Flynn Taggart Do people actually read this stuff?

16May/124

Test Rocket

29Apr/126

Hermes Heart Surgery

If the included photos feel a bit small, go ahead and click on them. It's always best to look at the big picture, right?

As it is with many used typewriters, the type heads on my newly acquired Hermes Rocket were a bit gobbed up with old, dried ink. Thus, I've always made it a habit to clean the type heads/bars when I get a new machine because I just love that flawless steel look and the clean, crisp text provided by the gunk-free type bars only serves to intensify that love. My weapon of choice to combat the inky hordes? VM&P Naphtha. Dried ink doesn't stand a chance against this cleaning powerhouse. It's easily found at your local hardware store in the paint aisle.

 

 

I isolate the type bars as if I was doing heart surgery and, as you can see, the loosened ink is soaking into the rag I slid underneath the type basket just before the first application. When I scrub Naphtha on the bars with a toothbrush, tiny droplets of the stuff tend to splatter everywhere, so I shield my eyes with protective eyewear while covering my workspace and typewriter with cotton rags. A ventilated area is a good idea too, as Naphtha stinks like gasoline. The good news is that the whole process doesn't take all that long because it dissolves the caked-on ink in a matter of seconds. I make a couple of applications, brush all the type heads judiciously, wipe up the excess, and wait for it to dry. Once it's dry, I soak a rag with rubbing alcohol and wipe down each individual type bar, removing any remaining ink smudges. The result:

 

 

Wondering how the cleaning has affected type quality? Stop back in the next day or two. The typewriter has been cleaned, lubricated, catalogued, shelved, and is ready for it's very first typecast.

26Apr/1210

Engineering a Revolution

Earlier today, I began to disassemble my Hermes Rocket in preparation of it's cleaning. I've done this with all of my machines, but the engineering involved with creating a manual typewriter still amazes me. After removing the outer shell, I spend a good 15-20 minutes messing around with all of the exposed parts. I push buttons, watch the levers move, see where the linkages connect, etc. It makes me think of Luke Skywalker's bionic hand in Star Wars.

 

 

I apologize for the lousy photo. I was lazy and took it with my iPhone.

I realize that typewriter engineering wasn't always as impressive as a mid-century Hermes Rocket. Like most technologies, early typewriters weren't reliable and widely varied in design. It took several decades of tinkering to get it right. Old or new, it still bends my mind that this many tiny parts are able to operate not only in unison, but with an enormous degree of accuracy and reliability. Further compounding my amazement is that all of this design work was done in an age without computers.

In this era, we take for granted that we can plug a bunch of mathematical formulas into a computer and virtually design a complicated mechanical machine, like an automobile, without picking up a wrench. How in the hell did engineers manage to create a typewriter, with hundreds of tiny moving parts, without a computer? All of these moving parts are sculpted with impressive accuracy. Linkages wrap around each other, gears spin, rubber platens move up and down, carriages slide laterally, hinges rotate... And none of it interferes with the operation of the device as a whole.

I like to think of myself as mechanically inclined. I can assemble and disassemble many things, teaching myself how they work as I go. But, I cannot fathom designing a typewriter from scratch and achieving a near-zero percent margin of error. If I was wearing a cap right now, I'd tip it to the countless typewriter engineers that, against all odds, made it work so beautifully.