Carried by the Steel Rail

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.

Grandpa Ralph around 1962. He was also an amateur radio enthusiast.

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.

KMM greasy dust

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:

I may have a spare set screw for the platen

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

  1. know what you are doing or
  2. 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.

Super Chief + freight mashup because anything is possible with Lego

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.


Mono no aware. Arlington, 3/12/2022: a late snow on early cherry blossoms, together in a brief, beautiful moment.

Jammed paper bail

Royal KMM: Broken Things and Fixes

A local lady heard through the grapevine that I liked to tinker with old typewriters.  K. had purchased a Royal KMM at a yard sale and was hoping to get it typing.  I was glad to take on the project since it would be a distraction from my Twitter horror scrolling and my hand-wringing over the broken state of the world. She brought it over a couple weekends ago, and here it is on my porch on arrival:

Royal KMM

1948 Royal KMM, serial number KMM-3577225

It was a rough, broken thing: twisted, rusty, dirty, and frozen.  Everything on the left side of the machine was bent and compressed: carriage return, paper bail, spool cup, line spacing mechanism.

Jammed paper bail

Paper bail jammed in there

It was so dirty. Just my type.

Royal KMM needs cleaning

I told K. that I would do my best, but the typewriter was severely traumatized.  Privately I thought to myself, these things are built like tanks, and it should be OK.  KMMs are so solid.  I think David McCullough is still typing books on his KMM.  We had one growing up, and my mom typed the family cookbook on our KMM:


Midcentury recipes are a window into a mysterious time.

Some people wouldn’t touch a typewriter like this: too broken, too rusty, too messed up.  To them, it’s a doorstop, a boat anchor, a parts machine. Me, I like them. I feel a moral obligation to fix these things.

After K. left, I wiped everything down with a dilute bleach solution (this is a pandemic after all). I took off the ribbon cover (nice explanatory video from Duane at Phoenix Typewriter). I then brought it out back and blew out the leaves and fur and greasy chunks with my air compressor.

I pried the paper bail out of the platen and straightened it using my patented Lady Gorilla™ maneuver.  Carefully I straightened the carriage return arm, the crushed ribbon spool cup, and the line spacing mechanism.  Once I got the carriage return lever clearing the ribbon spools, I set about cleaning the segment with mineral spirits.  Things began to loosen up and the KMM began to exhibit its legendary sprightliness.  The type guide had rusty burrs that caught the type so I did a little sanding.

Sanding type guide

The Magic Margins were not behaving themselves.  They are sensitive to dirt and congealed grease, so I carefully cleaned the Magic Margin mechanism.  The left margin improved with cleaning but the right was sliding all over the place and not catching.  On examination, I found the margin stop’s ears bent and it was failing to engage in the teeth of the margin rack.

bent margin stop

Bent margin stop


All better.  Now I could set margins and they would hold.  Now is the time for my annual rant about Magic Margins:  they are not intuitive, notoriously finicky, and I don’t like them.

I began to address the last few bothersome issues.  The typewriter was missing screws here and there, and things were a bit loose.

Missing platen set screw

Missing platen set screw

Wobbly ribbon cover

Wobbly ribbon cover

I know just the place to get the proper machine screws:

Parts Royal 10

Parts Royal 10

Thank you, Old Friend.  You have given life to three other Royal 10s and now you help this KMM.

The shift was a bit low, so I made some adjustments (again, Duane from Phoenix Typewriter has a good video).

KMM shift misaligned

Good enough:

KMM shifted characters aligned

After a scrub down, I touched up the paint with some matte chalk paint I had on hand from a craft project and covered my repairs with some thick matte polyurethane for durability, brush stippling for texture.  Not perfect, but looks a lot better.


The last item that was bothering me was the faded keyboard legend. I am not a touch typist, and I was having problems testing since I need to know which keys I am striking.

faded key legend KMM

Richard Polt has a Royal key legend .pdf on his website which I could print out, but I wanted weathered, vintage replacements, and I had just the thing.  About a year ago, a kind lady at Herman’s gave me a box of Royal keys with nice, clear legends on them.

The tricky part is that I do not own key ring removal and replacement tools which easily remove and replace the key rings.  I am thinking about trading one of the kids for a set of those tools.

I used a pair of needle nose pliers to unbend each of the three key ring tabs that grasp the key top.  Then I carefully held the stem with pliers from the bottom while gently, gently twisted off the ring with pliers from the top.

One down and a bunch more to go.

I was perking along, happily replacing key tops when I managed to twist the letter “W” key top all the way off.  I was horrified, but grew philosophical.  I knew that I could get good results re-attaching the key top with J-B Weld epoxy and a little platform fashioned out of scrap metal.

JB Weld used to re-attach keytop

Time to put this KMM through its paces. Let’s fire up this old gal.

Blug. That new ribbon I ordered is very gloopy, and it looks like I need to clean the type a bit more.

Working on this banged up KMM gave me ample time to think my thoughts and ponder current and past events.  Here’s the loose change that rattled around in the dryer:


Disruptive and disquieting, broad-based protests are incredibly powerful instruments of persuasion and change. Power’s reaction to protest is sometimes a damning tell, exposing loose rot propping up “institutions” we take for granted.  Like the women’s suffrage movement, Black Lives Matter is using protest to present evidence of broken systems and to demand change.

Frederick Douglass quote

There’s no easy fix, but there’s an opportunity and an obligation here to do better.

Royal KMM

A Royal Visitor

I temporarily fostered a Royal KMM from Moe’s shop – it cleaned up nicely. I blew out the insides, doused the internal mechanics with mineral spirits and repeated the blowout.  I then lubricated the sticky rails and the tab system with a little PB B’laster and scrubbed the outside with Scrubbing Bubbles.  Lastly, I threw a new ribbon in her.

What a charmer!  No wonder David McCullough loves his KMM so much.

Her gumminess banished, the KMM is as giddy and spry as a new colt that’s found its legs.


The only problem is that the line lock fails to engage at the end of the line.  The space bar locks up nicely, but the typebars continue to strike at the end of the line.


I think the line lock issue is somewhere in here. I cleaned and lubricated around the Line Lock Lever and Center Stop (see arrow), but that did not seem to fix the problem. I didn’t have time to skin the machine since I needed to get the typewriter back to Moe’s shop so she can try to sell it.  If it sits longer, I’ll bring it home again and remove the cover plates, so I can get a better look at what’s going on inside.

And oh yes, and there’s that Royal left margin issue I keep running into – so quirky.


The erratic left margin seems to have worked itself out with lots of typing, so I think there’s a disuse/gumminess factor involved.  Almost every Royal I’ve worked on seems to have an erratic left margin issue, at least initially.

Despite my earlier reservations, the Royal KMM and my Remington KMC got along great. They hit it off immediately.  Well, they have a lot in common: both are heavier than hell, both have charcoal crinkle paint, both are superb mechanical typewriters. They have almost identical footprints though the Remington is slightly taller.  The Royal is four pounds heavier than the Remington. I can’t say which is the better typewriter because I am loyal to my Remington KMC which is such a solid, good old-fashioned thumper.

Make sure you read Richard Polt’s post on a KMC vs. KMM showdown. It’s entertaining and chock-full of informed observations.

Mother and Child Reunion

I brought my little 1939 Royal Aristocrat out to meet the big KMM.

motherChild01 motherChild02

After the photo shoot, I took the KMM back to Moe’s shop.  I made sure to send the KMM off with care and feeding instructions.


The typewriter drew immediate interest. I think I almost talked a guy into buying it when I dropped it off. I’m a pretty smooth talker.  It’s amazing what a little cleaning and a new ribbon will do for a typewriter’s self-esteem.

This KMM would be a good typewriter for a serious writer. Solid but fun for the fingers and gentle on the hands. I typed and typed several pages of nonsense (hunt-n-peck) as I worked out the erratic left margin issue – and my hands didn’t tire at all. I could see a serious person sitting down at her writing desk and generating 5-10 pages of good writing each day on this machine.

Several internet sources say that Joan Didion used/uses a Royal KMM.  There is this photo of Joan Didion with what appears to be a KMG – but perhaps it is a pale KMM. She did use a Royal KMsomething, so I leave you with a favorite quote:


Another Foster Royal

I have been a bit under the weather since the holidays – some kind of feverish fluey-kablooey, but I stirred myself when a comment came in from my last blog post.  The commenter told me that someone had put Baby Blue on eBay. Not only that, Baby Blue sold!


As soon as I was able to pull myself out of bed, I headed over to Moe’s shop to get the whole story. After her clean up, Moe had sold Baby Blue almost immediately for a good price to a friendly fellow dealer, and he had promptly listed and sold the typewriter on eBay. Baby Blue is pretty sweet, and I am glad that my efforts fed the chain. I hope her new owner will love and cherish Baby Blue in the way she deserves.

Golden Gone Girl

Sadly, the golden Olympia Monica was gone by the time I got back to Moe’s shop.  I had wanted to take detailed photos of her for the Typewriter Database.  I fully expected to find the Monica curled up on Moe’s couch in a zipped jumpsuit and smoking a Virginia Slims, but no. A regular shopper at Moe’s had scooped her up almost immediately. This buyer is apparently interested in All Things Orange, and he had found the Monica entrancing.  Moe and I both agreed that the Monica was not orange and not yellow but a color Moe dubbed “Marigold”.

She was formidable in her golden glamour. I want to install her in a beach house in Malibu.

Formidable in her golden glamour, the Monica should be installed in a beach house in Malibu.

While I was at Moe’s shop I asked her if I could clean up her Royal KMM that has been wasting away in the shop since before Thanksgiving. I love fostering typewriters because I get to poke around in something new without threat of excessive typewriter accumulation at home.

The KMM is very dirty with a sluggish carriage and dry ribbon.


When typing, there is considerable letter piling because of the sluggish carriage.


But there is so much potential under all the gummy dust. It’s just like David McCullough’s typewriter! I cherish the greenish-blue keys.

I admit that I was nervous about bringing the Royal KMM home because I have a Remington KMC in the house. Who can forget Richard Polt’s KMC vs KMM shoot-out of 2013? By bringing the KMM home, there was marked potential for a catfight.

I slipped the Royal KMM in the door as quietly as possible, but the Remington KMC saw us together. Oh well, here we go.

Suspicious minds: the Remington KMC pretends to nonchalantly leaf through a zine while she chekcs out the competition

Suspicious minds: the Remington KMC pretends to nonchalantly leaf through a zine while she checks out the competition

First off, I weighed the KMM for Magic Margin’s KMM weight survey.

1940 Royal KMM
Serial number KMM-2590373
weight: 36.5lbs

Woofie! So heavy.  The Remington KMC is a relatively petite 32.5 lbs.

This KMM is very dusty and feels pretty gummy.  My plan is to blow out the insides, clean up the internal mechanics with mineral spirits, repeat the blowout, lubricate the rails, scrub the outside with Scrubbing Bubbles, and throw a new ribbon in her before sending her back to Moe’s shop. With a little pampering, the KMM is going to be swell.