Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Infamous Arizona Typewriter User

Arizona history is peppered with interesting characters. Billy the Kid murdered his first victim in Arizona while rustling cattle. Charles Keating orchestrated the savings and loan scandal form his office on Camelback Road. Sammy "The Bull" Gravano's crime syndicate installed pools in suburban Glendale.

We've also had our share of interesting politicians. John McCain. Bruce Babbit. Carl Hayden. However, there is one current public figure--  a real character-- who loves his 1970s Smith-Corona with a passion; Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

"Sheriff Joe" as he is known in this desert hinterland, has certainly made a name for himself in the public discourse. He is an outrageous character as is this tweet:

Regardless of his political leanings everyone can appreciate someone who loves his typewriter so much that the flack from the New Times doesn't even matter. I doubt the public safety hinges on that Smith-Corona. However, I think that there might be another typewriter shop (J.C. Business Machines) hidden away in Cave Creek. We shall see.

The Missing Typewriter Shop

Obviously, this news comes a bit late, but Mr. Owens passed away and the shop is now closed. Mesa Typewriter Exchange is still the best place to have your typewriter serviced. -RA

Casually, almost nonchalantly, someone mentioned, "Did you know there's a typewriter shop on Northern and 19th Ave?"

"What-the-what?" I responded.

Well, after a little recon this Sunday I snapped these pics:

Hidden away in a slightly run-down strip shopping block is this little typewriter shop. I have driven by this place hundreds of times and have never noticed it until someone mentioned it. Crazy, huh? From a peek into the window I can see the regular compliment of Selectrics and a few manual machines here and there. While I haven't had the chance to stop in, I will very soon. But, of course, my heart will always belong to the Mesa Typewriter Exchange.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How To: Polishing a Typewriter

I've only very recently been calling the typewriter cleaning process I use "The Magic Margin Treatment." It sounds much more grandiose than it actually is. The process only requires some simple equipment and the best paint polish/cleaner in the world.

This process is only for shiny painted typewriters. I would not use it for wrinkle paint. In fact, I have a whole other process that I follow for cleaning textured paint typewriters. I'll share that one with you later. To polish grandmother's old Model O you will need:

Meguiar's Cleaner Wax (Target), microfiber rags (Target), and a shiny painted Royal Model O (wherever you find one). My mother-in-law (the most accomplished stain remover in the world) would always suggest you start with water. It is "the best solvent." Not sopping wet, mind you, just get off the major dust and other caked on crud with a wrung-out rag. This particular Royal was very clean when I got it, but even with a very clean gloss paint typewriter there is hidden dirt. I like to use 2 different colored rags to ensure they are used for their respective jobs; cleaning and buffing. I'm going to use the one with a touch of grey for cleaning.

Don't use too much. Just a dab will do you. Spread a thin layer onto the typewriter and work it in with a circular motion. Let the polish dry to a slight haze.

Hazy residue

I tend to work in sections to ensure that everything is done well. Is it working? Well, if you look at the rag where you applied the polish you will see this sign that your typewriter is getting cleaner:

Yes, that is 80 years of dirt, smoke, and crud. Keep in mind that this machine was pretty clean to start with. It's just a fact that most typewriters 50 years or older were in houses or workplaces where people smoked. That grime is really long-lived and gross. You always feel better after it's gone. The funny thing is that often the gloss black typewriters don't look too dirty. 

Buff with the second cloth and there you go. After you are done, there should be a noticeable mirror-like difference.

<- Unpolished. Polished ->

The bottle of Meguiar's says you should not get this on rubber. I would agree. It stained the platen of the Ambassador and it nearly impossible to remove that residue. Caution would be in order. This particular cleaner does not polish metal. For that I use Mother's Mag and Aluminum. You can try, but it might be a waste of time. Polishing is a great therapy. 

So, feel confident in getting that old gloss black (or any other color) typewriter clean and shiny.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Swiss Ambassador

Ted said that he didn't like his new Ambassador. I had seen the very machine to which he was referring. It had been sitting in the Mesa Typewriter exchange for months gathering dust and looking generally sad. After a little negotiation, Ted was willing to give me the Ambassador to see if I could make a go of it. After a few hours of working I have resurrected this great green giant to an acceptable state.

I'll start with the paint. I had thought it was really dusty, but on closer inspection I could see that the paint was terribly oxidized. Every surface was dusty with powdery-white oxidation. I know that heat can do that to paint, but I had never seen it so evenly cast over the body. It must have, at some point in its life spent a lot of time in a hot room. Not being prepared to strip everything, I decided to try some cleaning wax. The thought was to give it a sheen similar to a regular Hermes while stopping the paint from dusting off. It seems to work. Obviously, the paint is nowhere near as durable as it once was, but it looks good and will be good enough until I make a final decision about the paint.

The whole machine was filled with grit so a lot of my time was spent just getting the Arizona dust of the carriage guide rails. A couple drops of oil really freed every thing up.

As Ted reported, the platen is in a sad state, but I have never seen an original Hermes platen that wasn't rock-hard. Fortunately the feed rollers are still really soft and grip the paper well. If you use two sheets of paper it works great. I tend to use two sheets of paper regardless. If time and money is freed up I might send the platen to Ames for recovering.

This model has a twin ribbons system. It can use standard fabric ribbons or the lovely high-definition film ribbon. This particular machine came with a completely full film spool so I didn't have to install a ribbon.

As desktop typewriters go, the Ambassador is really ridiculously large. It dwarfs pretty much any desktop typewriter. My HH looks like a portable next to this thing. I have no idea why the size. Maybe it's the one typewriter to rule them all.

No students have used it yet, but I will make it available tomorrow for part two of a two-day project. I am sure there will be some interested takers. It types like a dream and is filled with every bell and whistle. I love the paper injector. It makes you feel like you are shifting a really fast car into first.

The decision that I am facing is whether I should make this into a Silver Surfer. Shining it to a mirror finish might make this the most formidable typewriter ever.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

We're Ready For Our Closeup, Mr. DeMille

I really glossed over the filming for the Typewriter movie and Mrs. Magic Margin thought people might like to hear more about it.

As class started you could tell the kids were excited. They knew that it was the day that Jack, the cameraman, was going to be filming for the documentary. I didn't notice it until Mrs. Magic Margin (who's also an English teacher at Alhambra) mentioned that many of them looked like they dressed up. Most of the girls had done their hair and chosen outfits just for the occasion. The boys had neatly pressed t-shirts and clean shoes.

Since some of the kids in this class hadn't used the machines before, I made a short slideshow presentation to lay out the basic parts of a typewriter and how to load the paper. It's almost pointless to do these introductions now. Most kids at Alhambra have had some sort of contact with a typewriter before. They aren't the mysterious machines they were two years ago. If that is the only measure of success with the CTP, I would be immensely proud.

Deep thinkers use Royals.
I went through the parts and gave my basic spiel about the typewriter offering distraction-free wirting. They have all heard the mantra before. They wanted to go to the shelf and choose one to use. That's what I like about having such a diverse collection of machines. You can choose a typewriter that fits your personality. They come in a wide variety of styles and it's interesting to see which ones they pick out. I've noticed that students with "old souls" tend to pick pre-war machines. I have a couple of Remington Model 7s and an early 40s Arrow that are often picked up by students with a timeless personality. Others, however, are persuaded by the histrionics of flashy chrome trim and fun colors. This time around there were a number of Hermes selected (of course) and a good number of mid-century Royals.

J.'s choice. Here pictured in my
old classroom. We have since
moved to more spacious digs.
J., a new inductee to the world of typewriters, went to the shelf to choose a typewriter. She gravitated toward the deep maroon Olympia SM3. Taking it back to her desk she said, "Look. It matches my nails." And, you know what, her nails were an identical match.

I gave them a little time to get used to the typewriter they were using and then I gave them the most post-modern assignment ever. They were to write a letter to themselves on a typewriter explaining what their life will be like in 30 years. They used an antiquated device in the digital era to speculate on the course of their future.

The whole class period was great and you could tell they were proud to show off something unique about their school experience. It's not every day you get a chance to use a typewriter in school anymore. As I think about the goals of this project, I am starting to understand that it's less about getting students to write distraction-free and with greater awareness of what they write and more about sharing my love of typewriters and the appreciation of something wholly mechanical.

There is an evil assumption in education that student engagement can only be achieved through the use of modern technology and unceasing novelty. This faulty logic assumes that because these kids are so "plugged-in" that, if what they do in class is not equally "plugged-in', they will not respond. They will shut down and give up. That's a canard. It's not the technology that matters. You can only type on a typewriter, but the impact on a student far greater than I have ever imagined.

P.S. I have heard form several kids that if this movie goes big we have to go see it. Gary Nicholson, if you need screaming teenagers at your movie, I got 'em.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Selectric Gift and Typewriter Movie Shoot

The 22nd was a big day. My classroom played host to a cameraman taking some video for The Typewriter (In the 21st Century) documentary, I fixed a Selectric given to me as a gift, and it was my birthday. The important stuff first:

The really old table under the Selectric is probably in keeping with the time-frame.
The white board, however, gives it away. 

The two angle and rotation bands fell off their respective wheels. So, the element wasn't moving to the correct position and the angle was all messed up. After getting them set properly the machine was as good as new. The motor must have been replaced recently as it purrs with only the gentlest of hums. I am not an electric typewriter fan, but considering the historical importance of this machine (and the fact that I already have a ready supply of type elements) I am apt to let it stay in the classroom. The size is much better than that Vader-like machine that I gave to Bill Wahl.  It comfortably fits on a desk or typewriter table. These machines are the easiest things to open up even if-- once on the inside-- you find that they are more akin to Brazil-like devices designed to baffle all but the most experienced typewriter repairman. Looking at those 2800 possible mechanical adjustments would drive you mad. It's clear to me that the engineering team were geniuses (and Noyes was an artist). But with every silver bauble there is a little tarnish; there is something missing. The paper scale at the top seems to have vanished. It didn't have one when it was given to me, so I can assume that it was taken off long ago. Perhaps the old owner didn't quite "measure up." 

If you haven't been to the Kickstarter page for The Typewriter (In the 21st Century) you should go there now. Here.

Oh, I'm 31 now. Still younger than most of my typewriters. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This Sears Manual 1 ribbon cover is almost nearly, but not quite entirely unlike an Olivetti Valentine when painted red; as you can see in the before and after.

See, just like a Valentine. I've been using Valspar's plastic-bonding spray paint for pieces like this. It really seems to bond well to the plastic. Time will tell how it stacks up to use and abuse.