A local gentleman contacted me recently via email about a Royal KMM. Jonathan had inherited his grandfather’s KMM and hoped to get it running.
He described it as “a bit sluggish and the space bar does not advance the platen. The front bar under the space bar is also broken.”
OK, good. The special Royal spools are there.
Hmmmmm. These things are built like tanks, so that was a hard fall.
Inspecting the emailed photos, I said sure, I’d take a look at it. Inwardly, I was a little concerned. It had obviously taken a hard hit what with that cracked frame. The nonfunctional space bar seemed ominous. I worried that there was damage to the escapement or bent rails or something else I couldn’t fix.
That said, I was excited about the project. Family and work and my poor scattered brain have conspired against me spending much time at my garage workbench, but here was a mission with a clear goal: improve the function of this KMM.
Jonathan delivered the KMM to my garage—such a pleasant person. He gave me a little backstory on the typewriter which had been his Grandfather Ralph’s office machine when he worked as freight agent for the D&H Railroad:
Grandpa started with the Delaware & Hudson Railroad as a freight agent in Albany, NY sometime in the early 1930s. D&H then transferred him to Fork, MD in 1948 and then to Winston Salem, NC in 1962. Given the serial number placed it around 1940 he probably acquired the typewriter in Albany and then it moved with him to Fork and Winston Salem. Dad was unsure during which move it suffered the fall that cracked the front. Grandpa retired from Delaware & Hudson in 1973 and he passed away in 1996 so the typewriter has probably been silent since then.
By serial number, the KMM dates to 1942 per Typewriter Database:
On arrival, the carriage was in center position and not going much of anywhere. After checking the margins and wiping the rails and segment with a little mineral spirits, I pulled the carriage and hit a key. The KMM left the station. I was able to get the escapement to trip properly and step forward. A great weight lifted from me. This old KMM *might* be a-OK.
Still pulling gently on the left, the carriage passed on the rails in a gummy crawl, as if moving through peanut butter. Furry dust and chunks of feathery debris coated the interior—the typewriter perhaps a victim of WD-40 or overly generous oiling.
I sent Jonathan on his way and turned my attention to the KMM. I could get the carriage to move when I typed a sticky letter or two if I pulled firmly to the left. The situation looked promising.
I felt a deep sense of responsibility wash over me – this is a precious family heirloom. I don’t usually engage in this form of High Stakes Typewriter Repair. I generally only work on Junkers that people happily give to me for free, but here was something special—nonfunctional but special nonetheless. I swore to myself that I would dutifully follow the Typocratic Oath:
I planned to do a good cleaning and then take in the lay of the land. First up: I needed to take that top lid off to see things properly.
I’d like to signal boost Duane Jensen’s Phoenix Typewriter YouTube channel. He has a ton of KMM/KMG/KMH Royal standard videos on his channel. I have used his channel as a resource countless times for a variety of typewriters.
Here’s a good one for people preparing to clean a KMM: “Royal KMM Manual Typewriter Lid Cover Front Panel Removal for Cleaning Access Side Panel too”.
Now, I can get in there. Dab, dab, dab, cleany, cleany, cleany, blow out. I dabbed in mineral spirits and a little bit of lacquer thinner in the mechanical guts and used my air compressor to blow out the dusty chunks.
The typewriter had been worked on before. I noticed modern felt applied under the top plates and several screws missing or damaged:
The typewriter was so much happier after a preliminary cleaning, but I still felt some resistance in the extreme outer margins – perhaps mechanical binding?
So I went to the Facebook Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group to research KMM carriage binding. I don’t use much social media because of Reasons, but I enjoy occasionally lurking in the FB Typewriter Maintenance Group.
I am surprised by the number of posts that start “I want to take the carriage off my XYZ ” or “how do you get the carriage back on an XYZ?” My recommendation: don’t take the carriage off unless you
- know what you are doing or
- want a parts machine.
That’s enough Facebook for me today. There are a few typewriters that have easy-off carriages, but the vast majority don’t have them. On rare occasions, I will dismantle a parts machine in the name of science, but I say to you: don’t let your fine eBay typewriter score turn into Parts in a Box.
A couple years ago, my niece found this battered Royal P with a detached carriage on the curb in New York City. I don’t think the carriage just fell off. I have to figure out how to get it back on. It’s in my queue, waiting patiently while I think of a work-around for the missing bearings and pinions. Ball bearings I can find. Those star-shaped ball pinions though…
Many times, a careful cleaning of a nonfunctional typewriter will be all that you need. Don’t overthink it. You’d be surprised how disabling clumped dust, rust, and congealed oil can be.
My father-in-law has a saying:
This applies to typewriter carriage removal as well as the discussion of deep, dark family secrets.
OK. Back to cleaning. Things were progressing. The carriage was moving somewhat more smoothly on its rails, but I knew that a certain point, I’d have to remove the platen and paper pan and clean underneath. Thank you again to Duane for this video:
I am sure glad I removed the platen. Despite my initial flush with solvents and compressed air, it was pretty bad under there. Look at that nest of greasy dust.
Flush, dab, dab, dab, flush, cleany, cleany, cleany, blow out. The typewriter moved much, much more smoothly.
I reinserted the platen and went to town typing with a new ribbon. I would have to make some adjustments to the shift motion since the uppercase and lowercase were misaligned:
and the line lock did not engage at the end of each line and letters piled up there:
Underneath, the rubber spacers near the feet were a melted mass of tarry badness that obstructed the line lock mechanism. Once again, Duane at Phoenix Typewriter has a very good video detailing the fix for this. I bought some rubber washers and pieces of rubber in the plumbing department at the hardware store and fabricated ~1″ x ~1″ layered rubber spacers about 3/8″+ thick for each corner.
These old spacers had seen better days, and the ones on the right had become a obstructive problem for the line lock mechanism.
And here’s a new layered rubber spacer in place by a back foot:
Perfect. New spacers above each foot fixed the line lock problem on the right, and my shifted alignment was better too. Huh!
The cracked frame obstructed the motion of the spacebar, so I repaired the front frame with a little KwikWeld epoxy that sets in six minutes. That wasn’t strong enough because the repair didn’t hold when I started moving the 40 lb KMM around.
I brought out the big guns—a stronger epoxy with a longer set and cure time. I like that 5020 PSI formula.
I also reinforced the repair with a discreet metal plate underneath and clamped it for 48 hours and so far, so good. It’s holding.
I even got the cursed Magic Margins to work after a thorough cleaning.
Among the last few items on my to-do list was to continue researching why the carriage felt somewhat tight at the extreme outer rails. Perhaps still a little gummy? I cleaned the heck out of it, but there may be a spot I missed. And there are so many reasons for a carriage binding beyond dirt and grime and rust:
The ball bearing pinions looked to be in the correct position. I am thinking that a rail or a rod is not straight and true. The machine had taken a hard fall. I could adjust the carriage clamps…
But this is where I stop with the carriage. I have a perfectly functional KMM with margins set at 10 and 85. No need to get crazy and make adjustments that may have unintended consequences.
I cleaned the crinkle/wrinkle paint of the shell with a little warm soapy water and Simple Green after testing in a discreet area (old paint can be surprisingly fragile). The Simple Green removed the thick gray grime nicely and exposed the soft velvety surface of the black wrinkle paint. That’s a beauty.
The bell was rather hit or miss despite cleaning the bell mechanism behind the tab tower shroud carefully. This little silver finger (I think it’s called the “bell trip”) that hangs down from the right Magic Margin mechanism was still slightly gummy and should swing freely.
Dab, dab, dab, cleany, cleany, cleany, lube. Ah yes, now I hear the voice of the bell as the carriage approaches the right margin. It’s like the long whistle and clanging of a train as it nears its terminus.
To me, a functional bell is close to mission-critical. I am not a touch typist, so I never know how close I am to the right margin. But beyond the necessary alert it provides me, the bell is part of the the full sensory experience of typing: the magic of my typed thoughts slowly revealing themselves on the page, the smell of a fresh ribbon, the taste of coffee, the feel of a sprightly Royal leaping to my fingers, the thump-thump-thump of my heavy hands — and the sweet voice of the bell. That sound enhances the whole typing experience—and stirs memory.
Seriously though, trains and typewriters carry me to a place of wistful contemplation. They bring to mind things and experiences and people gone now many years. Long trips on the Coast Starlight. Homemade recipe books carefully typed. Diner cars and high school term papers. Grandfather. Grandmother. Father. Mother. I walk abandoned train tracks. I re-read old typed letters.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sensitive to the pathos of things. Changes and losses have made me aware of the transience of everything we experience on this journey. The fleeting, uncertain nature of life makes every moment more dear. I hear that feeling deep and sweet in Young Arlo’s version of the “City of New Orleans”. It brings a lump to my throat every single time.