Friday, 5 October 2012

Round 1: Scott v's The Royal P

Warning: This blog entry is rated MA - for mature audiences. 
*Occasional coarse language. Which has nominally been bleeped out for you protection.
*Low level violence.
*Frequent bad movie references. 

This war, like all wars, started in a period of relative peace. I like relative peace. It is so peaceful in a relative way that I almost lull myself into a sense of security, before I snap myself out of it - in anticipation of the next major crisis. 

And no, I haven't built a bunker for the impending 2012 disaster and filled it with cans of Spam, beans and Camp Pie. I don't have to... I have still have the one set up for the millennium bug disaster. I rented it out to Harold Camping briefly last year, but he left it in almost perfect condition and I haven't seen him since. 

It was in this relative peacetime that I took a trip down to Canberra. While I was there Robert Messenger gave me two beautiful typewriters. A Bijou 5 and a chromed Royal P. 

 The beautiful Palestinian Bijou. 

The Royal P from hell. 

Both machines are stunningly beautiful. The Royal P in person is one of the most amazingly beautiful machines I have ever seen. With gleaming glass keys along with its chromed body, this machine looks so sharp, I feared touching it for ending up with bloodied fingers

Both machines have their problems. The Bijou's are simple and straight-forward. The Royal however, had a few faults that were likely to need some more serious attention. While Robert and I were talking at his house, he implied that the machine would need a complete teardown and rebuild. I felt this was a touch extreme, but i suspected that thee machine's frame - or at least internals, were somewhat warped.

The shell wasn't lining up with the body and some of the type bars were raised in the segment - but not as a result of being jammed with muck. The reason wasn't immediately obvious.

Also, the carriage wouldn't stay put. When the carriage moved closer to the middle of the unit, it would suddenly take off - before the escapement came back into play a couple of inches later, and the typewriter seemed to start operating again in typical fashion.

Outside of that most of the screws holding the body onto the machine were missing, as were a couple of springs that lock down the ribbon covers. The rubber feet were non-existant. On the plus side the platen appeared to have been re-covered sometime in the last 20 years, and although it showed signs of lots of typing activity it was still very nice and rubbery.

Looking at the machine from the front, I should have known what was going to come next. This machine is trouble - under the stunning supermodel looks was a machine with an attitude of pure ugliness. It was the epitome of the phrase "Beauty is only skin deep".

As I looked at the machine it felt as though the middle type bar was raised that little more than the others intentionally. Surely this machine wasn't giving me 'the finger'? Typewriters don't flip the bird...

But can I tell you folks... The machine damn well was giving me the same big 'f**k you' as I suspect it had given the previous ambitious repairers before me.

The day after I got back from Canberra I extracted the machine from its case. The case had been a huge problem the day before, and had taken Robert roughly quarter of an hour to find a case that would hold the machine. Even then, it refused to be locked into the case properly, and I had stuffed bubble wrap around it to give a level of protection. Unfortunately I had to shift a lot of that bubble wrap at the airport  so that the security team could 'bomb check' it.

It put up a bit of a fight at the airport, and had almost tumbled onto the floor. The same thing happened at home the next day. Eventually I managed to get it out of the case, and I plopped it onto the top of cupboard nearest my desk.

I inspected it for a while and started to take a note of some of the faults. As I did the escapement seemed to loosen up somehow and the machine launched its carriage into my face, almost hitting my eye. Surprised by this, I recoiled away from the machine. The carriage slipped a tiny notch along its escapement by itself before once again engaging and sitting silently.

I felt like Rocky. This was going to be a tough repair, but if I played eye of the tiger often enough and ran up and down the stairs a few times (my tools were in the shed down stairs) eventually this movie would end in my triumph. I'd raise my hands in victory and call out through my numb but joyous face "ADRIAN! ADRIAN!"

I pushed the carriage back to the middle again, and felt the escapement travel with the machine perfectly. I let go of it, and less than a second later the carriage launched itself left again, but only a few stops.

"You little prick" I muttered quietly, before continuing: "So this is how you're going to play, huh"? 

I grabbed the machine and flipped it onto it's tail to inspect the underside of the machine. I couldn't see any misalignment, nor could I find any broken springs, levers or teeth. I rotated the machine back over onto the steel bolts that it is currently using as feet, and scratched my head a little. 

I turned the machine around and looked down the rails from the right hand side (spring loaded part away from my eye) and carefully released the escapement and slid the carriage. Again, I could not observe any major fault, even when I tapped on the space-bar and keys. 

Again I looked at the machine from the front of the keyboard, and started to thank about how I could dismantle it to have a better look. I tapped the space bar and keys roughly and..... 


The carriage raced across to the left and slammed against the right margin. A small black piece of something shot out the side of the machine and skidded across the surface of the cupboard. 

It was clear what this was. My opponent had now moved beyond the trash talk - the "F**k you" finger raising, and after copping a few whacks - had just spat out a loose tooth at me. It was ready for a fight. 

The sound that it made as the part skipped across the table told me instantly that his wasn't rubber or plastic. It was metal... cold and hard metal. Crucial part kind of metal.

Yes. You know what this is, don't you. I bet you do.

I kept a calm face. I was not going to show any fear to this machine. But on the inside I was saying "F**K F*K F**K F**K F**K F**K F**K F**K F**K F**K F**K F**K F**KETY F**K, YOU F**KING F**K-F**K".

I knew what this piece was. It was a tooth off the escapement wheel which was located deep in the middle of the machine. This part is as difficult to get to, as it is to find a replacement for.

There was a moment of silence between me and the machine. Till I leaned over and spoke quietly to it. 

"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for typewriters like you. If you play good now, that'll be the end of it. I will not dismantle you, I will not transplant you. But if you don't, I will find you, and I will kill you"

I slid the carriage back to the centre, but the escapement almost immediately slipped a little... Just a little... 

And with that  I reached my hands in (with the aid of a screwdriver or two) and tore out the machine's still beating heart - the platen. Screws and knobs lay strewn across my table, and I held the platen in my fist above the typewriter to show it what I had done. It sat there with its mouth wide open - almost in shock.

I grabbed the filthy and cracked platen from another Royal I was working on and drove it into place of the original platen. I screwed it all back together again before looking at the machine and saying with malevolence; "There you are - the ugliness on the outside now reflects the madness that you have on the inside. You shall wear that scar to remind you - every day - that you have crossed the wrong repairer".

And with that, I shoved the chrome Royal back into its case, and locked it into the cupboard. 

I had promised Rob that I would repair this machine. And repair it I shall. But I know the battle has only just begun, and this war of egos will eventually come to a head because this town isn't big enough for the two of us. 

The first battle was a draw, but the war has begun. 

P.S. Has anyone got a trashed Royal portable or some kind? 


  1. A fight to the finish!

    I say you should find a good Royal and put the pretty skin of this one on it.

    1. I was just about ready to. Till I fell in love with the machine that I was going to transplant it too - after I cleaned some of the rubbish out of it. Maybe I'll find something in future.

  2. The Bijou is absolutely stunning! The Royal...well, hopefully you can get it up and running. Sounds like many long hours; enough to drive a man to drink (more), I imagine. You have your word to uphold, damnit! And hey, if all else fails, go with Richard's plan. Transplant!

    I wish you all the best of luck, and look forward to updates.

    1. I agree... The Bijou is amazing. And not far from being ready for use.

  3. I second Richard's suggestion. The exoskeleton is too nice for a mechanically imperfect interior.

    For the record, I believe that some machines will spite their humans for fun and pleasure. I enjoyed your description of the taming of the platen. I enjoy disassembling errant machines.

    1. There's something satisfying about it, isn't there?! An certainly.... I agree. These are machines made by people, and as such are likely to have the same spitefulness of other people.

  4. Here's a question, Scott. Could you make a new escapement wheel out of sheet metal, using the broken one as a template?
    Otherwise, as others have suggested, transplant and keep this one as a parts donor.

    1. Teerits, I think it is quite possible to manufacture a new one. It's about 2mm thick though, so sheetmetal wouldn't quite cut it. And the tolerances are quite fine. I think there's enough of the original gear still remaining to get the dimensions to design a new one. After all, it is a gear so all I need is circumference, pitch and shape. As well as an idea as to how it is mounted. I might even be able to get a clock repairer to machine me a new one.

  5. Sounds as if within the beauty resides a beast! I do not envy you that repair job, but I'll be cheering you on!

  6. It appears that you now own the "Christine" of typewriters!

    Beautiful, yet malevolent.

    Royals are certainly known for their escapement issues. Hopefully the machine's problems will be solved with a "new" one.

    1. Ha ha ha... Oh yes indeed! I could have made even more bad movie references had I remember that!

      I do think I can repair it. I guess it is just a case of figuring out how far I'm willing to rip parts out of this machine!

  7. I loved the battle of wits.

    Based on the escapement skipping problems you mentioned, that's probably not the first tooth that has broken off. Anything can be fixed with enough patience and resolve.

    1. I agree. I haven't been able to have a close look at the gear yet, but I expect to find damage to at least one other tooth. And you are right, patience is the virtue it needs, and I'm in no hurry to repair this, so it can happen all in its own time.

  8. Thanks Mark. Playing with words is just as fun with playing with typewriters!

  9. wonderful to read at 2am! damn funny!

    1. Ha ha ha. Do you do all your reading at 2am!? Ahhh children!

  10. H'mm, if it is indeed the the Escapement wheel you are going to need another. there is no way around that, forget making a replica, too hard basket. Also, you need to know what pitch the machine is operating on, 10 or 12? Establish that then start looking! Cheers, John