Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sad Mac

In his younger days, Steve Jobs found himself at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. I can't remember the story completely, but he sat in or audited a course on calligraphy. The experience of studying letterforms was (as he said) the impetus for proportional spaced typefaces built into the Macintosh. Steve Jobs was the steward of beautiful type in the digital age. He took that ancient and daunting art and made it accessible to an English teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Steve's vision of what computing can be has played a major role in my creative life. I've admired his vision and dedication to excellence for many years. Thanks, Steve.

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.