The Underwood Five

Sonny Boy was home briefly from college.

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While home, he ran around town capturing the sere angst of our suburbia with my point-and-shoot.

In addition to creating great art, he generated lots of laundry and drank all the milk. The comedy in the household was a little more lowbrow than usual. It was into this environment that I brought home this stately Underwood No. 5, and it became the Underwear 5. This dignified old machine doesn’t deserve us, but that’s the current state of the world right now.

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I have been out of town a lot this summer and playing catch-up at work when I am home, so the typewriters have been neglected.  I got back from the road last week and stopped by Moe’s shop –  she always has something new and exciting to clean up.  I was not disappointed.

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1917 Underwood 5
Serial # 995567-5

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This one needed some cleaning – some sticky keys and sticky functions (bell, line indexing, line lock) as well as the gummy, sliding crawl along the rails that I have come to associate with dirty Underwood 5s.

The decals are in superb condition despite the orange peel texture of the paint.  I don’t know what happened here. I don’t think this is a purposeful texture, but it seems very hard and resilient like an alligator’s skin.

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The service label is from the General Typewriter Company – I should call them:

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I just love these old Underwoods. I know they are common as all get out, but they are just so noble, so durable.  I’m looking for a really bad one to bring home, one similar to the Underwood from Modesto.

I cleaned up this Underwood 5, strategically applying PB B’laster in the sticky spots, flushing the segment with mineral spirits, scrubbing the slugs and giving the whole machine a good wipe down and coating of Renaissance wax.

While I was cleaning the typewriter outside one evening, a thin gray stray arrived to watch me.

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I haven’t met this cat before.  I gave it a little food, as we have a soft spot for strays.  It  turned out to be one of my neighbor’s cats – one with a taste for the adventure to be found in other people’s yards.

Back to the Underwood.

It has elite size text.  My poor old eyes prefer large, readable pica. It’s also easier to clean the slugs on a pica typewriter. The ribbon I threw in was very inky and seemed rather smudgy out of the box.

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It occurred to me that The Underwood Five would be a good band name. We take band names pretty seriously in our family.  When we come up with a good band name, we add it to the running list next to the grocery list.

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This is the track listing for the Underwood Five’s debut album, In for Repairs:

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All track titles found in a 1920 Underwood repair manual.

I brought the Underwood 5 to our neighborhood block party last Saturday night for some much-needed socialization. The Underwood had a beer or two with the neighbors and impressed the hell out of everybody. Of course I found my mark: Good Neighbor Brian. The guy already has an 1913 Oliver 5, and (as I knew he would) he fell in love with this Underwood.  I feel a mix of guilt and odd satisfaction in luring Brian to the Dark Side.

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Brian wanted to buy it, so he gave Moe the money for the typewriter and couldn’t resist another oddity at her shop: an old timey hand crank razor blade sharpener that flips the blade during sharpening:

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The sad, sweet days of summer’s end are here, and my son packed to go back to school. He wanted a typewriter to take back with him for college papers.  My son set his sights on my 1952 Smith Corona Skyriter, little Camper Van Pancake:

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I will miss this one and her metal roasting pan lid, but I know she’s going to a good home, packed carefully into my son’s carry-on suitcase.

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I took my son to the airport Monday. Buh-bye, Skyriter. Buh-bye, Son. Make good choices. See you at Christmas.

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Home is where the wigs are.

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9 thoughts on “The Underwood Five

  1. Nick Merritt says:

    Thank God — that Borg collective doll’s head was really starting to spook me.

    Major props to your son for those pictures — and to you for the use of “sere.”

    And I love the “track titles” off the Underwood Five debut album.

    Like

  2. huh, I wonder if that bubbling is from some kind of clearcoat applied during a refurb by “General Typewriter Company” sometime when phone numbers were 4 digits long? I note that the bubbling is not beneath the label applied by them.

    Welcome back from the tumult! 😀

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    • I think you’re right – some kind of varnish/lacquer/shellac was applied way back when and heat and age caused it to bubble. The decals are well preserved under the leathery hide.

      It feels good to be back with my typewriters and my tappity-tap puttering.

      Like

  3. heh, my own U5 is a poorly-done refurb by a dealer in the 40’s. I’ve come to consider it to be character. Drago’s a creaky old cowpoke with a drippy, bubbly paint job, but you wouldn’t want to slap leather with ‘im – he’s still pretty spry. (:

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  4. I see that unfortunately “Knurled ThumbNuts” and “Neural DumbNet” (sorry – my choice of spelling this one 😉 ) did not make to the list…

    I do like the effect on the paint – looks nice on your pictures. Certainly it is unique.

    And the cat is no doubt the reincarnated previous owner of this machine.

    Like

  5. Tyler Anderson says:

    Quickly, we must assemble the Typosphere Orchestral Symphony to play such wonderful pieces of music!

    I find it hilarious how Underwood 5’s seem to migrate to you. They must know that they’ll be in good hands in ol’ San Fran

    Like

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