J. is a local typewriter enthusiast who brings me problem typewriters from time to time. She doesn’t just admire her lovelies on a shelf, she works them hard, typing daily. Her Olympia SM3 below is beloved. Not only does it look truly scrumptious with that box-o-chocolates keyboard, it types like an Olympia—that is to say, like a mechanical dream.
This past fall, our family landed south of the Mason-Dixon line in the Old Dominion, the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia (hey, I think I can go to Herman’s this year!) Typewriter-wise, I brought my little portables with me and left the big standards in California. I will be back and forth between east and west for the time being.
It’s been a while – a helluva year. My daily WTF meter broke just six months into 2017 because of overuse. The constant churn of events exhausted the poor thing and several of the gear teeth wore down and just broke off. I am debating whether I should take it apart and fix it. Do I really even need one? In any case, I checked out of the internet and the typosphere for a while. Like Francis Weed, I have taken up woodworking as distraction and therapy.
End of an Era
Back in California, Moe from Mozo’s Antique Search and Rescue closed down her San Mateo location and sold her building.
I get a bit choked up about it , remembering the good old days of Moe and Roia and all the fun typewriters:
Before she left, Moe gave me this wonderful print which is currently hanging my bathroom in Virginia:
This is a picture of the Underwood exhibit at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) which was held in San Francisco. The exhibit featured a 14-ton functional Underwood 5 typewriter. ETCetera – Journal of the Early Typewriter Collectors’ Association had a good article in its Spring 2018 issue by Peter Weil about typewriters at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the PPIE.
In addition, the Shop at Flywheel Press closed its doors – I met so many beautiful typewriters there.
Like the passing of the elves from Middle Earth, it’s the end of an era.
The Olympia Robust has settled into her new gig at the Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia. She rotates into the Dachau exhibit in the role of camp typewriter. She was featured in the June 2017 issue of the Virginia Holocaust Museum Newsletter, De Malyene. The museum is a good place for the Robust right now.
Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in
After a year-long dry spell, I worked on three typewriters in the past week and found myself experiencing the pleasant, familiar sense of rightness and orderliness that typewriter cleaning brings me.
I was in Portland, OR last week doing family stuff. My sister showed up in town with a 1953 Remington Quiet-Riter that she had found in an antique shop in Columbia, TN. She wanted to get it typing and bring it to her neighborhood block party in Chicago this summer.
It was not typing – the typebars were gummed and rusted down. We got in trouble with my brother when he found us surreptitiously cleaning it on his kitchen floor, and we were banished to his garage workshop – which wasn’t a bad place for typewriter repair. It was stocked with solvents and a good radio tuned to KGON.
After a good internal cleaning and new ribbon, the Quiet-Riter was typing very nicely. The exterior is pocked with dots of rust, but it’s a happy typewriter on the inside.
I had to do some long-distance typewriter troubleshooting with my sister via text yesterday morning:
It turns out that her spools were not seated properly after she had fiddled with the ribbon – all fixed now.
I left Portland last week and headed to the SF Bay Area. I had burritos with another of my sisters in San Francisco and afterwards her daughter pulled out her non-functional typewriter. It had belonged to my niece’s grandfather.
The machine had been carefully stored (had the original case and dust cover), but the grease had congealed and stiffened and the Magic Margin, carriage, and typebars were not moving much. I took the typewriter home to San Mateo and cleaned the internal mechanics with mineral spirits.
Once it was clean, I enjoyed its crisp, precise typing. It was pretty clanky sounding – perhaps the lack of insulation in the ribbon cover had something to do with the noise. The forward-tilting lid is very appealing.
After finishing with the Administrator, I pulled out another typewriter, a 1957 Olympia SM3, from my front closet:
I had picked this up at Goodwill at the end of last summer when I was dropping off a huge load of old clothes and household items.
How could I resist?
Though there is corrosion on the case, the typewriter itself is pristine. I imagine that someone received this Olympia as a birthday present, used it a couple times, and tucked it away in its case where it sat for 61 years. In addition to the user manual, the original German-language factory inspection report was still in the case:
These two 1957 West German typewriters are a nice pair:
I am back in Virginia for the time being, enjoying the strange, wet, tropical summer and its attendant thunderstorms. The weather here is badass.
Here’s a pretty picture from Virginia to end my post. My son took it last summer in Richmond, VA near where the Olympia Robust currently resides.
The Shop at Flywheel Press has a beautiful wide carriage 1955 Olympia SM3 that has always fascinated me. A wonderful typewriter, it had extremely bad alignment issues, and I wondered: could I fix it? I had cleaned it previously but shied away from trying to adjust the alignment. On my last trip to The Shop, I noticed that its spacebar was intermittently unresponsive. I decided to bring the Olympia home and see if I could fix the alignment and the space bar.
Fortunately I had recently found Richard Polt’s “Tweaking Your Olympia SM” from the September 2011 issue of ETCetera, so I knew what to do about the space bar.
I flipped the machine on its back and using two pairs of needlenose pliers, “formed” the little “L” shaped piece, squeezing it to make a tighter angle. I tested. The spacebar was much more responsive.
So the next problem was the terrible alignment – as you can see, the upper and lowercase letters were misaligned and the lowercase descenders were faint:
I did some research first, and fortunately alignment fixes are well documented:
- Ted Munk’s Adjusting Vertical Typeface Alignment (Carriage-Shift Typewriters)
- Tony Mindling’s Olympia SM5 Adjustments
- Rob Bowker’s lowercase alignment fix on an Olympia SM4
I saw the four adjustments screws (two on either side) that Ted Munk mentioned, but the lowercase adjustment screws were buried deep within the machine. I would definitely need to remove the cover plates to get at the lowercase adjustment screws.
I read through Tony Mindling’s fix and Rob Bowker’s post, and thought that maybe I didn’t need to remove the typewriter from its shell. Adjustment screws under the carriage at either end were easily accessible:
I took off the end plates on my wide carriage Olympia so that I could nudge the rails further apart after loosening the “Rob Bowker screw”. In theory, increasing the distance between the rails will cause the carriage to sit lower – and that will allow the slugs to hit the platen at the correct angle and that will result in better printed text. Right?
This is where is all gets a little foggy for me. I can’t remember exactly what I did and didn’t do. I kept getting interrupted in the middle of this project and lost track of my changes. I know I loosened the “Rob Bowker screw” and nudged the carriage rails further apart. I *think* I loosened the lowercase adjustment plate and slid it backwards and forwards and tested various positions.
In any case, the upper/lowercase alignment was still way out of kilter and the descenders were still very faded.
I decided to peel off the cover plates to see if I could access the lowercase adjustment screws.
It wasn’t bad – the ribbon cover pops right off and after removing the front and back plates, the typewriter lifted out of the main shell.
I found the lowercase adjustment screws directly under the ribbon spools. Fortunately I was able to get a ¼” wrench in the side to loosened the lock nuts on either side.
And then I experimented with tightening and loosening the adjustment screws. I wasn’t getting anywhere. Printed text was still misaligned and had faded descenders.
I went back to the carriage rails. Hmm. I loosened the lowercase(?) slide plate screws on each side and moved the plates forward so that they looked like Tony Mindling’s pictures.
They started like this:
And they ended up like this:
I tested. Finally.
The descenders were finally nice and dark. Alignment of upper and lowercase letters was still screwy, but this time the lowercase letters were too high.
I went back to the lowercase adjustment screws under the ribbon spools on both sides and gradually brought the lowercase letters into alignment.
It was time to put the Olympia back in its shell. I don’t like to leave typewriters dismantled, as I worry that I may forget how to put things back together. I take detailed photos in the dismantling process, but still, I like to move quickly while it’s all fresh.
The rubber bushing between the typewriter and the shell were disintegrating. It was a matter of time before they went completely and caused problems. Here’s a detailed post on bushing replacement from Clickthing.
When I returned the Olympia to its shell, I peeled out the gooey remnants and slipped in new rubber washers.
All the plates back on, I did a little test typing.
What the #$@&%*! ??? What happened to my uppercase alignment???
I put the typewriter in shift-lock and tested typing – and it got stuck in shifted position. I couldn’t unlock shifting. I flipped the machine over and found the culprit. My brand new bushing on the front left was blocking the shift and shift lock levers:
I carefully sawed off the interfering rubber edge – the shift levers were free. I did some testing:
Not perfectly perfect, but so much better than it was before.
In conclusion: I have nicely aligned text that is uniformly dark. I am still not quite sure how I got to this point, but I never would have been able to do this without helpful typospherian blogs. If I have incorrectly identified adjustment areas, let me know.
As I am a child of the Pacific Northwest, Olympia typewriters always remind me of Olympia Beer, made with the naturally pure artesian brewing water of Tumwater, Washington.
Olympia Beer had a nice jingle back in the day that went something like this:
This is possibly one of the gentlest and sweetest beer commercials ever made. Why don’t they make beer commercials like this anymore? Bonus: it features Teri Garr:
I can’t resist sharing another beer commercial from my childhood – this one made by Olympia’s Northwest competitor, Rainier. It features the soundtrack of my soggy Oregonian upbringing: windshield wipers.