Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Tag: Smith-Corona

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, 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.

Typewriter Files: 1960 Smith Corona Electra 12

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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:

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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!

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.

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