When I was a kid, Dad came home one night carrying a giant, heavy, black case. When I asked him what it was he set it down on the kitchen table, opened it up and proudly showed me an old, green typewriter. He picked it up at some second-hand office supply store on Montreal Road, and said it would be useful for writing resumés, school work, stuff like that. Honestly, I think Dad just wanted a typewriter but to this day I’m not entirely sure why. The machine in question was either a 1950s Smith-Corona Sterling or a 1950s Remington Rand. I’ll figure that one out eventually and get one for myself but more on that in a future post.
This was the 1980s. Little George knew exactly what it was that was sitting on the kitchen table. Not like today, when computers and iPads have taken over and most kids have never even seen a typewriter before. Either way, Little George was completely enamoured by the loud, ugly, green machine.
I drove Dad nuts. I typed on it without paper (Never type without paper, son!), I jammed the keys (You can’t hit all the keys at once, son!), I typed long strings of nonsensical letters (You’re going to waste all the ink, son!). Looking back, his admonishments were more like lessons… teaching me what I needed to know about this virtually indestructible piece of old technology. Gradually I learned to use it and it was on Dad’s old machine that I taught myself to type, eventually getting past 100 words per minute with high accuracy.
Last week, my fiancée, Marie-Eve, presented me with an old, 1947 Royal KMM typewriter she found on one of those buy nothing groups on Facebook. It cost her nothing except the time and gas to go get the one-ton monster but it was an incredibly thoughtful gift because she knows that I love the old things and always wanted to grab one if I could. This one, she said, probably wasn’t working but would certainly look nice on display.
Sure, the 70 year-old KMM is a little dusty and grimy. Its ink ribbon was all-but finished but you could still see the type. I sat it down and pushed every button, pulled every lever. The same thing Little George did with Dad’s old machine. But this time I was doing it with the benefit of 30+ year-old knowledge that had been quietly stacked in a dark corner of my memory. Still, there were lots of things I didn’t understand and needed to research.
Well, son of a mother duck… it works! Imagine that. A 70 year-old typewriter, made in Canada, that served an unknown number of years at the Canadian Department of External Affairs before being retired and probably spending 10 or 20 years in storage… and it works! Every key moves swiftly and easily and the strikers smack against the page with authority. Maybe a little too much authority, since the platen is hard as a rock with age. The “Magic Margins” feature… yep. Still works. A fine example of 1940s mechanical engineering that was designed to stand up to the test of time and use. We don’t make ‘em like that anymore, as the old saying goes.
Little George’s fascination came bubbling up, virtually overflowing. Almost immediately, I became obsessed with the idea of cleaning this thing up, tuning it up, making it like new again. I’m lucky, because the newly-christened Royal Marie really is in beautiful condition. A perfect training ground for later, more complicated restorations. In the meantime, I can still accomplish work on the Royal Marie because, well, she works.
So follow me, if you will, on this journey of a passion re-ignited. In this series of posts, certain to fascinate few but roll the eyes of many I’ll talk about my efforts to restore the Marie, and the others yet to come (because there will be more typewriters coming). I’ll also talk about adapting my writing, shifting it from the detached, impersonal combination of screen and keyboard to the intimate, clickety-clack of writing on a typewriter. And it is different. Very different, as I have started to learn. Ultimately, these posts will be a chronicle of two hobbies, one old and one new, merging into one.
I think Dad would have approved. I think he would have chuckled to see me changing Royal Marie’s ribbon and needing three tries to get it right. The same number of times he showed me how to do it when I was a kid. The ribbon spools in that direction, son. The ribbon goes behind the vibrator, son.
Got it, Dad. Took me a bit, but I remember now.
And I promise never to type on it when there’s no paper.