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.