Returning to a key obsession: Typewriters


Clickty-clack brings back memories of newsrooms, family


A confession: I have a thing for typewriters. I spend a fair amount of time perusing auction websites and antique stores looking for bargains on these amazing, one-time tools of our trade.

My love for these was rekindled over the past few years. There are still some old models in our office that were owned by Art Kowert and his employees at the Standard-Radio Post.

I’m reading a book of short stories by actor Tom Hanks called “Uncommon Type.” I am not one to rush out and buy any book by a celebrity. But Hanks’ book has a common theme running through his diverse collection of yarns — typewriters.

In each story, there is a typewriter. Some stories are set in the mid-19th century, so those were still in use daily. Others are set later, where the writing machines are either only a passing detail or they serve as a vehicle for a more modern character to find herself through writing.

He writes of different kinds of typewriters — from Royal, to Smith-Corona, to Hermes, considered the “Cadillac” of typewriters with its Swiss design.

And Hanks’ stories are a lot like his films — some are more touching and powerful than others, but all are quality and “pleasant.”

He writes as he acts, like an everyman, who is equal parts drama and humor. He’s not Cormac McCarthy, but then McCarthy probably couldn’t carry a $100 million film either.

I read where Hanks gives typewriters to friends as a unique gift. How cool. (Tom, if you’re reading this and want to be friends, my address is 712 W. Main, Fredericksburg, TX 78624.)

Our newspaper office back home had a typewriter repair shop in the back. Our old ad manager, Henry Tyler, who worked for our family for about 60 years, would grease the machines for people, replace parts and give these machines a general tune up.

I learned to type on an IBM Selectric, which was the rage in 1984 with the type ball which had an action faster than most key driven models. Kyle Barlow and I had contests to see who could go the fastest. He won until late in the year, when my genetics kicked in (four generations of ink in the blood).

I took my parents’ 1970s burnt orange and beige (how about those earth tones?)  Smith-Corona electric to college and typed many a paper on it, sometimes about a half hour before they were due.

In my mid-20s, I hit the road with some bands. The newfangled laptop computers were out of reach for me financially, so a 1960s Smith-Corona portable served as a substitute. From the back seat of the band van (we never hit tour bus caliber), I typed letters back to El Paso to Christine or to my parents. For those under age 30, this was before email and Facebook.

That old black Smith-Corona today is mounted my living room wall. (Hey, we’re a family of writers.)

But I have added a few more vintage machines to the collection. My favorite is an L.C. Smith beast from the 1920s. My great-grandfather likely typed on a similar machine when he ran the newspaper in Clarendon, then Brady before settling in Rockdale.

L.C. Smith and Brothers Company also made shotguns since they had some similar processes in the manufacturing process. The name Remington, best known for firearms, is also found on many a vintage typewriter. I told a buddy who is a firearms enthusiast those old manufacturers looked after the First and Second Amendments.

Collecting typewriters is a nerdy habit. But if this is my midlife crisis, my wife will just have to put up with it. After all, I joked with her, it’s cheaper than a little red sports car or a busty blonde.