Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A hate letter to my Valentine.

Seem like strong words? 

It seemed such a simple thing - putting the bearings back into a typewriter carriage. I saw Retro-tech Geneva's Valentine shooting bearings, and I felt pretty confident that this was a problem that I could manage. 

And when I say manage, I mean... mange with a bit of effort. I wasn't expecting this to be a walk in the park. 

The day after I read about the bearing shooting typer, I came across one on Ebay Australia that was doing the same thing. It had a few dings and issues, and no one else on Ebay wanted to go near the thing. So it was going pretty cheaply. The man who owned it had attempted to repair it too, but had only gotten as far as Retro-tech had. After the sale was completed, he asked me to keep him informed as to how my repairs went. 

The Valentine doesn't suit my collection, but the style and design are just so - iconic - that I felt that it would be nice to have one there. If anything, just as a poser piece. 

But that was the theory. In practice, I really don't like hanging onto a typewriter that I am not actually going to use. So, I set about repairing this typewriter. I had a heap of time on my hands today while I waited for my car to be serviced, so I thought I'd spend some quality time with this machine. 

But I was too eager. I sat down and watched a movie last night, and found myself felling far from tired. I thought to myself 'Just make a start', and before long I had the Valentine partially disassembled on my desk. 

The hours passed by quickly, and I soon found myself filling my glasses with perspiration. Nothing was working. Nothing seemed to work logically. By about 11pm I found myself very tired. My patience was failing, my sanity was slipping, and I knew I wouldn't achieve anything this evening. 

I put out a plea to the portable typewriter forum for help. I was so tired that I asked for help with an Olivetti Lettera 32 (I'm not even sure I wrote the whole thing) instead of a Valentine.

I ended up laying in bed with my iPad. I read through Retro-tech's site and comments, and I came across a link to an older blog entry by another typosphere blogger on this subject. I clicked on the link and read through the bloggers suggestions (in his case, an actual lettera 32 was being used) but I just couldn't understand them. Nothing seemed to make sense as I was too tried. 

I put the iPad down, and ran through some thoughts about the Valentine problem. But I was lucid, and I started to think about how much of a complete wast of time it was. My mind I crossed between waking and dreaming, and I soon found myself being teased by a young girl about how 'boring' this all was, and how I just apparently didn't know what fun was. She giggled, and played 'Girls just wanna have fun' on a record player in her pink bedroom. 

I awoke a little later, but I couldn't accept at the time I had been dreaming. It didn't make sense, but it had to have come from somewhere, right? 

I crawled this morning with a heck of a headache. I spilled my tea everywhere, and made a mess of just about everything. I took my car to the service centre, and then walked home. My head felt dull, and I just couldn't think. I decided I just didn't have the mental capacity to deal with the Valentine, so I busted open my coin box and counted it.

$250? Not bad.... Now... how do I deposit all this coin when there's not a single branch of any bank still open near by? 

After I while I re-read the blog site. I could picture what they were saying in my head, but I wasn't sure it would work. But I gave it a try. I slipped one side of the bearing retainer into the carriage without a problem, and then tried putting the other in. The site suggested that I 'shimmy' the second side in. 

I tried and I tried. And nothing seemed to work. After about 30 minutes of trying to 'shimmy' I more or less gave up. 

As I lowered the carriage gently back into its bed something happened. The retainer slipped... every so slightly. It slid between the rails, and past where it had previously been blocked. 

I stopped and drew a breath. This was progress... REAL progress. It may only be about a millimetre, but it showed it could get in there. The bloggers suggestions really could work! 

And work they did. Before long I had slid the entire retainer tightly in between the rails, popped a couple of bearings in as instructed, and began to slide the carriage. Things were looking good! 

The bearings popped out again, but this was expected. I slotted all 4 in this time, slid the carriage back onto the rails and locked the carriage. I reassembled everything and.... It all seemed to be working. At least until I shot out one of the bearings again when I slid the carriage back to inspect the operation. 

Not a problem. The rear retainer was about a mm out of line with the front retainer, and this caused it to poke just a tiny bit out the side. I shimmied it back a bit, and it all lined up nicely. *Note to anyone else attempting this. You have to be dead accurate with your positioning*. 

I bolted everything back together, let out a deep breath, and just looked at my handiwork. I had done it. I had reassembled the Valentine. I had a Valentine that worked! Now, it was time for a ribbon. 

After the fight with the carriage, what came next just felt like a cruel joke. Slotting the ribbon into the Valentine is anything but graceful. It wasn't enough that lining up the ribbon into the unit was far more awkward than seemed logically possible, but the spool caps refused to screw on. This turned out to be largely the fault of the spools I had been using. But not entirely their fault. I quickly swapped over to another ribbon I had that had universal spools with a lot of clearance around the centre hole opening. 

The caps screwed on, but I still needed to hold down the spool with some pressure to stop the centre shaft from spinning while I tightened the caps. The whole thing was clearly designed to allow for maximum use of space available, instead of considering the needs of the poor typist that would be using this machine. 

I cleared off the ink I had smeared all over the typewriter and fed some paper in. The repair was done, and with all the frustration and anger that I still had coursing in my veins from the repair, I tapped out the above letter to my Valentine typewriter. It was the first time I ever typed on a Valentine, and I have to say, I'm far from impressed. But at least that... was something that I expected. 

It even skipped the escapement while I tried to type 'fragmenter', driving home how much effort I put into something that really wasn't worth the time.

And to you, Mr Typebarhead.... Your instructions saved the day. They need a but of tweaking, but for the most part your directions are excellent. If you ever are in Brisbane, sir... I owe you a beer. 


  1. What an unpleasant Valentine episode for you, but at least you got it to type decently after all that drama.

    Even though I am an avowed Olivetti fan and I do have the iconic Valentine on my wish list, I'm in no hurry to snag one. After reading Adwoa's post a couple of months back, and now, yours, I'd like to spare myself the stress and wait for a fully functional Valentine (that I can afford!) to come my way.

  2. Well, I got myself into this mess... It was all of my own making. I have now learned some very useful skills from this too.

    I'd be cautious about any Valentine. I'm seeing this problem pop up here and there, and I suspect the weak metal and plastic of the retainer is a little prone to grabbing and slipping over time. As such, all but the most well maintained Valentines will eventually need this kind of treatment. This machine as worked hard, and has the scars to prove it. However, I don't think this machine has been popping bearings exactly recently, and I think it might have been doing it for quite some time.

  3. I'm glad you got it back together. I do not own a Valentine and at the prices they command I may never own one. I read where they are nice to look at, but are not very good typers. Your experience seems to reinforce those reviews.

    1. Well, even Olivetti were pretty honest about how this was a piece designed for light domestic use, and not office use. They are - without a doubt, a beautiful machine. But if you're a serious typer, this is no good to you. It is far more a collectors piece.

  4. I enjoy the satisfaction of straightforward repairs with results that I can appreciate. But spending hours and hours struggling with tiny balls, only to get a mediocre typing experience? It's enough to make you start collecting coins instead!*


    1. Ha ha ha ha... (I do have a coin collection somewhere).

      I gained experience out of this. I now know how to re-construct the carriage on these Olivetti machines. This was an invaluable lesson. I did buy this for the challenge - and a challenge I most certainly got.

  5. My two Valentines work fine, although the action is not as smooth as on my Smith-Coronas.

    I bought them in 2001 on eBay -- even then, I paid higher prices. They're going for about twice as much these days.

    I think that the absurdly high prices tend to affect the way people feel about the Valentine, because one expects a wonderful experience after paying so much money!

    They're not the greatest typewriters, but I enjoy typing on mine occasionally.

    1. I understand Cameron. I can't say it is a terrible, terrible typer. It actually types better than an Imperial 220 I have.

      I got this cheap - because of the listed faults. The draw band was lose (the owner thought it was snapped) the balls were dropping out. The case was marked (unsolve once again saved the day) and.... the right shift key is missing! The arm is there, just the plastic bit is gone.

      So, I got it for about 1/8th of what they usually go for on ebay.

    2. But to be fair, my anger was largely aimed at the frustration of repair, not so much the cost, and the limp result that followed. I have since cooled my head, and will no doubt pull it out again tomorrow and give it another try.

      BTW... with the right shift key missing, I discovered that in typing I never used it once. I Almost always use the left shift. Looks like my touch-typing routine isn't as kosher as one might believe.

  6. Classic style over substance. They look really nice, but it would never be my every day typer, and therefore is not worth the kind of money they command. I would love to get one for my sister...but I don't love her THAT much! (kidding, of course)
    I am happy to hear it, sort of, worked out for you. That is skipped on the word 'fragmenter' is the definition of just can't make that sort of stuff up!

    1. I agree that they aren't worth what people are paying for them. But then again, people pay absurd prices for cars that have lots and lots of extra plastic bits bolted to them.

      Apparently at the time of release, the Valentine was hugely popular with the mobile office crowd. I couldn't think if a less suitable typewriter to use... but it is interesting. I think superficiality does have a role to play in our society.

  7. I am only now seeing this post - hmm, obviously my blogroll is not as up-to-date as I would like. Should rectify that.

    Anyway - what a great story! And good for you, getting those balls back in there where they belong! I get frustrated easily and I think I lost patience with mine - overwhelmed by all the times we failed and annoyed at the prospect of spending even more brainpower and time trying to figure it out (plus I didn't feel we needed to slave over it as we already had a functioning Valentine). Last time I buy a non-functioning typer, at whatever price...

    Glad everything is fine now; but definitely ironic that you should go through all that and discover that the escapement skips too!

  8. Hi Scott,

    It's taken me a while to check my blog and saw your comment. I'm extremely happy it was able to assist. I agree it needs a bit of rewriting, but honestly, just thinking about it gives me a headache. It was frustrating as all hell at the time and I wrote it immediately the next day in a victorious rush. I know exactly what you went through in your blog and it's damn frustrating isn't it? But at the end, when you get it figured out, it's quite a great feeling. Cheers, I'm glad my work didn't go to waste.