The Shapes of Stories, or Why I Love Junker Typewriters

I tend to drag home some really sorry-looking typewriters, so people ask me, “Why do you love junker typewriters so much?” And I tell them, “Because a junker typewriter is usually the beginning of a great story.”

I love junkers*.  When I am out hunting, I will always prefer a dirty or broken typewriter to a clean and functional one.  I will pay what I need to for a nonfunctional typewriter because a junker will always give me more than my money’s worth in entertainment. And they’re generally a whole lot cheaper. Sure, there are set-backs and frustrations and sometimes tears and curse-words, but at the end of the day, there’s a good story in that. And I always learn something new.

I find typewriter clean-up and repair stories endlessly fascinating. I know that they are not everyone’s cup of tea, but for a person interested in small machines, they provide wholesome entertainment and useful knowledge in large doses.

In fact, I love any type of machine clean-up / repair story. My husband and I are replacing a broken motor coupling on our 20+ year old Oster blender, and that story is GREAT. However, I will save it for a more appropriate forum like my blender blog, My Old Blender. 🙂

blender

I love cleaning stories too. I find this video about cleaning a guitar with naphtha so compelling:

I could listen to that gentleman’s soft and pleasant voice ALL DAY.

Back to typewriters: sometimes typewriter repair is like a good detective story: you do your research, follow the clues and fix the typewriter (or catch the murderer). Typewriter repair stories have lots of twists and turns that keep me on the edge of my seat.

I love me some Vonnegut. Some people find his quirky rambles fatiguing, but he reminds me of some of my quirky, rambling family members, so I think of Vonnegut in an affectionately familial way.  Anyhoo: Kurt Vonnegut was very interested in stories and the different forms that they take.  In the 1940s, he tried to get his masters degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago. Unfortunately, they rejected his thesis.  He described it as follows:

“The fundamental idea is that stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper, and that the shape of a given society’s stories is at least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday

 

Here is Kurt Vonnegut describing some of those shapes:

 

I am a sucker for a good Cinderella story or Man in Hole story or Boy Meets Girl story. Who doesn’t love that uncomplicated rush of happy sentiment when the setbacks are overcome and the main character emerges victorious? Many typewriter repair and cleaning stories have happy endings though some do end ambiguously. Corona Four McDraggle: I am looking at you and your horrible, unresolved ribbon feed problem.

OK. So here’s the shape of my Fox No. 24’s story. The Y axis is typewriter condition (ranging from scrap metal up to pristine condition) and the X axis is progression through the story, the passage of time.

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Here’s the story of the Fox No. 24:

A. I spot the Fox No. 24 on eBay. It looks bad, a bit of a rust-bucket, but most of the pieces seem to be there, so I buy it. I nervously await its arrival.

B. The Fox arrives, and I am over the moon.  It’s in a rough, nonfunctional condition, but it’s more beautiful and strange in person than in pictures.

C. I notice that the back corner is broken off the machine.

D. The drawband snaps as I remove the carriage from the machine.

E. Inside the machine, I see two broken shifting arms. The broken front frame bar falls off. This is rock bottom. I cry a little (a rasping Snoopy cry).

F. After cleaning and lubrication, the carriage, typebars, ribbon vibrator, escapement begin to move.

G. The drawband re-attached, the machine begins to type.

H. Further cleaning and light repairs yield a beautiful, functional machine.

 

Compare that to the story of Posh Spice, the 1938 Corona Sterling:

graphCorona

A. I spot the Corona Sterling at a junk store. She’s absolutely beautiful and in perfect working order.

B. I bring her home, dust her off and she is absolutely beautiful and in perfect working order.

See? Not much of a story there.

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The Corona Sterling has never really fit into my rough crowd of merry junkers. She lays about the house, bored, flipping through Vogue magazine, acting like she’s above it all. She has the aura of a sulky teenager (and she’s no teenager, that’s for sure). I will probably trade her for a special broken typewriter – to a person who can appreciate her.

I will continue to hunt and acquire junkers. They provide me with solid entertainment for the money and grist for the story mill.

 


*I use the word “junker” in a nicest way possible to mean any typewriter that is dirty, beaten-up and/or in less-than-functional condition. This is usually the result of being over-loved, under-loved, or both.

 

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20th Century Fox: Fox No. 24 Typewriter Reassembled

I have been cleaning and tinkering with my Fox No. 24 typewriter for the past few weeks.

Sugru for Key Letters

It look like someone – in a fit of boredom – took a ballpoint and scratched out a couple of the letters on the Fox’s keys. I got some white Sugru at Target for the key tops where the lettering has worn off.  Sugru is a self-setting rubber product that is removable. I pressed it into the key letter depressions and scrapped away the excess.  It sets in about 24 hours.  If I change my mind about the letters later on down the road, I can peel it off.

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Not too shabby; now the letters are readable. The letters are a bit white; I may tone them down a bit with a yellowish glaze.

Gluing

A testament to her true grit, the Fox was able to type with two broken shifting arms. The broken arms were causing typebar alignment problems though, so they needed to be re-secured. I initially tried to re-attach the broken back corner, front frame section and broken shifting arms with J-B Weld SteelStik. Unfortunately the SteelStik was not “tacky” enough and wasn’t adhering to the pieces of broken cast iron (despite sanding and cleaning), so I used J-B KwikWeld metal epoxy adhesive which is a bit stickier.

kwikweld

Foxini supervises the work

I had to remove the shifting arms to glue them because there was considerable sag in the adhesive – the pieces needed support while the adhesive dried.

brokenArm

Done broke

gluing

Broken ends sanded with rough sand paper and cleaned with denatured alcohol before the epoxy applied – it’s a little gloppy.

The rear left corner was a crumbled mess – it’s a bit better now after some J-B Weld, but it could use a good sanding to smooth out irregularities.

corner

The Rust Blackened

There are many areas of bare metal on the painted surfaces.  I was torn.  Should I use Testor’s model paint which is a great match and very permanent, or should I go with India ink (encre de Chine) which is a great match and less permanent?  I went with the India ink and a light coat of Renaissance Wax.  Some future owner may want to undo what I have done.  I want to be sensitive to the history of the machine and preserve as much vintage authenticity as possible.

inked

Finally, I flushed out the metal internal guts with mineral spirits and compressed air. I was worried about excess PB B’laster attracting dirt and gumming up things down the line.

I mixed myself a stiff drink, fired up a cigar, leaned back, and drank in the physical beauty of this 100-year-old vixen. Make no mistake: this is a 100-year-old typewriter that has suffered catastrophic neglect and damage. However.  She is still very fine indeed.

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American Fox-es! (spoken with Festrunk brothers’ emphasis)

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Model number 24 – somewhat hidden behind the keyboard:

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I wish I had better luck removing the cracking layer of yellow varnish/lacquer/shellac around the decals.  I tried to Soft Scrub it off, but I wasn’t successful.  I will leave it to some future restorer with better products and methods.

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The back decal (“The Fox”) has worn off or been painted over:

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Lots of luscious curves in back though:

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Baby got back

The decal on the left side of the machine is in good condition:

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rightThreeQuarter

What Does the Fox Say?

The darn thing types like the proverbial champ:

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It’s got fun special characters: manicules, pilcrow, section sign and degree characters.

keys

It has a double row of staggered type bars. These are called pin-mounted slugs, right?

slugs

The carriage comes off with four loosened screws.  You loosen the carriage scale pointer screws, slide the carriage scale pointer over and off; loosen the carriage screws, secure the draw string to the hitching post, and the carriage lifts off.

parts

dismantled prior to de-rusting

What a wonderful machine. After spending some time in genuine appreciation, I got down to typing.

Fox on the Run

Here’s a looping six second video of me typing away happily on my quick black Fox.

 

How about another six second loop?

 

To Do List

  • Continue polishing rusted and corroded parts – there is still so much to clean up. I hope I get that high-capacity ultrasonic tank full of solvent for Christmas 🙂
  • Try heat shrink tubing for a couple of the feed rollers which are a bit brittle and disintegrating.
  • I need to figure out the line lock set up. My Fox keeps typing at the end of the line, and I think there may be a rust problem that prevents the line lock from engaging.  I am looking at the patent documents for clues.
feedRollers

Crumbly feed rollers and surprise! more rust

This is what I want for Christmas.  Friends and family, please take note:

 

 

 

Total Fox: Fox No. 24 Typewriter

My new Fox No. 24 typewriter is a total fox – or a totaled fox. When I took it out of the shipping box from the eBay seller, I found the back left corner (cast iron) had broken off in shipment.

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ACK!

It wasn’t typing, so what mysteries lay within? I felt that it could type since hitting the keys was causing a flicker of movement in the carriage as if it wanted to type. Time to take it apart.

Words Are Winged has a great photo spread on the dismantling of the Fox typewriter which was very helpful.  Over at Google Books, The Expert Typist by Clarence Charles Smith (1922) is newly found resource for me. It has information on the general use and operation of Fox, Multiplex Hammond, Noiseless, LC Smith, Remington, Smith Premier, Royal and Underwood typewriters as well as more advanced typing such as stencils and mimeograph operation and the preparation of statistical reports.  It’s a window into the world before word processors, spreadsheets, and printers.

The dedication of The Expert Typist is heartbreaking:

dedication

The Expert Typist has a section on how to remove the carriage from a Fox typewriter on page 12:

“Carriage. – Carriages of the Fox typewriter are interchangeable, and different lengths can be kept on hand and used as the work requires.  To remove the carriage, first remove the carriage scale pointer (No. 2312), unfasten carriage drum strap (No. 189) and attach it to hook (drum strap post, No. 133), then take out, or nearly out, the two screws (No. 558) found near each end of the carriage.”

The Expert Typist
By Clarence Charles Smith
Google books

Following the carriage removal instructions, I took off the carriage scale pointer:

corrosion

I removed the two rusty screws that hold the carriage scale pointer in place

I was unfastening the carriage strap and the draw strap done broke.

drawBand

Oh. Heck. The ancient draw strap disintegrated when handled

Carry on. Backed out the two carriage screws on the back on the rear left and right:

screw2

Check out the green corrosion. There is a matching carriage screw on the left that I backed out enough to removed the carriage. This photo was taken just before I lifted the draw band (drum strap) from its anchor.  As I moved it to the drum strap post,  it fell apart in my hands.

I then lifted up the carriage to reveal large pieces of broken cast iron on both sides of typewriter. Good. Golly.

These two pieces should be one:

broken

And the other side was broken too:

broken2

brokenSide

Well. Heck.

It appears that those two cast iron bars are part of the shift mechanism though I am not sure of their purpose. They seem to support the basket during shifts. If you know the name and purpose of these broken parts, let me know.  I’ll be using JB Weld SteelStik or an epoxy adhesive to re-secure them.

Onward: the platen pops out after you loosen a screw on either side and move the platen slide back:

slide

Here’s the machine dismantled (I re-attached the carriage scale pointer after I cleaned it because I was worried that I would lose it).

parts

Fresh Hell: then the front bar fell off. I hadn’t noticed that it was cracked and broken as well:

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First thing first: I blew out the inside of the machine with my small air compressor.  It wasn’t terribly dirty – just very rusty and corroded.

rust

The front carriage rail was rusted and the carriage moved with a painful screech. The escapement wheel and pinion wheel were moving but stiff with rust. Many of the typebars were paralyzed with rust. The ribbon vibrator was rusted into an “up” position. Everything that should move smoothly was crunchy.

I saturated everything with PB B’laster Penetrating Catalyst, let it sit for a few hours and then began to move the parts gently with my hands.  They started to loosen up.

The detached carriage was stuck at certain points along the rail – a star shaped wheel on the rail was not moving smoothly along the rail so I doused everything in PB B’laster and moved the carriage back and forth manually until I felt something akin to a gliding sensation.

carriage

Carriage - upside down: star shaped wheel that moves along the carriage - there are small ball bearing in there too.

Carriage – upside down view: star-shaped wheel that moves along the rail was sticking.

I got the feeling that this thing might type since hitting the keys was moving the parts of the escapement assembly attached to the machine (the loose dog and rigid dog?). Cleaning and lubrication had freed those parts up nicely.

loose dog, wild dog, stray dog, hot dog

View with carriage removed: cleaned and lubricated loose dog (?) now moving and able to slip in and out of teeth in the escapement wheel during typing.

The escapement wheel looks battered – the beveled teeth are a bit chipped and worn.

chipped tooth

Chipped tooth

I made a new draw strap out of 80lb fishing line and set the carriage back on the body.

I need classier drawstring material. The fishing line works but it's a little hillbilly

I need classier drawstring material. The fishing line works but it’s a little down-market.

I tested typing. The carriage advanced one space for each key struck. I burst into song.

I spooled new red and black ribbon onto the old spools and tried her out.

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Looks like my Star of David is indeed an asterisk. Sometimes an asterisk is just an asterisk.

star

The Fox has a beautifully simple ribbon color switcher: a red key for red typing and a black key for black typing. Even I can figure this one out.

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Once I had the machine typing, I began cosmetic improvements. I took my bell and carriage return lever over to Good Neighbor Brian’s shop since he wanted to get in on the fun. He got to work right away.

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Brian used a slow buffing wheel (about 1800 RPM) and pink buffing rouge to polish the bell. It cleaned up beautifully.

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I was amazed at what he did with the carriage return lever.  I had gotten most of the green corrosion off, but it was dull. He polished it to a mirror-like finish with a small 4″ diameter buffing wheel at 1800 RPM and pink buffing rouge:

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Remember – it was really bad before:

carriageReturn

This makes me want to get my own variable speed bench grinder and buffing wheel.

I had removed some of the old brass / nickel / chrome pieces that were easy to detach and soaked them first in Evapo-Rust and then in Lime-A-Way.

The Evapo-Rust took off surface rust but did nothing for the green corroded parts. I had tried chrome polish on the greenly corroded pieces, but it wasn’t doing anything. I dug around in the garage and found Lime-A-Way which has a list of powerful acids in it.  It was the Lime-A-Way that removed the green corrosion. Unfortunately, it also turned some of the pieces slightly pink after a prolonged dunk. The acids in the Lime-A-Way are a bit much for the metal I am dealing with here and caused copper leaching/displacement that was then deposited on the surface of the metal (I am guessing here).

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I found an interesting post on a home barista website that described the chemical reaction and fix, so I started polishing to remove the copper deposits with my Dremel and a polishing disc. There wasn’t much shiny chrome on the paper fingers to begin with and less after my polishing.  I may walk it over to Brian’s and see if he can put a shine on the metal. I’m planning to wax all the parts to prevent future rust and corrosion

IMG_4429

Onto the rusty typebars: they look bad but don’t really affect the functioning, but I wanted to clean them up anyway. I drenched the typebars and their joints with PB B’laster Penetrating Lubricant. While it doesn’t make rust disappear, it seemed to loosen up rust for removal. I scrubbed the sides of the rusty typebars with super fine Scotch-Brite and super fine sandpaper to get the worst of the rust off them. I followed up with my Dremel, polishing the sides with a 512E Finishing Abrasive Buffs 320 Grit and a 442 Carbon Steel Brush.  I scrubbed the type itself with denatured alcohol and a toothbrush and got century-old ink out of the crevices.  The typebars are still looking “vintage”, but a little less rusty.

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I am still perfecting my methods – though trial and error is not the best way to go about dealing with a fine old machine. I’m a little worried that my very liberal use of PB B’laster will come back to haunt me in the form of solidified gunk and dirt attraction.  I may follow up with a flush of mineral spirits, a blow-out with compressed air and then very targeted lubrication. I would love to dunk the metal machine guts into a high-capacity ultrasonic tank full of kerosene or solvent – though it sounds like the makings of my very own Superfund site.

Coming up next: gluing her back together and taking glamour shots of the foxy lady.

The Perils of Migration: Fox 24 Typewriter

This poor little forest creature had a run-in with the postal service.  At some point in time, this Fox 24 had migrated far from its native habitat in Michigan.  It was making its way up the Californian coast recently (tracked by scientists) when it met with misfortune. These little creatures are so vulnerable during migration.

frontish

I have admired the standard Foxes of others: Type Oh’s Fox 24, Words Are Winged’s Fox 25, Cambridge Typewriter’s Fox 24 and ozTypewriter’s Fox 24Type-Writer.org’s Fox is a sad tale of the hazards that Foxes face journeying outside of their natural territory – though it’s still a beautiful machine. I would love to lure that Fox from its lovely forest glade and see if I could make it better.

When my package arrived, I sensed a disturbance in the Force:

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The destruction of Alderaan:

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IMG_4298

I knew it was risky shipping hundred year-old cast iron long distances, but I had my reasons for luring the Little Fox north:

  • It’s got an interchangeable carriage – it comes apart easily
  • It’s shaped like Santa’s sleigh!
  • It’s got a weirdy staggered double row of typebars – like shark teeth.
  • It’s full of weird old-timey machine controls – many of which I haven’t figured out the function of yet
  • It’s a total fox – so good looking

These mysterious grimy pointing hands are surely worth the price of admission. They are on the typeslug. I believe the symbol is called an “index”, “manicule”, or “fist”.   Also note the pilcrow (¶) and the section sign (§) key.  Was this typewriter used for contracts or other legal documents?

hands

The typewriter also has a Star of David symbol where an ampersand usually is:

star

It looks like Christmas came early – it’s Santa’s sleigh:

leftSide

The typebars are staggered – a double row like rusty shark teeth:

doubleRow

Rusty Grist for the Mill

I feel vaguely uneasy when I look at the Fox.  I like my typewriters in “rough” condition, but this is probably the worst I have had the pleasure to own. It’s not typing and it’s rusted and greenly corroded through and through. It will take some time and effort to get this beauty to type again. I am also not sure whether there is other internal damage the Fox may have sustained in shipment.

This is one of those projects I plan to approach philosophically.  While I don’t know what the end result will be or whether I can get this thing to work, the journey will be interesting and (I hope) transformative. I seek personal growth through typewriter repair.

Rust, rust everywhere and not a gleam to see.

serial

I’ll take off the easily removable parts and soak them in Evapo-Rust. I am still thinking about how to approach those rusty parts that I can’t easily remove.

I have a Dremel – described by my father as the most dangerous tool in the workshop because of its misleadingly benign appearance. That thing will blind you and maim you and pull your hair out by the roots before you can say “This is fun!”  The Dremel requires proper eye and nose and mouth and hair protection. Also, you need a light and careful hand so that you don’t end up damaging what you’re polishing.

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It was either Emily Dickinson or Uncle Jack from Breaking Bad who said, “The heart wants what it wants” (sorry, Woody and Selena, you can’t claim it).  I am drawn to typewriters with “issues”, and this Fox is a beautiful but complicated creature. The Heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care.