In which I purchase a 1926 Underwood typewriter
I’ve always had an affinity for old machines. Old gasoline engines, old trucks, old cars, old hay balers, old clocks. You get the picture. I suppose then, it’s no wonder that a 1926 Underwood typewriter called out to me as I passed a vendor’s booth at a local flea-market on Saturday.
I asked the proprietor of the booth how much he was asking for it. I was surprised to find that it was modestly priced, and that it was in decent working condition. Perhaps sensing that he had a ‘live one’ on the line, booth vendor immediately grabbed a sheet of typing paper and scrolled it through the platen and pecked away at a few keys: AsFdFg, upper case, lower case — all in working order.
“And watch,” he said. “The carriage return works too…”
“Wow,” I said, squinting at the faded letters on the fine white paper and quite impressed with the working cartridge return. “I hope I work as well when I’m 89 years old.” We both laughed.
But I walked away. I have lived enough years to know that just because you can afford to buy something, and you might want to buy something, that you don’t need to buy something. It will just add to the rubbish in your life, and more likely than not you’re better off without it.
But I went back and bought the ’26 Underwood typewriter.
“I knew you’d be back,” said booth proprietor.
I wanted to ask him how he knew that I would be back, but by then I was scratching through my wallet looking for the necessary cash to complete the transaction. (You can’t use a credit card at this flea market – it’s cash only.) I was five bucks short.
“No problem,” said booth proprietor. “Catch me next time with it.”
That’s Florida Treasure Coast generosity for you. We shook hands and then just before I was ready to grab the ’26 Underwood and make tracks for my truck, he asked me where I was parked.
“Way out,” I told him, waving to a far flung lot.
“Well,” he said. “You’ll want to pull into the alley over there, and load up. That thing is heavy.”
“I’ll just carry it,” I told him, chuckling to myself. How heavy can a typewriter be?
It wasn’t until then that I actually grabbed hold of this 1926 typewriter and lifted it. I felt like I had just pulled the transmission out of a 1952 Chrysler.
“You sure you don’t want to pull around to the alley?” I heard booth vendor say as I trudged away with my 1926 Underwood.
By the time I reached my truck my arms were aching. I put the Underwood on the passenger’s side floorboard, glad to get it out of my arms.
On the way home I called my wife to tell her that I’d bought an old typewriter.
“That’s nice,” she said. “Did it come with a case?”
I told her it did not.
If it had a case with a handle, it would have been easier to carry. Next time, ask for a case. Did it come with an electric cord?
You’d need a steel box to hold this beast. And an electric cord would be nice!
Of course, I was just kidding. My father had an old typewriter. He could type 100 w.p.m. on it. In the Army in WWII, he was in the infantry but hung out with the commanding officers in a Radar O’Reilly role in communications, like in M.A.S.H. because of his typing and shorthand skills.
I learned to type on a manual machine, and although I don’t think I could come anywhere close to 100 wpm, I did became a fairly good typist. When I was in High School, Vietnam was in full swing and someone said that if you were drafted you might get a better job in the military, or even get stationed in Germany instead of Vietnam, if you could type really well (or that was the rumor anyway). Typing class, which was traditionally a female dominated class in my school, was suddenly flooded with boys wanted to hone their typing skills.