Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Fed Fear

Typewriters are intensely personal objects. Take, for example, the Hermes 3000 that is in our classroom. What was written on it? Did secret unfulfilled loves find the courage to be expressed? Did dreams of a far-away better life pour onto the blank page? Did deeply dastardly plans come to fruition? What secrets does that grey-green body hold?

Could the loves, hopes, and dark deeds somehow affect these machines after the owner has passed away? Can a bit of a person be left behind connected to the typebar with a mystical linkage? In other words, can a typewriter be haunted?

Something to think about when you find that awesome typewriter at a rummage sale.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fly Hermes, Fly

I imagine that to some typewriter collectors are just marginally more sane than the Collyer brothers. I have, at some time fallen victim to a little bit of harmless hoarding. Attempting to divest myself of unused objects and help the Classroom Typewriter Project I have decided to offer my Hermes adding machine up for trade.

Count on me!
It's a lovely example of vintage office machinery. It can add and subtract! The gentle late 60s green-grey would match any of your late 60s Hermes equipment. It's 100% functional and in fairly good condition. None of the plastic is broken or cracked. It does include the paper tape that is approximately 1,000 years old and a little brittle. Fun!

If you are interested in trading this machine for a functioning manual typewriter, let me know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Search of W. L. Ehrler

One of the tantalizing things about typewriters is that they belonged to real people. Someone sat at that machine and wrote. I have found that a typewriter is an intensely personal object. Students choose the same one over and over and I am very partial to my desk HH. I am so partial that I refuse to let anyone else use it.

The brown QDL once belonged to a man named W. L. Ehrler. I wasn't able to find much about him except for a few articles written by a W. L. Ehrler via Google Books. I was able to track down where he was working in the sixties. W. L. Ehrler worked for the US Dept. of Agriculture in the Water Conservation Lab in Phoenix. He wrote, with fellow researchers, several articles about water retention capability in the leaves of rubber plants. It's interesting stuff to the people who find it interesting.

I sent an email message to the director of the lab and this was his response:
Yes, I would say it is very likely that the typewriter was once W.L. Ehrler’s, who was at the USWCL. I have attached one of his publications. Though he was retired when I started at the USWCL in 1984, I worked with both of the co-authors on the paper. I was told he passed away about a year ago in Scottsdale.
 While W. L. Ehrler is gone, his typewriter will live on. That'a a comforting thought.

More Results Forthcoming and A Banning

Initially the project was open to just a few of my classes (three to be precise) but as work has gotten out that typewriters are not entirely lame the interest has been peaked in other classes. So, the next inventory will include a very large sample group.

As the number of students who are using the typewriters on a daily basis has increased the number of issues with management has also increased. I brought these machines into the classroom to be explored and loved. Sometimes, in their exuberance, the students are too rough with their love. One student, V., was so excited to use the typewriters that she was carrying it by the carriage. This is not acceptable or in keeping with rule #6 (Remember, this typewriter is 4 times older than you). As a result she has been banned from using them for a week. After the week she can return to the fold as a full-fledged typist. I have printed up a  modified copy of the 1950 Typewriter Care pamphlet put out by the federal government. It outlines some specific care instructions that might be good for wayward students to read.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Mysterious Brown QDL

I have a black 1946 Royal Quiet Deluxe at home that is in fantastic condition. This was the first typewriter I ever bought. It was a Craigslist find and I must have lucked out that day because I made a good purchase. I have seen a great many terrible typewriters in awful condition, but my Royal QDL is not one of those. The body is dark and clean, the chrome is bright and gleaming. It's really spoiled me. Every typewriter I find I compare in my mind to that shining example of craftsmanship. Well, a second 1940s Royal QDL has come into my life. It's in good shape (save some mechanical issues which I will share later) and quite the looker. However, this machine is a bit of a mystery.

The owner, a Phoenix native, bought the machine used in the 1960s. At that point in its life it was already 15 years old. Les, the previous owner, bought it at a business machine store called ABC Business Machines on East McDowell in Phoenix when he was in high school. He went to Arcadia High School (a school nearby this shop) and when he graduated he took the typewriter with him to ASU (I too graduated from ASU). Les reports that he wrote many of his high school and college papers on this typewriter. Well, after his graduation the typewriter sat collecting dust. Then, it came into my possession.

ABC Business Machines was the last retail venue to have this typewriter in its possession, but not the first. After some poking around I found this label.

Bishop Business Machines was once at 4605 East Thomas Road in Phoenix. The Bishop label does not have a zip code while the ABC Business Machines does. This leads me to believe that Bishop Business Machines was the first retailer of this machine predating the 1963 roll-out of zip codes. But, who did they sell this machine to? Underneath the machine, scratched into the frame is a name. It's the name of the first owner.

W. L. Ehrler...Who are you?

Now, to the color. If you are a member of the Portable Typewriter Forum, you might have seen the thread I began on Royal QDLs in colors. What came of that conversation is that any 1940s QDL in any color other than black is special and hard to come by These machines were offered in a dark green, burgundy, brown, black-brown, and black. Pre-war machines in the brown came with a tweed case with leather piping. I am going out on a limb by saying that post-war QDLs in colors came with a matching painted case. It is an odd case and not very luxurious. The paint finish has a scatchy matte feeling. Maybe it was nicer in the past, but I hate it.

When you turn the machine around at look at the back you see something interesting. There is no Royal decal on the back. It's either been painted over or has gone missing. This would bring the provenance of an original color QDL into question. Could someone have painted the entire machine? Further inspection leads me to be live that just the back panel was repainted at some point, but with a 100% matching color. The texture is a little rougher and although the paint matches very closely, the paint on the back panel is newer looking. Under all the other panels the paint is correct. I think that the panel was painted because it was either scratched or damaged at some point during its life. Perhaps ABC Business Machines did this as part of some reconditioning process. Either way, it was done in the past and done with a professional level of acceptability.

Right now, the brown QDL isn't working. The drawstring was broken and I fixed that, but there is something amiss with the escapement. I can't describe it because I don't have the vocabulary but sufficed to say I think that this repair might be out of my league. I am going to poke around a bit more and see if there is something that I can do. Until I can get it working it certaily is interesting looking.

UPDATE: Through sheer skill and a huge amount of guesswork, the Brown QDL is working.

A Most Worthy Publication

I am proud to announce that my submission to Silent Type 2 was accepted and included in the new edition of this truly unique publication. ST and ST2 is visually very rich. It's like a brownie; a brownie of typewriters and other retrotech. There is a digital copy available today and there will be a way for you to purchase a paper copy in the near future.

Look for my work on page 36 & 37!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Rituals

I had a colleague come by to see the typewriter collection and we started talking about what makes typewriters so appealing to students and how, proven by some data that I have collected, it can be that student writing improves? We came up with and idea that I'm calling writing rituals.

Ernest Hemingway standing at a typewriter.
1960, Life Magazine
Great authors have rituals in their own writing. Ernest Hemingway (the most famous Royal man) stood at a bookshelf when typing. Roald Dahl, although using Ticonderoga pencils (the best) and yellow legal pads, would write for a set amount of time before and after lunch. Graham Greene had to write a certain number of words per day. Each of these authors assigned a ritual to their writing and students of writing should incorporate rituals as part of being a successful writer. These rituals can serve to center the thoughts and allow the user of the ritual to enter a mind-space that is preparing them for what they will encounter. I see it as akin to a purification ceremony or a rite of passage. The ritual user must physically make themselves able to create and understand. The typewriter, with all its knobs and buttons and processes, assigns a ritual to the process of writing.

When a student sits down to type at a typewriter he is met met with a horror vaccuii. The blank page sits there longing for words. The ritual begins with this blank page. The paper needs to be inserted, the margins need to be adjusted; things need to be set in order. As the user types there is a constant audio reminder of the writing ritual in which the writer is engaged. Listening to the sound of pressing the keys and anticipating the margin bell focuses the writer in his process rather than being focused on ancillary distractions.

I have heart tell of French school children being taught to mimic the writing style of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Flaubert. This may be anecdotal but it makes sense. To become like those writers you would need to write like them. To become successful you would need to adopt the habits of successful people. Writing rituals are a habit of successful writers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Another Introduction: Royal Safari

This Royal Safari is as popular as the Hermes 3000 with our more adventurous students. Safaris are not known for their typing finesse, but they do look nice. I think that this typewriter would look at home with the Jetsons or in the Monsanto House of the Future. It's definitely space-age.

I have noticed that it is a very loud typewriter with a prominent echo. When the students really get typing you can hear it clearly. Maybe it's too distracting, but no one has said anything negative about it. It is built well and apart from the keys and front bezel it is all-metal and quite heavy. It has all the standard bits and parts: Magic Margin, tabulator, see-through ruler. It does not have a paper bail and I find that typing on index cards is very easy. It does use the late-model ribbon vibrator with little pincer-like clips to hold the ribbon. This makes installing a new ribbon much easier than all our other typewriters.

I don't think I would recommend it for heavy-duty typing, but it does make a strong visual impact. In addition, it was really inexpensive.

P.S. If you are my student or have been my student in the past you might recognize the original, patented Mr. Adney journal form ready for a response. Please remember to put you name, the date, and the period on top of every page.

Extra Credit: For 10 extra points, name the book series on which the Royal Safari sits.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zombie Adler

In the spirit of the Halloween season the Adler J5, which was thought dead, has returned. The ribbon advancement mechanism is fixed (a spring) and some bits and pieces were modified and repaired. Tape holds down the cover. Yes, it looks like some sort of grey zombie, but that could be the charm hidden deep beneath the plastic.

A while ago I crafted a new left knob and I am not happy with it. Because of the size of the knob and it's location I had to remove the transparent plastic guides so it would clear when the carriage is returned. I would like to get a proper Adler J5 knob and return the margin guides. If anyone out there has such a knob would you be willing to send it my way?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our First Assertion

In my previous rambling post I mentioned that I have some new data on spelling test performance. Well, here is the chart with the comparisons between the pre-test and the current testing round.

The students using the typewriter are doing better than last time. They are scoring higher and doing much better on all spelling scored assignments whether spelling is a core component or something ancillary. This may, however be related to the intensive spelling work, but students doing the same activity without the typewriter have a lower rate of passing on the same assessment that students who are using the typewriter are passing. This information presented by the next chart.
I could continue on with the collecting of data, but this trend has been steady for the past couple of months that we have been using the typewriters. I feel confident in saying that students who use a typewriter tend to become better spellers when they become aware of their spelling mistakes. This is not a real experiment, I don't have much of a control group and it is entirely based on what I am doing in my classes. I imagine that you could replicate the same results with a computer without spell check, but I am a fan of typewriters and I am going to attribute it to that.

With this, I will add our first assertion to the "Findings of the Prject Page." I, however, will continue with the inventory analysis. Those questions provide the most interesting information and give a sense to understanding what students appreciate about the typewriter.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Analysis and Monks

Well, I have just finished doing the counts of the survey. I know that the title of these analysis pieces include the word weekly. Well, I haven't been able to keep up with a weekly analysis. The numbers were have here are an amalgamation of a couple or three weeks of surveys. I am not to concerned over how accurate this is because the shorter data sampling rate is still consistent with the timeline that I am currently using.

The numbers are holding for most of the indicators. 100% of all students using a typewriter on a daily journal activity enjoy using the typewriter. This is an identical answer rate as on the 29th of September. The only difference is that 75% versus 85% on 9/29 strongly agree that they enjoy using the typewriter.

The numbers for statement 5 (The computer is better to write on.) are sliding clearly to the center with 50% being neutral to the statement. I take this to mean that more and more students are seeing that the mode of writing is secondary to what is being written. The typewriter is a tool to write as is a computer or a fountain pen. I would imagine that if I included students using fountain pens in the data set the numbers would be roughly the same.

The students' reply to number 6 (My writing has more meaning [when I use the typewriter].) has jumped to 60% either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement. They are seeing value in their writing when using a typewriter. Why would a typewriter make them feel their writing has more meaning?

I have the feeling it has something to do with the artistic nature of using a typewriter. Typing on a typewriter has, for lack of a better word, a primitive feel. By primitive, I mean visceral; like painting with a brush or drawing with a piece of charcoal. With these processes you can feel the act of artistic creation through the soft glide of the bristles over canvas or the scratch of the coal in the peaks and valleys of the paper. There is an innately artsy aspect to pressing the key. You can press softly and barely make an impression. You can press firmly and make a dark, distinct mark. There seems to be an infinitely variable amount of opportunity with a typewriter. As the artist can make the brush or charcoal go in any direction the typist can control the process of creation. The forms, the shapes, the typefaces all lend to this artistic process. The writer can be connected through this arcane, primitive (there's that word again) process and become an artist.

An artist values his work and sees value and meaning in it regardless of the value that society (or an English teacher in Phoenix) places on it. The effort that went into creating this art is akin to illuminated manuscripts made by the monks on Lindisfarne. The difficult process made art that was immensely valuable to the creator. This art, simple typed journal entries, become illuminated manuscripts; beautiful in their form and the crafting of each individual letter.

I feel this way when I type something nicely on my HH at school. My seating chart is an example. I type it on my wide-carriage HH. That way I can type in landscape. When all the names are in their places I take the paper out and admire the dark neat letters. Simultaneously perfect and imperfect; little illuminations on a piece of paper.

Weekly Inventory In Progress

The next round of Inventories has been handed out and they are steadily coming in. We'll be able to see if there is a continuation of typewriter love among my students. Also, I have some hard numbers relating to the spelling component. They are doing measurably better. I'll share all of that data when I do the next update.

If you are new to visiting this blog, please take a look at the links to the right. They will give you an overview of the project and some of our goals.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

12 October Typecast

You can see the barest hint of the blue felt below the keyboard.

Now you can see all the felt. It's felt-tastic!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Upcoming Events

The second Weekly Writing Inventory will be passed out on Wednesday. I hope to have some results to share with you on Friday. The questions will stay the same, but I hope that all the positive stats will provide some clear trends.

Today was the first day after our October break and when the bell rang it was a feeding frenzy around the typewriters. I guess they were deprived over the break and needed to type. I know the feeling. I hadn’t used my HH in a while. Feeling the snap of the keys brought me back to a very happy place. 

The SC Skyriter is airing out at home. I’ve gone through and replaced the felt on most of the machine. The only felt that I had was electric . It’s ended up looking zany and cool. It looks neat and it might inspire a new color scheme.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


On the way to Target to do the daily shopping, I happened to stop by a yard sale. I am never very hopeful that I will find anything, but this time I found a Remington Travel-Riter for $1. It's in pretty good shape, but I am considering repainting it something outrageous. It has a nice shape and it would be a lot nicer if it was a little shinier and a different color. It's very snappy to type on. The platen might be a little hard, but if I am disassembling it to repaint, I might send it to Ames for recovering. I've never have had a platen recovered. I've read that a new, soft platen is a joy to use.

After some sprucing it will enter into the classroom rotation.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New Look and Skyriter

The old themes from Blogger were getting a bit old, so this is the update.

The Skyriter arrived and I am amazed at the size of this typewriter. It is tiny. It really is the smallest typewriter in our classroom collection. I got it and decided to spruce it up a little. I replaced all the felt on the inside just in case we have some kids allergic to that old typewriter smell. The margin stops are acting up. I think that something worked loose in transit. I have a feeling that the spring that holds the margin stop bar (not the official term I feel) is a little weak. I'm going to go ahead and replace it with something a little stiffer. This may be a job for the wife's unused hair rubber bands.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


The Classroom Typewriter Project needs more than just typewriters! We need ribbons, Ko-Rec-Type tabs, erasers, and small type brushes. If you can't donate a machine please conciser donating some supplies. You will be listed with our other donors and we could definitely use the supplies.

Please send any ribbons, correction tabs, brushes, or erasers to:

Alhambra High School
Attn: Mr. Adney #34
3839 West Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85019

Did You Know

We have had 3 wonderful gentlemen donate machines to the Classroom Typewriter Project? Click on the link on the left side-bar. There you will see who donated what. It is a testament to the kindness of the typewriter community that we have so many wonderful machines to use in class.

Coming Soon

There is a nice SC Skyriter zooming its way on over. A few weeks age I got a pleasant email message from a pleasant fellow named George Petersen of Eugene who saw the bog and decided to send a typewriter. I mentioned that we are on October break until next Monday, but he said that he'll ship it to my home address. According to the tracking number, it should be here tomorrow. As soon as it gets here I'll take some pictures. From all that I gather it is a 4Y Skyriter. It was made during the early 60s in Britain. I am not familiar with these machines in detail, but from what I can see they look very compact. I am waiting with baited breath.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Typewriter Rules

1.    No paper, no type.
2.    Carry with both hands.
3.    On the desk!
4.    Press, don’t punch.
5.    Ask for help.
6.    Remember, this typewriter is 3 times older than you are.

As more kids get jazzed about the typewriters (three weeks and going strong) I felt that there needed to be some more clear ground rules on the typewriters. This is what I came up with. They're funny and true!

The Wheel of Fortune

As soon as the J5 had given out I got an email message from a gentleman called George Petersen saying that he would send me a Smith-Corona Skyriter that he recently bought. So, I assume that it is on its way and (as I gather) it is in good shape. It's going to take the place of the Adler and the SC-Silent with public speaker type that is duing duty as a temp.