Sunday, August 19, 2007

Old Fire and Brimstone

We typewriter-istas all have stories like this. There must be hundreds of them. The fun is as much in the stories and the people we meet as in the hoarding and caring for the old machines.

I had to go to Damascus to snag this one. No, not THAT Damascus. Damascus, Oregon, which is about a 45-minute drive east of Portland through a place called Happy Valley. (Yes, the road to Damascus passes through Happy Valley.)

The Olympia SG1 was advertised on for $25. A strange price — either way too little or way too much. But there it was — intriguing. Beckoning.

You know the drill ....

I talked to the Craig's Lister, Richard, who said it was in excellent condition and had belonged to his wife's stepfather, an evangelical preacher, who had recently met his Maker and left behind his trusty SG1. Richard said the preacher wrote hundreds of sermons on the green Germanic beast.

The story alone was worth $5.

So I set out on the road to Damascus, playing with an offer of $20. (I wasn't exactly a motivated buyer as I already have an SG1 in my bloated collection.)

I had to enter Richard's semi-rural homestead through one of those automated security gates hung between ornamental, but solid brick pillars. You push a button on the intercom, then the stranger belonging to the disembodied voice risks mortal peril and pushes a button somewhere and the gate majestically swings open.

The compound was tidy with some fenced acreage surrounding two modest ranch style houses. The empty one was where Richard's in-laws had lived. Richard and his wife had held several estate sales, but no one wanted the SG1, which now resided forlornly on an otherwise barren workbench in the otherwise empty two-car garage.

The typewriter looked good. I liked where the preacher's thumb had worn the crinkle finish on the frame just to the right below the space bar. The big machine came with brushes, a pristine dust cover, and an owner's manual with a torn cover.

That was all to the good, but when I rolled in paper, several lethargic typebars balked. Four were frozen solid. No wonder no one wanted old "Fire and Brimstone" (the name I had secretly given the hefty Teutonic sermonizer).

That said, I knew the brushes, dust cover and owner's manual alone were worth $10 so that's what I offered Richard, who was slightly embarrassed that a machine he had represented as being in "excellent condition" wouldn't type. His belated confession was familiar: "I don't know anything about typewriters."

To him, I was freeing space in his deceased father-in-law's garage AND paying him $10.

Seemed like a deal.

To me, he was selling me two brushes, an owner's manual, a dust cover, a proud old hulk, a minister's working companion, and a mechanical challenge. All for ten bucks.

A bargain.


I wound my way back on the road from Damascus, through Happy Valley, across the Willamette River and up to my aerie in Portland's West Hills. I blew out the SG1's innards with compressed air and then shot Valucraft Multi-Purpose Lube Spray (endorsed by Matt McCormack at Ace Typewriter) at every conceivable linkage joint. Putting fingers to keys, one-by-one, I gently limbered the full board until every key was on ready alert, fully prepared to snap and hammer out words.

The restoration took all of 10 minutes.

Old "Fire and Brimstone" was back.

My fingers poised above the forest green keys, a sermon was in order: "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," I typed, "and for 10 bucks, a sacred anointing with Valucraft Multi-Purpose Lube Spray, and the laying on of hands, a mere pilgrim to Damascus can heal and restore a once-mighty but forsaken Olympia SG1."

"Hallelujah!" I typed. "HALLELUJAH!"


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back Space Ideas

In an effort to see what Back Space visitors might like to see on this site, I’ve asked Steve Brannon for his views. Steve, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, is a friend I’ve met through the Internet typewriter groups on Yahoo — Typewriter Forum and Portable Typewriter Forum.

The forums are stories in and of themselves. Their members are an amazing, dedicated assemblage of typewriter fanatics. And their numbers are constantly growing. Members span the globe and the generations.

Here are some of Steve's suggestions with my comments:
  • Various essays on typewriters. I have gathered a few as I’ve run across them.
  • A profile of Matt McCormack and his dad, Dennis, of ACE typewriter right here in Portland, Oregon. Actually I have a chapter about Matt and Dennis for a typewriter book I am slowly hammering out. I’ll share the chapter here soon. Matt recently appeared on a PBS “History Detectives” segment that tried to verify that a Corona #3 belonged to legendary World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle. The result of the investigation was inconclusive.
  • Interviews with contemporary writers using typewriters. Famously Paul Auster and Larry McMurtry.
  • Interviews with collectors. (What's with this obsession?)
  • Interviews with veteran collectors and experts like Will Davis and Richard Polt.
  • An interview with Jay Williams, a collector who is blind. He knows and cherishes his typewriters, in large measure, because of their touch.
  • An interview with a key cutter, one of the folks who destroy typewriters for keys used to make jewelry. Many of us see the cutters as being like poachers who kill Elephants for their tusks. So what's their side of the story?
  • An inventory of my 65 typewriters along with photos. Actually, I plan to illustrate each post with a typewriter photo, although I won’t get into the details of the particular machine I’ve shown, at least not yet. (I passed the above "surplus" Olympia SG1 on to Steve last year.)
Steve’s list is a great start. I hope others will add their ideas and comments.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Starting with a Winner

I suppose it's appropriate that the first post on a blog devoted to typewriters is about someone who won one.

The elated winner of this Royal Quiet De Luxe is Deb Wolff (right), who bought her winning raffle ticket at the Hillsdale Benefit Books Sale last month. Actually she bought five $1 tickets among the 93 sold.

The display (seen next to her) at the sale noted that Hemingway had a fondness for this model. The loose connection to "Papa" may have driven interest. (By the way, if you click on the photo, it will be enlarged so you will be able to read the poster's text.)

Raffle proceeds go to the Hillsdale Alliance, a coalition of neighborhood organizations.

An interesting side note: While I was waiting at the Hillsdale Farmers Market for Deb to claim her machine, I had the typewriter and the Hemingway promo sign out on a table. A woman came up to me with a dollar in her hand and said, "I'll buy a raffle ticket." That tells me that I can raffle off more of my 60 plus machines — way too many — at the market.

Proceeds will again go to the Alliance, which I founded and which is raising money to establish a Hillsdale Community Foundation.