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.

Broken:

Fixed:

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.

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.

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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.

underwood

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.

arm

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.

twdb

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.

carriageoff

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.

cleaning

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

springarm

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.

motionblocks

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

armrepair

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.

allcaps

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.

typeslugs

02

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:

1903

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.

surprise

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

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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.

theshop

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

selectric

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

selectricinterior

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:

brickhouse

 

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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.

expansiontank

wires

heatpump

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.

fan

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:

shutters

demo

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.

garage

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:

henry_james_quote

robust

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.

mural1

mural2

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

windowbox

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

vhm

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.

olympiarobust

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:

anne_frank_quote

 

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The Royal Happy Halloween (HH)

It’s October and here in the US that means Halloween. I’m not much for the scary, gory stuff, but I do like a cheerful jack-o-lantern or two. And I like all the candy that I steal from my daughter’s trick-or-treat bag.

My neighbor’s Pac-Man ghosts are pretty swell.

pacman

And now as the leaves have started to fall, Moe from Mozo’s gave me a call. A friend of Moe’s had a Royal HH that needed a look-see. I brought the HH home and took it out to the back patio to investigate.

1952 Royal HH
HHE-4815786

royal-hh

By serial number this typewriter is from 1952 – the first year the Royal HH was manufactured. The serial number is under the carriage on the right side.  You can see it if you pull the carriage way, way over to the left:

royal-hh-serial-number

It wasn’t too bad: a little gummy, a little dirty on the inside. Its worst problem was that it was cursed with one of those awful black and white correctable ribbons. The horror!

correcting-ribbon

The first thing I did was cut that thing out. So much better:

mess

I blew the inside out carefully with my Datavac Duster:

duster

Despite being a nondescript muddy gray, this HH has wonderful style – the lines are very appealing.

I assembled my supplies for cleaning:

supplies

  • Old rags
  • Mineral spirits in a jar for scrubbing the slugs and segment
  • Soft Scrub for cleaning the platen
  • Goo Gone for cleaning the key tops
  • a stiff tooth brush for slug scrubbing
  • a paint brush for applying mineral spirits
  • Q-tips to cleaning sticky eraser crumbs and gunk
  • a bamboo skewer for getting into tight spots
  • a fresh ribbon to rewind onto the old spools

After draping the shell carefully with rags, I scrubbed the type slugs and segment with mineral spirits.  After a first cleaning pass, the typebars were all swinging easily.

I then wiped out the eraser crumbs, gunky fluff, and correcting tape dandruff with a lightly damp rag and Q-tips. I vigorously scrubbed the platen with Soft Scrub to remove embedded white of the correcting tape.

soft-scrub

The keytops had the frost often seen on Royals of this vintage. A lot of people call it mold or fungus, but I think it’s a chemical precipitate that affects plastics of the era. That sounds xtra-science-y.

key-tops

margic-margin

I wiped the key tops down with Goo Gone and the white coating came off.

keytops

margic-margin-2

The old metal spools are the distinctive Royal style.  I wound new red and black ribbon onto the old spools and tested.

soft-margin-royal-hh

Lovely! When I first started typing, the left margin was a little “soft”, returning irregularly to the left. I find that Royals often exhibit this behavior.  Fortunately, the erratic left margin seemed to work itself out with exercise.

The Royal HH has a “carriage control” knob.  Here is the description of carriage control from the Royal HH manual:

royal-hh-carriage-control

I played with it, turning it up and down and felt no difference. Perhaps the machine needed more cleaning to appreciate the subtleties of the control.

T. Munk posted recently about a similar feature on Royal portables of the early 50s.

Moving on, here’s a picture of Herb Caen, a well-known San Francisco columnist who swore by his “Loyal Royal”.

San Francisco Chronicle newspaper columnist Herb Caen in his office at 901 Mission Street in San Francisco May 1994. Photograph by Nancy Wong

San Francisco Chronicle newspaper columnist Herb Caen in his office at 901 Mission Street in San Francisco May 1994. Photograph by Nancy Wong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to say whether the HH pictured above was his favorite – apparently he had four “Loyal Royals” including the Royal FP below.  Really, Herb, what a player!

"Loyal Royal," typewriter of Herb Caen, longstanding columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, on display in the lobby of the Chronicle Building on 5th Street in San Francisco, CA

“Loyal Royal,” typewriter of Herb Caen, longstanding columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, on display in the lobby of the Chronicle Building on 5th Street in San Francisco, CA. By Uyvsdi (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This HH is a serious typist’s typewriter.  It’s got a palm tabulator:

08

If this HH had had a dirtier shell, I would have pulled out the Scrubbing Bubbles and a tooth brush and cleaned the crinkle paint exterior.  However, the HH was pretty clean to start with.  I only needed to wipe down the outside with a damp cloth. Here she is, sitting pretty on my front bench.

royal-hh-2

I am going to call this model a Royal Happy Halloween from now on. I have heard tell that the Royal HH was named for Henry Hart who patented the Magic Margin for Royal in 1938. HH could also stand for Hello Handsome, Head Honcho, Heigh Ho, Hip Hop, Holy Hell, Happy Hunting and more.  Happy Halloween seems appropriate for this time of year.

pumpkin-royal-hh

I took the Royal HH back to Moe’s with care and feeding instructions. I am sure that the lady who owns it will now be able to hammer out The Great American Novel.  What a sweet machine.

Postscript

I got an email from Jenn at the Shop at Flywheel Press and she just got a new typewriter for the Shop. It had belonged to a friend who moved to Hawaii and couldn’t afford to bring the typewriter along, so she gave it to Jenn.  It wasn’t typing and Jenn thought maybe it had a carriage lock engaged. I went over to scope out the situation.

When I arrived at the Shop, Jenn was conducting a kids camp.  I could hear the happy tappity-tap of typewriters as I walked in.  Heart-warming!

shophh

Here’s the new girl. Really, another HH! I call this one a Royal Hardly Hawaiian (since it didn’t make it off the mainland).

After poking at it a minute or two, I determined that the margins had been set close together so the carriage couldn’t move.  Damn you and your mysterious hidden workings, Magic Margin!

I got the margins in order and strung a new ribbon on her, and soon she was typing away happily.  I’ll be back to give her a good clean and enter her into TWDB.

I strolled around the Shop and checked the other typewriters. One or two had ribbon issues which were soon remedied, but all were typing.  My cheesy fixes like the duct-tape clevis repair and the paperclip spool spindle ARE STILL FINE despite all the little kids hammering on these typewriters.

Looking good, ladies. Til next we meet.

shoptypers

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Pleasing Symmetry

The Olympia Robust had been on my mind ever since it first arrived at Moe’s shop. I took some photographs of it in situ for Typewriter Database:

left

Deer antler, tramp art, oil lamp, Jesus, stuffed pheasant…Olympia Robust.

main2

It bothered me to leave the typewriter at Moe’s shop. Not only was it at risk of getting damaged, but I worried it may be collected for weird reasons. The more I ruminated on it, the more convinced I became that the typewriter should not go to a private collector.

So I took it into protective custody and brought it to my place for the time being. Moe was relieved about that.  She was worried about it getting stepped on.

I am offering temporary shelter to the Olympia Robust – it can’t stay in my home too long.  I’m concerned that it might catch what the Praxis has.

dsc05475

I went in search of a permanent home for the Robust.  The internet did not disappoint.  After a little digging, I found a Holocaust museum in Richmond, Virginia that was requesting donations of objects from the period.

vhm

What I liked about this museum:

  • extensive community education program
  • open 7 days a week
  • FREE admission
  • great Yelp reviews

I got in touch with Tim, the director of collections at the Virginia Holocaust Museum. He and the assistant curator agreed that the Olympia Robust would be a good addition to the collection for rotation into the exhibits.

As part of the museum’s collection, the Olympia Robust will be available to anyone who may want to examine it (typewriter types, history buffs, ordinary curious people).  Tim says that the museum is developing a searchable online archive of objects in their collection that the Robust will become a part of.

I’m flying out to the DC area in December and will take the Robust as carry-on luggage. Once in DC, I plan to drive the typewriter down to Richmond for the hand-off.

This turned out really well. This particular typewriter’s story has a pleasing narrative symmetry – or at least a very satisfying balance in beginning and end. While I don’t think inanimate objects can experience karmic retribution, the sprinkling of poetic justice and side of situational irony gives me a chuckle.  This typewriter, made in its past life for the SS, will now be used as a tool for education and as prevention against future atrocity. It really does make me laugh (righteously, of course).

dsc05477

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Difficult History: Olympia Robust

I have been wrassling this week with an Olivetti Praxis 48 that I have fixed once already. I bought it off of Craigslist last year, fixed it and gave it to the Arduino Kid (son of Roia who works at Mozo’s shop down the street)

Roia and Burger

Roia and Dog. This dog has one eye that pops like Marty Feldman’s.

I brought the Praxis home last week with its jammed carriage:

img_5638

The Chewbacca mug mistook the Praxis for the Millennium Falcon and came over to see if he could recalibrate the hyperdrive motivator.

I removed some loose hinge pieces that were dangling inside, plugged it in and it worked.  For a couple minutes.  Then it was jammed again.

dsc05427

And that led to:

dsc05430

So I was sweating and swearing at this technological marvel when I got a phone call from Moe at Mozo’s.  She got some new typewriters including a really cool Olympia that I just had to check out.  So I walked over to the shop.

Lord.

dsc05432

In pride of place next to the Tonka Winnebago

On the floor, Moe?  Really? With case open for stepping on?

And of course, it was One of Those.

dsc05433

Moe didn’t know.  I pulled her over and showed her the SS key.

1943 Olympia Robust
serial number 470745

The typewriter is functional.  The carriage feels a little loose and the typed imprint on the right side is a little light, but it’s typing.

dsc05434

dsc05455

The case is wooden, a faded blackish-green with a German instruction sheet pasted within it.

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The typewriter has a QWERTY keyboard and German characters.  My guess is that this was a US soldier’s war booty and that when he returned from overseas, he had the Y and Z placement switched.

dsc05436

The “front panel slide” (“schieber im Frontblech”) is mysterious.  I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to do though it does obscure what has been typed. Would the slider have protected the delicate mechanics out in the field?

slider

A lot of people have mixed feelings about these SS rune WWII typewriters. There have been lively discussions in typewriter forums about the ethics of owning an SS rune typewriter.  I wish I could say something deep and meaningful about artifacts of difficult history, but I am coming up short.

I wish my father were still alive; I’d love to get his take on this typewriter.  Born in 1918 at the end of the first world war, he was a US Army serviceman during the second world war. He was an expert typist and bookkeeper, skills that did not go unnoticed by his superiors, and he diligently typed and kept the books through the war.  I imagine he would have studied this Olympia Robust with great interest.  It is the machine of his German SS counterpart, possibly a wartime clerk like himself, who used it to type up requisition forms for canned peaches – or status reports from death camps. We don’t know.

My father had a taste for the absurd and he framed his WWII service portrait in a WWI German commemorative frame he somehow came across.  It says around the frame: “Zur Erinnerung an die grosse Zeit – 1914-1915” (Memento of an Important Time, 1914-1915)

dsc05444

I feel my father would have regarded this typewriter as a reminder of how war is absurd and monstrous – and full of the workaday. It’s really hard to orchestrate organized, large-scale evil-doing without clerks and paper pushers. You need a good typewriter too.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as “the good guys” though we are not as morally superior as we’d like to think. US history has some very dark chapters, and that difficult history should make us a bit uncomfortable. That discomfort should prod us toward a better future.

This Olympia Robust typewriter is a piece of difficult history, an object from a dangerous time and place. I really wouldn’t want the Robust to go to someone who acquires it as a fetish – an object of dark magical power. I’m hoping that it will find a home with someone who appreciates the significance of its history in a matter-of-fact way and who will preserve it and share it as a reminder of a terrible time in the world. Cue Santayana: those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Procrastinator

It’s Labor Day holiday in the US, the day we celebrate the American worker and give Summer a long, wet, beery goodbye kiss and think back over all the fun we’ve had during the past three months. Tomorrow we’ll put away the white slacks and flip flops and get back to school and business.

It was in a nostalgic end-of-the-summer mood that I re-read some of my past typewriter blog posts, and I had to laugh at the tone.  My typewriter repair posts can seem like self-congratulatory, unstoppable marches to victory. It’s never that way.

It is time to spread out the dirty laundry of my to-do list. Now that summer is over, I need to get serious. I really don’t know how this happened.  I have somehow accumulated a collection of partially dismantled typewriters that desperately need help. Here they are, begging for my attention.

beatles

Neglected while I was off gallivanting with the Boys of Summer

Paul the 1959 Royal FP

The good-natured, hard-working 1959 Royal FP is in terrific typing condition – it may skip for some people, but that’s their problem. I have removed some of the panels for sandblasting and powder coating. I ordered pink powder coat paint for the top cover, paper table and front panel – and then I lost my nerve. Did I truly want to pinkify a dignified old FP?

royalFP

Ringo the 1913 Oliver 5

Everyone’s favorite – the sweet and unassuming 1913 Oliver 5 came as a matched set.  Good Neighbor Brian has Ringo’s twin, but I kept Ringo because he’s in pretty bad condition with lots of rust. I took off his carriage and haven’t gone any further.

oliver5

John the 1970 Hermes 3000

A complex bundle of ego with smartypants tendencies, the 1970 cursive Hermes 3000 suffered a catastrophic fall at Moe’s shop.  The carriage was mashed into the body and now won’t move.

hermes3000

George the 1922 L. C. Smith & Bros. No. 8

The 1922 LC Smith & Bros 8 has been living in my garage for the past eight months.  He seeks to rise above and to achieve a higher level of rust-free consciousness.

smithBro8

The Fifth Beatle: Underwood Portable

There’s also Pete from Idaho, a three-bank Underwood portable with a few pieces that need to find their proper place.

3bank

And then there’s the typewriters that need minor fixes:

fridge

You may ask why is there a Rheinmetall KsT in my fridge with a blob of Silly Putty on the shift lock key (this sentence sounds like typewriter-related Mad Libs).  It’s a long story, but it doesn’t have a happy ending yet.

I think that I’ll start with the Hermes 3000. Come here, Sweetie:

DSC04634

Blender impassively watches the countertop dissection of the Hermes 3000.

Farewell, Summer!

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