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.

 

 

Difficult History: Olympia Robust

I have been wrassling this week with an Olivetti Praxis 48 that I have fixed once already. I bought it off of Craigslist last year, fixed it and gave it to the Arduino Kid (son of Roia who works at Mozo’s shop down the street)

Roia and Burger

Roia and Dog. This dog has one eye that pops like Marty Feldman’s.

I brought the Praxis home last week with its jammed carriage:

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The Chewbacca mug mistook the Praxis for the Millennium Falcon and came over to see if he could recalibrate the hyperdrive motivator.

I removed some loose hinge pieces that were dangling inside, plugged it in and it worked.  For a couple minutes.  Then it was jammed again.

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And that led to:

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So I was sweating and swearing at this technological marvel when I got a phone call from Moe at Mozo’s.  She got some new typewriters including a really cool Olympia that I just had to check out.  So I walked over to the shop.

Lord.

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In pride of place next to the Tonka Winnebago

On the floor, Moe?  Really? With case open for stepping on?

And of course, it was One of Those.

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Moe didn’t know.  I pulled her over and showed her the SS key.

1943 Olympia Robust
serial number 470745

The typewriter is functional.  The carriage feels a little loose and the typed imprint on the right side is a little light, but it’s typing.

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The case is wooden, a faded blackish-green with a German instruction sheet pasted within it.

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The typewriter has a QWERTY keyboard and German characters.  My guess is that this was a US soldier’s war booty and that when he returned from overseas, he had the Y and Z placement switched.

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The “front panel slide” (“schieber im Frontblech”) is mysterious.  I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to do though it does obscure what has been typed. Would the slider have protected the delicate mechanics out in the field?

slider

A lot of people have mixed feelings about these SS rune WWII typewriters. There have been lively discussions in typewriter forums about the ethics of owning an SS rune typewriter.  I wish I could say something deep and meaningful about artifacts of difficult history, but I am coming up short.

I wish my father were still alive; I’d love to get his take on this typewriter.  Born in 1918 at the end of the first world war, he was a US Army serviceman during the second world war. He was an expert typist and bookkeeper, skills that did not go unnoticed by his superiors, and he diligently typed and kept the books through the war.  I imagine he would have studied this Olympia Robust with great interest.  It is the machine of his German SS counterpart, possibly a wartime clerk like himself, who used it to type up requisition forms for canned peaches – or status reports from death camps. We don’t know.

My father had a taste for the absurd and he framed his WWII service portrait in a WWI German commemorative frame he somehow came across.  It says around the frame: “Zur Erinnerung an die grosse Zeit – 1914-1915” (Memento of an Important Time, 1914-1915)

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I feel my father would have regarded this typewriter as a reminder of how war is absurd and monstrous – and full of the workaday. It’s really hard to orchestrate organized, large-scale evil-doing without clerks and paper pushers. You need a good typewriter too.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as “the good guys” though we are not as morally superior as we’d like to think. US history has some very dark chapters, and that difficult history should make us a bit uncomfortable. That discomfort should prod us toward a better future.

This Olympia Robust typewriter is a piece of difficult history, an object from a dangerous time and place. I really wouldn’t want the Robust to go to someone who acquires it as a fetish – an object of dark magical power. I’m hoping that it will find a home with someone who appreciates the significance of its history in a matter-of-fact way and who will preserve it and share it as a reminder of a terrible time in the world. Cue Santayana: those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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The Arduino Kid and the Ivrea Connection

Long story short: Roia works at Moe’s antique shop where I find a lot of typewriterly inspiration.  Roia is a super nice person and she’s got a couple kids. I recently fixed her daughter’s Royal Quiet De Luxe.

Anyhoo, Roia’s 17 year-old son is into Arduino electronics and 3D printing. He has a blog called Progress by Chance where he documents his projects.

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photo courtesy of Progress by Chance

Roia mentioned that her son had happened upon my typewriter blog and fell in love with my Olivetti Praxis 48 (and really, who wouldn’t?). I told Roia that in the interests of encouraging the next generation of typospherians, I would happily give the Praxis 48 to her son.

keyboard2

Giving Roia’s Arduino-loving kid an Olivetti seemed like karmic destiny. Per the Wikipedia entry on Arduino electronics:

Arduino started in 2005 as a project for students at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Ivrea, Italy… The name “Arduino” comes from a bar in Ivrea, where some of the founders of the project used to meet. The bar, in turn, has been named after Arduin of Ivrea, who was the margrave of Ivrea and king of Italy from 1002 to 1014.

Yes, that Ivrea, Italy.

The Praxis has a couple issues that might be fun for Roia’s son to tackle.  One is that the plastic on/off switch is broken in two.  Perhaps he could 3D print a new one?

In addition, the Olivetti’s carriage return clutch still needs work – I have to degrease it each time I use the typewriter or line spacing doesn’t work. I had ordered a thin sheet of cork and was planning to resurface the clutch, but I may end up passing that project along to Roia’s son.

wheel

Hail and Farewell, Praxis

I feel that I just got to know this Olivetti, and now it leaves me. This is good though.  I know that the Praxis will go to a home when it will be loved and appreciated and perhaps inspire the next generation’s Christopher Sholes.

praxisMozos2

I sent the Praxis off to the Arduino Kid with care and feeding instructions and a can of denatured alcohol for the clutch.

Roia had another typewriter she was wondering if I could look at.  It belonged to her friend Geoff and wasn’t working too well.

praxisMozos

Oh. My.

Another native of Ivrea.

Follow the Stars, Venus and Mars

It was time to put the Olivetti Praxis 48 back together, so I returned the carriage to its shell, inserted the platen and did some testing.  Everything seemed functional except that the platen did not move to the next line on carriage return. Hmmm.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Perhaps the carriage return cord needed more tension? I shortened the carriage return cord to produce a bit more *zing*. That didn’t work. In a fit of pique, I ended up dousing everything in PB B’laster.

Doing things in a fit of pique is never a good idea. My carriage stopped returning.

The cork clutch mechanism for carriage return was so slippery from excess PB B’laster that it wasn’t gripping and the carriage was not returning. The carriage return clutch is a cork-faced disk that comes in contact with a spinning metal plate.  It was so oily, it couldn’t grab and my carriage couldn’t return. I could see the oil glistening, mocking me from the cork clutch.

I peeled off the carriage shell and was back at Square -1. Look at that greasy cork disc. I decided to take the return wheel off and clean the cork clutch.

wheel

The Reverend Mother always says, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” Yeah, and then the spring flies out.

sprung

The spring inside the carriage return wheel popped out as I was removing the wheel from the typewriter.  It scared the heck out of me. I have had experience with Slinky Monsters before, but gosh, darn it.

After some careful swearing, I cleaned the metal carriage return plate and cork clutch with denatured alcohol and scrubbed it dry. It was squeaky clean.

I wound up the spring and secured it in its little case and reattached it to the machine.

spring

Relief: the carriage was once again returning after the cleaning. However, the platen still didn’t space to the next line on return.

I flushed all the greasy metal parts of the return wheel mechanism and clutch with denatured alcohol, and suddenly – it was spacing properly on return. Or pretty much.  I have some more degreasing to do, but it’s finally line spacing. I put the shell back on and did some typing for funzies:

Surprise, surprise: the ¼ and ½ key did not have ¼ and ½  slugs.  Instead, hitting the ½ key and shift ¼ key gave me this:

symbols

Oh, funny! Oh, you Space Age Olivetti and your sex symbols. You are a delight!

I feel some heavy Space Age nostalgia when I look at my Olivetti Praxis 48. I was a little kid at the time of the the first moon landing, and I remember a retro future that still hums to me with wondrous possibility. The Praxis 48 hums: I am the future.

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The Praxis 48 is the sort of typewriter you’d want to typecast from when you retire to your living module on a long-haul nuclear-powered interplanetary spaceship during the 36 lonely months en route to Saturn.

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While I am ruminating on the future that is and was and ever shall be, my practical Praxis types out her thoughts on her future:

type1A

 

 

 

Many Happy Returns: Olivetti Praxis 48

Last weekend I brought home a nonfunctional Olivetti Praxis 48. I was able to make some progress on the machine, but I needed to get the carriage shell off to find out more about this mysterious piece of cord that was bunched up under the carriage:

cord

This was the point where I had left off with the carriage housing still attached:

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Removing the Carriage Housing from My Olivetti Praxis 48

This past week, I worked on getting the shell off the Praxis carriage. To get the housing off, I first popped the small covers on each side of the platen off with the aid of a large screwdriver as lever.

wheel

First the right side…

cover

…then the left side.

I popped out the platen by raising the retaining bars on each side.

platen

I lifted out the metal paper pan. The blender watches with interest from the sidelines:

paperPan2

paperPan

I removed a underside screw on either end of the carriage housing:

screw2

and popped the main housing off:

parts

Ah-ha.  The housing finally off, I saw what my problem was. The Praxis has two cords: a draw string attached to a mainspring and a carriage return string attached to a return wheel apparatus.  The carriage return cord was bunching up and not winding onto its wheel because the carriage return wheel was stiff with gunk.

wheel2

Return wheel on right side of machine

Once I saw what was happening under the carriage housing, I was able to straighten things out. I applied degreaser to the carriage return wheel and gently moved it with my hands until it felt looser. I depressed the carriage release button and moved the carriage back and forth until the carriage return cord began to wind smoothly onto the wheel.

I used Lectra-Motive to loosen things up. I read (after the fact) that while Lectra-Motive is a wonderful electric parts cleaner, it will eat plastic.  I ran out to the garage in a panic and wiped all the internal plastic pieces down carefully. There is a surprising amount of plastic inside the machine guts of the Praxis.  No harm done, but I will be more careful next time.

lectra motve

I was struck by how similar the electric 196X Olivetti’s problems were to the problems faced by my Foster Typewriter, the 1938 Royal KHM.  Disuse and congealed gunk are the bane of typewriters no matter the vintage. The KHM came to me with a stuck carriage.  Its draw string was tangled up under the carriage, and the mainspring was frozen with congealed grease. Once the draw cord was straightened out and the mainspring coaxed back into springy life with PB B’laster, the KHM’s problems receded.

The Praxis had a very similar story: a tangled cord and a stuck carriage.  Once the carriage return was loosened and winding properly, the return cord behaved itself. I plugged in the machine and tested it. Wonderful. All the keys were responsive, the carriage was advancing, and the carriage returned beautifully.

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Malfunctioning Tabulator Brake on My Olivetti Praxis 48

The major remaining problem was tab operation. When I hit the tab bar, the machine locked up and the carriage froze.

To release the carriage, I wiggled the plastic piece in the back and the machine resumed happy function.

wiggling this platic part frees the carriage

Wiggling the plastic tab brake drum freed the carriage.

I identified the round plastic piece as the tabulator brake drum. Inside the drum is a set of plastic gears.

brakeDrum

The tab brake slows the carriage down during tabbing so that the machine doesn’t slam into tab stops.

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When the tab bar on the keyboard is depressed, the top pinion gear engages with the rack:

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Once the tab stop is reached, the pinion should pop up free of the rack.

My tab brake was engaging but the gears inside the drum were not turning and the top pinion wasn’t popping up once it hit the stop.

My feeling was that I had a dirt and gunk problem in the tab mechanism. I carefully applied PB B’laster to the metal tab brake parts and worked them with my hands.  The gears were initially stiff, but loosened enough so the the brake gears turned and the tab mechanism moved freely. The tab mechanism finally worked as it should, braking gently with tabbing but not locking up.

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I made good progress on the Praxis this past weekend.  Now it is time to put the shell back on the machine.  But first, lunch.

It was a pleasant afternoon so the Praxis had lunch outside with friends:

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Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe AKA Neked Lunch after Manet. You’re welcome, Art History Majors.

Stay tuned for the electrifying conclusion of the Olivetti Praxis 48 story.