Rustic Cyberpunk

Coffee & Cabins

Why Things Work

5 min read

I bought a typewriter at the beginning of this year. A Royal Safari from the 1960s, as something of a side-project and to enjoy my free time away from the computer. I have far more free time than I did before.

Royal Safari
Royal Safari, in all its gray and beige glory. I rather like the combination in this particular case since it fits with everything.
Serial SA5453737
This serial number dates to around 1963, I think, from the few reference materials I've been able to find

One of my neighbors sold it to me for $10 after trying and failing to fix it himself and thought I might have better luck. There were quite a few scuffs, scratches and dings on the case, but the internal mechanism was intact aside from a rail being slightly out of alignment. Most of the keys were covered in thick layers of White-Out, which I tried to scrub out as best as I could. I still don't know why people do this to their typewriters.

Key closeup
The keys look considerably cleaner now. I did my best to remove the built up layers of grime, but there are few corners that could still use a good scrubbing. At least the parts where my fingers will touch are relatively clean. I wasn't able to do much about the discoloration.

By looking at the insides, I'm inclined to think it was dropped from a fair height at some point. My neighbor got it this way initially from eBay. The seller had described it as working at first, but that it had "stopped" afterwards, which means something happened to it in storage.

Back cover screw
That looks like many failed attempts at removing the rear screw. I don't know if the previous owner or the eBay seller had poor eyesight.
Tab set rail
This rail was out of alignment and it seemed to have suffered a shock at some point. This is the tab set bar. Each of those pins is a tab stop which can be set via the "column set" key.

Preceding my purchase, I have no idea how many people tried to fix it themselves. There was a thick layer of WD-40 already on it, which ruins the delicate balance between lubrication and freedom of movement. There are various formulations of WD-40, but once the U.S. variant "dries", it becomes a thoroughly viscous magnet for all manner of dust floating in the air, in addition to acting as spider silk to whatever debris falls onto the joints from between the keys. The coating looked old already so I don't believe my neighbor was responsible for this failed attempt at maintenance.

Basket closeup
There's still a bit of dried WD-40 in there, but I've done the best I could to get rid of it with the isopropyl alcohol I had at hand. A few keys are still a tad slow to fall back after striking.

To my delight, there are still typewriter ribbon vendors. I've ordered a few and they're on their way.

Returning this typewriter to working order gave me a good reminder of how a lot of us seem to keep doing the same thing without stopping to think why they should work in the first place.

Often times, finding out why something worked in the past is more important than understanding why it may not at present. The clues are all there. The typewriter worked because the intricate ballet of levers, slides, and joints are mechanically choreographed at the factory to precise tolerances. The addition of the problematic lubricant was unnecessary and so was the drop.

People train themselves to do the "working thing" so thoroughly that they keep doing it even when it stops working or the circumstances that lead to it working originally no longer apply. Sometimes, failures aren't the pillars of success; If nothing was learned, they're merely a pile of cumulative failures.

Allegiance to the same ideas in the face of better information is religion. That might be fine in some cases for mild doses of self-improvement, especially when the new information is possibly misguided and harmful, but it's also how civilizations end when left unchecked.

Hello OnionLand
This ribbon has probably been in this typewriter for decades

Writing on the typewriter is a great joy. I learned how to type on an electric typewriter I found thrown out by someone because I couldn't afford a computer at home for homework. It wasn't until junior high school that I was able to actually use a computer in the library and get to know typing on even lighter keyboards.

This is the first time I've felt the truly awesome tactile feedback of stamped steel.

I think the typewriter will be a fine addition to the library, once it's built. I'd like to leave it there permanently next to the reference material I read for inspiration. It's fitting that this specific model was originally marketed toward students and I still have a lot to learn.

Royal Safari booklet
The literature that came with the typewriter. Being crumpled between the back of the typewriter and the case all these years, it has definitely seen better days.
Typewriter introduction
This was geared more toward families, possibly with children who wrote their papers on these typewriters.
Touch Typing guide
Teaching touch typing was still the norm, even with the widely prevelant two-finger search and destroy method. I've developed a few bad typing habits that I hope I can also get rid of by using the typewriter.

Andy Rooney had a collection of typewriters in his own writing shed and it's only fitting that I feel compelled to do something similar.

Andy Rooney's writing shed'
Hopefully I can stop with just one typewriter.
Andy in his shed
Andy in his "pentagon" in 2001 going through a stack of mail. I like the shelf arrangement inside as well.

Since the library is not going to be wired for electricity anyway, it's perfect for writing for hours on end without needing to charge a device like a laptop or even my own writing computer. And since the structure will be insulated, it won't experience the same temperature swings that damage so many other forgotten mechanical relics in attics and basements.

Looking forward to many more pages indelible text.