Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Hermes Baby Carriage

Courtney and I have been in Lake of the Ozarks for two days. My boss got sick and had to send me to a work conference in her place. The weather was cold and wet, so there was no desire to go on the lake (and no time or money for that either). Along the way, Courtney and I ordered several books from Amazon (being unable to pay retail price at the store). They included: "Steinbeck: a Life in Letters," "The Dog Master," and "Shufu."

I've got an interview with the Missouri State Museum in Jefferson City tomorrow. It's been great coming back to the same place and the same motel where I had two internships.

I brought little Hermes along for the ride in his baby carriage.

I've had the Royal Traveller for awhile now. Paid $2 at a thrift store. After getting the old papers (which were fascinating and will appear later) and water out of it, I found it's the perfect size for stashing the Hermes, a book, and some typing paper. 

Of course, we had to go antiquing. The typewriter selection was not impressive.

This Royal Forward I is probably just a rebranded Signet. Made in Holland.
A few problems, namely the logo that needs to be glued back on.
The bottom half of the case is thick, like a built-in typing pad.
Sticky keys, but it had a nice 11 cpi font. $28
The Dutch-made Royal was a tempting repair project. It types better than the Hermes (which has weak keys around the edges of the keyboard), and isn't something I've seen before. However, I'm struggling to downsize and refine my collection as it is. I don't need to rescue any more at the moment.

Pretty nice Royal 10. Broken daw band. Everything else seems to work. $75
And that was it. Two machines. Kind of surprising for a city that is the state capitol, but with only 150,000 people, I can't say I'm surprised St. Louis has more to offer.

But I did find some nice typewriter-related stuff.

This memo stationary displays paper as if it was in the platen of a real typewriter.

This book, As Fast as Words Could Fly, was the most interesting find of the day. It tells the story of a young black boy, Mason, who is given a Royal typewriter by the civil rights group his father meets with. Mason learns to touch type so well that his teacher takes notice and enters him in a regional typing competition. Of course, even though he wins (against the others who have electric SCM 120 and 220s), he doesn't get the prize. Despite the blatant racism, his teacher is proud and Mason knows he has proven his worth.

I've said it before, typewriters are the greatest catalogue of human thought and feeling. This story proves it. I plan to write the author a letter of admiration as soon as possible.

Power to the pen!

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Hunt that Barely Started

Over the last week, I've contacted a few organizations for help securing info on the mysterious Jhon W Jones. A fraternal organization for the 1st Cavalry had no records to speak of, and the National Archives said that the only way they could release them to me was with express, written consent from the next of kin.

That means my only chance would be to call the consignment store, ask what house they got it from (which they probably wouldn't tell me), and then try to find out who lived there (which would come across as creepy), and then ask pesky questions about the alleged previous owner.

I was initially discouraged by the lack of progress, but then Courtney made a good point.

"Taylor, remember the original Star Wars? How much mystery surrounded Darth Vader's rise to power and the Clone Wars? Are you glad they made three movies revealing all the secrets?"

It's a fair argument. Even if I found the whole story, it might not be as amazing as I assume. I did learn that "APO" means Army Post Office. So, APO 24 was likely his forwarding address in San Fran while he was away. Being that the 1st Calvary was part of the Airmobile Division, which played a central role in combat operations in Indochina from 1965 onward, it is entirely possible that Jones went to Vietnam and took the Hermes with him.

It's also possible he never used it, but I've said it before, there is no greater catalogue of human thought and emotion than the words which passed through manual typewriters in the 20th century.

If nothing else, I could use this for a good story.

Next week, I'll show you how I use the Hermes Baby for an unexpected road trip!

Power to the pen.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Courtney and I took a much-needed three day trip to Springfield, Missouri to visit my grandmother. My parents, brother, his girlfriend, and the two of us went in one car and had an absolutely fabulous time. It was one of those perfect trips you don't get often. Nothing went wrong. We ate whatever we wanted. Got to see a great Beatles tribute band that was put together by George Harrison's sister (Google Liverpool Legends). There's a lot to write about, but time is against me. Work is going to get hectic again very soon, and besides, the experience I had was for me and the Mrs. only. Better remembered than dissected.

Oh, and I got a typewriter.

I check Craigslist all the time. There was a Facit 1620 that I'd been keeping my eye on. I'd contacted the owner a few months ago, but she wasn't willing to ship it to me for fear I'd scam her. On Saturday morning, before Courtney got up, I got back on just in case something had changed.

Sure enough, it had.

This little beauty was just sitting in a hole-in-the-wall consignment store and had been available for a few days before I came around. I called the owner and told her I'd be by shortly. Once I got there, I was greeted by the lady who took me to the back. There, I met the guy who'd brought it in: an bearded gentleman with a Kimber .45 automatic on his hip. "I don't know anything about these," he said. "I just drug it out of an attic while doing a house cleaning. We do a lot of estate sales."

$30 and it was mine, a 1952 Hermes that looks like it's hardly been used.

There are only two noticeable flaws with this machine.

1. The ribbon cover on the right won't stay shut. There's a metal clip that has broken off, but I think Gorilla glue will fix that. Looks like it was originally sodered on.

2. The "Q" key seems to have a linkage problem. It takes a lot more force to make a clean imprint on paper. However, that might be a design flaw. The farther you get from the center of the keyboard, the feeling changes a little at a time.

This thing competes with my Corona 3 and Lettera 32 for the smallest typewriter I own. It's lighter than the 32, but easier to type on than the Corona (but only by a small fraction, I like Brett).

There are a few quirks about this design I've noticed thus far. Using the carriage return lever on single-space is tricky. The machine is so tiny that using two pieces of paper at once will lift the bail bar, which acts as a stop for the lever. Use too much force, and you'll index the line by two instead of one. Threading the ribbon this thing is a pain. If you want to use a different layer, you have to take it out and re-install it upside down. There's no ribbon selector.

I can hardly imagine using this thing to write an entire novel, like John Steinbeck. But, since he was traveling a lot to cover the labor strikes in California, this might have been the best choice for him like the Corona was the best for Hemingway in the 1920s.

We went to an antique store later that day. I passed up an Underwood standard and a pristine Super Deluxe 500 from China. It was $13, but I figured nothing would be as good as what I already had...and I didn't know if the machine would last with hard use.

But little did I know the best was yet to come.

Later that night, I was pecking a few words on it and noticed some paper underneath the type basket. This paper tag, I think, was the previous owner's ID. I was blown away. How the heck does a typewriter get from California to Missouri? What're more, did Mr. Jones really take that thing to Asia with him? To Vietnam?

The 1st Cavalry Division suffered heavy losses in Vietnam with over 5,000 dead. They participated in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley and fought at Hue during the Tet Offensive. I don't know how far I'll be able to get with researching Mr. Jones, but I'd like to try. I didn't have time to ask the consignment people a lot of questions (and that would have been awkward...).

If Jones did go to Asia, he would have been well-equipped. The "RS" symbol is for the rupee, which is the currency in India and a number of Asian countries. It also has the British pound as well as the dollar. Not often do you find a typewriter with so many currencies!

I foresee an episode of Front Stroke involving my lightweights...

Power to the pen!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Typewriters in Old Books

I've read three old novels in the past six months that specifically mention typewriters:

1. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

Published in 1948, it is Mailer's best known work besides The Executioner's Song. The story is set on a fictional island in the Pacific during WWII. In one scene, a lieutenant is begging for more men to bolster the strength of his recon platoon. One of the officers, a captain, threatens to "set you cleaning typewriter ribbons." Would the salt from the air or the sand from the beaches cause so many problems that the ribbons have to be clean, or was it simple a punishment job with no real goal in mind?

2. The Gold of the River Sea by Charlton Ogburn Jr. 

Set in the 1930s, this story is about a researcher sent to the Massanraduba region of Brazil to assess the possibility of mining. The book makes a number of references to a character that uses strange ink in all of his correspondences, an ink that turns purple once it hits the page. The book was published in the 60s. Did any such ink exist?

3. That None Should Die by Frank Slaughter

Published in 1941, the book presents a portrait of the struggles young doctors went through and the debates that were hot within the community (government-run health care at the top of the list). The protagonist is Ran Warren, and his wife Ann serves as his secretary. In one scene, while trying to establish private practice, she complains that her typewriter isn't loud enough and she fears that patients won't think there's enough work coming to the business. She writes personal letters and copies her favorite poems to give people the appearance that she's working. Talk about a team player!

4. Stratis' Remington

A short story recently published in Carve Magazine about a boy helping an old author and his typwriter adjust to modern submission guidelines. Read it for free here.

I've got lots of other old books I haven't read yet, but feel free to add to this list!

Power to the pen!