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:

Super Duper: Smith-Corona Super-G

I’m a Facebook lurker, and a recent post on the Facebook Mid-Atlantic Typewriter Collectors Group caught my attention.  The poster was having trouble finding time to work on a distressed S-C Super-G, so he was giving it away:

[Facebook Post about free SCM Super-G]

Yes, please!

I’m making good progress on the Great American Novel, so this typewriter was a nice reward for my hard work.  I had initially described my novel as a historical romance, but I think it’s more of a historical comedy. Or maybe a historical comedy-drama.   I have the first draft completed, and gosh, it’s funny.  The romance scenes are rough. I don’t know if I have the necessary mettle required for romance writing. Here is a sample love scene in the current draft:

There’s a whole lot of tragedy and death in my novel too.  I keep killing off major characters because people died a lot in the old days.  I am getting a little concerned by the body count. Maybe I’ll let them live. As an author, I am very powerful.

Anyhow, in recognition of my excellent ahead-of-schedule novel-writing progress, I am rewarding myself  with a special treat: a broken typewriter.

Tim, the  guy who was giving away the Super-G, runs a bike shop near my place.

I drove over and we did a safe, socially-distanced typewriter transfer:

Thanks, Tim!

I really didn’t know much about Super-Gs before I got this.  I didn’t even know they were made by Smith-Corona.  With those racing stripes, the Super-G looks a lot like my brother’s 1972 Saab Sonett III (designed by Sergio Coggiola, who worked at Ghia at one time).

Anders Jensen, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons

I was thinking maybe the Super-G was an Olivetti.  Duh, NOOO.  It’s a good ole British-made Skyriter in a  sleek Italian-style shell:

This little racing Skyriter, this Formula One Corsair was designed by automotive designers Tjaarda and de Tomaso of Carrozzeria Ghia SpA.

The Super-G I got from Tim is from 1974 by serial number 7YP124855 (7YP Series 1)

So here’s the Super-G on arrival.  It was in pretty good shape except the return lever problem, a bent ribbon vibrator, jammed-on spools, gummy typebars and escapement.

The racing stripes on the Super-G are just super excellent—so much classier than painted flames.

With a bent return lever mechanism, there was no communication with the platen, so it wasn’t line spacing.  I assumed that the pieces inside were all bent, but I couldn’t see anything.  It was time to judiciously dismantle.

To familiarize myself with the typewriter functions, I downloaded a Super-G typewriter users manual from Richard Polt’s manual archive:

Click to access SuperG.pdf

 

I vaguely recalled a blog post by Ted Munk about replacing a teeny return lever on a Skyriter with a larger one from a Corsair.  This post came in handy during dismantling:

Yes you can swap the long return lever from a Corsair for the vestigal return arm of your early Skyriter!

I downloaded the Smith-Corona 6YC Series Typewriter Repair Manual in PDF format for diagrams and service reference material:

And after removing the return lever,  right platen knob, and the platen, I got to this point.

Ugh. This looks weird. What do I do here?

I found this video from Duane at Phoenix Typewriter very helpful in dealing with this plunger assembly:

 

I removed the plunger assembly, paper tray, carriage feed roller assembly, and page gage assembly.  I was finally at a point where I could see what my problem was:

It’s not supposed to look like that. The linespace pawl assembly was sitting on top of the linespace lever arm.  That’s bad and wrong.   It’s supposed to look like this:

 

After some careful forming (bending) of the linespace pawl assembly,  I got it into a position similar to the diagram:

Now it should line space and the return lever should work properly.  I wouldn’t know for sure until I got it back together.

Could not get the spools off easily – they were jammed on the wrong way.  They had to be eased off carefully so I didn’t  damage the teeny spools.

So here’s The Rule: you cannot let a dismantled typewriter become Parts in a Box.  Reducing a typewriter to Parts in a Box brings shame onto your entire family. I knew I must work quickly to get it back together. I figured I had about 24 hours after dismantling before the parts became vague and forgettable.

The clock was starting to tick. I had 24 hours to get this typewriter back together. I needed to peel out. Burn rubber.  Make tracks.

I get to work. I become one with the machine. I become Super Duper: I am a S-C Skyriter with racing stripes.  I am small and unassuming, but fast and driven by vast ambition, full of powerful hidden talents.

It is done. The typewriter is reassembled.  It types. I bring honor to my family.

It makes a loud plastic clatter when typing.   It makes you feel like you’re really accomplishing something while you’re hammering away. The print baseline rolls like a ship at sea. The typewriter  was whacked real bad at some point, and everything’s a little askew.  I think maybe I like that.

My tips for dismantling and reassembling:

  • Take lots of pictures – you’re going to need them.
  • Stay organized with boxes, cups, bags.
  • Work on a soft white surface so you can easily see dropped screws and little springs.
  • Get a long thin flat head screw driver.
  • Magnetize your screwdriver.
  • Operate in good light.  I use a rechargeable headlamp.
  • Download a service manual.  For me, the diagrams are invaluable.
  • Reassemble a dismantled typewriter as soon as possible to avoid Parts in a Box syndrome.

It’s a sweet ride, this machine.

This typewriter is a generous source of the best band names ever:

After I finish the Great American Novel, I’m going to start a band so I can use one of these names.

Thank you, Tim of bikes@vienna.  Regarding bikes, my family has gotten into this YouTube channel Not Just Bikes which is sort of about bicycling and how great life is in the bicycle-friendly Netherlands.

Platens, Writers, Readers, and Livers

I’ve been getting some questions about platen recovering recently. Last year, I recovered a Remington Portable #2 platen and an Underwood 5 platen that were in sorry shape.  In their cracked condition, the bad platens made the typewriters unusable.  I thought: well, what’s the worst I can do?

Since I am into typewriters for the journey, I decided to recover the platens myself with heat shrink tubing instead of sending them out. Keep in mind, Steve Dade and JJ Short will do a much more professional job on your bad platen than you or me. Regarding DIY platen recovering, there are a lot of naysayers and opinion-havers out there.  However, if you are into typewriters for funzies and personal growth, heat shrink recovering is an entertaining project.  I have found that I have accumulated many interesting tools (electronic calipers, heat gun, durometer) and materials during this journey of personal growth and self discovery.

I used about five layers of heat shrink polyolefin tubing for the platens—1.5″ for the Remington Portable and 2″ for the Underwood 5. A gentleman with whom that I have been corresponding used bicycle inner tube as layer under his heat shrink. It looks really good in the pictures he sent, but he still needs to reassemble.  I am interested in his final results.

So my platen recovering  was over a year ago: how did all that work out? The Remington Portable went back to its owner and then probably to a charity, so I don’t know its current status. However,  my Underwood lives in my garage workshop, so I stepped out there to see how it’s doing 1+ years down the road.

The 2″ heat shrink produced a very hard platen on the Underwood, and I got a 96-98 reading by my cheapo durometer.  It’s a little chilly in the workshop, so the platen may be harder in the cold.

The imprint is still good.

I think the heat shrink worked out fine.  I don’t think I would recover an intact platen, only a cracked or broken one, since the polyolefin heat shrink that I used produces a very hard platen that may be too loud for some people.

Beyond platens, I have been keeping a low profile online and avoiding the internet for mental hygiene reasons and because I have a bunch of different projects that need my undistracted focus. One of those projects is to finally finish up my Great American Novel that has been years in the thinking.  Folks, it’s a historical romance. Historical romance is my guilty pleasure, my secret shame, my sin, my soul.  I want to write something that I want to read, and historical romance is that.

I am a hyper-recursive writer, writing bald and fast first. I then go back over and over and over again. My writing progresses in three stages:

Right now I am in stage 2 with a first draft completed. It is very unlikely that I will ever get to stage 3.  Right now, it’s so bad, it’s embarrassing. I won’t even let my husband look at it, and he saw me give birth twice. There’s a lot of work to do here.

Last thing: if you are a writer or a reader or even just a life liver, check out the following book:

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders

This book is so sweet and humane. I cried in parts, it was that good. And don’t take my word for it, here’s a review:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/jan/06/a-swim-in-a-pond-in-the-rain-by-george-saunders-review-rules-for-good-writing-and-more

That’s it for now.  No new typewriter projects for the time being—well, unless some fascinating project typewriter crosses my path. I’ve got to get back to writing, reading, and living.

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.

 

 

Jammed paper bail

Royal KMM: Broken Things and Fixes

A local lady heard through the grapevine that I liked to tinker with old typewriters.  K. had purchased a Royal KMM at a yard sale and was hoping to get it typing.  I was glad to take on the project since it would be a distraction from my Twitter horror scrolling and my hand-wringing over the broken state of the world. She brought it over a couple weekends ago, and here it is on my porch on arrival:

Royal KMM

1948 Royal KMM, serial number KMM-3577225

It was a rough, broken thing: twisted, rusty, dirty, and frozen.  Everything on the left side of the machine was bent and compressed: carriage return, paper bail, spool cup, line spacing mechanism.

Jammed paper bail

Paper bail jammed in there

It was so dirty. Just my type.

Royal KMM needs cleaning

I told K. that I would do my best, but the typewriter was severely traumatized.  Privately I thought to myself, these things are built like tanks, and it should be OK.  KMMs are so solid.  I think David McCullough is still typing books on his KMM.  We had one growing up, and my mom typed the family cookbook on our KMM:

recipe

Midcentury recipes are a window into a mysterious time.

Some people wouldn’t touch a typewriter like this: too broken, too rusty, too messed up.  To them, it’s a doorstop, a boat anchor, a parts machine. Me, I like them. I feel a moral obligation to fix these things.

After K. left, I wiped everything down with a dilute bleach solution (this is a pandemic after all). I took off the ribbon cover (nice explanatory video from Duane at Phoenix Typewriter). I then brought it out back and blew out the leaves and fur and greasy chunks with my air compressor.

I pried the paper bail out of the platen and straightened it using my patented Lady Gorilla™ maneuver.  Carefully I straightened the carriage return arm, the crushed ribbon spool cup, and the line spacing mechanism.  Once I got the carriage return lever clearing the ribbon spools, I set about cleaning the segment with mineral spirits.  Things began to loosen up and the KMM began to exhibit its legendary sprightliness.  The type guide had rusty burrs that caught the type so I did a little sanding.

Sanding type guide

The Magic Margins were not behaving themselves.  They are sensitive to dirt and congealed grease, so I carefully cleaned the Magic Margin mechanism.  The left margin improved with cleaning but the right was sliding all over the place and not catching.  On examination, I found the margin stop’s ears bent and it was failing to engage in the teeth of the margin rack.

bent margin stop

Bent margin stop

Fixing

All better.  Now I could set margins and they would hold.  Now is the time for my annual rant about Magic Margins:  they are not intuitive, notoriously finicky, and I don’t like them.

I began to address the last few bothersome issues.  The typewriter was missing screws here and there, and things were a bit loose.

Missing platen set screw

Missing platen set screw

Wobbly ribbon cover

Wobbly ribbon cover

I know just the place to get the proper machine screws:

Parts Royal 10

Parts Royal 10

Thank you, Old Friend.  You have given life to three other Royal 10s and now you help this KMM.

The shift was a bit low, so I made some adjustments (again, Duane from Phoenix Typewriter has a good video).

KMM shift misaligned

Good enough:

KMM shifted characters aligned

After a scrub down, I touched up the paint with some matte chalk paint I had on hand from a craft project and covered my repairs with some thick matte polyurethane for durability, brush stippling for texture.  Not perfect, but looks a lot better.

KMM

The last item that was bothering me was the faded keyboard legend. I am not a touch typist, and I was having problems testing since I need to know which keys I am striking.

faded key legend KMM

Richard Polt has a Royal key legend .pdf on his website which I could print out, but I wanted weathered, vintage replacements, and I had just the thing.  About a year ago, a kind lady at Herman’s gave me a box of Royal keys with nice, clear legends on them.

The tricky part is that I do not own key ring removal and replacement tools which easily remove and replace the key rings.  I am thinking about trading one of the kids for a set of those tools.

I used a pair of needle nose pliers to unbend each of the three key ring tabs that grasp the key top.  Then I carefully held the stem with pliers from the bottom while gently, gently twisted off the ring with pliers from the top.

One down and a bunch more to go.

I was perking along, happily replacing key tops when I managed to twist the letter “W” key top all the way off.  I was horrified, but grew philosophical.  I knew that I could get good results re-attaching the key top with J-B Weld epoxy and a little platform fashioned out of scrap metal.

JB Weld used to re-attach keytop

Time to put this KMM through its paces. Let’s fire up this old gal.

Blug. That new ribbon I ordered is very gloopy, and it looks like I need to clean the type a bit more.

Working on this banged up KMM gave me ample time to think my thoughts and ponder current and past events.  Here’s the loose change that rattled around in the dryer:

Typecast

Disruptive and disquieting, broad-based protests are incredibly powerful instruments of persuasion and change. Power’s reaction to protest is sometimes a damning tell, exposing loose rot propping up “institutions” we take for granted.  Like the women’s suffrage movement, Black Lives Matter is using protest to present evidence of broken systems and to demand change.

Frederick Douglass quote

There’s no easy fix, but there’s an opportunity and an obligation here to do better.

Royal KMM