Thursday, November 8th, 2012

image of Smith Corona SkyriterTim brought his typewriter over after a screw fell out. He figured I could fix it because I have a few typewriters and I sometimes take them apart, not because I can fix them but because it’s an itch I’ve got to scratch. Typewriter innards are mesmerizing. I totally get why surgeons like to cut into people and try to fix the glop inside. I couldn’t do it myself because I’d throw up all over the patient and I thank goodness there are people who can do that kind of thing without retching, but the frisson of new knowledge I feel when I figure out how to peel off the cover of a Smith Corona Skyriter and I slowly begin to dissect what’s inside must be something like a surgeon’s. Too bad typewriters are just a fad now. I would have happily done this for a living.

The screw that fell out of Tim’s typewriter fastened the steel bar that the margin tabs slid along to the back of the carriage. No screw, no bar. No bar, no margin tabs. No margin tabs, no margins. For want of a nail, that sort of thing. When he hit the carriage return, the carriage ran as far to the right as the mechanism would carry it, running the left margin off the page, and, Tim feared, throwing the screw somewhere into the outfield of his living room carpet. He was pretty sure it was lost forever because it’s such a small screw, no bigger than a ladybug.

I, on the other hand, had the feeling the screw was still somewhere in the carcass of his typewriter, so the first thing I did after he left was peel the cover off and give it a cautious shake to see if anything came rattling out of the corners. There aren’t a lot of places it could’ve hidden in there. The case of a Skyriter is just a shell of stamped sheet steel. When shaking didn’t scare it out of hiding I started poking around at the edges of the felt soundproofing, thinking it might have gotten caught underneath. Still no screw. Finally, I rapped it twice against the edge of the work bench, just in case it was waiting somewhere in there for a careful, but decisive push out of the shadows and into the light. No joy.

I set the case aside and began a close inspection of the typewriter’s guts. The Skyriter is not a terribly robust machine. It was built to be as compact as possible, so I expected the mechanism to be especially dense, but it was surprisingly easy for me to peer into the deepest parts of it. Maybe that’s because it was also designed to be as lightweight as possible. A lot of features that are standard on most portable typewriters are not to be found on the Skywriter. Just as a for instance, the carriages of most portables have a little steel trigger on either end just under the roller knob you can trip to release the carriage so it slides freely back and forth. There’s just one trigger on the right-hand side of the Skyriter’s carriage. I’m guessing the designers did away with the other trigger to minimize the number of parts. Without those omitted parts, and because the parts it has are as small as possible, the inner workings of the Skyriter look as open and as delicate as the skeleton of a bird.

I poked around inside the machine for a while but couldn’t find that missing screw, so I set it aside and grabbed a older Smith Corona Sterling portable from my growing pile of inventory, a particularly unsatisfying addition to my collection. I have a more modern Sterling that I like quite a lot, but the older Sterling is built like a Crackerjack prize. Typing on it is the tactile equivalent of the noise you get pecking out a tune on a toy piano. No matter how much you work at it, a tune played on a toy piano is never going to sound like it belongs in a symphony. Same goes for that old Sterling. I can peck out a letter to Mom on it, but if I had to use it to write more than a page or two, it’d drive me batshit insane in no time.

So I decided that the old Sterling would donate its parts to science, and I would start by harvesting every screw I could see that looked like it could be a substitute for the one that was missing on Tim’s Skyriter. I figured the chances were good that I could find a replacement rather quickly. They were both Smith Coronas, after all. Happily, I found a substitute on the third try, and I didn’t even have to take the cover off, just flip it over on its back.

With a suitable replacement set aside, I began to turn the Skyriter over and over to figure out how to get Screw A Into Hole B. As open and airy as the mechanism inside the body appears to be, the clearances between the parts of the carriage are very tight. And while I was twisting and turning the frame of the machine, the parts must have warped just enough to release the missing screw from the grip of whichever two parts had been firmly gripping it up until then, and it came rattling out and fell onto the work bench. Talk about lucky.

With the found screw, I went back to the problem of inserting the screw where it belonged with a needle-nosed pliers. It was like playing a game of Concentration. Had it been, I’d have gotten the buzzing, blinking red nose a couple times before the screw fell into place. Then there was the little matter of slotting a screwdriver blade in the head of the screw without jostling the screw loose, and finally fastening the iron bar in place without, again, pushing the screw out. Amazingly, I got it on the first try. Naturally, I screwed it on upside-down and had to unscrew it, flip the bar over and try again. And again. Right side up, the bar still has a front and a back. I screwed it on right side up and backwards. Oh Ye Gods.

But, finally, the bar was screwed on right side up and frontwards, and I test-drove it by rapping out a letter to Mom. (What else?) It worked so beautifully that I began to search the internet for one just like it to add to my collection. That ought to get quite an eye-roll from My Darling B.

screw loose | 12:47 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg, typewriters
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