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Who has thrown out or donated a typewriter recently? Why? Because typewriters have gone the way of the adding machine? The steam engine? Stern wheelers? Stage coaches and buckboards? Or is it because your typewriter doesn’t work? As in any key you strike hard enough to move all the connecting levers and fling the tiny steel type to the platen and (should there be a fresh-inked ribbon) imprint a letter (as in character) onto paper but instead the type-lever wedges against the platen so you have to reach in and pull it back with your fingers.

(How frustrating should a person desire to feel the percussive rhythm typing and watch words appear on paper.)

Typewriter, After Cleaning

Today I cleaned a second typewriter. The first was mine, rejuvenated after forty years unused, the second was a Royal that was rescued from a roadside by Jamie who works at The Nature of Words. Even with a new ribbon, not a single key worked, and cleaning this typewriter, I saw all its excuses: the interior clogged with dirt and dust, fiber and hair, and even a wad of paper deep inside the cage of intricately linked wires–the typewriter’s interior. I used a couple of paintbrushes, one for dry dusting, one for cleaning with denatured alcohol and plenty of newspaper and paper towels. If anyone is interested in the whole process, let me know (there are also Youtube videos on how to clean a typewriter).

After about an hour, all the keys worked except the backspace key stuck after only one space. Like following a map, I traced the backspace linkages from backspace key to the carriage then to the bottom–underneath the typewriter and across most of the width. The many connections in this backspace linkage were simply gummed up.

What is the virtue of cleaning a typewriter? This typewriter, a Royal rescued from the side of a road, can now be used by students in The Nature Of Words Storefront writing program to experience the kinesthetic motion and action of typing, and who knows where that might lead?