57 Royal QDL

Dammit, I did that thing again where I find a typewriter in a thrift shop, and then I buy it. I was getting pretty good at not doing that second part. And this was less than a week after I bought a typewriter from Goodwill. “I think there may be something wrong with you,” My Darling B observed as I tucked the typewriter in the back seat of the car, and she may not necessarily be wrong.

57 Royal Quiet De Luxe

There’s a resale shop next to the studio where we go for yoga on the weekends. It was open on Saturday morning after our class was finished and I haven’t been there in ages, so I told B, “I’ve just got to duck in here a minute, just to check things out,” and in I went. I don’t think she believed for a second that I was going to “just check things out,” but she went along with it anyway.

The shop sells stuff gathered at estate sales: furniture, china, books, tools for the work shop or the yard. They almost never have any typewriters, although a month ago, maybe two, I spotted an unusual Remington electric and wanted to see if it was still there. It was so broken that it would at best be a research project I would dissect and eventually throw away, so it would have to be marked down quite a bit for me to take it home, but I figured if it was still there, they might accept any offer, no matter how low, for me to take it off their hands.

As it turned out, they still had the Remington, but behind it was a greenish fiberglass carrying case that could only be holding a Royal portable. I cracked it open and, sure enough, I found a Royal Quiet De Luxe. It had a tan paint job and white key caps, the first one I’ve seen like that.

It was a bit dark in the corner of the shop where I found it, so I took it to the counter where there was some daylight, hauled it out of the case and got a good look. The poor thing was a mess. For one thing, it looked at first as though all the key caps had been painted white, or maybe all the letters had been rubbed off from heavy use, because they were all blank, but after I tapped one of the keys three or four times to see if the type bars moved freely, I could just make out the letter “G” on the key cap, and there was a gritty white residue on my finger. Every key had such a thick coating of this residue that they appeared to be blank.

The bail was sat cockeyed across the platen and I couldn’t straighten it out because a screw was missing and someone had rather flimsily repaired it by pushing a paper clip through the hole and bending it over to hold it together. It was not a repair that could have resulted in an enjoyable typing experience.

I already have two Royal QDLs at home: a 1951 QDL that appears to be the same model that my dad had on his desk, and a 1950, when they still put glass tops on the key caps. I didn’t need another typewriter. When you’re talking about need, one is the limit, two if you must have an emergency backup. I have more than two. In point of fact, the exact number of typewriters in my possession is not known, but it’s more than fifteen. So “need” is not a thing with me. I crossed the line into obsession long ago.

The typer was priced at twenty-five bucks. I offered the shop keeper ten, hoping he would counter with fifteen. Instead, he offered it to me for eighteen, still a pretty good deal. I took it home, spread newspapers on the dining room table, got some cleaning solvents from the basement and a pile of rags from the hall closet, and set to work.

rubbing the residue off the key caps

The white residue came off the keys very easily. I remember there was a similar-looking residue, although not as thick, on the keys of the Royal QDL that I’m going to call “Dad’s typewriter” from now on. I also read about it in the “My Old Typewriter” blog, where the blogger suggested removing it with Goo Gone. I used mineral spirits on half the keys, Goo Gone on the other half, and I have to say I think the Goo Gone worked a bit better. It also smells nicer. I don’t remember what I used to get the residue off the other QDL, but whatever I used, it hasn’t come back yet.

Almost all the type bars moved freely except for the “B” and the “K,” which wouldn’t fall back after striking the platen. I used a toothbrush to flush the segment with lots of mineral spirits while banging away at the keys, rapping out Quick Brown Fox and We, The People over and over until all the type bars rose and fell back freely.

While I was banging away at the keybank, I noticed that the ribbon failed to advance. I tried switching the ribbon direction, but it still wouldn’t advance and I couldn’t turn the spool with my finger in either direction. The mechanism seemed to be frozen. I lifted the Royal up so I could see it from underneath, shined a flashlight into the works so I could see what I was doing, and with a little experimentation learned that a piece of steel that was part of the bracket holding the advance wheel had been bent out of shape so it pressed against the wheel. I gently squeezed it with a needle nose pliers until I could turn the wheel with my finger. Presto! The ribbon advanced automatically once again.

After putting a new ribbon in the typer and rapping out a few more quick brown foxes, I could see that the key slugs needed a good cleaning. No matter how vigorously I scrubbed the slugs with a toothbrush or slathered them with mineral spirits, though, they remained stubbornly crudded up.

crudded-up type face

Turned out the filth clogging the key slugs was so old that I had to use a dental pick to get it out. The mineral spirits helped soften the collected crud, but the bristles of my toothbrush just weren’t stuff enough to dig it out of the tiny nooks and crannies in the type face. (Must remember to buy a brush with extra-hard bristles next time I’m in the store.) The dental pick was especially good at this, however. It was tedious work, but returning this crisp type face to the printed page was worth it.

type face on 57 Royal QDL

One of the last things I had to do before I called it a day was fix the bail. I could type on the machine all right, even with half the bail hanging at a wonky angle, but that bent paper clip was bugging the hell out of me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a hardware store in town that had screws in stock that were small enough to do the job, so I had to “borrow” a screw that was holding down the cover of a junker Smith-Corona I haven’t gotten around to cleaning up yet. The screw was not quite as long as the one it replaced, but it was just long enough to do the job until I can source a replacement.

I haven’t cleaned the cover of the Royal QDL yet; that’ll be a project for another weekend.

eye roll

My Darling B has leveled a challenge: She believes that, if I were to tell anybody how many typewriters I own, I would get an eye-roll from practically everyone.

Well, here is a group shot of every typewriter I own:

that's a lot of typewriters! Or is it?

On the far left: A Smith-Corona Silent, one of the first typewriters I bought from a roadside antique store in a small town back in the 80’s. More than that, I can’t remember. A beautiful machine, I hardly ever use it because the platen’s too hard and slippery to hold paper. The day I get it fixed, I’ll sit down and write my first novel on it.

In the left column, top to bottom: A Smith-Corona Skyriter. I developed an affection for these cute little machines when my son bought one and let me try it out. You really do have to call them “cute.” They’re not fully-functional typewriters but they’re small enough to tuck into a backpack or overnight bag so, if you learned to write on a keyboard and you’re an anachrophile for typewriters (there’s got to be a word for that, but I haven’t found it yet), you really have to take one of these to the coffee shop to annoy all the laptop users. One day I’d like to corner the market on Skyriters, paint them in bright colors and sell them as the novelty items they ought to be.

Below the Skyriter, an LC Smith No. 8. A classic cast-iron desktop, this is the first typewriter I dared to take apart. When I bought it from a thrift shop it was filthy and barely functional. I cleaned it up enough to make it presentable but it’s still barely functional and will probably remain so until I take it apart a couple more times. That’ll have to wait for a long weekend in winter, though.

Below the No. 8, a Smith-Corona Sterling, a five-dollar garage-sale find. A good portable. Was my favorite writing machine until I bought an Olivetti.

Below the Sterling, a Japy I picked up at an auction only because it types in a Cyrillic font. Barely functional, this one’s another project for a long winter weekend.

On the work bench in front of the Japy, a Corona No. 3. Another one of the buys I made when I was going through my first typewriter-hoarding phase back in the 80s. Bought it because it looks very old and because it’s one of the first portable typewriters. Already very small, it becomes positively tiny when you fold the carriage down over the keyboard and close it up in its own little hatbox.

In the center column: a Royal Quiet de Luxe. I don’t collect Royals as a practice, but this is the same model my Dad wrote on. I got an itch one weekend, searched e-bay for a reasonably-priced offering and had this one on my work bench about a week later. Took about a week to de-gunk and un-fungify. Still needs a little tender loving care but is already one of the most useful typers I own.

Below the Royal, a pile of junk. Sort of spoiled the shot. Sorry about that.

Below the pile of junk, an IBM Selectric II. Found this in a Goodwill shop priced at three dollars. My hoarding instinct kicked in and I found myself carrying it out the door before the full import of what I was doing struck me. Selectrics are so well-built and produce such high-quality text that they’re still in use in some offices and sell for hundreds of dollars. Getting a buyer to pay the extortionately high cost of sending a fifty-pound typewriter through the mail or via FedEx is a bit of a problem, though.

On the work bench in front of the Selectric, another Smith-Corona Skyriter. This one’s a little older than the other one and writes in a pica font. And I’m going to paint it navy blue. Just because.

In the right column: an Underwood No. 5. Another of the classic cast-iron desk top typewriters, this is the very first typewriter I bought for fun. I don’t use it much any longer because you have to be in pretty good shape to bang out even two or three pages of copy on a machine like this, and I just don’t have the muscle tone for it. It’s a machine for a young man full of piss and vinegar. Also a good machine to use if you’re very angry; you can mash the keys as hard as you want, you’re not going to break it.

Below the Underwood, a Remington Quiet-Riter. Impulse buy at a thrift store. Pieces missing, but a good working typer. A very noisy machine. Not that I mind, but the name is more than a little ironic.

On the bench in front of the Remington, a Smith-Corona Sterling. I bought this by accident while I was trying to figure out how to use the Goodwill on-line auction web site. No, really. Cost me five bucks plus postage.

Front and center on the work bench, an Olivetti Studio 44, my favorite machine in the harem. Also a thrift store impulse buy, this is the best-built machine I’ve ever seen. The action is smooth and it has a beautiful pica font. The backspace key didn’t work but I fixed that by slipping a washer under the hook that pulls the carriage back. (That’s why it’s still naked.) The return lever is broke and I still haven’t figured out how to fix that, but I still use this machine more than any other.

So, did you roll your eyes? You can be honest with me.


Smith Corona SkyriterThere was a package waiting on the front stoop yesterday evening.

“That looks too big to be the thing I ordered,” My Darling B said when she spotted it as we pulled into the driveway. “Did you order something?”


Looking sideways at me she asked, “Is it a typewriter?”

Pause. “Maybe.”

Rolling her eyes, she got out of the car.

It was an impulse buy, as all my typewriter purchases are. I couldn’t help it. After Tim brought me his Skyriter for repairs and I took it for a test drive, I started searching teh intarwebs for one just like his. Turns out they’re outrageously expensive on e-bay but I found one on Goodwill’s auction site for just five bucks, although somebody jacked the price up to ten bucks before the auction ended.

It’s going to need quite a bit of attention. It’s got enough hair in it to make an anatomically correct mouse, and there’s a bit of rust to buff off. Also, some of the keys are bent, which will take a bit of fine-tuning. Looks great on the bench, though, and will look even better once I clean it up, if you’re not an eye-rolling typewriter looker-downer like some people.


And now, because there will never be too much porn on teh intarwebs, here’s a photo of an Olivetti Studio 44 without any clothes on:
Olivetti Studio 44
I had to take it apart because it was so dirty that little bits and pieces of dirt were falling out of it every time I moved it. Also, the backspace key stopped working and not being able to backspace was driving me crazy! I actually managed to fix that by sliding an ordinary washer under the little hook arm that grabs the carriage and pulls it back. And I cleared most of the crud out of the mechanism with a few well-aimed shots of canned air.

This is one ruggedly-built machine, in case you can’t tell from the photo. I own quite a few portables, but this is the only one that’s as solid as the hundred-year-old cast-iron desktops I have. I think I know now why typewriter nerds get all warm and gooey about Olivettis.

The mouse is for my desktop, not the Olivetti.

screw loose

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.


Can you find Bonkers the Cat in this photo of my basement lair?

image of man cave

I bought a new camera a few weeks ago because I lost my old camera. Just lost it. I was taking photos while I was brewing beer or hammering on some wood or something, so between photos I put it somewhere very safe, and it is in such a completely safe place that I’m sure it will still be in good working order when I remember where that safe place is.

I went without a camera for a month or two because it took that long to get over how stupid I felt about losing my camera, but then one day while I was shopping for toilet paper or shoes or something completely unrelated to cameras, I wandered past the electronics section of our local Shopko store and I bought a camera. And it sucked. But the suckiness of the camera was Fuji’s fault, not Shopko’s. I took the crappy Fuji camera back and bought a Sony Cybershot, which was coincidentally the name of the camera that’s in a very safe place. And I like it a lot.

One of the things my Sony Cybershot can to is take panoramic photos. I can stand in the middle of my basement lair, for instance, and slowly turn in a circle after I click the shutter. The computer brain of the camera can remember everything it sees and somehow pieces it together into a nearly seamless photo of everything I pointed it at. You can see a few of the places where it had to sort of fudge things together. There’s a very obvious break in the florescent light on the left, for instance, but I’m really amazed at how good the rest of it looks.


image of a typewriter ribbonI finally got a typewriter ribbon for the most recently-acquired typewriter in my collection.

Did you know you can still get typewriter ribbons from Staples? You can, but only one at a time. That’s all I ever find on display at the Staples down the road. Just one. They must have a great big box of typewriter ribbons in the back because there’s always one on display, but they seem to be taking only one at a time out of the great big box to put it on the rack.

For a while I was afraid it was bait and I was going to be pranked for a YouTube video, or a trap door in the floor would gulp me into a subterranean pit of part-time wage slaves. Those were the only logical reasons I could think of for hanging just one typewriter ribbon on the rack, but no prank has ever been played on me and the trap door hasn’t sprung open yet, so I think they’re just being stupid. Unless you can think of a more reasonable explanation.


Next time I win the Power Ball lottery (you didn’t know I’d won it before?), I’m going to use my winnings to rent a storefront in town. I’m going to hang a big sign over the door that says “Typewriter Repair Shop” in Courier Bold and set all my typewriters in the window.

In the front room I’ll have a big table with typewriter parts and about a dozen teeny-tiny little screwdrivers spread out all over it.

In the back, I’ll have a reading lamp dangling over a recliner where I’ll park my butt all day and read books until the cows come home.

On the off chance that someone actually walks in with a typewriter that needs repairing, I might have to subcontract.


The internet: The sum of all human knowledge at your fingertips. You can find anything there. And yet …

I have a manual typewriter made by the Royal Typewriter Company. I’m trying to find out how to take the carriage off so I can give it a thorough cleaning. I asked The Mighty Google: “Remove carriage from Royal typewriter.” It suggested that I watch several videos, although I doubt any of them will be very helpful to me at all: William and Kate, riding to the Royal Wedding in their carriage; the carriage procession at Royal Ascot; carriage driving at Royal Windsor.

image of search results

Yah, that must have been what I was after, because typewriters? Really?