Wednesday 28 August 2013

Putting the "travel" in travel typewriter

The joyous thing about a portable typewriter is that you can take it with you whilst traveling for business or leisure and enjoy the utility a typewriter affords, from places other than your home or office. A couple of weeks ago Ton has recently addressed this topic with an interesting post about the best typewriter to travel with. Dr Polt has also recently corresponded concerning his cross-continental capers with his Kolibri. Hell, I once lugged a 29.3kg suitcase with busted wheels containing (among other things) two 1920's Corona's from Colchester to Birmingham and thence on a plane back to Brisbane. But even that pales in comparison to the type of traveling a recently acquired typewriter of mine has done.......

Let me backtrack. A while ago I saw a reasonably priced typewriter on Gumtree in an accessible suburb of Brisbane. After making an enquiry, I was invited over the following morning and was shown a 1940's model Remington Portable 5 in fairly reasonable nick. This was despite it's case, which was scraped, battered and gouged. It was clear the drawband was broken, but otherwise the typewriter appeared to be not too far off working condition. Looking at the condition of the case I joked that it looked like the typewriter had travelled a few miles.

With this, the seller's eyes lit up. Yes indeed, this typewriter had travelled more than just a few miles. The seller told me this typewriter in fact had belonged to his grandfather, Ken Beckett, who used to be a Methodist minister, with a parish more than three times the size of the state of Victoria. This typewriter, he explained, back in the 1940's, had travelled with his grandfather from Melbourne, (via Perth) up to Halls Creek, Derby, Broome, Tennant Creek, Wyndham, Fitzroy Crossing and almost everywhere in between as part of his work for many years as a Patrol Padre. The map below is a guestimate only, but gives some idea of the area and the distances. Not only were the distances ridiculous, but back in the 40's the roads were pretty much all dirt and therefore in rugged if not impassable condition for much of the monsoon season and slow going at the best of times.

The job of a Patrol Patre involved driving town to town, cattle station to cattle station, hundreds of miles apart over seasonally tretcherous dirt tracks and boggy roads to do everything from conduct church services, baptise babies, offer support and companionship, repair windmills and pull teeth. Dentists in those parts in those days were more than a couple of day's drive apart.

Not only this, but the grandmother of the seller of this typewriter, (aka the Patrol Padre's wife), had written a book about these years of adventure through some of Australia's hottest, wildest, remotest and least hospitable country in the late 1940's and early 1950's. By a stroke of luck, I was able to find this book through my university library and it is a really good read.

Unfortunately the typewriter itself is not mentioned in the book, however the Pedal Wireless is. In the 40's and 50's, before mobile phones, satelite phones, GPS, internet, or even standard telephones on most of the cattle stations, the main form of communication between these incredibly remote places was by wireless radio. The Pedal Wireless was operated by someone pedaling (like a bike) in order to generate electricity to power the radio. Each day at 6am, cattle stations would tune in to listen to and broadcast news from each of the stations. A doctor would be located at the radio base- typically Wyndham- and medical calls (if there were any) would take priority each broadcast. When medical emergencies arose, the then-nascent flying doctors service would fly a small propeller plane out to properties (if a landing strip existed) to evacuate the patients hundreds of kilometers to the nearest hospital.

Beckett (1998, pp.13)

All in all the book is a fantastic historical document and an entertaining read. To think that this typewriter that I now own, accompanied Ken and Beth Beckett (who I now feel like I know quite well though this book) on their incredible travels in the 1940's and 50's, blows my mind just a little bit. I also found out that my own grandma and all her 4 brothers were delivered as babies by the very same Dr Catford, (Eaglehawk, Bendigo) who is mentioned in the book as delivering Ken Beckett as a baby. Ken in 1912 and my own grandmother in 1919. This coincidence is too good to keep to myself and I have now contacted the previous owner of the typewriter to tell him of this.

As far as the typewriter is concerned, it's really not in bad nick physically, especially considering its bruised and battered case which looks like its spent many a mile sliding around on the back of a one tonne truck in the late 40's. However if Ken looked after the typewriter the same way his wife writes about how he looked after his truck, this should be no surprise.

Repairing the drawband with fishing wire (pictured below, before I chopped the end off) wasn't much trouble, but unfortunately the mainspring keeps slipping and I can't get the tension I want. Each time I wind it up to almost a decent tension the mainspring slips. For now it types, but you have to start typing slightly slower by the end of the line. So I think a rather more dedicated fiddle and possibly a Rem 5 parts machine is in order. Otherwise it's just the feed rollers, and hopefully they'll be as easy as easy as a bit of fiddling to get them out and as a visit to the local hardware emporium or Clark Rubber store.

Once I get this beauty going again, I am most definitely going to take it with me when I go traveling. Somewhere.

And before you all start commenting on my great taste in teapots- nope, it's my girlfriend's.

Book reference: Beckett, Beth. (1998) "Lipstick Swag and Sweatrag". Published by Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN: 1 875998 37 3

Wednesday 14 August 2013

How many typewriters can you fit on a road-legal motorbike?

Recently Scott K from The Filthy Platen and I made a second trip down to John and Margaret's house near Beaudesert. The first of these two trips is documented in a The Filthy Platen post here, along with some rather aesthetic black and white photography. This time, because Scott's partner Jane was using their car, I said I'd drive us both down. However with Scott living some 50 minutes away from me in the opposite direction to John's place, picking him up wasn't a viable option. So it was decided Scott would ride his motorbike to my place, park it there and we'd both drive to John's in my car. This map gives an idea of the logistics. The scale bar is not actually a good indication, as the road-distance is considerably further than the straight line distance.

When Scott arrived at my house that morning, my immediate thought was: "Holy smokes! How many typewriters did you fit on that motorbike?" In a true display of dedication to the cause, Scott had strapped no less than four portable typewriters onto the back of his motorbike; all of them wrapped in plastic to protect them from the rain. We're not talking four wafer-thin Rooys either, but four decent sized portables strapped to a Suzuki V-Star. "Was this the limit?" I hear you asking... No way. "I reckon I could've done at least 6".

Guinness World Records are always on the look-out for stuff like this- most scorpions in the mouth, most gymnasts in a mini etc- why not most typewriters on a road legal motorbike? I very much doubt this record has been set yet and I shall notify Guinness in due course.


Once down at John's, we got to work with some serious show and tell. John showed us some of the impressive work he has been doing restoring various machines and enlisted Scott's advice on the repair or re-cast of a broken support on a Hammond (pictured below). Scott enlisted John's advice with a couple of repairs on some of the typewriters he had brought down, including a stunning Kolibri, which is pictured in a recent Filthy Platen post here.

One job I had hoped to tackle on this trip was straightening the keytops on my inexplicably wonky-keyed Remington Portable 5. I had bought the typewriter in this condition, with the knowledge that: (1) the keytops on this model of Portable 5 are not fastened on with metal clasps that can be removed with a screwdriver- they require a special set of tools to be removed; and (2) John might just have these tools hidden away somewhere. I was in luck and John did have the right tools. One tool to pop off the silver ring which secures each keytop (such that the letter inside can be removed or turned) and another tool to re-attach it.


The result looks marvelous and I'll look forward to attacking the other minor problems with it in time to come. These include (1) attaching a new line-spacing assembly, as it is completely absent at the moment; (2) figuring out why the L, O and Y keys don't always trigger the escapement; (3) recover or repair the feed-rollers; and (4) clean the typeface, as there's no daylight to be seen in the holes of the e's or o's at the moment, when printed on a page. None of these are major repairs and once completed, I'll look forward to writing Grandma a letter on this shiny little gem of a typewriter.

After lunch (many thanks Margaret), we got stuck into another key purpose of this particular trip. This was to give John a hand with some of the legwork associated with setting up a certain internet based story-telling medium. I shall say nothing more about this, other than that although this venture is not yet complete, I am definitely looking forward to reading whatever stories may be shared through it in time to come......

Thus concluded another enjoyable and productive day in typewriterland, many thanks to those who made it that way.

Monday 5 August 2013

Lets try and repair a Smith Premier 10 (Part 3)

One thing you can count on when working with typewriters is that you’ll be surprised. The typosphere is already littered with stories of typewriters surprising people in all sorts of different ways, from quirky histories to unheard of model names to millions of different repair curiosities. Herein lies a story of yet another thing I didn’t expect. 

This post represents another installment in the on-going saga of me periodically having a go at repairing my Smith Premier 10A. For a very interesting account of some of the early history of this curious model of typewriter, check out a recent post by Robert Messenger here.  I have also detailed my various attempts at repair of my SP10 in earlier posts on this blog here and here. At the end of the second of these posts, I had resigned myself to the fact that unless a “parts” SP10 could be located or unless a designer could model up and 3D print me a new one, that my otherwise functional SP10 would remain backspaceless. The button was there but unfortunately the mechanism was not.

The first surprise was that only two weeks or so after publishing the latter of my two earlier posts on repairing my SP10, what should come up on eBay, but a “not working Smith Premier No. 1" which I identified as an SP10 of the same era as mine, located less than 10km away. Unfortunately the seller was asking $500, so I didn’t give it any further thought, but kept a watch on it nonetheless. After not selling for $500 (fancy that), it was re-listed for $300, for which it also didn’t sell. At this point I contacted the seller and cheerily offered less than 1/3 of that price and to my more genuine surprise, was invited over. After having a look and a poke around with it, I thanked the lady and left. The decals were faded, two keys had been replaced by metal knobs, the keys were sticky and the carriage didn’t really move freely, though it did move with a bit of a push and a jiggle. The overflowing ashtrays and the ambient haze about the kitchen assured me that the typewriter was not from a smoke-free home. But, more importantly, it had an extant backspace mechanism. 

I had a very quick and very quiet inward dilemma while fiddling around in this lady's smokey kitchen. In this dielemma, Dreamy Typewriter Steve said: “Wow, an identical SP10 with a working backspace! You could even do this one up too; well go on, buy it straight away!” However Rational Practical Steve countered with: “Seriously? Are you seriously willing to pay $90 for a backspace mechanism? You’re never going to do this one up, where will you get the parts from? This is the parts machine! Ask her for a glass of ice-cold water, pour it all over your head and leave promptly”. Practical Rational Steve won this argument and I left empty-handed, albeit dry-headed.
Typosphere to the rescue.......
That same night, sitting at my own kitchen table feeling sorry for myself, with my backspaceless SP10 staring me right in the face, a thought struck. I knew Scott K from The Filthy Platen had inherited a non-working SP10 from Robert M and could probably do with some parts himself. Why don’t we split the cost of the machine, each fleece what parts we wish, ending up with proud, functional SP10’s? We could even put the fully pillaged parts machine back on eBay as a "conversation piece" with a disclaimer that it’s been fleeced like a sheep and split whatever small sale price it fetches. Thus only couple of SMS’s and 24 hours later and I had two SP10’s in the laundry and a grin from ear to ear.
The second surprise came when transferring the backspace mechanism from one SP10 to the other. I put off this job for a couple of weeks, partly out of apprehension and partly until I was sure I had a good 2 unbroken hours up my sleeve if need be. I started off by taking plenty of photos of the mechanism from each side to refer to if everything went pear-shaped. In the case of the SP10, at least those built within a couple of years of 1910, the backspace mechanism represents a push-rod, activated by the backspace key, which pushes on this small piece of metal (see photo below) which pivots around this pole thingy and catches the huge wheel that moves the carriage (also pictured below).
Looking from the back of the typewriter
Looking from underneath
The pivoty metal bit is sprung with a spring around the pole so it returns home after ratchetting the wheel connected to the carriage a single space backwards. Several things are adjustable including the push-rod, the pivoty metal bit and the backspace key itself.
Backspacer removed
To my astonishment however, the job took around 10-15 minutes. By a stroke of luck the adjustments on my machine must have been identical to those of the donor machine and with a couple of unscrews, re-screws and the tiniest bit of fiddling, the job was done and my previously backspaceless SP10 was backspacing like a champion. The number of times something that should be quick, (like attaching a spring to a paper-plate or reattaching a platen without disturbing the line-space mechanism) has taken me ages and ages and left me boiling with rage... Yet this job where I had prepared for an epic battle took me quite literally around 10-15 minutes. The parts machine SP10 is now ready to be transferred into Scott's capable hands to be further fleeced of it's working parts.