Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Cursing the Corsair: typewriter repair as character building

Awhile back a patron donated a grey Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe typewriter to my library. She didn’t know why it wasn’t working but didn’t want to spend the time and effort to figure it out.

Little did she know she brought it to one of the few libraries in the area where someone actually cared and could do something about it.

But without a space of its own (or its cover/case), it sat atop a cabinet gathering dust until recently, when we thought we might use it in conjunction with National Poetry Month.

A quick inspection revealed the ribbon wasn’t advancing and the keys would get jammed on the way to the paper. I fixed the jamming easily enough, but needed to do some take-home surgery to properly diagnose the ribbon issue.

Once I got a closer look, I noticed one of the left ribbon spool pawls was out of alignment. This meant the ribbon wouldn’t advance with typing to provide constantly fresh ink. I gently bent it back into place and tried to tighten its binding screw so it would grab the teeth of the ratchet wheel as it should.

(I could be wrong on the names of these parts, but these educated guesses wouldn’t be possible without Richard Polt’s The Typewriter Revolution, the AMES OAMI Mechanical Training Manual for Standard Typewriter Repair at the Typewriter Database, and the War Department’s 1944 Typewriter Maintenance repair manual. Many happy typings to them!)

Typewriter screws can be pretty stubborn sometimes, especially if they haven’t moved in decades. This particular screw was quite intransigent, so in an effort to compel it into motion I leaned into the screwdriver to give it some extra oomph.

Big mistake.

As soon as I did that, the little L-shaped metal arm the pawls were screwed into (not sure of its technical name) bent downward about 45 degrees.

To paraphrase Monty Python, there was much cursing.

I was so close! Once I’d finished that screw the problem would have been solved and I could go on with my life. Alas, not only did this mistake mean I had to figure out how to bend a small 50-year-old metal arm back into place without breaking it, but I also had to remove the Corsair’s plastic body casing to do so. Which I was really trying to avoid.

Once the paroxysm of profanity passed, I quickly realized I had two options. I could give up and consign a mediocre typewriter to live the rest of its days as an Instagram prop. Or I could persevere until I fixed it.

Ultimately I chose a third way: I indulged in self-pity and gnashing of teeth for a few moments, then took Door #2.

I did successfully remove the shell, which exposed the whole ribbon spool mechanism from the side. Even then I struggled to get enough leverage within the cramped quarters of a typewriter’s innards to bend the arm back up. But I just kept at it and kept at it. Once I decided to endure, I had no other choice.

Eventually I found a tool with the right shape to lever the arm back into place no worse for wear. Back on the planned path after this sudden detour, I restored the remaining parts and screws, wedged the shell back into place, and nodded in satisfaction.

Previous typewriter repairs I’ve done produced similar do-or-die moments. Each time I chose to keep on (except one, a Consul Who Must Not Be Named), the repairs ended successfully. No amount of whining, swearing, procrastinating, or doomsaying made that possible. Only stubborn persistence.

The moral of the story: in typewriter repair as in cinematic prison, get busy living or get busy dying.

4 Comments

  1. This weekend, I face a similar repair conundrum on a Corona 3, and I fully expect to use up my entire vocabulary of obscenities. I also fully expect a similar moment of triumph.

    The first typewriter I called my own was a far more common, pastel blue Corsair. It was too lightweight to sit still on the desk. The aging, rubber feet left smudges as it scooted around. It was composed of plastic wrapped around what always felt like a mechanism of cheap metal. I loved that machine, in spite of all its quirks; maybe because of the quirks. One of the many things I can never forgive my mother for was giving it away during a garage sale. But, hey, at least she got five bucks for her pristine Hermes 3000!

    That grey Corsair has found a good home, and a patient caregiver. It’s nice to be appreciated.

  2. As iron sharpens iron so a man sharpens another. Thank God for iron parts! Very good post….

  3. As you say, this is a mediocret typewriter—at best. Parts can bend very easily. But at least they can be bent back …

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