Sunday, 29 September 2013

Repairing Ken Beckett's Remington Portable 5

A while ago I bought a Remington Portable 5 that used to belong to a Methodist minister by the name of Ken Beckett- a Patrol Padre in the late 40's - early 50's, with a patrol area three times the size of the state of Victoria. I posted on this typewriter and its incredible journeys a couple of months ago here. As mentioned, the repairs necessary were the feed rollers and the mainspring. The mainspring was almost OK, but not quite. It would tighten to a point before slipping and unravelling inside its casing. When tightened to just before this point, it would type OK for most of the page, but get very sluggish towards the right margin.


After being overseas for a couple of weeks and very busy at work either side of the trip, nothing had been done on any of my machines for ages and an email from Scott from the Filthy Platen asking whether I wanted to join him on a trip down to John’s place on Sunday was exactly the motivation I needed: “Yes please”. So Scott, Jane and I drove down last Sunday. Among many other purposes, this trip enabled me to finally pass onto Scott the parts-machine Smith Premier 10 which I spoke about here and for John to give me a seized parts-machine Remington Portable 4. From this machine I shall (hopefully) be able to extract the line spacing mechanism, clean it up and attach it to my own older model Portable 5 on which the line spacing mechanism is missing (mentioned here). The lucky thing however, is that the Remington Portable 4 and Portable 5 models have an identical mainspring, so I was also able to transfer the parts-machine Portable 4’s mainspring to Ken Beckett's Remington Portable 5.

The repair
The mainspring isn’t a difficult repair if you know how. I didn’t know how, but a combination of much appreciated help from both John and Scott means I can now blog about it as if I knew how to do it all along. Firstly detach the drawband, or in my case, cut off the improvised fishing wire draw-band and unwind it off the mainspring. You need a special screw-driver to undo the locking nut on the mainspring (see below).

Scott came to the rescue here and in a flurry of sparks, worked some angle-grinding magic on a broken screwdriver such that a divot was made in the middle of the blade. Once the locking nut is off, simply pull off the mainspring and fit the replacement one. Without a replacement mainspring it’s still possible to pop the top off the mainspring mechanism and re-attach whichever end has come out of its divot making it slip, but I’m glad I didn’t have to resort to this. Tinkering with exposed mainsprings is a bit like playing with fire. I learnt this the hard way from experience with the pull-start mechanism from my old lawnmower.

 Disconnect the rod above, undo mainspring locking screw

Simply take off and replace. The circular-saw-shaped ratchet thing also needs to come out and be attached to the new mainspring. It fits into the top of it, pretty straight forward.

When securing the replacement drawband onto the mainspring (in my case fishing wire), thread it through the hole in the top of the mainspring (visible in the photos) and tie a knot. Be careful however that the knot is descrete enough that it won't catch on anything as the spring winds and unwinds. One feels like quite the goose when one finds out that the mysterious knocking coming from the carriage at a certain point across its run is actually just the fishing wire tied to the mainspring bumping against the frame as the spring turns.

The feed rollers were the next job and there's no need to go into detail for this repair. What I will say however, was that even after replacing the feed-rollers with those from the Remington 4 Portable parts machine (which were somehow still in great nick, must have been replaced in its life time), it still wasn't rolling in paper straight. After carefully inspecting the rollers and checking the rod on which they roll was completely straight, I found that the metal frame in which the whole assembly sits wasn't completely straight. Without much room to move with the long nosed pliers to straighten it and without the time or patience to take the whole assembly off, I solved the problem with a slight bend of the metal with the pliers and also rolling on some duct-tape to fatten one of the end rollers. With a bit of trial and error it's now rolling in paper satisfyingly straight.

The first few verses of Duke Ellington's famous song came out OK, it's not a bad typer at all. But I can see that some further work (potentially just lubrication) is necessary for the carriage shift, as it's not dropping back quite fast enough if I'm typing at any speed. The ribbon also hasn't been replaced and is rather faint. Nevertheless, the old girl is back working again and I'm very pleased to have it back doing what it does best. I haven't heard back from Ken Beckett's grandson, but I'm sure he'd be pleased to know it's working again. Cosmetically I'm in no hurry at all to do anything to it at all other than a wipe with a damp cloth. It certainly doesn't look particularly spick and span, but then something that has travelled tens of thousands of kilometers shouldn't!


  1. Hi Steve, good to see you are still enjoying the typewriters. Although life indeed can get in the way sometimes. Luckily you have some skilled helpers in your area. I don't think I would've dared replacing a mainspring. Enjoy the result!

  2. Congratulations on the repairs! I should be so lucky with a Hermes needing a mainspring.

    1. May luck be on your side Bill! With mainsprings tending to be protected a little from the elements by being right in the guts of the typewriter, luck will hopefully be on your side. My replacement mainspring came from a completely seized rusty old fellow who was never going to work again, but the mainspring was still good as gold.

  3. Thanks for this -- I appreciate the technical advice.

  4. Another good day for the home typewriter mechanic. And I'm beginning to appreciate the value of collaboration. Of course, you'll usually get there in the end, but another pair of eyes and some experience can drastically ruduce the time it takes to work out what's usually so obvious. This sort of reminds me of Georg Sommeregger,.'s idea of compiling a typewriter Wiki, possibly as a companion piece to Ted's database. You know, comething well indexed with solutions (orthodox and otherwise) to the mechanical hitches we all come on every now and then.

  5. Nice job! (:

    You can link to repair articles in the, either in reference to a specific machine record or on the manufacturer page, if you have "Typewriter Hunter" level access. I encourage you to use this feature :D

  6. Many thanks gents. Yes collaborative/participatory typewriter repairing is a wonderful thing indeed. At the moment I am far more likely to be on the receiving end of advice rather than on the giving end, but over time this won't always be the case!

    Ted, this typewriter-wiki style ability to link repair articles to machine models is brilliant. Rather than link the repair to the machine I'd prefer to link it to the manufacturer page and I will look into it this afternoon after work.

  7. Hi, I have a Remington Typewriter Smith Premier N010. I ca not change the ribbon. could you show us how to do it ? thank you !

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  10. Lets see, Canadian, bends frame, uses duct tape on feed roller. Your name wouldn't happen to be Red Green?

  11. Let's see. Canadian, bends frame, uses duct tape o feed roller, Your name wouldn't happen to be Red Green?

  12. I've just come into a beautiful Remington 5 portable and need to change the feed rollers. I see no obvious way to remove the rear set of four without bending metal and risking trouble. Same with front. Any suggestions? Thanks