beauty, eh?

I am suffering from pandemic mush brain, having problems with focus and attention. I should be taking this time to pull an Isaac Newton and write my own Principia. I should finish that novel I started last year. I should paint a picture for that blank wall in the family room. I should start a family band. I should invent something. During the plague years of the 1980s, Edward Van Halen invented this:

I think back back to my Holiday Christmas Typewriter Open House just six months ago and the close, sweaty gathering of people at a party seems like a quaint, old-fashioned, and alarming practice, like smoking Camels during pregnancy or packing four kids into a front bench seat without seat belts.

It was at that Christmas party that Typospherian John A. brought this nonfunctional 1917 Oliver 9 with a Polish keyboard. Cosmetically in very good condition, it has all the little pieces that tend to go missing with Olivers: spool cup lids, drawstring clip, wooden spool centers, spool clips, pencil holder. It has some rust and delaminated plating, but the decals are in great condition.

These Olivers are heartbreakingly strange and cute – the Baby Yoda of typewriters. They would make Werner Herzog cry.

 

Polish keyboard

Probably manufactured for the immigrant community in the US, it is packed with untold stories of happiness and prosperity and hardship and survival. What can this old one tell us about the long years of the past century? What of the Spanish Flu?  The Great Depression? The Second World War?  What was in the letters and documents it produced? Was it a parade of news, the happy and sad and matter-of-fact? Business correspondence or love letters?

John’s Oliver 9 was not typing and I guessed that it was a broken mainspring—it had no zing when wound.  For some reason, Oliver mainsprings seem to be very vulnerable to snapping: this is the fourth I’ve seen with a broken mainspring.  It may be because they are so exposed on the Oliver rear end and people play with them.

John left the Oliver with me until I could take a look at it.  I took the carriage off and opened the mainspring drum. On inspection, it was a broken mainspring:

Duane at Phoenix Typewriter has a terrific video that goes through the ins and outs of repairing the mainspring on an Oliver:

I fashioned a new end for the broken spring and re-assembled.  Ta-da!  A 103 year-old typing Oliver with the very nice Printype typeface:

Very nice! The type is a little dirty and needs a good scrub.  Unlike many Olivers out there, the alignment is pretty good. I am mailing out face masks to far-flung family and friends, and a companion note written in Printype is a nice addition. Let me know if you need one.

I work on my face masks in the evenings as a meditative exercise. The gentle thwump-thwump-thwump of my 1973 Sears Kenmore 158.1703 calms and focuses me. This loyal workhorse deserves its own blog post.

Producing something concretely useful is good for tamping down the many anxious thoughts that come to me. When I was a kid and in a snit about something, my mother would say, “Now, now. In the light of all eternity…” and trail off leaving me to contemplate the comparative magnitude of eternity and the small matter at hand. She wasn’t being dismissive, just serenely pragmatic.

The problems are bigger now, but I still find great solace in thoughts of eternity and the immensity of the universe. My own comparative insignificance is of great comfort to me. If I close my eyes, I can hear the gentle hum of the spheres.  We are small, overwhelmed by the vastness of time and space.

The Voyager I and II spacecrafts are out there somewhere, spinning through the darkness and silence, chasing distant light.

Voyager I trajectory. Tomruen / CC BY-SA

Voyager I and II both carry a Golden Record with images, sounds, and documents of Earth—the way it was in 1977.   If intelligent life intercepts these probes, they may find this information useful.

NASA/JPL / Public domain

The Golden Record’s message from Jimmy Carter makes me tear up a little.  It’s so full of the ambition, yearning, and hope we need now:

Garage Band

The  marathon of holiday events that stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is pounding along, and I am gamely holding my own.  Others may drop out from exhaustion; but I am a solid long-distance runner, and I will win this holiday season.  To that end, I hosted a Holiday Typewriter Open House.

My husband and I like to host a holiday open house at some point in December for family, friends and neighbors.  We’re shy types, but we like people.  Hosting an open house is a shy person’s social dodge: you know most everybody you invite and they know you and your peculiarities. If you’re feeling shy, you don’t have to talk to anybody because you’re “busy” doing party maintenance. You wind up the event and then watch it play out in the safety and comfort of your own home.

When I heard there was a DC-area typewriter meet up in Sterling, VA the same day as our holiday party, I was disappointed that I couldn’t attend the Sterling event. But then I thought, huh, what if—what if I invite the typewriter people over to our open house in Arlington after the Sterling typewriter meet up?  I’ll set a lure with food and drink and tables of typewriters in the garage and see what I can catch. That sounded good to me and my husband, and it was a done deal.  Many thanks to Jonathan Typewriter Posey who publicized both December 14th events on our group’s Facebook page.

In preparation for the open house, I cleaned and organized the garage – no small feat.

I put down some old area rugs to help with sound absorption—typewriters can kick up quite a racket and the garage is a hard, echo-y space.

I borrowed a few tables from neighbors, made some typewriter pads from rug scraps and rug pads, and started to set out my collection of 13 former junkers.

I had intended to ready the collection in the days before the open house, but the path to hell…etc. As I was setting out typewriters the night before the party, the issues of my former junkers began to rear their ugly heads.  These machines don’t get as much exercise as they should, so beyond cold and sticky keys, there were weird behaviors to contend with.

The SCM Coronet Electric needed de-gummifcation of a few keys since it was doing that thing where keys strike over and over and over again.

I popped off the bottom plate, washed the sublever pivot areas with mineral spirits and all was good.

The rebuilt Regal/ Royal 10 was good to go except for the line lock not engaging. It needed a good wipe down of the line lock mechanism underneath so that it rocked cleanly, and all was good.

Next was a Royal KHM that Mr. E sold me at some point.  It was very dirty, but typing like the proverbial champ except that it needed a heavy, “hot” touch to prevent letter piling of certain characters.  It responded to cleaning of the segment and a good workout.

This blue Silent-Super was more problematic.  It was blowing past its left margin on carriage return.  As you may recall, this typewriter has a traumatic past, having been banged around a bit. I think the left margin stop needs to be “formed” some, but I couldn’t fix it enough to reliably catch.  Lesson learned: start testing your typewriters long before a type-in.

My Voss De Luxe was only able to type in red. The ribbon vibrator was catching on a cracked plastic card guide. Oy. Couldn’t fix that on short notice.

And the carriage release button on the Rheinmetall KsT was sticking and not responding to cleaning. Yikes – that’s one of my favorites!

And last but not least, I wanted to have my new Underwood 5 running for the party. I picked it up at Herman’s in October when it was in pretty rough condition.

I did some preliminary cleaning and replaced the platen and feed rollers with polyolefin heat shrink tubing.  It is typing pretty well, but not perfectly. The front feed rollers need another layer of heat shrink for paper to feed well.

The rest of my typewriters were solid and dependable: the pink Silent-Super, Adobe Rose East the Royal QDL, a Torpedo 18a, a Consul 232, a Royal Signet, and a Hermes 3000.

I hung a sign over the front door, turned on the lights and got ready for the guests.

photo credit: Glenn Gravatt

The first to arrive were the typewriter people who had attended the event in Sterling, VA. Then the neighbors and friends came in and then finally the extended family started drifting in.

photo credit: John Askey

photo credit: Glenn Gravatt

A typospherian from Pennsylvania, John A. brought an Oliver 9 with with a detached drawstring and broken mainspring.  He kindly left it with me to play with.  The Oliver has lovely decals and all the bits that often seem to get lost on Olivers: the spool caps, the wooden spool cores, even the little metal drawstring hook.

Favorite moments of the evening:

  • The arrival of the typospherians carrying their typewriters—like the entrance of a conquering army.
  • My husband patiently untangling a few typebars and reassuring a distressed neighbor who thought she had broken the typewriter.
  • A young grandson typing on his great-grandmother’s Regal/Royal 10 that I had repaired. It had been used in the great-grandmother’s shop in Winchester back in the day.
  • My 88 year old father-in-law rattling off his ocho apellidos vascos after meeting a local typewriter enthusiast with Spanish roots.

Many. many thanks to Glenn Gravatt and John Askey for taking pictures and proving that this thing really happened.  I lost track of my phone and my head and didn’t take a single photo!

It was not so much a “worlds collide” evening  as a pleasant meshing of the things I love: family and friends and typewriters and food and funny stuff.  We are doing this again—for sure.

The typer hosters. Photo credit: Glenn Gravatt

Party On

In mid-October,  I attended the Typewriter Jamboree at Herman’s in West Virginia.  This is my third time there, and I get so much out of it.  I had a really good time re-connecting with those I’ve met before, meeting new typewriter people, geeking out over interesting typewriters and repairs, laughing my fool head off over typewriter-related antics.  Really, where else would you get all that kind of typewriter-related fun?

Unfortunately I didn’t take a lot of pictures.  It was huge crowd—the biggest group at Herman’s ever, I think. I took a couple pictures absent-mindedly, neither of which capture the event or its energy.  There’s a Twitter feed I enjoy called Uninteresting Photographs and my pictures would not be out of place there. Sorry, people.  This is all I have from what was in reality a very exciting time.

Here’s one picture. This is an awards ceremony, but it looks like Two Turntables and a Microphone with Richard Polt throwing in a funky dance move:

And here is an uninteresting photo of a presentation on 3D printing that was really terrific.

Ok, poor photojournalism notwithstanding, I brought home a couple typewriters: a distressed 1922 Underwood 5 and a super cute made-in-Holland 1962 Royal Signet with typing issues.

The Signet had typebars sticking up on the outer segment that collided with other typebars.

Royal Signet with typebars that stick up

I thought at first that there were bent connectors and tried adjusting the little wires that connect the sublevers with the typebars.  I fiddled and fiddled and fiddled. And then I thought, what if it’s just dirty?  The segment was clean as a whistle, but this area was gummy:

Cleany, cleany, cleany and hey those typebars behaved themselves and quietly returned to their proper homes with each key stroke.

I really enjoy watching Phoenix Typewriter’s typewriter repair videos —they are so relaxing after a long day in the salt mines.  Duane J. uses automotive-strength lacquer thinner in a little squeeze bottle, so I got some of my own:

I cleaned those nooks and crannies very carefully, making sure I didn’t get any lacquer thinner on the exterior paint.

The Underwood 5  from Herman’s that Mr. E gave me for almost nothing will also need an intensive cleaning.

Let’s take a look at this Underwood 5.  Cracked platen: check:

Crusty typebars: check.

Generalized ancient dirt: check.

Dog food stuck in the guts: check. At least I hope that’s dog food.

Yes, this looks like my type of machine. Weirdly, it still sort of types.  I love these old tanks.

The holidaze are fast approaching and as people of my generation (Gen X: the Coolest Generation, the forgotten middle child of generations) say, “Party On!”

On December 14 there’s a DC area meet up at the Sterling, VA public library from 12-3PM.  Following that,  I am hosting a casual drop-in holiday open house from 4PM – 9PM for family, friends, neighbors (Lawful Good) and that unpredictable element, the typoshpherians of the DC area (Chaotic Good).  I think it should be fine—low probability of swearing, fistfights, and police activity.

Many thanks to Jonathan Typewriter Posey who posted the events on the Facebook DC/VA/MD Antique Typewriter Collectors page.  I don’t use Facebook much, so I am indebted to him:

If you are here in the DC area and want to stop in at my place for the Holiday Open House & Typewriter Party, let me know.  I can send details, or you can check the events page if you are a member of the DC/VA/MD group.

The open house provides me with an opportunity to pull out my small collection of mostly portables, many of which don’t get enough exercise and are getting flabby and outta shape.  Here’s a list of typewriters I am going have on hand—most are durable former junkers and will be suitable for a mixed-age audience:

  • 1956 Smith Corona Silent-Super (pink)
  • 1957 Smith Corona Silent-Super (blue)
  • 1964 Voss De Luxe
  • 1963 Hermes 3000
  • 1957 Torpedo 18a
  • 1961 Rheinmetall KsT
  • 1955 Royal QDL
  • 1962 Royal Signet
  • 1967 Consul 232
  • 1937 Royal 10/Regal rebuild
  • 1940 Royal KHM
  • 1970ish SCM Coronet
  • 1922 Underwood 5 (if I can get it running)

I think I have another couple I could dig out, and I hope to have that Underwood 5 up and running. I left my big standards in California with my son, but I wish I had them for the party in Arlington, especially the Remington KMC, the Olympia SG3, the Olivetti Lexikon 80. They are crowd pleasers.

I worked this past weekend, organizing my garage which is where I’ll set out tables and typewriters for the open house.

Party On!

Me, the world’s oldest teenager, sings at the top of my lungs:

Platen Regeneration: Remington Portable #2

A fellow typospherian entrusted this 1925 Remington Portable #2 to me.  It looked pretty good from a distance with nice decals and intact paint, but it had seen some action:

It was dirty:

It had a bunch of bent type bars that stuck up and collided with neighbors:

The worst thing about it was the petrified condition of the platen. It was a tragic platen—cracked, crusty, and crumbling:

And no feet—the rubber must have crumbled away. When I am an old lady and I write my memoirs about being an amateur typewriter repairperson, I am going to title it: Dirt, Drawbands, and Degraded Rubber  since it seems just about every dysfunctional typewriter I come across suffers from at least one of these maladies.

The feed rollers were just as bad as the platen – either they had crumbled off or had turned into hardened sticky squares.  You couldn’t feed a sheet of paper with that platen and those rollers.

But—but—but—as you can see from the picture above, IT TYPED.

OK, Little Friend, I said, let’s see what we can do for you.  Fortified by my recent experience fixing up a friend’s Remington Portable #1, I felt like I was up to the task.

I had several options for the platen:

There’s a lot of discussion on platen recovering in the Facebook Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group and the optimal hardness of a platen. It shouldn’t be hard as a rock because it will feel and sound terrible and characters will punch through.  However, if it’s too soft, characters will punch through too.  From what I gather from the Facebook group,  a platen should have around a “just-right” Shore 90A hardness.  Here’s an interesting rubber material hardness table at https://mykin.com/rubber-hardness-chart/.  If what I am reading at the Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group is correct, a platen should be between a leather belt and shopping cart wheel in hardness.

In the FB Typewriter Maintenance Group, there are many OPINIONS on the wisdom of using heat shrink tubing for platens, with some frowning upon the method.   I am very open-minded and willing to experiment for the greater good. I am very 🙃.  As Smiley Bone says, “There’s always time for science!”

from Ghost Circles by Jeff Smith. I aspire to Smiley Bone’s level of silly niceness.

So I forged ahead and went the DIY route to see what kind of results I could get with heat shrink tubing.  For a single platen, this is not exactly the budget alternative. I am frequently tinkering with distressed typewriters, so this works for me. I ended up buying 25 ft of heat shrink tubing, a heat gun, and a Type A rubber durometer (Because Science).

I found an inspirational and very helpful platen recovering Instructable from Knife141. Knife141 also has an Instructable on efficient ironing. He’s kind of a Renaissance Dude.

There is also a good post from Ted Munk about adding a single layer of heat shrink to the existing rubber layer of a hard platen.  This Remington’s platen is just too far gone—a complete strip down and multiple layers would be required.

I started out by removing the platen.  The Remington Portable #2 has a screw on the end of the right platen knob.  It has a very thin, wide slot so I had to grind down a screwdriver head to fit it.

I popped the platen out and continued onto the feed rollers.  There are a total of eight feed rollers: four small in front and four larger in the rear.  The easiest way to get them out is to remove the paper tray. Backspace Does Not Erase has a terrific post on removing the paper tray from a Remington Portable #2 which was very helpful to me.

I flipped the typewriter over (with the typebars down) and tapped out the small knurled rods on each side that held the paper tray in place, pulling them out with needle nose pliers once the knurled ends were visible.

The paper tray lifted out in pieces and it was very dirty under there.

I took lots of pictures which were very helpful when I was reassembling.  The front feed rollers sit on rods in a thin, springy piece of metal that lies under the paper tray. This piece is very easily bent and is wedged under a center rod on the carriage

I then started work on the platen.  I measured the diameter of the cracked platen in several places and found it to be between 1.123 and 1.149 inches in diameter, right around 1 ⅛”.

Removing the cracked rubber covering with a utility knife and a screw driver, I found one end secured with a tiny brad. After removing the brad and doing some careful prying, I was able to skin the platen like a banana since the rubber had a fabric backing.  The core was a soft, rough wood which I sanded down a little.

I bought 25ft of commercial grade polyolefin heat shrink tubing, 3:1 Heat Shrink Tubing (Pre Shrink OD:1-1/2″ 25Ft, Black). I chose the heat shrink tubing without adhesive because I wanted to be able to remove it easily if it didn’t work out.

I cut the tubing a little longer than the platen core:

I had to remove the ratchet thingy at the end of the platen so that I had a uniform tube to work with.  I hate dealing with rusty screws and teeny parts that can get lost, but I was worried that the shrink tubing would split around this shape.

I used a heat gun and applied five layers of shrink tubing, one layer at a time, rolling between layers to keep the cylinder smooth and consistent in size..

Tip: start at one end of the platen and move your heat shrinking along lengthwise.  On one early layer I just did a generalized back and forth with the heat gun and I got air bubbles.  These eventually flattened but I could have avoided this if I had worked along the length of the platen

After I applied five consecutive layers of heat shrink tubing and reached an outer diameter of 1 ⅛ inches, I trimmed the ends with a very sharp utility knife:

I made new feed rollers with small size heat shrink tubing.  I tried to use fuel line tubing for the rear rollers.  Though that worked great on the Remington Portable #1, the outer diameter of the fuel line tubing was (weirdly) too large for the #2 and the rear rollers wouldn’t spin freely.

While I was re-inserting the platen, a piece from the ratcheting section by the left carriage return fell out.  Oh no. I should have secured those pieces with tape or rubber bands as RobertG. recommends.

I was so glad that I had this photo from the dirty dismantling process that I could refer to while I tried to figure out where the little spring wires go:

I finally got it all back together and re-inserted the platen. I straightened out the bent typebars and key levers with needle nose pliers and carefully cleaned the mechanical parts with mineral spirits, Q-tips, and love. My air compressor was very useful for blowing away greasy chunks.

The typewriter was looking pretty swell and typing nicely.

So what does my $30.00 durometer read? The new polyolefin platen has a hardness reading of just about Shore 90A – 95A—right there between a leather belt and shopping cart wheel:

For comparison, my Torpedo with a rock-hard platen that sounds like a machine gun reads about Shore 98A and the buttery soft platen of Blue Boy the Silent-Super reads just Shore 90A.

The results of the heat shrink seem pretty good to me, but to really put this platen through its paces, I needed typewriter feet.  This one came with no feet.  They must have crumbled off at some time in the distant past. The low-slung, exposed guts under the machine were dragging on the table without feet.

For feet, I had some options:

I decided to order feet from Steve Dade.  I found Steve’s contact information at Richard Polt’s Classic Typewriter Page and dropped him a line via email.

Steve promptly replied and sent me a set of beautiful feet. He offers a very affordable complete rubber package for the Remington Portable #2 (platen, feet, feed rollers), but I ordered just the feet.  I am very happy with my heat shrink platen and feed rollers right now, but I may change my mind.

The beauty of the invoice that came with the feet is killing me.

Ah yes, this is the life.  The feet grip the table nicely – no slipping. The feet raise the body off the table so there’s no funny business with mechanics dragging.

Regarding my heat shrink platen, it may be too hard. The periods and commas sort of punch through.  My durometer registers Shore 95A in places.  Overall, I am pleased.  The imprint is dark and nicely consistent, and the sound is not overly loud.  I think this platen recovering experiment is about 95% perfect.  It is a vast improvement over the cracked and unusable platen I started with.

What a nice project.  I spent several pleasant evenings listening to music, scrubbing the old guts and the type and key tops, and thinking my thoughts. So old is this one. Typists who used this typewriter in its prime are all gone. There seems to be no one out there who can tell me what this key means. Those that knew took that mystery with them when they shuffled off this mortal coil:

The season here is just beginning to turn.  The air carries a faint but distinct chill. I went to a funeral last week and that, coupled with the  shortening and darkening days, cause my thoughts turn to What It All Means. Perhaps it’s this: life is short and we need to appreciate its fleeting beauty, gentle pleasures, and small mysteries.  There’s so much joy in life and regeneration—typewriter-related and otherwise—and it’s good to consciously savor and actively participate while we can.

 

You’re So Vain: 1956 Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab

Look at this 1956 Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab, serial number AA2633478.  He’s so handsome!  Underwood flexes for us and displays the bulging muscles of America’s postwar abundance. Gold accents! He’s living large – the embodiment of industrial designer Raymond Loewy‘s quip: “The loveliest curve I know is the sales curve.”

Just a hunk, a hunk of burning love—a muscle-bound mash-up of Steve Reeves, Elvis, and a ’56 Ford Thunderbird. This is his good side in side serratus and biceps pose:

However. He’s got some issues—commitment issues.  Specifically, he can’t commit to a single place on the carriage rail.  He’s a slippery fellow, unable to settle down.

I picked up this bad boy at Herman’s last jamboree (you meet all sorts) and brought him home. I was looking for a long-term relationship, but this Underwood just can’t stay in one place.

This Underwood portable is a handsome bad boyfriend: easy on the eyes, but difficult in all sorts of aggravating ways. He’s full of secrets, requiring special tools and super-human patience and abilities to unlock him.  I was spending too much time trying to make him behave, but I think I’m over him.

When I first brought him home, I took the Underwood out to workshop and stripped him down. He was very dirty—which I find provocative in a typewriter.  I thought that his sliding carriage issues were related to a dirty/gummy escapement which I’ve seen before, so I patiently cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. No dice.

It would help if I could see something.  Even with all the body panels off, I could not see the escapement.  Everything was hidden behind an interior frame.  I longed for a Royal or Smith-Corona portable set-up where everything hangs out:

I thought, well, let’s pop out the platen and see if I can see anything underneath the platen.

Oh GOOD GRIEF.  The platen screw needs a 4-spline Bristol wrench – which I don’t have:

Someone else might decide at this point to remove the carriage, but there’s no flippin’ way I am taking off that carriage.  I defer to The Wisdom of Blender.

Also from the Teachings of Blender:

Well, unfortunately I can’t find a service manual for a 1950s Underwood portable. The old Underwood standards I have worked on have been true joy.  They had well-documented guides, accessible innards, wide open spaces. Would that all typewriters were like old Underwood standards. Would that Underwood had made their portables as easy to work on as their standards.

Lurking in the Facebook Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group I have come to find that I am not alone in thinking this.  People who tinker with typewriters dislike working on Underwood portables of this era.

Still, I am so curious.  I want to look deep into Underwood’s heart and see if I can understand him any better. Is it me, or is it him?

Which brings me to another project I have been working on with my husband: replacing about 50 feet of sump drainage pipe that had silted up.  The sump drain pipe wasn’t flowing as it should, and we had problems snaking it. What could the obstruction be? Tree roots, pipe collapse, small garden gnome? We pulled the old pipe out and discovered that it had silted up – the old pipe was perforated and had no protective sock.  Fortunately my husband and I got the new pipe in before the Deluge of the Century – three to four inches fell in just an hour.

Now that the pipe has been replaced, it is my job to go out and re-seat the sod.

It is slow, hot work in the heat of the Virginia summer – the red Virginia clay is like cement:

I am hating this project and think wistfully of the cool darkness of the garage where my queue of typewriters sit.  The only thing keeping me sane while I dig in the clay is my “70s Fun” playlist. Scientists say that listening to music of your youth activates dormant neural pathways. Listening to “70s Fun” gives me almost unaccountable pleasure and gets my mind wheels turning – what was the crime Mama Pajama witnessed?  One of the very funniest songs on the playlist is “You’re So Vain” – which is overplayed (I seem to encounter it every time I’m at the grocery store) and thus not fully appreciated for its sly, rueful humor.

 

Once we finish with this drainage pipe project, we’ll need to regularly monitor the new pipe. So I talked my husband into a  33 ft KZYEE endoscope/borescope. Bill M. recently mentioned borescopes in a blog post, and I thought  that would be good for sump drain pipe monitoring – and typewriter inspection.

The KZYEE borescope is very nice – waterproof, nice bright light, and a tiny 5mm head. I installed the viewing app on my phone and connected to the borescope via wifi.

Wow, this endoscope is neat. This shot looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but no, that is a ball bearing inside the Underwood that I darest not deal with:

OK – here we are at the Underwood’s escapement. This is the best view I can get. On key press, the rigid dog jumps into the escapement wheel teeth.

On key press, the rigid dog moves into position.

What I think is happening: the loose dog is a lazy dog and fails to jump into the fray after the key is released, so the escapement wheel flies free and the carriage reels over to the left. The loose dog may be broken or worn.  Perhaps there is a disconnected or broken spring.  I can’t tell because these are the best images I can get deep down in there.

On key release, the loose dog fails to move into position.

I opened up the Manual Typewriter Repair Bible to the Underwood Portable section.  It details operations and fixes for older-model Underwood portables, but I hoped it would have some clues as to what might be happening here in this 1956 Underwood portable.

Third hole from the right, huh?

After loosening the lock nut with a pair of needle nose pliers (too tight in there to get a nut driver in), I tightened what I think is the “Rocker Limit Screw”.

The new borescope is also a wonderful focused light for dark places

This brought the rigid dog into permanent contact with the escapement wheel.  At least the carriage wasn’t sliding way over to the left anymore.  I was able to get some good pictures in its fixed position and wring a type sample out of it with some difficulty.

That’s a pity.  A nice typeface wasted on this here nonfunctional typewriter.

I may end up bringing this fellow to Herman’s in October and let members of the Brain Trust evaluate it.

You’re so vain, Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab. You probably think this post is about you. You’re fabulous to look at, but I am done with your BS.  You need professional help, and maybe you can find that at Herman’s.

Addendum: many thanks to my sweet, hard-working, but still very dirty 1956 Royal QDL (Adobe Rose East) for doing the typing for this post.

Freak Out: Remington Portable No. 1

Last week, I got a text from a local typospherian about a couple typewriters that needed a clean-up and fix.  Was I interested?  Of course!

Jean is a teacher with a deep love of typewriters.  I rehabbed a distressed Lettera 22 for her that has become one of her very most favorite typewriters.

Jean and her Lettera 22

Jean arrived with a lovely SM8 – it ‘s just a little gummy and will clean up nicely.

She also had a Remington Portable with issues. Most obvious were a broken drawstring and a typebar that was sticking up. I pulled the carriage gently to the left and tested typing. It seemed to work.

This little thing is a Remington Portable #1 from 1922, the dawn of portable typewriters with standard four-bank keyboards.

I have a confession to make: Remington portables of this ilk kind of FREAK ME OUT.  I see them a lot in antique stores, but they make me uneasy.  I vaguely remember an orchid-colored Porto-Rite I came across a few years ago that I was almost too afraid to even touch; it was so beautiful and so strange. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the typebars up, so I backed away from it cautiously, careful not to make any quick movements.

These old Remington portables are not typewriters that I understand right out of the box. I have to familiarize myself with all their weird little controls by paging through the manuals and watching instructional videos.

First up:  The carriage lock.  To disengage it, you pull out the right platen knob.  Weird, but OK. To get it back into its case, you have to pull forward an obscure little locking lever behind the left carriage release lever, push the right platen knob in and move the carriage until it clicks and locks in the center. Got it?  If you don’t lock it, it may not fit in its case and you might damage the right platen knob and scrape up the inside of the case.

Next, to get it to type anything, the typebars need to be in the freaky upright typing position achieved by raising them with a lever. Ready: 1, 2, 3…

FREAK OUT!

Note that the “@/¢” slug is broken. The #1 doesn’t have the curved typebar guards on each side that the #2 has for protection.

This just seems dangerous.  How did so many of these survive 90-100 years with this sort of fragile set-up?  Also, someone might poke their eye out here. Won’t someone please think of the children?

On top of that, I kind of freak out because at first glance I think I’m missing parts on this #1:

  1. There’s no left platen knob! What the heck!
  2. There’s no carriage release lever on the right! That’s a paper release lever!
  3. There’s no carriage return lever! On these early ones, you use a little pinch mechanism to return the carriage and advance to the next line.
  4. There are a couple small and easily overlooked metal tabs for the margin release and the line spacing.

It’s so primitive and so weirdly complicated at the same time. Type-writer.org has an excellent post on features of early Remington Portable #1s. There seems to have been a lot of experimentation, evaluation, addition, and revision in those early days.

Richard Polt’s Classic Typewriter Page has a very good run-down of early Remington portables. He estimates that 400,000 Remington Portable #1s were made between 1920 to 1925. They were very popular and Remington followed up the #1 with several successful portable models.

Per Richard P.’s Remington Portable page, some of the early Remington portables had 2-letter, 5-numeral codes: the first letter represents the typewriter model, the second letter the month of manufacture, and the first numeral represents the year of manufacture (e.g “3” means 1923).

Jean’s Remington has a serial number of  NZ27886 meaning that it is a 1922 Remington Portable that was made in the month of November.

The first thing I wanted to address was the busted drawstring. I had to take the base plate off to access the machine from beneath.  On this typewriter, there are four screws on each corner that hold the typewriter to the base that need to come off.

The drawstring has a slightly unusual set up, so I was very glad that I watched the Duane Jensen’s  Phoenix Typewriter video for the drawband repair. I used heavy duty craft thread for my repair. I think I found the thread in the jewelry department at Michael’s craft store.

There’s a little clip on the end of the carriage where I secured the end.

I used a bamboo skewer and threaded the draw string  through to the mainspring area.

Here comes the drawstring on the bamboo skewer

There’s a little clip and a pulley that the string needs to go though:

I took Duane’s suggestion of indicating with an arrow the winding direction of the mainspring.  It’s easy to get confused and wind the wrong way. I wound the mainspring five complete turns and wedged a pointy tool into the mainspring to hold it in place while I made a big knot in my new string.

The moment of truth: it types!

We need a new ribbon here.  Take a moment and watch Typewriter Justice’s video on Remington Portable ribbon changing.  It’s a little complicated, and you want to make sure it’s wound on the spools properly or it won’t feed.

Let’s put some paper in and get to typing!

*silence*

Oh crud. I couldn’t feed a sheet of paper in.  The four rear feed rollers were hard as rocks and square in shape.  Ugh! The four front feed rollers were OK – a little hard, but mostly round and moving.   I finally managed to scoot some paper in by engaging the paper release lever and slipping it around the platen.  This typewriter typed very nicely but it was unusable with those square feed  rollers. I will deal with this later, I told myself.

I decided to address the typebar that was sticking straight up.

What is your major malfunction?!

Sometimes there’s something jammed under a  typebar that will prevent it from laying flat. Sometimes there’s something bent.

There was something bent. A key lever was bent and hanging up on the lever next to it.

I straightened out the lever carefully and the typebar then rested comfortably with his peers.

It was time to take care of those rear feed rollers.  Once again, Duane Jensen from Phoenix Typewriter had two very helpful videos.  One video demonstrates rear feed roller replacement. The other video shows how to remove the platen from a Remington portable. I wanted good access to the rear feed rollers and I wanted to clean the platen and under the platen.  A lot of dusty gunk was kicking up from underneath it and dirtying the paper.

I took off the top cover by removing two screws on each side. I did this for cleaning purposes.

I then removed the set screw that held the right platen knob on.

I pushed the platen rod through the platen from right to left (if facing the front of the  typewriter) and had to use a pair of pliers to pull it out.

I loosened the two screws that held the line gauge just a tiny bit and pulled out the line gauge.

I loosened the screw that holds the scale just a tiny bit so I could pull out the platen without bending it. Don’t take the screw all the way out because there is a wacky triangular nut behind that will slip out and get lost. I don’t know if I needed to do this on the #1 – the platen came out very easily.

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle and out came the platen.

Removing the little rods that hold the feed rollers in is tricky. Backspace Does Not Erase does beautiful work on Remington Portables, and I have found his blog an invaluable resource during this project.  He has a good picture of how the feed roller rods should be removed in his post on dismantling a Remington Portable.  There are a total of eight feed rollers: four in front and four in the rear.  I’m going to fix the rear four. On this 1922  Remington, there are two rods in back, each holding a pair of rear feed rollers. One end of the rod is knurled to hold it in place and you have to tap the rod out in the direction of the knurled end or it won’t budge.

I used a hammer and a thin punch to tap the rod out part way.  I then wiggled the rod out all the way with a pair of needle nose pliers.

I learned after the fact that removing the feed rollers is a lot easier if you remove the paper tray which is held in place with a couple small rods. Here is an excellent description of how to remove the paper tray.

I carved the old hardened rubber off the center brass core of the feed roller and then polished up the core with #0000 steel wool.

I bought a foot of rubber tubing at the auto parts store for about $1.50.  It had an inner diameter of 7/32″ and an outer diameter of about 3/8″.

Though it fit snugly over the brass core of the feed roller, the resulting outer diameter was a tad larger than the original feed roller.

I made four new rear feed rollers, popped them in and hoped for the best. I cleaned the platen  and reinserted it.  The platen rod required a lot of wiggling to get it to slide through (left to right if facing the front of the machine).  Once everything was re-assembled, I tested.

The new rear feed rollers work great.  They grip the paper solidly.  The platen turning is a just a hair tight, but this is more than good enough. That paper feeds so nicely.

I finished cleaning up the typewriter and scrubbed the type with mineral spirits and a brass brush.

Minty clean

I am now thoroughly charmed by this strange little thing. I’m not freaked out anymore. It’s missing the “@/¢” slug but is otherwise a nice lil typer.

I have another Remington Portable, a #2, in the queue. The decals are still very nice on this one.

It has a tragic platen.

I’m going to clean this up and recover the platen on this #2. I feel so much more confident now that I have worked on the #1.

One last thing.  I have a theory about Remington Portables with random orange keys you see here and on Typewriterdatabase.com.   Oil got in under the key tops and darkened the yellow here and there.  I actually like the warm, orangey punches of color. Anyway, that is my theory. Thank you.

One more last thing:  does anyone know the meaning of the T/S symbol on this key?  It’s on the Remington Portable #2 I am starting to clean up. Could it be a currency symbol (since it’s next to the “$” and “£”)?

Here’s the last, last thing:  Antikey Chop sells a Remington Portable #1 manual digital download in his Etsy shop and there’s a Remington Portable #2 instruction manual in Richard Polt’s manual archive.

A Makeshift Paper Mache Cover for a Consul 232

Some time ago I pulled out my Rheinmetall to type up some stuff, and I said to myself,  “How sweet it is!” The typing was perfect. I love the way this thing rolls – serious surfin’ swagger.

Toss me the keys, Baby, and let’s blow this popsicle stand.

The typing was perfect until the ribbon stopped advancing mid-sentence. What!!

I took the ribbon cover off and peered around.  I tested typing and it was fine.

I replaced the ribbon cover and the ribbon stopped advancing.

I removed the ribbon cover and completed whatever it was I was typing and then took a closer look under the hood.  I was missing a rubber washer on one side.  The ribbon feed mechanism was binding intermittently in one direction.  Perhaps the lid sat too low.

There are so many topless typewriters out there.  I wonder how many were victims of ribbon feed problems that resolved with cover removal.  The lost ribbon covers now belong to the ages.

Ribbon feed problems could be due to a number of issues:

The ribbon cover that binds on the spooling mechanism (#4)—that is a thing.

Here is a BBC article from 2012 entitled “Five reasons to still use a typewriter” with images of not one but two Letteras without ribbon covers.  Did the BBC have problems finding photos of intact typewriters in their stock image archives?

I’ve seen topless typewriters owned by famous people: Leonard Cohen, Larry McMurtry, Woody Allen. Maybe they had spooling problems that resolved with cover removal.

Which brings me to the Consul 232 without a ribbon cover that I brought home from Herman’s.

It was a wee bit rusty. The roof fell in and the rain came down:

The Consul 232 User Manual (found at Richard Polt’s typewriter manual archive) has an image of of a woman with an umbrella—something this Consul could have used at some point.

The typewriter was made in Czechoslovakia:

According to Typewriter Database, you interpret a Consul serial number this way:

The first digit of serial number indicates the year of production (4 means 1964), followed by model number (2 or 3 digits), followed by the machine’s s/n of 6 digits

So: #7232467803 means that this is a 1967 Consul 232 with a serial number 467803.

It has interesting mechanics – at least to me, someone who sees a lot of Smith-Coronas and Royals and not too many Czech typewriters. Czech out these key lever pivot rods.   They were a little crunchy, but loosened up with PB B’laster.

I am currently contemplating swapping out a broken key lever on a Royal Safari, and it’s going to be a helluva job.  If the Safari were constructed like this Consul, I’d be happier.

Here are the Consul’s weird guts.  This is before cleaning—and it still typed just fine.

The Consul isn’t rattly and clattery but surprisingly solid despite its very light weight. This cleaned up nicely.

I decided to make a paper mache ribbon cover.  It’s a cute little thing, and it didn’t seem right to leave it without a cover.

I first cut out a rough template from paper that I transferred to foam board.   I made it large and cut it down, tested the size , cut it more, and then used hot glue gun to hold it all together.  I tested typing on it to make sure all the typebars sailed through to the platen. The foam board was a light but structurally strong base – good for my paper mache.

I made a flour and water paper mache mixture from 1 part flour to 5 parts water, cooked it on the stove to boiling for a few minutes and then let it cool. It was nice and smooth.

While that cooled, I threw in a new ribbon and typed out quotes on the Consul on imperfection, etc.

Yeah, whatever, Lady. I don’t know about that.

OK.

Yup.

Right on.

Strong agree.

I am currently constructing my own paper mache wand with which to hit my head.

That’s me, Gary!

Oh yeah.

I cut small pieces of the typed quotes and dipped them in my flour/water mixture and paper mached the heck out of my foam board ribbon cover. I then painted it with dilute coffee so that the white paper was more of a cream to match the platen knobs and space bar.

I don’t know – the art here seems a little corny and obvious.  With the quotes all crammed together, they sound Hallmark-y without space to stand alone and breathe.  I decided to type out details of this Consul typewriter, and my daughter suggested including the URL of my blog. She knows I like a little self-promotion.


I futzed and futzed with the cover until I realized that it was never going to be perfect —but wasn’t that the point of this exercise? Have I learned nothing?

I christened this Consul the “makeSHIFT” —ha!

 

This scrappy patchwork paper mache ribbon cover makes me think of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors”.  It’s on my playlist called “70s Weepies”.   I always get so choked up when I hear Dolly’s sweet, chipper little voice recount the lessons of making shift during her hardscrabble childhood in Tennessee.

I wonder if the other little Consuls at Typewriter Database will make fun of makeSHIFT and her scrappy little ribbon cover. No, they’re nice kids.