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Wide-carriage Royal FP Elite

Several weeks ago I proposed going to the Alameda Point Antiques Faire. I learned about it through the documentary, California Typewriter, but very specifically didn’t go there to look at typewriters. I like antique fairs! I wanted to browse some vinyl records! The fresh air would be enjoyable for the whole family! Besides, the secret was clearly out among typewriter fans. I actually joked with MJ by promising that I wouldn’t buy a typewriter.

You see where this is going right?

We came home with a 1959 wide-carriage Royal FP Elite.

I am not a typewriter expert, but getting to know the three typewriters I already owned deepened my familiarity with them, and the work I did on my Skyriter has put me into interesting territory as far as tinkerers go. Imagine my surprise when, after asking for permission, I popped open the hood and started fiddling with the mechanisms to do a quick assessment of the status of the device. I really do know my way around a typewriter now! The assessment there on the pavement was spot on, it was a solid machine that worked well, and actually needed less work than my little Skyriter. And at $40 (knocked down from $50 when I paused to contemplate) it was a steal. The hardest part about all of this was carrying it to the car. It probably weighs 40lbs!

The fact that it’s wide-carriage certainly didn’t help with the weight. The amusing thing is that I don’t NEED a wide-carriage typewriter and now I have two in my collection (the Remington KMC in Philadelphia is also wide-carriage). They’re actually quite unwieldy and arguably less aesthetically-pleasing than the ones that have carriages that stay mostly within the bounds of the body of the typewriter. But here we are. I may have to find something creative to do with wide-carriages.

At home I’ve taken my time with it. Life has been challenging for us lately, so it’s not like I’ve had hours to sit around by myself to work on a new project. An evening here or there, an hour while the kids are napping. In the course of these times I discovered Magic Margins. In theory, Magic Margins allow you to quickly set the margins on your typewriter with the tap of a lever. In practice, they’re over-engineered for a problem I have a hard time believing was severe (setting margins is not a hard problem!), and when they get out of whack, it’s not like it’s a simple mechanism that you can easily fiddle with until it’s fixed. I spent most of my time these past few weeks trying to fix the fact that the margins had gone to the center and wouldn’t go back, and I finally hit r/typewriter for some advice. They came through! A helpful fellow typewriter fan took the time to explain the concept, which equipped me with enough information to figure out the problem. Turns out the whole thing wasn’t “gunked up” but the little tooth that goes into the track was stuck in the track. Once I found it and popped it up, I was able to use the Magic Margin levers to set it the way I wanted it.

Then there was the ribbon. At first I thought it had dried out a bit and I started looking for a replacement. Thankfully I was saved by this Royal having a very specific type of ribbon and with a price tag that matched what I paid for the typewriter, I wasn’t going to jump on it. Turns out, that it was simply at one end of the spool, and on these Royals there is a switch to reverse spool directions. Once I flipped it to the other direction, it moved along the ribbon nicely and I got dark letters.

The final hurdle was sticky keys. I hadn’t cleaned the machine much at all, and some of the keys in the center would get stuck up after striking. I took some rubbing alcohol to the arms and slugs, which got me most of the way to unstuck keys. Then after a few minutes of typing they all seemed to be behaving properly. I do think that this was a temporary though, and I’ll have to get in there with some proper typewriter oil (which I have!) to give them a once-over so it doesn’t continue to have a “warm-up” period.

So, how is it to type on? It may actually be my favorite one to type on. Those white keys may not be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but they are so delightful to the touch. I very quickly got swept up in typing on it.

What will I do with it? Who needs another standard! That’s the question. MJ was the first one to say “Lyz has a typewriter collection” because for me they each served a very specific purpose. But now that I have two standards here in California, resisting the label of “collector” is starting to become a challenge. I don’t actually want to fill a bookcase with typewriters since I want to make sure they all receive the love and respect they deserve. And I don’t have space. At the same time, I really do love these mechanical things. I’ll never be good enough to repair them professionally, and I want to make sure those who are stay in business and aren’t undercut by hacks like me, we need them! I need them! But the peace, frustration, and satisfaction I get from finding a problem and solving it on these mechanical devices is something I’ve fallen in love with. The debugging process is very similar to what I fell in love with on computers, but the mechanical nature of them makes it just different enough to be a fun new new thrill.