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.