Friday, 24 May 2013

"The hottest beer in the world"

Typed on the 23rd May 2013 from my 1939 Royal KMM, Serial number: MM14-252046.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Lets try and repair a Smith Premier 10 (Part 2)

Part 1 of this story ended as I thrust my Smith Premier 10's feed-roller assembly into a pot of furiously bubbling water.

 After some time of furious boiling I retrieved the rollers from the pot and immediately ran them up and down on my wooden floor. To my surprise and satisfaction, this rounded off the rollers very nicely, leaving a bold black mark for me to clean up before my girlfriend got home. The shards of rubber on the cracked or clearly irreparable rollers I cut off with a pocket knife and wound cut-to-size strips of duct tape around the bald cylinder of rollers until they were padded out to the correct diameter. 

Now I freely admit this is not an optimum solution. Like many more learned typosphere contributors have demonstrated, badly damaged rollers can (in some instances) be very effectively replaced with heat-shrink tubing or other miscellaneous rubber tubing sold for irrigation equipment, auto parts or general hardware. At the time though I was happy with my quick-fix and the duct tape has held its shape nicely for over 6 months now and shows no sign of wear or contortion. Following a thorough sanding of the platen (to remove the remains of the rollers) and an optimistic application of brake-fluid, my makeshift duct-tape feed rollers continue to roll in paper much to my satisfaction. The platen however remains as hard as an iron rod. Brake fluid may work ok on 40-60 year old rubber (such as my 1954 Royal QDL), but much than that (i.e. my 1922 Corona 3 and this Smith Premier 10; forget it).

After many weeks of inactivity, I tackled the spacing. The spacebar worked and the carriage advanced when any of the keys in the middle of the keyboard were pressed but not the keys on the far sides. Peering into the guts of the beast, I worked out that the long semi-circular metal thingy (circled below) was in control of the escapement when keys were pressed. 

Semi-circular metal thingy which triggers the escapement

The keys in the middle were moving this thing far enough back to trigger the escapement and move the carriage one space, but the keys around the sides weren’t quite doing this. If I remember correctly (as this is a fair while ago), although I was preparing for a huge battle, I think this problem was actually fixed with a discerning spray of Teflon lubricant and an adjustment of the ribbon vibrator, which is also directly connected to this mechanism. This nature of the adjustment (which I also can’t clearly remember) involved freeing it up and ensuring it started bobbing up and down properly which it wasn’t before.

Next was the backspace mechanism. In short it didn’t work. There was a loose push-rod down there that looked like it connected onto something but I had no idea what. On Monday 29th April, myself and Scott K of The Filthy Platen loaded the Smith Premier (among many other typewriters) into the back of Scott’s car and drove down to John’s place in the countryside south of Brisbane. Now John has more than a couple of hundred typewriters and more than a couple of decades of professional experience fixing them. Not since I was a kid in a toyshop, can I quite remember such a strong feeling of being a kid in a toyshop! John’s experience, generosity and humour made this an incredibly fun and informative day, which Scott has eloquently summarized in his post here. Of relevance to this post, John happened to have a Smith Premier 10A in his collection, so I was able to compare the mechanisms. 
 Two SP10A's on the one workbench- not something you see too often these days!

Comparing the two machines side by side, it became clear my backspace mechanism was missing a part. John considered it was likely that a typewriter repairman back in the day had removed it to fit onto another machine. Thus unless a suitable SP 10A parts machine can be located (or a 3D printer for that matter), my machine will remain backspaceless.
Backspace mechanism of my machine

Backspace mechanism of John's machine: Aha! That's the missing part!

The cylindrical thing with the cog thing on top that you see in both photos is the tabulator mechanism and is completely unrelated to the backspace, even though it features prominantly in both photos.

Having found the backspace was (for now) irrepairable, I looked at the issue with the keys. Having so many keys, it was unsurprising that several didn’t work. While many were freed up with some cleaning and lubricant, the capital X, the lower case q and the 4 needed further attention. The q and the 4 were missing springs and the type-bar-arm connecting-rod thingy’s were loose. These had to be manoeuvred back under the semi-circle escapement-engaging thingy and placed in a similar fashion to that of the others. Using a long spring from John’s box of springs, I cut it to size, thereby making two shorter springs. One of these needed further trimming and re-curling another top-clasp with long nosed pliers as it was too loose the first time. With John’s help, these were then hooked on. 

After re-springing, the lower case q worked a charm. The 4 worked, but the type-bar at rest didn’t correspond to the keytop being at top-dead-centre, although I was happy enough with this; not perfect but still working. Scott however, not being content with substandard functionality, saved the day here by correctly identifying that for each key, a pin slides out and the push-rods can be adjusted with pliers. Thus by turning the thingy pictured clockwise several revolutions, the top-dead-centre of the keytop began to correspond to the typebar at rest against the felt. 

With this fixed, the 4 now works a charm too. Unfortunately the capital X is missing a type-bar-arm-connecting-rod thingy and couldn’t be repaired. John thought this again may have been a typewriter repairman back in the day borrowing the X key linkage and the backspace mechanism to put in another machine, as the capital X is one the least used keys on a typewriter, (unless of course you like to XXXXX out your copious mistakes like I do).

Thus with a reasonable amount of elbow grease, the help of John and Scott and the absolute fortune of John having an identical machine to compare to, the old beast works... mostly.... There are minor issues like the top and bottom of the capital B and the bottom of the lower case e not quite printing properly, the rock hard platen and the ear-plugs-and-aspirin typing experience, but then this was never going to be a race-horse. By virtue of the SP10’s cumbersome double keyboard and the sheer number of decibels produced during operation, I’ll always reach for the Lettera 32 or Royal KHM when I need to type something up. But then again, there is some satisfaction to be had in at least partially reviving a machine built only 9 years after Australia became a federated nation.

P.S. (1) In relation to the question posed in my last post, I now understand that the whole carriage was removable on the SP10, whereas only the platen assembly was removable on the SP10A, therefore explaining the ad featured in my last post which spoke of interchangable carriages. (2) My phone number (for all you centenarian secretaries out there) is actually (07) 31133877. I was missing a 3 in my typecast. Please first indicate you are not a telemarketer in order to minimise the risk of unwarranted verbal abuse.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Lets try and repair a Smith Premier 10 (Part 1)

By October 2012 after seven months exposure to typewriters, I came to the rather premature conclusion that maybe I knew enough about typewriters (and had enough confidence in their resale value as "conversation pieces") that I wanted to try my hand at something old. Not just old as in pleasantly vintage, but a typewriter made in the days before all the standard features got standardised. Something upstrike or something Blickensderfer or something with an unnecessarily large number of keys on it. My wish was granted when a Smith Premier 10 came up on Australian ebay. Early in the morning of the 31st October 2012 I eagerly watched the minutes tick down on this auction, but then inexplicably couldn’t bring myself to place a bid on in the last few seconds. I related this later in an email to Scott in terms of suffering a dose of the freshly-awakened last-minute heebiejeebies about paying almost $100 for a lump of antiquated metal that I knew nothing about and probably couldn't fix anyway. In truth, the phrase “lacked the balls” says as much in fewer words. As it turned out, the auction ended without a single bid, so when my wits returned, I was able to negotiate a price with the seller, bought the typewriter outside of ebay and organised my own courier to transport it up from Melbourne.

The Smith Premier 10 is a curious beast. This was the last of Smith Premier’s double-keyboard machines and is the only double keyboard machine of any make to have the modern front-strike type action. It therefore sits somewhat at the crossroads of the antiquated and the modern(ish). Some of its features carried on to became standard fixtures of typewriters for the following 100 years (such as the front-strike action and qwerty keyboard layout); while other parts of its design died out almost with that very model, never to be seen on new machines again (for instance the double keyboard and curious vertical rear-mounted ribbon spools). One has to wonder about the manufacturer's confidence in their typewriter, even one made so long ago, when the newspaper advertisements point out the spacebar and backspace key (among other features) as selling points:

This ad assures us that the durability of the typewriter is complemented by "greater speed and greater accuracy without mental and physical strain". However the Underwood 5 was around at the time when the SP10 was released and I would love to meet the secretary who could type faster and more accurately (with less mental and physical strain to boot) on an SP10 than an Underwood 5. Alas, I digress. This post is not to do with emancipated young secretaries of the 1900's labouring away at a double keyboard, but with my impatient attempts at typewriter repair. Here follows a brief summary of my rather simplistic repair work to date on my own SP10. An account of a far more comprehensive and impressive restoration of a full-keyboard typewriter (in this case a Yost 10), can be found here courteousy of Guy Pérard

My particular machine, a Smith Premier Model 10A, serial number 37103 arrived in early November last year. The only information that I got from questioning the seller about its past life was that it had been in the family for ages and was used many many years ago by an elderly mother when she was young. This elderly mother had recently passed away and hence the sale. It didn’t sound like a happy time for the family and I didn't ask anything further.... In any case, the parcel arrived at my house in November 2012, containing an SP10 that was a fair way off working order.

Initially I began by cleaning it up. I figured that even if I couldn’t get it going, at least I could make it look a bit nicer. To clean the keytops I used a citrus-based goo remover. After a comprehensive de-fluff and a once-over with a damp cloth, I applied car polish to the parts of the black enamel paintwork which weren’t completely shot.

Next came the platen assembly. The SP10 and probably other Smith Premier models of the day boast an incredibly easily removable platen assembly. It appears the idea here was to enable platens to be seamlessly interchanged. This capably demonstrated by the young lass below who seems to be effecting a "Scientific saving" as we speak. 

This ad raises more questions than it answers for me. For instance it mentions instantly interchangeable carriages, whereas I thought the carriage was fixed and the platen assemblies were interchangeable? In order to fit a long platen on a machine, the machine would have to first be fitted with a long carriage. To then fit a more modest sized platen onto a wide carriage machine I can only assume the modest sized platen would have to be matched with a longer platen rod? Suffice to say I think this ad is a little to scientific for me and I would welcome comments from those who know more than me.   

The feed rollers on my machine (where they still existed) were not only squared off but had positively fused themselves into the platen. Once freed from the platen with a sharp knife, I followed Scott’s advice and utilised hot water to attempt to re-shape the extant rollers. 

In Scott's post where got the idea for this, Scott writes:

“I didn't feel that I needed to so much cook the rollers, as much as I needed to heat them. So I dropped the rollers individually into a container that I then filled with boiling water. Doing it this way, the temperature was probably going to be 10-20 degrees lower - helping retain the consistency of the rubber while I put it under stress”.
However being the impatient individual that I am and being met with rock hard and severely squared rollers, I figured that this considered and gentle method just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. So instead I got a pot going on the stove and added plenty of salt in order to marginally increase the boiling point of the water. Once it was boiling away furiously I reached for the oven mitt and the salad tongs and thrust the feed rollers deep into their scalding bubbly fate....

 Stay tuned for the next (potentially cringe-worthy) installment of “Let’s try and repair a Smith Premier 10”.