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Friday, 6 March 2020

Fun and Games and Fixing Typewriters (Including Removing the Platen on an Olivetti Lettera 32)

Plenty of letters are still being typewritten at the "Yours Fathfully" Exhibition in Canberra. Most are posted at MoAD's expense. These are a few that weren't. Some, for example, are addressed to "Democracy", existence no longer certain.
Every fortnight or so I go back into the “Yours Faithfully” exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra to service the 10 portable typewriters being used there. It’s become something of a Magical Mystery Tour. The days before my visits are filled with keen anticipation: What mischief with typewriters will I uncover this time? The visits themselves comprise two key puzzles: 1, How in the name of Latham Sholes did that happen? 2, How do I fix it? In the end I invariably walk out feeling greatly satisfied with a good morning’s work.
The curators usually keep six or seven typewriters on the go, and put those with “problems” back in a side locker room for me to work on. As they wheel out the casualties, there’s a look of apprehension on their faces: is this something so simple and straightforward they could fix it themselves? (Often, yes.) Is there some sort of vandalism going on behind their backs, and they should be more vigilant and doing something to prevent it? (Again, probably yes.) There’s normally a card or piece of paper in the machine, detailing the latest concern: “Mechanism to raise ribbon not working”, “Screw found beside this typewriter”, “Tape has run out”, “Carriage return not working”. With four of the 10 typewriters I serviced last week, someone had fiddled with the ribbon and it wasn’t thread properly in the ribbon vibrator.
That sort of thing is fixed in seconds. Some tasks, however, take much longer, and on a couple of occasions I’ve had to bring the typewriter back to my workshop to get the tangles and mishaps sorted out.
One of the latest headaches was that someone had screwed the ribbon spool nut down so tightly on the Olivetti Studio 45 the top of the spool was actually smashed and the nut was literally buried in the ribbon. How to get it off? The trick I’d taught myself a week or so earlier, when working out how to get an orange Olivetti Valentine spool cap on to a moving spindle (with a spool in between), came in handy. I held the Studio 45’s spindle in place with a screwdriver pushed under the spool, then with pillars managed to finally get the nut off. Problem fixed, the ribbon started moving smoothly again.
At first I’d suspected a recurrence of very common problems with Studio 45 ribbon vibrator mechanisms. Olivetti portable ribbon mechanisms, going all the way back to the Lettera 22, are not the greatest, even at the best of times (and the Studio 45 is the worst of all). The image above is taken from underneath the spool platform on a Studio 45, showing where a rivet holding the ribbon vibrator in place had simply broken off. The vibrator was wobbling all over the place, and it’s a Dickens of a job to secure it again.  
The major problem at MoAD this last visit was with the Olivetti Lettera 32. Someone had dropped a ribbon spool nut inside the workings and it had got very tightly wedged in between the escapement rack and the vibrator. This of course meant the carriage couldn’t move fully to the left. It was hard enough to find the nut, but absolutely impossible to shift it. There was only one thing for it – remove the platen. Once that was done, the nut simply dropped down on to the base. But removing and replacing the platen was no simple undertaking.
Two tools needed when removing the platen from an Olivetti Lettera 32 are a very small Allen key and a special typewriter nut grip/turner.
 Loosen the right knob screw with the Allen key and remove the knobThen unscrew the carriage side covers on both ends. Using the typewriter tool, release the bracket holding the platen rod in place. Pull the rod out by gripping the knob on the left end. Finally, remove the platen. 
 Be careful when removing the left end carriage cover and the platen to not disturb the platen turning mechanism. The hook circled right easily unattaches and the plate surrounding the platen rod hole (circled left) drops off. The mechanism on the right side of this centre plate (below) can also come out unless great care is taken.
 Once the platen is back in place, check that the platen turning mechanism is working properly.
 Holding the right knob with one hand, firmly tighten the left knob until the mechanism is fully engaged. Test the line turns, including the free-wheelin' "0" setting.
 Replace the casing by sliding the right side in under the carriage lock and gently maneuvering the left side down.
One problem at MoAD I’m still trying to fathom is that the vibrator on the Imperial 200 (Nakajima) isn’t lifting properly, so the top of the ascenders on the “t” and “k” etc aren’t printing clearly. I’ve never encountered this on a Nakajima before. A bit of lubrication and toggling of the printing point mechanism seemed to help, but not completely. Any suggestions?
 Not surprisingly, the Hermes Baby has stood up to constant use best of all the 10 portables. 
 My friend Ian James tests out the Hermes Baby. He types some Stephen Stills words, but spells Stephen Steven.
A letter is posted to my daughter-in-law Laura Messenger, but the address is not typewritten.


D. said...

I have a problem with a 1966 Olivetti Lettera 32: the characters-lock mechanism when I reach the right margin is not working. The carriage lock is OK, the margin-free key is OK, but the typebar lock is not working. Do you have a tips? Many thanks from Italy. Davide

Bill M said...

Thanks for all the Lettera 32 tips.
I only worked on 1 Lettera 32 and I don't recall removing the platen.