A woman and a typewriter walk into a bar . . .

Photo of 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe Typewriter

I was in the middle of writing a post about handling emergencies at the cabin when I got distracted by a typewriter.

At home, I’ve established a nightly habit of typing a single page on a manual typewriter. It’s a physical act as much as a writing exercise. I like that it is neither as laborious as handwriting nor as unreal as keyboard typing. It somehow places me at just the right distance from my thoughts — not too close, not too far away. Also, it brings back my earliest, best memories of sleeping over at my grandparents’ house as a child, hearing my grandfather writing in his office late at night.

I decided to look for a manual typewriter here in Fairbanks to take to the cabin. It seems like we’re always hunting for something unusual while we’re here — one year it was 120 film for a Diana camera, another time it was a hard-sided, vintage suitcase for transporting a rifle (we’ll come back to that in another post), once it was a camper shell and then a side-view mirror for our old pickup truck. We take well to these challenges. For the typewriter, we first checked Value Village, where I found a perfect pair of purple jeans for $3.99 but no typewriters. Then I checked Craigslist and, in all of the Fairbanks area, there was one listing.

Photo of vintage typewriter keys

The typewriter sat snug in its original case on the front porch of a tiny cabin at the end of a rutted gravel road in North Pole. It was surrounded by two friendly pitbulls, several dozen rusted out cars, and a nice young woman who seemed happy to have the cash. I paid the agreed-upon price without asking too many questions and then I climbed back into the truck with a beautiful 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter, the same brand favored by Ernest Hemingway, as the story goes.

Photo of Royal Quiet De Luxe Typewriter Users Manual

This 70-year old machine is perfect, except the Q-key is sticky, the margin release is misaligned, and it needs a new ribbon. These are minor issues. Instead of taking it to the cabin this year, I’ll carry it home on the plane — the TSA list is silent on the matter of typewriters, though it covers trophies, televisions, and tattoo guns — and then I’ll take it to California Typewriter in Berkeley, where I had my 1970s Adler tuned up. I’ll bring one or the other back to Alaska next year. Probably the Adler because I can’t imagine that I will ever want to stop staring at this one. It’s a beautiful thing.

By the way, there’s a cool documentary film about typewriters. Tom Hanks is in it. And Sam Shepard. And Kenneth Alexander, the man in Berkeley who fixed my Adler. But really, the typewriters are the stars.

More about Alaska soon. I hope.

11 thoughts on “royal

  1. Wow, Shea, you know how to follow a thread, never knowing where it will lead you. Awesome, funny, informative post. And add another thing I didn’t know about you. You love typewriters! Seems a perfect fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. It’s beautiful! I knew that about Sam Shepard. No planes or computers. I saw his work space @ Santa Fe Institute. In the library next to Cormac McCarthy’s, another who uses a typewriter. A friend was getting rid of two older typewriters I thought he might be interested in. He didn’t want to deal with fixing them. Do you know the poet Maya Stein? She rode her bicycle from NJ to Milwaukee (where the first commercial typewriters were made) pulling a typewriter behind her. She stopped along the way, set up a sign with a prompt & invite for people to type. She called the trip Type-Rider. Two years after that she did it with her wife on a tandem bike. There’s a true love story with typewriters going on in this country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What you say is so true. That’s why it’s getting difficult to find them in more populated areas, and they’re getting more expensive. I felt every fortunate to find this beauty at the end of the road in a far away place. I did hear about Maya Stein but now want to look her up again. There’s a poet in “California Typewriter,” too. She writes poems for people in public and is totally devoted to her beautiful red typewriter; she isn’t sure whether she could do the work without it.


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