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:
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.
It was so dirty. Just my type.
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.
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.
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.
I know just the place to get the proper machine screws:
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).
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.
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.
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.
There’s no easy fix, but there’s an opportunity and an obligation here to do better.