YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — If you have a typewriter that needs to be serviced or repaired, John Stewart of York is the person who can do it for you.
“Sometimes when they bring them in, they look pretty doggone rough, but they go out there looking half decent,” he said.
In 1964 Stewart went to work for Smith-Corona Marchant, known back then for typewriters and calculators. “I worked for them for nine and a half years,” Stewart said. “Then I went my own way, started a business.”
His business, Stewart Business Machines, worked on fax machines, copy machines, cash registers, and calculators (we’re talking about the big mechanical calculators, the kind that could take up a large portion of a desk.), but rarely typewriters since there were so many people already doing that job. Then around 1988 one of the dealers in the area went out of business.
“Therefore that created a void here in town, for anyone to service typewriters,” Stewart said. “And typewriters were actually far more simple than the calculators that I was working on because a typewriter has 200 parts, a calculator had probably well over a thousand parts. So therefore typewriters were really simple to me.”
With computers dominating the modern office, you’d think there wouldn’t be much for him to do in the way of typewriter repair. But he says he still has plenty of business.
“Most offices have at least one typewriter,” he said. “for filling in that odd form that you can’t put on the computer. And the secretaries still like to use them.”
But a lot of typewriters that come in have languished in closets for years, and suffer from neglect.
“Many times people just fail to service them for five, ten, fifteen, twenty years,” Stewart said. “Well, try driving a car for five, ten, fifteen years without ever changing the oil or lubricating or greasing the fittings on it.”
Stewart says people who try to fix typewriters themselves can easily add to their repair bill.
“Once someone goes in there and starts twisting adjustments around, then every adjustment becomes something I have to check out. It becomes much more expensive for the major repair of the machine if they have been messing around. I have some good idea of what a machine will do. But I have no idea what an individual will do.”
John services all types of typewriters, office and portable, electric and manual, new and old. He showed us a portable Corona typewriter from his personal collection. He’s not sure exactly how old it is, but the patent dates on the machine are from 1913 to 1917. It has only three rows of keys. A lot of them do triple duty with the help of a special FIG or”figure” key which supplements the “shift” key. Stewart demonstrates:
(SHIFT ON) “That’s the upper case,” (SHIFT OFF) “that’s the lower case,” (FIG ON) “and there’s the two. All on the same key.”
The “figure” key might well be considered the great-great-grandfather of the ALT, CTRL, and FN keys on a modern computer keyboard. It’s certainly the same idea, a special key that makes a regular key perform an extra task.
And did you ever wonder why we use the QWERTY keyboard? John can tell you, and show you, by pressing two keys simultaneously, so that the two metal bars with the actual letters (called typebars or strikers) meet.
“they jam up together. And that’s why the qwert key exists, it was designed so that you didn’t have two keys going up here close to each other. So these would be two keys you normally would not touch together.”
There are other typing technologies besides the original type bars. In the 1960s IBM marketed the typeball, a golfball-sized sphere covered with letters. More recently the daisy wheel, a plastic circle with “petals” with the letters at the tips, has gained popularity. But they all work the same way; pressing key causes the mechanisms in the typewriter to push the striker bar/typeball/daisy wheel against an inked tape, leaving an impression on a piece of paper.
However your typewriter does its typing, John has the expertise to fix it. He also has the parts-bins of them, from small mechanical pieces to components for electric typewriters.
“I always believed in having parts,” he said. “I hated like the devil to have a machine come in here and not have parts for it.”
John says he will keep repairing typewriters as long as he and his stock of parts hold out.
“As long as my eyesight’s good, have good, steady hands, I enjoy doing it right now, if I can’t get parts anymore, or it gets too much of a hassle, then I’ll pull the door shut and that will be the end of that.”