SmithBro in a Jam

An L.C. Smith & Bros. No. 5 stayed at my place for a few days for some help.  This SmithBro has been indulging in some hard living recently at Moe’s shop and needed an intervention.

At Moe’s, the carriage got jammed (inexplicably) way over to the right. I knew that if I left it that way, the typewriter might lose its balance and fall off a chair. I brought the SmithBro home to sober him up with black coffee and figure out what the heck was going on:


Your tie’s undone, Mister.



“Lady, I think I’m gonna be sick…”

I didn’t know where to start. I just could not get that carriage to move. For about an hour, I poked and prodded. I coaxed and cleaned. Nothing. I went to the internet.  Fortunately, Knife141 had a similar problem. That guy. He. Has. Seen. Much.

Like Knife141’s typewriter, the problem seemed to come from the tab rack. I removed the two tab stops, wiggled the tab rack in back, pressed the tab bar in front and was finally able to move the carriage.


I am not quite sure what I did, but after that, the carriage moved freely – squeakily and crustily because of a very dirty carriage track – but freely. The tab mechanism under the tab rack was a little higher on one side than the other. It was possibly bent. Strategically-applied PB B’laster de-gummed the moving parts of the tab mechanism and the tabbing began to function.

How old is this thing?  I found the serial number stamped inside the machine behind the tab bar:  192102-5


This is a 1912 typewriter per Typewriter Database.

This machine was pretty dirty.  After an initial blow out out, I doused everything in mineral spirits.  I’m starting to warm up to mineral spirits. I love denatured alcohol for cleaning, but it is so dangerous around painted surfaces. A stray drop of denatured alcohol will eat into paint quickly.  Mineral spirits are a little more forgiving around paint.

The typewriter was typing great, even without a ribbon, but the platen was filthy:


The platen on the old L.C. Smith standards pops out very easily.  You loosen a couple screws on each end of the platen and slide the retainer back:


I popped the platen out and cleaned it with Soft Scrub:


It is a 104 year old platen and it’s hard as a rock.  Thwack thwack thwack – even with three sheets of paper.

It started me thinking: how much of the typing experience on an old typewriter has to do with the condition of the platen?  I recently had a 100+ year old Underwood 5 stay with me, and it was a muted and delightful typing experience. It seemed to have a new-ish, soft-ish platen.  The other 100 year old typewriters that I have experienced (Royal 10, LC Smith 8, Fox 24, Oliver 9,  Century 10) have had rock-hard platens and been thwack-thwack-thwack experiences. They were springy and responsive typewriters, but very noisy.

Wow! That’s a handsome decal – it’s in such good shape:


Magritte couldn’t have designed a better decal. Is that disembodied hoof trying to type – or destroy the typewriter? What does it all mean? Horsie the Destroyer.

The back space wasn’t working, so I investigated underneath the machine.


Clevis!!! Er – link spring. Old-timey clevis!!  This is the technology that has been be-deviling me as I work on the 1960s SCM machines at The Shop at Flywheel Press. Snapped clevises (link springs) have be-deviled people for the past 100+ years.

Back space linkage is re-attached and all is well:


I scrubbed the grimy typebars with Scotch Brite and got the gumminess to recede with an application of mineral spirits.  A couple letters were still not freely striking.  As it turns out, their key levers were bent going into the comb that is the key lever guide. I had to straighten them out with pliers so they could move freely.

Baby needs a new pair of shoes

The feet were completely gone – just the remnants of old rubber in the hole.  I made new feet out of cork:


and colored them with Sharpie and India ink:


They look really good, but I want to get some rubber test tube stoppers as I think they will be more durable in the long run.

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This SmithBro is so articulate! “QWERTYUIOP¼,” he said. So charming and well-spoken. And he is quite a handsome fellow now that’s he has showered and brushed his teeth.  I should fix him up with my sister.