Scenes from another Evanston type-in

Putting on a type-in last year was a lot of fun, so I was happy to be asked by the Evanston Literary Festival to host one again. This year it was at my favorite secondhand bookstore in Evanston: Squeezebox Books & Music. Rather than setting the typewriters at a table together for a shared typing experience like a traditional type-in, I scattered them throughout the store. This fit the space better and gave people some privacy, while also encouraging them to browse the whole place.

Overall it was much more low-key and intimate than last year’s. (The pouring rain probably didn’t help the attendance.) But my main goal for any PDT (Public Display of Typewriters) is to make it fun and educational for novices. On that account it was a success. I got to show several kids and young people the basics, which I hope radicalized them into the Revolution.

My Smith-Corona Electra 12 set the tone near the entrance, impressing people with its style and snappiness:

With its futuristic curves and spaceship smoothness, my Hermes 3000 felt right at home among the outer space books:

My Olympia SM7 (of surprise acquisition fame) took advantage of the store’s typing table:

And my beloved Skyriter was kept company in the art books corner:

I also brought one to sell, another Skyriter my sister spotted online for $10:

It worked fine despite some scuffs and scratches, so I listed it for $80 hoping to get lucky. Squeezebox was kind enough to display it on their checkout counter. Towards the end of the type-in a young couple arrived toting a quirky, sticker-pummeled Sears portable and Remington Travel-Riter, not realizing the event wasn’t of the BYOTypewriter variety. But I was glad to talk shop with them, and even gladder when they bought the Skyriter. He uses typewriters for ASCII art and she’s an ESL instructor who likes to use them for class material, so it’ll be put to good use.

Finally, some snapshots from the day’s typings:

A lot of them were done by a pair of tween sisters who rotated through all the typing stations (hence the “weird dad” reference—perhaps they are Judge John Hodgman fans?):

The Electra 12: “It’s Electric!”


Not a proper typewriter

Among my blog’s available stats are search terms people used that brought them to my site. One recent search made me chuckle: “smith corona corsair not a proper typewriter”

This most likely brought them to my post Cursing the Corsair. Let me tell you, I’ve called my Corsair far worse things than “not proper”.


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.

Life Typewriters

Life, light, and typing at the bliss station

This is the view of my typing station. It is currently manned by my Smith-Corona Electra, flanked by Life from a succulent and Light from an owl lamp, buttressed by a Jackalope typewriter pad I highly recommend, and supported by a typing desk I inherited from my typist grandmother, and it is quickly becoming my bliss station.

Life Typewriters


My wife and I did a deep-clean over a long holiday weekend. After having some friends over, we realized how much of our place needed attention. I’m sure our guests noticed nothing awry during their overnight stay. The guts were the issue—the stuff only we knew was there, that sat wedged in a closet or stashed on a shelf months ago, when we didn’t know what else to do with it.

Jenny wanted to conquer the kitchen cupboards, the guest room closet, and the guest room itself. Amidst helping her with this, doing laundry, and sweeping, I resolved to clean a typewriter.

Since the beginning of the month, when my latent desire for these beautiful writing machines made itself known, I have accumulated eight typewriters: five Smith-Coronas, two Royals, a Brother-brand Kmart 100, an IBM Selectric from my grandma, and a Rover 5000 that’s cheap plastic but gets the job done. All have unique acquisition stories, designs, temperaments, and needs, both mechanical and cosmetic. To Jenny’s mild chagrin, they sit scattered around the apartment front room, clogging space on our only table and lounging on the couch or writing desk in various states of assembly.

Jenny has indulged my new typewriter phase, even taken pleasure in it, not only because she wants me to be happy, but also because it has in a short amount of time reminded me the value of things—of good and beautiful things. Until I got married, I had few things and liked it that way. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy living situations in my early adulthood that came with furniture and other essentials provided, whether it was in a campus dorm room (undergraduate and graduate) or a fully furnished room in an apartment or household. Save a chair or two in college, I’ve never had to even buy furniture, or anything bigger than a suitcase. My guitar and record player were, for a long time, my heftiest and most valuable possessions—and the record player my dad picked up off the curb.

The process of getting rid of things is not especially difficult for me. For my wife, who has many possessions despite being a very low-maintenance woman, it’s a different story. She has found great value in thanking her items as she places them in The Box, a la The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

The quilt handmade years ago that has been sitting in a drawer unused for years: thank you for the warmth when I needed it.

The aqua blue vase that once held beautiful flowers but has sat beneath the kitchen sink: thank you for sustaining life when it needed it.

The artistic calendar we admired month by month last year but now has served its purpose: thank you for sprucing up time. May someone pillage you for your art and give you new life.

The Royal Futura 800 was up first because it needed the most care, having sat in my parents’ basement storage for nigh on a decade. I was pleased to find, once I got inside, that it was mechanically sound; the keys steadily struck the ribbon’s still-alive ink and returned line after line of black type. Its exterior, too, was in fine form, still shiny and without noticeable blemishes thanks to the protection its orange wooden case had provided. But its innards desperately needed a cleanse, the cat hair and dried padding crumbs and dust having accumulated over decades in its architecture.

I wiped, swabbed, and air-blasted everything I could inside the Futura, just as Jenny was gutting the guest closet. Typebars wiped down, old wrapping paper recycled; detritus beneath the basket shift eradicated, surplus knitting yarn boxed for donation. All things breathing again from the same domesticated air. Every nook and cranny reachable was being acknowledged and accounted for. The apartment and the Royal had, I think, grown weary of their burdens. They too were ready for the new year.

Our two-day marathon purge found its gentle resolution Sunday night, the alley dumpster fuller than before. The Futura reconstituted, its tiny screws holding it snugly together for the long haul, no one will know what had happened to it, how far it had come while staying put. They’ll just see a typewriter sitting in a room, in an apartment that also looks just fine, just as it did before. But we know better.

Etc. Typewriters

Typewriter Files: 1960 Smith Corona Electra 12


This might be my prettiest machine. I found it not long after I read The Typewriter Revolution (which set me off on this maniacal hobby in the first place) in a cardboard box for an AT&T electric typewriter at a Goodwill. It was marked $5, either because it didn’t have its original case, or no one actually looked in the box and assumed it was a most unsexy 80s electric typewriter, or whoever set the price wasn’t a Smith Corona fan.

Overall it was in great shape. A steady electric hum accompanied the crisp and quick clattering of the typebars. But the lowercase and uppercase letters were misaligned, and the motor that powered the typing would periodically shut down before eventually crapping out for good. Also the second “c” in Electric on the front decal was chipped off:


I gave an amateur’s shot at fixing the alignment, to no avail, and I knew I couldn’t fix the motor on my own. So, because it was such a beauty, and because of the circumstances of its acquisition, I decided to bring it in to one of the few remaining repair shops in Chicagoland to see if it could be rehabilitated. A few weeks later I got it back: the motor ran smoothly and the letters typed true, and on a brand-new ribbon. The grimy keys cleaned up nicely too.

Haven’t been able to find much info on this specific model. (Mine is currently the only Electra 12 on the Typewriter Database.) With a serial number starting 5LE, it’s a slight variation on the Smith Corona Electric Portable 5TEs, though what their differences are I’m not sure. I see the extended 12″ carriage on other portables; honestly I think it looks a bit awkward compared to the carriages that fit the width of their bodies.

But I’m happy to have this one, and have used it for a few morning writing sessions already. It’s an awkward carry without a handled case, so I’m actively looking for one at a decent price. It fits perfectly into my Classic 12’s case, so if I could fit another cheap Smith Corona along those lines that I could use for parts, I’d be golden.

To the hunt!

Etc. Typewriters Writing

All You Can Do Is Type

I’ve gone a little typewriter mad lately. In addition to my grandma’s IBM Selectric I, I’ve recently acquired a Smith-Corona Classic 12, Royal Futura 800, Rover 5000 Super deLuxe, Smith-Corona Skyriter, and a Smith-Corona Electra 12. All at thrift stores or antique shops and all for $30 or less. They are all fixer-uppers in one way or another, though mostly just need cleaning.

Tonight I banged out a first draft of an upcoming review on the Futura. It was strange. My style of writing with word processors consists of starting from somewhere in the middle of my thoughts and editing as I write. But I can’t do that on a typewriter. All I can do is write and compile my thoughts as they come, and save the editing for the computer. An occasional change of habits is good, I think, for the soul and for the craft.