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Saturday, 4 April 2015

Another Challenge: Restoring a 1954 Smith-Corona Model 88 Typewriter (I)

At a sports history meeting on Wednesday evening, a friend said, "I've got another typewriter for you, it's in the boot of the car. It's a big old Smith-Corona." My eyes lit up. "But," he added quickly, noting my instant enthusiasm, "it's in a helluva mess. It's been sitting in a mate's barn out the back of Bungendore for quite a few years. He was about to throw it out, so I said I knew someone who might be about to fix it up."
It was pitch black in the carpark when we went outside to move the Smith-Corona into the back of the Typomobile. But even in the darkness I could get a clear idea of the enormous extent of the so-called "helluva mess". In the faint light of my friend's boot lamp, I could see that "fixing it up" wasn't going to be easy, but a mammoth undertaking. There was that fleeting moment when I felt like saying, "Thanks, but no thanks". But I do love a challenge. And I couldn't resist this one.
It's a 1954 Smith-Corona Model 88 with the serial number 88 (as in the model name, 88 characters), A4049021-15 (15 as in inches, the width of the carriage). Alan Seaver at Machines of Loving Grace points out that besides the two additional keys, which increase this model's capacity to 88 characters, you can tell a Model 88 from the earlier Models  6A and 7A by its uniform dark-green keys (the 6A and 7A have the same two-tone green keys as early Super 5 portables). Alan believes the E in his 1953 machine's serial number (88E4073754-13) indicates an Elite typeface. Alan also offers a PDF of the 88's manual here. On the Typewriter Database, Michael Höehne (1955, #88E4124332-11) and Peter Baker (Notagain, 1954, #88E4052570-13) have this model listed. Richard Polt has a similar Smith-Corona Deluxe Secretarial
Having not long previously completed the restoration of the old Remington, I wasn't exactly in the mood for another, similar task. Still, my thoughts went to Donald Lampert and David Wells, and my inability to properly record the process I used in restoring the Remington. I thought, if I take on this project, I'll try to photograph it step by step. So here goes ...
It wasn't until late on Thursday that I moved the Smith-Corona out of the Typomobile and into my house. And at that point, in proper light, I could tell that this typewriter didn't just represent a massive challenge, but in the state it was in it it was a health hazard inside my work area. The dirt and dried wattle leafs through the keyboard, and the cobwebs hanging off the carriage, were the very least of it. There was also the bird shite and the deeply encrusted rust all over.
Sticks and avian stools won't break my tools, I figured, nor would the remains of spider enclaves. And the missing right-side shift key was the very least of my concerns. At least the "magic margin setters" worked, and once they did the carriage moved, after a fashion (there's still a strange clunking sound in there somewhere). But perhaps I should have been alerted by the small start of something on the tray just to the right of the ribbon vibrator, in behind the right-side ribbon capstan. What an odd-looking, if tiny, structure!
But first there was my utter horror upon removing the platen ... Holy Dooley!!!
OK, first things first: Remove EVERYTHING that unscrews and can be taken off to be cleaned and/or repainted - that is, all panels, covers, rims etc. 1. The ribbon spools cover. Look for screws that will enable easy removal and replacement, rather than having to play around with springs or hinges and hinge rods. 2. When the platen can be easily removed, it makes life so much easier. Ditto the side, top and back panels around the carriage area. 3. Gently ease off the margin switch tops and other such knobs which block removal of panels, covers, rims etc, using very long-nosed pillars (see above, red handle). 4. Where there is a frontispiece that cannot be removed without first taking off keytops or switches, look behind it for screws that hold the switches to a rod or lever (see image below). 5. Use a sheet of paper, marked in sections, to place screws you have removed, so you will know where they go back. 6. In my case, I remove all trace of tabulation systems, as I won't be using them and find they just get in the way. So that includes the front tabulation bar and set and clear keys, the levers that run underneath the machine from the bar to the tabulation section screwed to the back of the machine, the tabulation section itself, and the tabulation bar that runs across the back of the machine behind the "magic margin" wheels and wire (see, along with tab section, back left, image above). All superfluous to my needs, and just add to the restoration workload. If, like me, you don't intend to use tabulation, get rid of it!
*NOTE: Be aware that when you use Google search to find proper descriptive names for various mechanical parts etc, you will instantly receive spam mail from China selling said parts. That, sadly, is the way Google works.
Now for my really big surprise. The "small start of something" on the tray beside the ribbon vibrator was an abandoned wasp nest. Two examples of the full-blown thing were found, inside both side panels of the typewriter, as well as a smaller nest at the back under the bell. This one was 4 1/2 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide and more than an inch high.
These are most likely to be the nests of the black and yellow mud dauber, a sphecid wasp species, Sceliphron caementarium. The daubers are solitary insects which build nests out of mud, in sheltered locations, frequently on man-made structures. In 1996, Boeing 757 Birgenair Flight 301 crashed near Puerto Rico, possibly because of a blockade in a Pitot tube caused by a mud dauber's nest. They are almost rock-solid when fully dried.
 The mud dauber
The all-too-common European wasp
At the worst, these nests were built by the European wasp, Vespula germanica, which are very common around here, and can be dangerous. 
Male mud daubers sometimes bring spiders to nests to aid guarding. Usually the nests are used by the female wasps to store food (paralysed spiders) and lay eggs. The larvae outer shells and spider remains can be seen in the image below this one. 
What worried me more was the amount of rust on the inner frame.
While I contemplated ways of clearing this rust off, I soaked the removed parts overnight in hot, soapy water. After these are run over with a light scourer, it will be at least another day before they can be repainted. The inner layers of felt must be allowed to completely dry out first. It is essential that they are dry before applying any primer and top layers of new paint. It can become awful messy otherwise.
If there are brand names on removed panels which are to be repainted, scan them in before soaking the panels, playing around with the brightness and contrast to bring up the colour as best as possible. These scans can be used later to replace the brand names with home-made decals. Remember to keep a written note of the original width measurement.
Next: The big clean-up starts. You may be surprised by the early results!


Bill M said...

I can't wait to see the finished project. After the last typewriter you restored I do not think any are impossible for you to restore to operations and looking like new.

As for the wasps. I really dislike both. I do not recall being stung by a mud dauber, but the European Wasps hurt worse than others and the pain and swelling can last for days.

Richard P said...


This is one unlucky typewriter ... until now, when it has improved its lot significantly by coming into your possession.