The Electric Slide

A couple weeks ago I worked on a Lettera 22 with a slippy and sliding carriage that would not catch.   In a weird coincidence, I came across another slippy and sliding carriage this week.

I was running errands on foot when I came across a neighborhood thrift store that I had never been in before.  I went into this teeny crowded thrift shop and saw a typewriter.

Not just one but two typewriters. Look!  Over there!

$10 for each.

I decided to take the Coronet since the paint on the Electra 120 wasn’t in great condition. The Electra is pretty cute (I have a thing for blue typewriters) and I might come back to play with it.

I tested the Coronet in the shop.  The lady at the register oohed and aahed over the pretty two-tone blue Coronet and said that even if it didn’t work, it would look cute on a shelf.

I plugged it in, turned it on, and it made a horrible sound that freaked out everyone in the store.  It began to type multiple letters spontaneously.


And the carriage slipped and wouldn’t catch, flying over to the left.


Cute, but messed up. I think the proper term is #cutebutpsychobutcute.

I have seen the haunted typer situation before, a Smith-Corona Electra 210 that repeatedly typed the number 5 when initially turned on.  When I saw the Coronet acting up at the thrift store I said, Oh! Oh! I think I know what’s wrong here.  I felt like Hermione Granger hopping in her seat and waving her hand when she knows the answer in class.


I figured the Coronet was worth $10 just for the fun.  I felt confident that I could fix the haunted typing issue and had a pretty good idea of what might be wrong with the carriage that wouldn’t catch.

I took it home, removed the bottom plate (two screws) and blew out the dust and dirt in the guts.

I confess that I am not 100% comfortable with most electric typewriters, but this Coronet looks just like a manual typewriter with a small motor. It even has a manual carriage return, so no complicated carriage return clutch to deal with.

I immediately saw a problem area in the levers and linkages under the keys:

These linkages and levers should all be standing at a attention in a row like little soldiers.  That group in the middle was all wonky.  Testing them with my finger I found them to be stiff and gummy, so I cleaned carefully with mineral spirits and manually worked them with my fingers to free them up.  I went through the whole row of linkages and levers and cleaned and tested each with my fingers.

From the top, on the keyboard, the letter “B” was immobile.  I was not able to depress it.  I found its linkage underneath and cleaned and cleaned and eventually it came free.

I flipped the machine over and hurray, no more haunted typing.

I then turned my attention to the slippy and sliding carriage that wouldn’t “catch”.  The Lettera 22 I brought home recently had a similar sliding  carriage problem which was solved by cleaning of the escapement area. The Lettera 22’s escapement is either buried or weird looking because I didn’t immediately spot anything familiar.  I simply cleaned and lubricated in an area where an escapement *might* be and hoped for the best.  Fortunately it fixed the sliding carriage right off the bat.

The escapement on this Smith-Corona is very accessible.  It makes cleaning so easy.  I doused the area with mineral spirits and worked the parts with my fingers.  I checked the carriage.  Still not catching.

I then doused the area with PB B’laster and followed up with denatured alcohol.  Nope, no luck.  The carriage was still sliding.

Hmmm.  I needed to bring in the big guns, so I downloaded Ted Munk’s Smith Corona 6 & 8 Series Electric & Cartridge Ribbon Typewriter Repair Manual:

He has archived a whole collection of typewriter repair manuals at TWDB Operation OOPRAP.

I figured that it was an escapement problem since that’s what most internet resources point to when a carriage is wayward.

I read through the troubleshooting section of the manual and wondered if the escapement pinion gear was meshing properly with the rack.  I couldn’t see very well and decided to pop out the platen.  Fortunately, Joe Van Cleave has a great video on a manual Galaxy 12 (a non-electric twin of my two-tone Coronet) and at around the 10:02 minute mark, Joe describes how to pop out the platen.  So easy!

So I popped out the platen. This is going to make cleaning the hardened Wite-Out off the platen and plastic guides a lot easier too.

I peered under the carriage. There was more light with the platen out. The pinion and the rack seemed to meshing just fine. Back to the escapement in the underbelly.

In the repair manual, I read through the section on the escapement and pondered these sentences.

Well, Spring H was not urging anything.  Spring H was doing NOTHING because the rachet dog (?) was glued solidly to the escapement rocker(?).

I took a screw driver and very carefully pushed on the rachet dog.  It was so gummy and stuck.  I doctored it with mineral spirits and pushed carefully until it moved freely and finally Spring H began to urge. The carriage caught.

Flipping it over, I plugged it in, turned it on, and began to type. Yes, I know what you are thinking: I rule. 10 Points for Gryffindor.


The moral of this story: sometimes you have to figure out how something works so that you clean in an effective way.

What a nice little typewriter!  I need to finish cleaning the shell and the type slugs.  The carriage return lever is bent down and just lightly scrapes the top of the ribbon cover.  I found the typewriter upside down in its case at the thrift store, so I can see how the lever could get mashed down.  I will need to carefully bend the return lever up a bit before it starts getting scratches on the ribbon cover.

It’s a sweet little thing and types just beautifully.  It’s not very noisy at all.  I am sure that I will be able to find a good home for it. Now I am thinking about the one I left behind at the thrift store, the Electra 120:


Lettera Send Off + Lettera Tune Up

The blue 1960 Craigslist Lettera is a pretty happy typewriter now.  It types nicely,  very respectably.  Cosmetically, though, it’s still in rough shape.  I’d like to issue a formal apology to all birds – especially pigeons.  What appeared to be bird poop on the Craigslist Lettera is probably oxidation (Bill M and T. Munk pointed that out in the post comments).  And that stuff does not come off.  The Lettera still looks like this:

What does come off is the paint.  It is peeling and chipping.  This makes me very nervous, as there is a distinct possibility that it’s lead paint.

I got a lead test kit to confirm, and while the intact blue paint doesn’t seem to react, I get a pale gray when I test patchy places where there is exposed metal.  Could it be a reaction to the aluminum?  Or does the primer have lead in it? In the past, I’ve used a different brand of lead test kit, and that brand produces an alarming orange or pink if an item is positive for lead. This lead test kit is kind of meh.

I had kept J. (the Craigslist seller of the Lettera) updated on the progress of the Lettera. She’s a typewriter enthusiast and was very happy to hear that the Lettera had recovered and was typing again.  Last week she texted me, wondering if I wanted to pass the Lettera along to a friend of hers who needed a typewriter. Well, of course. I had had my fun, and it was time to send it out into the world.

I printed out care and feeding instructions and the Lettera 22 manual from Richard Polt’s typewriter manual archive.

I also included the flyer for the DC/MD/VA Typewriter Collectors Meetup August 5.  Sadly, I will miss this one as I will be out of town:

J. the Craigslist Seller came by my house yesterday morning to pick up the Lettera and we talked typewriters and I showed her some of the portables I had brought from California.

I then took J. out to my workbench where the Lettera was waiting.  I told her about my lead paint worries and made sure her friend didn’t have kids in the house.  J. may do another lead paint test with a different brand of kit.  I told her that if her friend is too skeeved out by the machine, I could take it back and seal it with a clear coat or even strip it for her. This typewriter could look really nice stripped to the bare metal à la Robert Messenger’s Naked Lettera.

Goodbye, Lettera 22!  Be good and stay out of the rain!

Return to sender, lead content unknown. J. regains custody of the Lettera 22.

Regarding my other Lettera: I am planning on bringing it on a cross country road trip at the end of July.  I have to deliver a car to California, so my daughter and the 1950 Lettera will share co-piloting duties while I bullet across the United States. The 1950 Lettera will eventually make its way to the loving embrace of another typospherian in Portland.

I took some glamour shots of the 1950 Lettera for Typewriter Database. She’s a natural and the camera loves her.

More pictures of the 1950 Lettera 22 are at Typewriter Database »

The 1950 Lettera came with the original case as well as the user manual and cover:

Here is a pdf of the 1950 Olivetti Lettera 22 user manual »

The 1950 Olivetti Lettera 22 is a beautiful thing but was not without its issues. Before we hit the road, I had to address those issues.

One problem was that the ribbon would stick occasionally  in “up” position, hiding typed text.

Stuck up

I cleaned and lubricated all the points that might be involved in the rise and fall of the ribbon.  I eyed the ribbon vibrator critically.  Could the flimsy metal be bent so that it’s catching on something?

I researched online and found a post at Typewriter Talk from someone who had a similar problem with an Olympia SF Deluxe. He had cleaned without success, but upon adjusting the key tension to the highest setting, it began to work flawlessly.

I did the same. I turned it up to 4 and experienced no more ribbon sticking in the “up” position:

I don’t quite understand why doing that works.  Perhaps the spring attached to touch tuning mechanism is exerting more force on the ribbon vibrator mechanism in the “4” position.  Compare to the “1” position:

It may be that the ribbon vibrator is bent or is still gummy and the higher tension overcomes the problem.

The manual that came with the 1950 Lettera is lovely and elegant but vague on the use of the Personal Touch Tuning mechanism:

I found a newer Lettera 22 user manual at Richard Polt’s typewriter manual archive which explains “Personal Touch Tuning” better:

Personal Touch Tuning
This device enables the user to adjust the key tension to suit his or her touch.  The lever will be found under the detachable top cover on the left side.  There are four positions, 1 the lightest, 4 the heaviest.  The beginner is recommended to start with the tension set at 4.  Later as ease and lightness of touch and speed have been acquired, the adjustments can be brought into play one after the other until the lightest touch is in use at position 1.  Experienced typists who have heavier machines will find it better to follow this method too.

I am not a gentle typist, so the 4 setting works for me.

The 1950 Lettera had melted rubber grommets as well.  This caused the shell to rattle around and can in some cases cause typebars to hit the ribbon cover.  The melted grommet problem is apparently common in Letteras.  I found this out by reading Ted Munk’s post Off the Workbench – 1959 Lettera 22.

I went to a local independent hardware store:

Which was well-stocked with everything:

And I found my way to the rubber grommet aisle:

I bought four of this size:

I took the grommets home and prepared the Lettera on my workbench.

Make sure you set your margins all the way left and right, or you will have a heck of a time getting that top cover off.

I scraped the melted grommets off and cleaned up the residue with Goo Gone:

I inserted the new grommets into the top cover which took some finagling – I wiggled and pushed the new grommet through the top of the cover with a small screwdriver and then adjusted its position from the underside of the cover:

Now the shell fits snugly. These replacement rubber grommets seem to be very close in size to the originals.

My other issue with the 1950 Lettera was intermittent failure of lowercase return after shifting from uppercase.  Like this:

It was another dirty/gummy problem.  I lubricated all the shifting pivot points I could see from the top and it worked better but not perfectly.  I took off the bottom plate and cleaned/lubricated more visible pivot points and the problem is solved.  No more shifting issues.

This bird is ready for the road.  I expect that I will take pictures of my Typewriters Across America ExperienceTM and type some reflections on each place as I pass through. It won’t be great art where I ponder the significance of journey as metaphor.  My typed musings will be more along the lines of “Great funnel cake at exit XX on Rt 66” and “Antique mall with lots of typewriters at exit XX on I-80” and “Restrooms filthy at exit XX rest stop on I-80” or similar.

Old Lettera, New Lettera

I returned to Virginia with an hankering for a broken typewriter to clean and fix. Cleaning my sisters’ Quiet-Riter and Royal Administrator had whetted my appetite.  I have a type: the junkier and more dysfunctional the typewriter, the better.  They provide me with hours of fun (and gentle, comic frustration). Hey, there’s a meme for my taste in typewriters – albeit one that played out in 2017:

I started cruising Craigslist and local eBay for a likely candidate and spotted this:

Its jaunty burping ribbon cover sold me.

I already have a 1950 or 1954 Lettera 22 that I picked up from Moe’s before she closed her San Mateo shop. Its serial number is S623827, so it’s either 1950 or 1954. Made in Italy.

Just look at that classy embossed Olivetti logo!

And what about that great typeface (which I think is Olivetti Elite Victoria)?

This typeface reminds me of Oliver Printype

This Lettera 22 is in very clean typing condition with the original case and manual; however, it has an intermittent lowercase alignment after shifting issue that I will address in a future post:

Anyhoo, I figured that I could use this working Lettera 22 to aid in the recovery of the Craigslist Lettera.

In preparation of picking up the broken Lettera, I watched Joe Van Cleave’s video comparing two Lettera 22s

I also carefully read through Ted Munk’s post Off the workbench: 1959 Olivetti Lettera 22 and all its comments to familiarize myself with what might be wrong with the Lettera that I was picking up.

As I drove over to pick up the typewriter from the Craigslist seller, I heard a favorite piece of chocolate cake rock on the radio and took that as a good omen:

It was a good omen.  I found the Craigslist seller delightful.  An art teacher, J. has recently started collecting typewriters and she showed me around her collection which included an Underwood 5, a Royal FP, an Olympia SM3, and several others.  She journals in the morning on a Smith-Corona electric.

We wandered out to her car where the Lettera was located and were accosted by deer.

J. opened her car’s trunk and here’s what I found:

This Underwood Olivetti Lettera looks like it’s been camping for the past decade. The back is covered in what looks like bird poop.  It is said that it is good luck to be pooped on by a bird, but this just seems like willful disrespect by a bunch of a pigeons.

There was no case and the inside was rusty and there were clumps of oxidated something (or bird poop?) in the mechanics.  The carriage was not staying put.  It careened to the left and didn’t “catch” when using the carriage release or typing.

I told the seller that I would try to get it typing again and if nothing else it would become a good parts machine for other typospherians.

I brought it home and examined it on the back patio.  Its serial number is 768990, and it is made in Italy. Looks like a 1960 Underwood Olivetti Lettera 22.

I found that I could get the carriage to catch occasionally if I firmly pressed any key.

Hanging out (literally) on the patio

At my garage workbench, I took the bottom plate off (four screws where the feet are).  There are four screws attaching the top cover which I removed.  I was able to remove the cover by setting the margins all the way out and extending the carriage:

It was very rusty and crunchy in the guts:

Krusty Kondition

I carefully blew out the chunks and dirt from the naked Lettera with my DataVac Duster and then began to doctor the stiff parts with mineral spirits. The typebars began to swing.

In the comments for his post Off the workbench: 1959 Olivetti Lettera 22, Ted Munk describes a fix for an errant carriage such as mine:

If you can get the bottom cover off of your L22 and turn it over, underneath the carriage directly in the rear center of the machine is a toothed gear and pawl which you can hit sparingly with a little spray LPS1 or PB Blaster (do not use WD-40 or 3-in-1 oil), which will free up that pawl and cause the carriage to work right again.

I applied PB B’laster, my favorite penetrating catalyst to this area under the machine and yippie – fixed that roaming carriage!

The tabs were sticking and gummy, so I cleaned the tab pins/rack and associated connectors and those started working smoothly. The type slugs were thick with dried ink, so I cleaned them up with a toothbrush and mineral spirits.  Some time in its past, this Lettera was used thoroughly.

Time to test typing, so I stole a red/black ribbon from my daughter’s Voss (it’s a cursive machine and there is bichrome mixing in the descenders which drives me bananas so no red/black ribbon for you, Voss).

I was very glad that the original spools and spool nuts were still with the machine. Looking good, Craigslist Lettera!

I put the top and bottom cover back on my Craigslist Lettera and stepped back to admire my work.  Let’s compare my two Lettera 22s:

The typing feel is remarkably similar – so pleasant for such little machines.  The real difference between the two machines is the noise.  There is a subtle loose clanking, a jangling sound that comes from the 1960 Craigslist Lettera while typing that is absent in the other. The 1950/1954 Lettera has a tight, controlled voice.  I spent about thirty minutes trying to find the source of the soft clanky jangle in the Craigslist Lettera. The platens are about the same in terms of hardness.  I tried to still different parts of the machine with my hands while I typed, but found no source.  I’ll have to take the covers off again and investigate further.

Because its current paint is bubbling and chipping off, the Craigslist Lettera is a candidate for sand blasting and powder coating. I just need to find a DIY space to do that.   I sandblasted and powder coated the Voss typewriter at TechShop.  Sadly, TechShop filed for bankruptcy this year and closed all locations.

A final note: our family’s three year old Microsoft Surface 3 tablet took a catastrophic fall recently and has become electronic waste for recycling. This led to reflections on the declining durability of mass produced writing machines.

Compare and contrast: my new junker Craigslist Lettera is older than I am and will likely be typing long after I am dead and gone. Despite being pooped upon by birds and rained upon and neglected, that thing woke up and types beautifully. Craigslist Lettera wins this round.

Southern States

This past fall, our family landed south of the Mason-Dixon line in the Old Dominion, the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia (hey, I think I can go to Herman’s this year!)  Typewriter-wise, I brought my little portables with me and left the big standards in California.  I will be back and forth between east and west for the time being.

It’s been a while – a helluva year. My daily WTF meter broke just six months into 2017 because of overuse.  The constant churn of events exhausted the poor thing and several of the gear teeth wore down and just broke off. I am debating whether I should take it apart and fix it. Do I really even need one?  In any case, I checked out of the internet and the typosphere for a while. Like Francis Weed, I have taken up woodworking as distraction and therapy.

New on the shelf

The eagle has landed: classing up the new Virginia neighborhood with a debris box and a rat-branded moving container.

End of an Era

Back in California, Moe from Mozo’s Antique Search and Rescue closed down her San Mateo location and sold her building.

I get a bit choked up about it , remembering the good old days of Moe and Roia and all the fun typewriters:

I wish I had that wrestlers poster

Before she left, Moe gave me this wonderful print which is currently hanging my bathroom in Virginia:

This is a picture of the Underwood exhibit at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) which was held in San Francisco. The exhibit featured a 14-ton functional Underwood 5 typewriter.  ETCetera  – Journal of the Early Typewriter Collectors’ Association had a good article in its Spring 2018 issue by Peter Weil about typewriters at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the PPIE.

In addition, the Shop at Flywheel Press closed its doors – I met so many beautiful typewriters there.

Like the passing of the elves from Middle Earth, it’s the end of an era.

Robust Update

The Olympia Robust has settled into her new gig at the Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia. She rotates into the Dachau exhibit in the role of camp typewriter.  She was featured in the June 2017 issue of the Virginia Holocaust Museum Newsletter, De Malyene. The museum is a good place for the Robust right now.

Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in

After a year-long dry spell, I worked on three typewriters in the past week and found myself experiencing the pleasant, familiar sense of rightness and orderliness that typewriter cleaning brings me.

I was in Portland, OR last week doing family stuff. My sister showed up in town with a 1953 Remington Quiet-Riter that she had found in an antique shop in Columbia, TN. She wanted to get it typing and bring it to her neighborhood block party in Chicago this summer.

It was not typing – the typebars were gummed and rusted down. We got in trouble with my brother when he found us surreptitiously cleaning it on his kitchen floor, and we were banished to his garage workshop – which wasn’t a bad place for typewriter repair.  It was stocked with solvents and a good radio tuned to KGON.

After a good internal cleaning and new ribbon, the Quiet-Riter was typing very nicely.  The exterior is pocked with dots of rust, but it’s a happy typewriter on the inside.

I had to do some long-distance typewriter troubleshooting with my sister via text yesterday morning:

It turns out that her spools were not seated properly after she had fiddled with the ribbon – all fixed now.

I left Portland last week and headed to the SF Bay Area.  I had burritos with another of my sisters in San Francisco and afterwards her daughter pulled out her non-functional typewriter.  It had belonged to my niece’s grandfather.

What a weird Royal! This 1957 Royal Administrator was made in Mannheim, Germany. It is very similar to a Royal Diana except that it has a wide carriage.

The machine had been carefully stored (had the original case and dust cover), but the grease had congealed and stiffened and the Magic Margin, carriage, and typebars were not moving much. I took the typewriter home to San Mateo and cleaned the internal mechanics with mineral spirits.

Once it was clean, I enjoyed its crisp, precise typing.  It was pretty clanky sounding – perhaps the lack of insulation in the ribbon cover had something to do with the noise.  The forward-tilting lid is very appealing.

More pictures of the Royal Administrator are at Typewriter Database.

After finishing with the Administrator, I pulled out another typewriter, a 1957 Olympia SM3, from my front closet:

I had picked this up at Goodwill at the end of last summer when I was dropping off a huge load of old clothes and household items.

How could I resist?

Though there is corrosion on the case, the typewriter itself is pristine.  I imagine that someone received this Olympia as a birthday present, used it a couple times, and tucked it away in its case where it sat for 61 years.  In addition to the user manual, the original German-language factory inspection report was still in the case:

These two 1957 West German typewriters are a nice pair:

Southern States

I am back in Virginia for the time being, enjoying the  strange, wet, tropical summer and its attendant thunderstorms. The weather here is badass.

Here’s a pretty picture from Virginia to end my post.  My son took it last summer in Richmond, VA near where the Olympia Robust currently resides.





The Leprechaun: a Wee O’Lympia SM4

I looked at the calendar today and good gravy, it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day!  The wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’ – I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.

I recently brought home a wee leprechaun, a green Olympia SM4.  It’s one of Moe’s.  Per Moe: it is broken and not typing and could I fix it for her friend’s daughter?

I brought the Olympia home and sat it on the kitchen counter work bench.

This SM4 looks just like an Olympia SM3 – the difference is the tab setting and clearing keys on either side of the space bar:

Random question of the day: what happened to the Olympia SM6?  Did it ever exist? If not, why did Olympia skip from SM5 to SM7?  Is it sort of a Windows 9 situation?

Back to business. Here’s the broken typewriter that doesn’t type:

From the Wisdom of Blender:

If the typewriter types not, check ye the stencil setting.



Its only other problem was that the tab “set” key next to the spacebar was depressed and nonfunctional.

I pondered this a bit and considered investigating around back to figure out why the tabbing mechanism wasn’t getting triggered.  I thought the better of it since this wasn’t my typewriter and lack of tabs wasn’t going to impair its functionality in a deal-breaking way. I am sort of “Meh” on tabs anyway – to me they are not mission-critical.  If I were typing spreadsheets, I’d be helpless without tabs, but this Olympia here will probably spend the rest of its life typing love letters and thank you notes.

I actually have a reference manual on hand: The Olympia SM 1,2,3,4,5, and 7 Typewriter Repair Bible.

This is holy writ compiled by Rev. T. Munk and recently published.  He has a whole slew of repair manuals including The Manual Typewriter Repair Bible.

A couple of them have arrived at my house:

I’ve already gotten the Olympia manual all dirty.

These are spiral bound and lay flat while I am working. I like that.

They are a compilation of repair, adjustments, parts and tools manuals as well as odds and ends like this:

Maybe I should get an asbestos board for the kitchen counter.

I particularly love the manuals’ type and special characters sections. Here’s a pleasantly confusing mashup typeface I’d like to own:

I also want to find a typewriter with a Volkswagen symbol and horsepower symbol (who knew it looked just like the Hewlett-Packard’s logo?):

Spring has sprung.  I took the wee green sprite out in the garden:

Though it doesn’t get very cold here in California, there is a definite change in the air here when spring hits.  I found a beautiful old Irish poem about spring ( “errach”) from the Book of Leinster, and in honor of St. Paddy’s Day, the Olympia typed it out. My Middle Irish is a bit rusty, but I do like this translation.

I imagine that this is how someone in 12th century Ireland (or Buffalo) would experience the transition of winter to spring.
















Brick House

I have been on the road a lot this winter and when I got back in town, I trekked over to Mozo’s.  Moe had a typewriter with problems that needed attention.


This one had been sitting in Moe’s shop since the summer.  A lady had bought it recently and she wondered if I could get it to work. The big piece of tape over the “erwoo” of the decal really bothered me. The decal was in terrible shape, but the tape made it worse.

I never get tired of these old Underwoods – built like a brick house.  They’re heavy-duty beauties.  This typewriter was an Underwood 6, very similar to the Underwood 5s that I have worked on.

The problem with this Underwood was that the carriage tipped from side to side and would get stuck in strange and screechy positions.  Perhaps a loose or missing screw or two?

I brought the Underwood home and introduced it to Blender on my kitchen counter work bench.

I played around with it and discovered what was stopping the carriage.


That little arm with a hole in it was hitting the frame.

Thank heavens for Typewriter Database and the detail photography that members submit.  John M.’s Underwood 6 had a closeup of the area where the little arm hung and I was able to figure out the little arm fit into a screw pin on the side.


The carriage was very loose and appeared not to be seated properly.  I wiggled it bit from side to side and the whole darn thing popped up and out.  Well, hell. I didn’t mean to do that, but there you are.


Note Blender’s barely concealed schadenfreude.

The upside was that with the carriage removed, I could clean the internal mechanics carefully and examine the pin area.


There are two springy arms on either side of the carriage that I was having problems understanding.


Fortunately, I remembered a YouTube video of a guy tearing apart an old Underwood, so I got a bowl of cereal and sat down to watch.

Some members of our community may be horrified by the joyful abandon with which Dusty Guy dismantles this typewriter. However, his video series on the Underwood is full of useful details. After watching this video, I understood the springy arms and how the carriage sits on them.

Once everything was cleaned up inside, I attempted to get the carriage back on. I had to temporarily take out the motion blocks on both sides so that I could get the carriage back in and seated properly.


I had to dismantle the right carriage release to get the little arm back in the pin screw.


After the little arm was re-secured with the pin screw, the carriage did not wobble like it had.

I threw in a test ribbon and took a deep breath.

Yes, it was typing. But weirdly. Looks like bichrome mixing colors and…all caps.


I haven’t had personal experience with one of these telegraph typewriters.  Here is an interesting article on the Cambridge Typewriters blog about an Underwood #3 telegraph typewriter.  I read ETCetera magazine’s June 2013 article by Peter Weil, “Ephemera” about typewriters and telegraphs. He writes:

The term “mill’ is used to describe a typewriter that is used to create typed messages for the purpose of entering the message into a telegraph system or to convert a message received telegraphically into a typed hard copy message.



The typewriter has a degree character as well as a “Do” character.  A commenter on my blog said:

‘Do’ is short for ditto, now most often represented by a double-quote. Used most often in columns of dates that repeat.

Also of note, Mark. P’s Western Union Underwood has this date, “Aug 18, 1903”, stamped into the typebar rest – and so does mine:


And there is a Reddit poster who noted the same thing on his Underwood 5 Mill.

Do all old Underwoods have “Aug 18 1903” stamped at the end of the typebar rest – or just these telegraph typewriters?

Well, what a neat surprise.


I took the Underwood 6 back to Moe’s shop with care and feeding directions attached.


Moe asked me to work on an Underwood 5 she just got, but I told her that there was another typewriter I needed to work on before I could start the Underwood 5.

You see, I did a service check at The Shop at Flywheel Press last week.  They were having their annual Valentine’s Day Love on the Run community event the next day where they bring out typewriters for people to write love letters on.  All the typewriters needed to be in tip-top shape for the event. I went through each, re-threading ribbons, unlatching carriage locks and disabling stencil settings.  They were all in very good shape despite constant use at kid camps.


Jenn at the shop showed me a new acquisition that she had found in a garage.  Oh my goodness.


It powers on but doesn’t type.  I wonder if everything is there.


I have always wanted to try my hand at a Selectric, and now this has fallen out of the sky. Charmed life. Now that I am finished with the Underwood 6 mill typewriter, I am going to play with this Selectric a little. I hope I can get it to run a bit.

Valentine’s Day was yesterday, so I leave you with a tender love song from the Underwood 6:


































The Really Big Typewriter and a Send Off

My blog has been on hiatus for the last few months while my family makes a slow-motion cross-country move to Northern Virginia. I am focused like a laser beam on tasks related to the move and new house and have been trying to avoid distractions and temptations (typewriters).

The Virginia house is a lot like a really big typewriter.   It has lots of moving parts and I am learning something new each and every day.




I have been shuttling back and forth between California and Virginia for the past three months, working on the Virginia house. I really don’t want to be That Lady, but there are some updates and modifications we’d like to make before we bring in our familiar junk and make ourselves at home.  I am home-making.

The Virginia house is full of period details from the 1990s that I am trying to tone down: acres of high-gloss honey oak and brass accents.  This enormous ceiling fan that came with the house is mesmerizing.  It’s like a rare plant of the Amazon that blooms once every hundred years and emits a corpse-like scent. It’s so weird, it may need to stay.


So I am out here in Virginia, trying make this house home-ly for our family – a comfortable setting for all our weird junk.  My skills are limited to demolition, insulation hanging and painting.  I like to paint and my favorite medium is rattle-can Rust-Oleum:



I am trying to make two rooms out of one. Sometimes I feel like Gob Bluth: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

The Olympia Robust joined me on this trip as a carry-on and kept me company in the garage while the floors were being refinished.


Fire extinguisher at the ready in case the Robust overheats

The Robust appears to have spent some time rethinking the past.  It seems to have experienced some sort of spiritual conversion:



We are all on a journey, and our paths often lead to unplanned destinations.  Yesterday the Robust journeyed to Richmond, VA where it will be rotated into exhibits at the Virginia Holocaust Museum.

I drove down to Richmond, VA with the Olympia Robust as co-pilot.  I have not been there in 30 years and was amazed at the city’s funky transformation.



This is a window box at the Poe Museum featuring my favorite type of bird, a corvid:


The Virginia Holocaust Museum is located near the waterfront in an old part of town:


Weirdly (and I didn’t plan this) I dropped off the Robust at the museum on International Holocaust Remembrance Day which takes place on January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I met with the museum’s Assistant Curator, Angela, and we brought the Robust to the  museum’s collections workspace where it will be processed.  I filled out the paperwork and kissed the Robust fondly goodbye.


After the drop-off, I met my son and his girlfriend for lunch and reminisced about the good times with the Robust and celebrated the fact that the typewriter was now in a good place.

I drove back to Northern Virginia and sang loudly to the radio.

Farewell, re-born Robust!  Before we parted and the Robust embarked on its new life, it typed out this: