Look at this 1956 Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab, serial number AA2633478. He’s so handsome! Underwood flexes for us and displays the bulging muscles of America’s postwar abundance. Gold accents! He’s living large – the embodiment of industrial designer Raymond Loewy‘s quip: “The loveliest curve I know is the sales curve.”
Just a hunk, a hunk of burning love—a muscle-bound mash-up of Steve Reeves, Elvis, and a ’56 Ford Thunderbird. This is his good side in side serratus and biceps pose:
However. He’s got some issues—commitment issues. Specifically, he can’t commit to a single place on the carriage rail. He’s a slippery fellow, unable to settle down.
I picked up this bad boy at Herman’s last jamboree (you meet all sorts) and brought him home. I was looking for a long-term relationship, but this Underwood just can’t stay in one place.
This Underwood portable is a handsome bad boyfriend: easy on the eyes, but difficult in all sorts of aggravating ways. He’s full of secrets, requiring special tools and super-human patience and abilities to unlock him. I was spending too much time trying to make him behave, but I think I’m over him.
When I first brought him home, I took the Underwood out to workshop and stripped him down. He was very dirty—which I find provocative in a typewriter. I thought that his sliding carriage issues were related to a dirty/gummy escapement which I’ve seen before, so I patiently cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. No dice.
It would help if I could see something. Even with all the body panels off, I could not see the escapement. Everything was hidden behind an interior frame. I longed for a Royal or Smith-Corona portable set-up where everything hangs out:
I thought, well, let’s pop out the platen and see if I can see anything underneath the platen.
Oh GOOD GRIEF. The platen screw needs a 4-spline Bristol wrench – which I don’t have:
Someone else might decide at this point to remove the carriage, but there’s no flippin’ way I am taking off that carriage. I defer to The Wisdom of Blender.
Also from the Teachings of Blender:
Well, unfortunately I can’t find a service manual for a 1950s Underwood portable. The old Underwood standards I have worked on have been true joy. They had well-documented guides, accessible innards, wide open spaces. Would that all typewriters were like old Underwood standards. Would that Underwood had made their portables as easy to work on as their standards.
Lurking in the Facebook Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group I have come to find that I am not alone in thinking this. People who tinker with typewriters dislike working on Underwood portables of this era.
Still, I am so curious. I want to look deep into Underwood’s heart and see if I can understand him any better. Is it me, or is it him?
Which brings me to another project I have been working on with my husband: replacing about 50 feet of sump drainage pipe that had silted up. The sump drain pipe wasn’t flowing as it should, and we had problems snaking it. What could the obstruction be? Tree roots, pipe collapse, small garden gnome? We pulled the old pipe out and discovered that it had silted up – the old pipe was perforated and had no protective sock. Fortunately my husband and I got the new pipe in before the Deluge of the Century – three to four inches fell in just an hour.
Now that the pipe has been replaced, it is my job to go out and re-seat the sod.
It is slow, hot work in the heat of the Virginia summer – the red Virginia clay is like cement:
I am hating this project and think wistfully of the cool darkness of the garage where my queue of typewriters sit. The only thing keeping me sane while I dig in the clay is my “70s Fun” playlist. Scientists say that listening to music of your youth activates dormant neural pathways. Listening to “70s Fun” gives me almost unaccountable pleasure and gets my mind wheels turning – what was the crime Mama Pajama witnessed? One of the very funniest songs on the playlist is “You’re So Vain” – which is overplayed (I seem to encounter it every time I’m at the grocery store) and thus not fully appreciated for its sly, rueful humor.
Once we finish with this drainage pipe project, we’ll need to regularly monitor the new pipe. So I talked my husband into a 33 ft KZYEE endoscope/borescope. Bill M. recently mentioned borescopes in a blog post, and I thought that would be good for sump drain pipe monitoring – and typewriter inspection.
The KZYEE borescope is very nice – waterproof, nice bright light, and a tiny 5mm head. I installed the viewing app on my phone and connected to the borescope via wifi.
Wow, this endoscope is neat. This shot looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but no, that is a ball bearing inside the Underwood that I darest not deal with:
OK – here we are at the Underwood’s escapement. This is the best view I can get. On key press, the rigid dog jumps into the escapement wheel teeth.
What I think is happening: the loose dog is a lazy dog and fails to jump into the fray after the key is released, so the escapement wheel flies free and the carriage reels over to the left. The loose dog may be broken or worn. Perhaps there is a disconnected or broken spring. I can’t tell because these are the best images I can get deep down in there.
I opened up the Manual Typewriter Repair Bible to the Underwood Portable section. It details operations and fixes for older-model Underwood portables, but I hoped it would have some clues as to what might be happening here in this 1956 Underwood portable.
Third hole from the right, huh?
After loosening the lock nut with a pair of needle nose pliers (too tight in there to get a nut driver in), I tightened what I think is the “Rocker Limit Screw”.
This brought the rigid dog into permanent contact with the escapement wheel. At least the carriage wasn’t sliding way over to the left anymore. I was able to get some good pictures in its fixed position and wring a type sample out of it with some difficulty.
That’s a pity. A nice typeface wasted on this here nonfunctional typewriter.
I may end up bringing this fellow to Herman’s in October and let members of the Brain Trust evaluate it.
You’re so vain, Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab. You probably think this post is about you. You’re fabulous to look at, but I am done with your BS. You need professional help, and maybe you can find that at Herman’s.
Addendum: many thanks to my sweet, hard-working, but still very dirty 1956 Royal QDL (Adobe Rose East) for doing the typing for this post.