The Tribble with Typewriters

It eventually happens to all of us. The shame of it all. The endless frustrations. You didn’t see it coming, but that day has arrived. You woke up one morning, poured some coffee, and dragged a comb across your head. Something was off. The sun was shining. The birds were . . . well, you get the point. However, they weren’t the only things chirping. First you heard a strange sound coming from a clothing drawer.

You dismissed it. Then the couch felt all wrong, strangely uncomfortable. 

Then you opened the fridge for a snack. The sudden and inescapable truth: you had an infestation of typewriters.

It was absurd. How could you let this happen? What will the neighbors think and who can you call for help? Is there an anonymous 1-800 phone number for you to confess your secret shame? What do you say? “Hello. My name is Mr. X. I have tribbles.” (Dear Reader, please look up “tribbles” and “Star Trek” if you don’t get the reference. You should be ashamed of yourself. If you don’t enjoy the reference, picture gremlins instead–and don’t pour water on your typewriters.)

So that day has come for me in the shape of three Underwood 3-bank portables. I had a 1924 and 1925 already. The first I pursued. The second I stumbled on for a good price. The third, which appeared yesterday, was given to me for free by a friend. Each one has its own personality. One has better decals. Another still needs a drawstring. Both of those could use new rubber. They work, but turning the platen knobs makes for a bumpy ride. The third machine, from 1923, types very well. The platen turns smoothly. This could be a regular typer. However, a key is missing.

Dear Sherlock, can you recognize what is missing on the left machine? The next question is whether I respect the quirks of each machine or do I try to build a million-dollar machine (good decals, good typing, faster, stronger, better). What would you do?

I also would have to assess if my repair skills are up to the job or is the mission impossible.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. cloudytype says:

    Hilarious! That Tribble episode was classic as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mcfeats says:

      Too true. There was some good comedy in that show.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, My name is (insert name here), I am a typewriter addict. I swear that I will not buy another typer, then Fed Ex leaves a box at my doorstep. Where did it come from? When did I buy this? Oh the shame. I could keep it in the car, no, it already has three. One more in the garage might not be noticed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mcfeats says:

      Typewriter Collectors Anonymous!


  3. Bill M says:

    I remember the Tribbles.
    I always take my worst duplicate typewriter apart first to see what makes it work. Then if the disassembly and reassembly are successful, I move on to making one good one out of the faulty ones.

    That is what I’ll be doing before too long to my Underwood 3 bank typewriters. One almost good one, one with a broken mainspring, and is it ever a terror to repair, and one that I think may only need the carriage swapped and then the parts with better decals.

    The carriage removal on these is not too awful, but getting to some of the other parts is a nightmare.

    Good luck with your repairs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mcfeats says:

      On one of them I took off the carriage to put new rubber (heat shrink) on the rollers. Haven’t messed with much else. I need to see how much of the right cap lever is missing on the 1923. I’m guessing someone used it for another machine. Strange that the oldest one has the best typing action.


  4. Richard P says:

    Ha ha!
    The early examples of this model had shift keys only on the left. I think you’ll find that’s the case with your 1923 machine; there should be no sign of a right shift key.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mcfeats says:

      That is bizarre! It seems there was room enough to add one. Luckily I haven’t taken anything apart. Just switched some platens. Thanks, Richard. Hope your semester has been going well.


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