Saturday, July 18, 2015

Agatha Christie Takes a Holiday

A note to the reader from the writer.
The following blog is designed to be read in a fairly high-pitched female voice, using a rather uppercrust and slightly snobbish but really-quite-nice-at-heart british accent. Other sound effects are encouraged at your own discretion...

Welcome, Ms Christie, to TIP, TOP, TAPPERS, the day spa for tired typewriters that may change its name at any moment, knowing the writer...

Now, let's have a good look at you.

Yes, not too bad (for a lady of your... ahem... long experience).

Typewriter ribbon as dry as a day in the desert, but that's to be expected, I suppose. And dear oh dear, just look at that platen. No wonder you can't load paper at the moment. It's full of dust.

Type bars are straight so that's a blessing, I suppose.

And let me see... Yes, there's your serial number. Oh, my, you're a B series. Well, well, well...

Goodness me, everywhere you look, dust bunnies and dirt, dirt, dirt. Looks like you've come to us in the nick of time, Ms Christie. Let's see what we can do for you. 

This is our new girl, Lizzie. She hasn't been with us long but she's a dab hand at a brush down, aren't you, dear? If I could just ask madam to remove her ribbon for us. Very good. Off you go then Lizzie...

And there is your full serial number: B1357151. We'll get our research department busy on that one right away...

Now, that's a little better but I'm afraid we've still got quite a way to go. Time to take your top off. Don't worry, Ms Christie, I can assure you, we're all professionals here. It's nothing we haven't seen before. New Girl, be a dear would you and fetch me the screwdriver...

Now, stay quite still, Ms Christie. This won't hurt a bit. First we'll just slide this carriage out of the way and...

There we go. Lefty loosey. Now the other side...

Sorry, Ms Cristie. This won't take long. Now, turn around again...

And there they are, those tricky ones at the front.

Now for the other side. Careful Girl, mind the number 4 key my dear...

There now. How does that feel, Ms Christie? Quite a relief I imagine. 
Oh dear. Dust, dust, dust. Time to get to work...

What have we here?...

Hmmm. Definitely some discolouration. Hopefully nothing to worry about. We'll see how our magic formula deals with this. Girl, fetch the de-datured alcohol. I call it DNA for short. Oh, it's wonderful Ms Christie. Gentle but very effective. You'll love it, I assure you. Don't worry about the smell. That's all part of the 'magic'...

Now, let's start on those typebars.

Going well. Oops! Always the P key. I swear it's almost like they don't want to get cleaned. Not to worry...

All done for a first round. Now, let's have a look at you...

Yes, some slight improvement but I may need to consult Uncle Richard before our next session. He's quite the expert, you know...

Now, if you could just lie back a little. 

Dear, oh dear, more dust. 

If you'll excuse me for just a moment, Ms Christie. I have an Ebay auction to attend to. There's a rather nice refurbished Olympia SM9 I've been bidding for this week and...

Darn it. Swooped upon at the last ten seconds, the rotter...

Oh well, win some, lose some. Now, where were we?

We'll just remove this covering plate and... Oh, dear, is that rust I spy? 

Ms Christie, I don't wish to alarm you but it would appear you only have three screws holding on your covering plate and... what's this I see? 

Yes, it's a loose spring. I wonder what that one connects to? Oh well, always up for a challenge, aren't we Lizzie?

Oh, my. Is that the time? I'm afraid that's the end of our session for the day. We'll just get you put back together and back home you go until next time. 

Thank you for joining us at TIP, TOP, TAPPERS (unless the writer changes her mind). See you again soon. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Lady Remington Meets Agatha Christie

 Introducing Agatha Christie.

She is, of course, named after another favourite writer of mine and what's more, she's here to help me solve a mystery. Who better?  

My plan is to stand the two lovely ladies side by side and look at the similarities and differences between the space-bar mechanisms. All this before poor Ms Christie has had a proper clean and polish but that can wait. Later she will be shiny, but right now, I need her to be clever for me.

And now, the two ladies meet...

And instantly form a life-long bond of friendship and connection that only kindred spirits can enjoy.

And now, the moment of truth. Ladies, please take a seat...

Actually, I think I will give Ms Christie a bit of a day-spa. The light is fading anyway, and the air is turning chilly. To be continued another sunny afternoon not too long from now...

Oh, before I go...

I am pleased to announce the betrothal and imminent joining of Virginia Woolf with her lifetime partner, supporter and confidante (freshly purchased from Ebay)...

Mr Leonard Woolf. 

The Cunning Plan

But first folks, a word from our sponsor...

In our last exciting episode...

We discovered that there may be something more (or less) than we expected that would be needed to save Virginia Woolf, So the old lady was returned to her shelf to await her soon to arrive partner (10 mins and counting...) and out came...

The Remington!

Here she is folks, the Lady who got it all started.

Stumbled upon accidentally in the forgotten corner of a far-away market in the middle of nowhere (well, actually, I think it was Kingaroy), still adorned with the hastily stuck-on remnants of adventures of travels long past (but hopefully not forgotten), was... Remmie.

THE Lady Remington.

MY Lady Remington.

As with so many other fine ladies of her ilk, photos do not do her justice.

There she was, an old, forgotten, unwanted, white-out splotched, industrially grey, slightly grubby, working typewriter. I took one look at the cruise liner stickers on the battered box and the finger-worn key-tops it still dutifully protected inside and realised that this lady had been a traveller - a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, tossed by the oceans, bygone era adventurer. The word, 'romantic' didn't quite cover it. Neither does the word, 'love' but it will have to do to describe the instant breath-taking, finger itching desire I felt to have this typewriter in my hands. 

Back then, I didn't really think about her very often. She adorned my shelf to remind me that, no matter what life threw at me, I, gosh-darnit, was a writer, and proud of it. 

She inspired me to keep putting pencil to paper and fingertip to laptop time and time again. She reminded me of the stories and words that were once written, and might be found again if she were able to remember them. She made me think of hours and years spent by thousands of people, back straight, eyes focused, fully committed, tapping into the long, dark, nightime hours to write their words, their novel, their poem, their lives, their stories. 

But for some reason, it had never occured to me that she, herself had stories to tell. She was a lady of letters, who wanted, like me, more than anything else...
to write. 

And so, after everything that has happened, I sat down with her one day and we wrote together.

It wasn't very long, or special or particularly interesting. It was just the words that came from me at the time and landed on the paper with her assistance. They were the words that asked to be written. The first ones in a very long time. 

It wasn't long after that that I was cruising through Youtube when I decided to see if anybody else could tell me anything about Lady Remington, just on a whim. That's how I fell into 'the typosphere' with you. I had no idea that it existed but what a wonderful realisation it was to find so many other souls out there in the impersonal electronic void-land who shared an interest in these lovely old writing machines. Are there ever! So many people writing and blogging and sharing and fiddling and collecting. And so many typewriters!

So, I tuned in, and watched, and learned, and discovered, and began to imagine The Lady Remington herself, renewed, rejuivenated, revitalised and shiny. And I knew, somehow, that I could do it.

For me, it was the beginning of a whole new story.


In which the writer remembers what it is like to really WRITE and finds out that screwdrivers do not need fully functioning right-hands to be operated efficiently...

The old lady was sluggish. As I pressed down on each key, I felt resistance and pressure and assumed it was because my fingers were trained and adapted to the feather-light touch of the electronic keyboard. And then I watched a similar typewriter in action after a thorough cleaning and realised that it wasn't that the old girl was heavy and ploddish in nature, she just needed to have her load lightened. 

And so, denatured alcohol on brush, I gently worked my way around every nook and crevice I could reach from the outside. And then, screwdriver in my left hand instead of my usual (but now unreliable) right hand, I removed the old girl's outer skin to reveal the delicate metal bones and joints beneath. 

And everything was going really well, until I tried to put the case back on. 

I was working gently and carefully, all too aware of the tendency of old metal to suddenly snap if stretched too far. I took my time to make sure that all the little protrudances were on the inside of the returning shell and then, just as I felt it was about to click into place I felt a little bit of resistence and so, I pushed back, just a little bit harder...

That's when I heard the 'sproing' sound and discovered (to my genuine deflation) that the space bar no longer worked. 

Not being one who gives up easily, I removed and re-placed the outside case, this time encountering none of the afore-felt resistance. Snapping the case back on and returning the small screws safely home I braced myself once more and pressed down on the spacebar and...


Perhaps removing the shell was a bad idea after all.

I lifted the old girl onto her back to get a better look at the workings and followed the action of the spacebar from connection to connection and there, nestled among the workings, I saw something that I felt wasn't the way it was supposed to be, two separated arms that seemed to need to connect to each other somehow. 

Hours of fiddling and gripping and pulling (and grumbling) later I realised that although I thought I had figured out what needed to be done, I had no idea how to do it.


In which the writer decides on a logical course of action and comes up with a 'cunning plan'.

Sadly, the writer pack up the machine and closed the cover-lid back over it before she felt she could do anymore damage, and returned to her computer screen to try to find a solution to her problem. It was then that Ebay presented a similar machine to her own for sale, all the way from Fort Wayne, Indiana in the United States of America. She didn't hesitate. A few hours later she was the proud owner of a second (but quite similar) Remington Rand Deluxe, this one with glass keytops, and a rather hefty freight bill to pay.

A few weeks later, Remingon number two arrived. But by that time the writer had the 'bug' and had purchased a number of other typewriters from around the world including her now greatly prized 3 Bank Underwood who she lovingly named, Virginia Woolf, which she had already begun the work of restoration upon. 

And so Remington number two, who had no case of its own sat perched atop the closed up case of the long suffering Lady Remingon herself and they waited, patiently, until today...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Virginia Woolf and the Sneaking Suspicion...

Hang on a moment...

Let's take another look at that mainspring...


Ah ha!

Do you see what I see, friends? Or rather, do you also not see what I don't see? 

Can it be? That looks suspiciously like a hole that shouldn't be a hole.

When I first separted the machine from its base I wondered if I wasn't looking at more holes than screws and now I see a space that seems to be crying out for... something? Is there something that is supposed to go there that catches onto the spring to set the tension. The hole leads through to the mainspring drum and I can definitely see the telltale signs of metal that used to touch metal.

I could be wrong. I don't really know anything about it, but I have to go with my instincts on this one.

A missing piece of the puzzle. Hmmm... What to do now?

I am in the process (25 m 22s and counting down...) of buying a second, similar machine from ebay that I can use to compare with Virginia's bits and pieces to try to get a better understanding of how she is supposed to work and how I can fix her. 

What I need here is a bit more knowledge and experience with typewriter mainsprings on older machines. 

Besides its much too sunny a winter's afternoon to not be tinkering with typewriters, isn't it?

That means, ladies and gentlemen, that it's time to enact...

THE CUNNING PLAN! [Da Da Daaaaaaaa!] etc.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Virginia Woolf and the Principle of Larger Screws

Working again on the assumption that larger screws are the repairer's friend, I notice that the numbered and notched bar that holds the bell on the back, and which seems to stand between myself and the mainspring (if that's what it's called), boasts a pair of screws that are invitingly large and relatively easy to access. 

So, here goes...

First screw removed and replaced into hole for safe-keeping (see, I have been paying attention) and now for the other side...

Two screws! One smaller than the other... I think I'll leave this side attached and try to lift the bar out of the way.

Lifting the bar out of the way leaves a clear view of what I guess to be the mainspring access, and an even bigger screw!

If my theory of screw size and intention for easy removal of component is correct...

Inserting the screwdriver into the screw and turning clockwise seems to rotate the whole barrel and... What was that? Was that the 'sproing' of a re-tightening spring? 

I pause a moment to reflect that the last time I made a typwriter go 'sproing' the space-bar stopped working.

However, it does appear that the drawstring does not look as slack as it did before. I wonder...

And now it would appear that the drawstring has come off. 

That's not necessarily a bad thing, is it?

I reattach the string and continue winding. Something is happening, but I can't tell what. I know it's a clockwork spring and remember breaking enough as a child to understand that there is a fine line between adding tension and snapping metal. I wonder if I'll recognise it today?

There's definitely some kick left in the old spring. I think it should wind to a certain point and just catch on something. 

Unless it needs to be wound anti-clockwise to increase the tension??


And now, I've bent the loop that holds the carriage strap to the spring barrel. [Sigh again.]

So what did I learn today?

- Green is not a colour you want to see on an antique black typewriter
- Bent strap holders can be re-straightened with the back end of a screwdriver and some very gentle tapping. 
- The hypothesis of screw sizing has not yet been disproved
- not all 'sproing' sounds are bad (hopefully) 
- I don't really know what to do next. 

Back to Youtube!

Virginia Woolf and the Mysterious Green Splodges

And so the cleaning continues. With my trusty brush in one hand and a jar of de-natured alcohol in the other, I continue my foray into the world of the machine. It seems a pretty simple operation in principle. If it looks dusty - remove dust. If it looks dirty - remove dirt. If it looks greasy in places it's not supposed to be - remove grease. If you've just finished d-n a'ing a panel on the base and suddenly little green splotches turn up...


Go over them with the dna again! And again... and again...

OK, folks, any suggestions?

In the meantime I return my focus to the poorly functioning carriage. 

On closer inspection it looks as though the carriage strap is intact and connected to both ends.

Although it does look a bit frayed on the edges towards the middle. 

Is it possible that the loose threads could be hindering the movement of the carriage? 

This makes me suspect that it is the spring and not the strap that is causing the problem.

Does this mean I will have to remove the platen to access the carriage spring?

I have no idea. 

Stay tuned, friends.

A very short blog about a girl and her typewriter/s

Well, to be honest, 'saving' is a bit of an exaggeration, but 'cleaning' just didn't sound as good. 

Introducing Virginia Woolf...

I wish I had an exciting story of my serendipitous discovery of the old girl in a distant corner of some far flung flea market at a cost of 55c, but I'm afraid she was bought from Ebay, for US $94.99 (plus about the same in postage again). For the moment, until I know better, I am describing her as a 3 Bank Underwood Portable (circa 1920s). I'll do her serial number search another day. 

I call her Virgina Woolf because that is the name of an author of the era who I greatly admire and some of my googling suggests that Ms Woolf may have typed on an underwood herself. Also, she seems to me to be a lovely old girl who is a little bit broken, a bit like the lady herself. (If anyone out there is an admirer of Virginia Woolf please know that I make that comment with the greatest of respect and sympathy intended.)

As far as overall condition goes, she seems pretty good to me, especially since she has journeyed all the way from Canada (and particularly because I don't know anything about typewriters yet). 

The keys move fairly freely and all the right parts seem to be where they are needed.

The first lesson I learned about whether or not the typewriter is working is to check the action on the spacebar. Sadly, the space bar was the first thing I broke on my own Remington 5. But don't fret, dear readers. I have a cunning plan... 

More about that later. Back to Virginia.

So I press down on the spacebar, and instantly...

nothing happens. Oh dear. 

Then I notice that with a little gentle pressure on the right side platen knob the spacebar is willing to do its job, with some encouragement. 

What I really want to do is take the old girl off her mounting board. This seems to me to be the easiest way to get a good look at her inner workings as well as to keep the base of the case free of excess cleaning liquid drips. So I turn her over and remove the four screws that attach the feet to the base from the other side, only to discover it has no effect at all on releasing the machine from the base. 

So, briefly defeated, I concentrate at first on cleaning the keys and the workings I can reach through the basket (?) Admittedly, the 'before' and 'after' shots do not show a startling obvious difference in comparison, but I can see the difference in any case.


and after

(Oooh! Shiny! (er?))

In my (sometimes) logical mind it seems to me that I should be able to remove the typewriter from its base, which means, removing screws. But from where, is the question. 

This is the part that both excites and unnerves me. I have to make observations and then, I have to make a decision! But this is what I wanted to do this for, right? To feed my love of figuring out how things work?

Blundering along the path I like to think of as 'logical assumptions', it seems obvious to me that the typewriter should be removable from its case for cleaning purposes. I know this is a fairly early commercial model but I have quickly learned not to underestimate the ingenuity and foresight of typewriter designers in general.  Carefully lifting the machine from various points on the frame should show me the balance points where the screws secure the machine to the base. Shouldn't it??

It also seems logical to me that the screws that were intended to be accessed and removed more often are going to be bigger than the ones that are rarely needed. Through the obstructions of the keys and frame I can see a screw tucked in towards the back of the footing point that seems pretty big in comparison to the others and looks like it can be accessed through the open key structure on the face. 

By now, dear reader, you may have noticed that I have no idea if the terminology I'm using to describe my adventures in typewriter world is even slightly correct. I'm just going with what makes sense to me, but I am very keen to learn the correct terminology as I go. So, correct away, my friends. I want to know when I get it wrong. 

The hidden screw.  Is it the right one? Only one way to find out. Screwdriver please nurse...

Success. As I lift up the typewriter from the front of the base, the deep screw detaches gradually from its rubber housing. But lifting gently from the front seems to produce a hinge-like opening action towards the back and the whole thing lifts away. The only problem is, I'm not sure if it was supposed to. The rubber housing for the feet at the rear seems to be quite disintigrated and a little bit 'liquidy' (and not in a good way). It's possible that the short poles at the back are designed to slip in and out of the rubber housing, but I really have no idea. 

In any case, the base is off. Time for more cleaning. 

As I suspected, a 'light' brushing off with a dry brush was more than the rubber footing housings could handle. They are crumbling away like yesterday's scones that were accidentally left on the bench overnight. 

And yes, I believe I have inadvertently displaced my first tiny spring. [bowing to audience applause]

Sigh. I may need to redefine my understanding of the word, 'light' when it comes to brushing. 

So, in conclusion, today I learned how to:
- detach the typewriter safely (and reversibly - I hope) from its base
- use a dry brush 'lightly'
- accidentally detach (and re-attach, whew!) small but vital mystery springs. 

Once again demonstrating that the slotted spoon doesn't hold much soup...
But can catch the potato. 

It's been a pretty good day.