With all that clattering going on you actually felt you were doing something

free press daze

Was chatting the other day with an old newspaper hack I knew in the past when we worked for rival papers and we got into a discussion, as one does, decrying the changes in the information conveyance industry and what a shambles it has become when compared with what once it was. Well, I mean, so is my sex life, but that’s an entirely other matter.

I’m thinking of trying to find a typewriter,” he said. “That would bring me closer to what I once was and maybe make me feel better about the journalistic world.”

Typewriters: Hear dream-sequence music here. Days of yore. When I started in the biz it was all about clattering typewriters – and scratches out, and whiteout and when cut-and-paste actually meant something literally. And the first page identified with a slugline to give the typesetter – a wizard named Shelley whom I adored for a host of reasons, not the least of which she was the fastest typist (sans mistakes) in the known universe – a place to slot it in for the compositors’ benefit. Shelley could also read the computer strips from the typesetting gizmo even though it only had puncholes and no letters.reporter dude

But, the point of this is typewriters. A newsroom filled with pounding and clattering old Remingtons and Olympics and all manuals. The newspaper owner wouldn’t spring for electrics because he had fears that if there were a power outage the paper might not get out. The fact escaped him that if there were a power outage not of the rest of the equipment would work.

And those old typewriters really got to smoking and clattering as we got near to deadline and reporters, frustrated at times, would chainsmoke even more and rip out sheets that displeased and insert more – always three or four or five sheets of copy-paper at a time in order to extend the life of the rubber platen upon which the paper rested and the keys incessantly struck.

I, and most reporters, also had home typewriters. I still have two of mine. One is a very ancient Remington of about 1914 vintage that was originally my grandfather’s and I like to fancy is worth about $5 million as an antique. This relic served me through countless university term papers and even at home when I started newspapering. The other is a much more modern Smith-Corona that uses cartridge tapes in lieu of conventional ribbons. Nice, except they don’t make the effing things any more so it has been rendered kind of useless thanks to technology. I mean, why would the company trot out gear that’ll never be used any more by people like me who are sitting at electronic computer keyboards.

I also once had another home typewriter that literally wore out. I took it into the shop to be repaired. Yes, there was such a shop in Courtenay at one time. The guy told me to forget it. The thing was trashed through overuse. “These home portables are made for your Aunt Hattie to send a Christmas message to her sister, not for some reporter guy to pound the shit out of and use more in a week than Aunt Hattie would in a year,” or words to that effect.

Eventually the newspaper went computerized. We got ghastly, cumbersome, black-matrix gizmos known as Compugraphics — of which a fellow scribe reminded me the other day – and a new era had begun and we never looked back.

Sad, in a way. Maybe if I could find some ribbon cartridges I could haul out that still-in-perfect-shape Smith-Corona.

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12 responses to “With all that clattering going on you actually felt you were doing something

  1. Oh my, what a flash-back Compugraphics is!

  2. We still have a couple of our more senior attorneys here who actually cut papers and paste them together to create draft documents which they then give to us secretaries for typing up. But we only have one functioning typewriter in the place these days, and it’s electric. Its a dream to use really, and all of our new kids who get the tour when they are first hired ask about it and think it’s really ‘cool’. Silly kids!!

  3. You have somebody who cuts and pastes? That’s quite awe-inspiring. When I started at the paper we still did some printing with hot lead and the old guys who operated these things had a typewriter keyboard and they knocked out slugs typing in mirror images and were really fast

  4. We had a manual typewriter at home before I became a journalist. I used to type school papers on it. I learned on an electric typewriter, and we had one of them fandangled ‘puters in journalism school, but it was for our typesetter. I had the opportunity to have a bluetooth keyboard for my computer at my present job but I much prefer the clunky “old” keyboard I have because it makes a lot of noise when I type.
    By the way, Ian, if you Google “ribbon cartridges for Smith Corona typewriters” you’d be amazed at what you’ll find!

    • First, thanks for the advice re checking out ribbon cartridges — now I will just have to decide if I truly want one. Secondly, I really should check out the value of that old Remington which saw me through so many school papers.

  5. I remember an article within the last… decade?… about a typewriter shop in Victoria. Sells all the needed equipment. Hope you find what you need for a trip back in time!

  6. Did you search on google for the Smith Corona typewriter ribbons? I saw the many varieties here : https://www.google.com/search?q=smith+corona+typewriter+ribbons&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=smith+corona+typewriter+ribbons&tbm=shop
    Many college students are wanting to get old typewriters! Go figure! To them it is new!
    Are those pictures of you????

  7. We had an electric typewriter in the office until recently. It sat gathering dust. The thing was huge and actually had a memory you could store frequently typed stuff in. Most of the young’uns had no idea how to work the thing… “How do you print?” was a question I actually got once.

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