Friday, July 10, 2015

Two kinds of machines

Recently, I dove headfirst into a project not related to typewriters which, thus far, has proven to be better than me. In defying me at every turn, it makes me ever more dedicated to surmounting it, but also makes me ever so more appreciative of typewriters; their simple ingenuity and wonderful mechanical construction that makes complete sense on so many levels if you only just consider the design for a while.

I have, without any sort of schematic or information booklet, completely disassembled typewriters and brought them back together and brought them into full working order. But even with full factory schematics, a few books on the subject, and internet resources far exceeding my expectations, there is something about my current project that I just cant seem to get to succeed. Over time I have no doubt that I will succeed, but by all that is typewritten, I can only get annoyed at the consecutive failures I seem to be having. What is this mystery project?

A bleedin' 1933 Philco Model 57C superheterodyne radio. Vacuum tubes, combustible cloth wiring, and Amplitude Modulation (AM) all wrapped up into a nightmare of a thing. Stick to typewriters folks. I wish I could just pay someone to repair the thing, but just like with typewriters, most all the old experts are gone.

To keep my anger down about failing at the radio, I move over on my workbench and work on a typewriter. Unlike the radio, my first typewriter made me incredibly inspired and intrigued into how to fix it, and use it. We all have a first typewriter, and even though we may not use it, most still assuredly love it for being what it is. Here is mine, proudly sitting on display, even though it is not the prettiest, nor the most desirable machine;

That's right. A 1930 Royal Model 10. I walked into an antique store one day, looking for a nice open faced pocket watch. I have always been interested in that of the early 1900's, and had always as a small side thought considered typewriters pretty cool whenever I saw reference to one, but had never actually seen one in person as odd as that is. So it was that, there in that antique shop looking for a pocket watch, I instead ended up taking home a giant behemoth of a machine that weighed more than I though possible. It was dirty. The "Paper holder thing" on the top of the machine wasn't moving when I pushed on a key. And half the keys could barely move at all. But I had thought typewriters some incredibly hard to find thing (If only I could laugh at my younger self), and thought it a beautiful machine (which it is.).
Taking it home, I tinkered with it. With the aid of the internet, I stumbled onto sources of information, and found out about things like "Spring drums" and that mine was still working, but the "drawcord" had snapped. I found out that a healthy dose of denatured alcohol could loosen the "segment" of the machine and allow the typebars to move again. I found out that there were alot more interesting designs out there, and that not all typewriters looked like this giant black monster. I was hooked.
Though I do not type on it, I still treasure it as the motivation to learn about typewriters, and annoy all my friends by referencing them ("Oh, your laptop just cant keep a charge? My Underwood and I are so sorry.").

Whats your first machine?


  1. In a parallel universe, I have 300 1930s radios and have trained myself to fix them. In this universe, I am an ignoramus about all things electric, and a 1937 typewriter (a Remington Noiseless 7) became the seed of an obsession.

  2. Radios I have managed to avoid needing to fix (at least since the 80's, when I still tinkered with console units and had a neighbor with a vast array of spare vacuum tubes in his back shed.) I am not so young these days and have learned to not futz with electricity when I don't need to.

    Typewriters? My first was a Royal as well, and still have it. A 1948 QDL from a thrift for $4.95 - I knew nothing about typewriters and was looking for old Tiki mugs, but man. You cannot see a machine like that and pass it by. (: