Wednesday 4 November 2020

The write type of news

I'm going to let you in on a little behind-the-scenes secret to the workings of Eclectic Ephemera in this next post.  If any of you were ever wondering where I find all these vintage-inspired news items from around the massive network that is the World Wide Web, well, I'll tell you - <whispers> I do make a fair bit of use out of Mr Google's  Alert function.  In case you don't know what that is, it's a handy little tool that allows you to set up e-mail alerts every time a specified keyword appears in news reports (or other sources of your choice) on any website that shows up through Google.  It's jolly clever and I have quite a few on the go to help supplement the more traditional surfing methods that I also employ.  Without giving too much more away one of those keywords is "typewriter" and over the last couple of month in particular it has resulted in the motherlode of all related news items.  So, rather than publish each article separately - in which case I would still have been posting them well into next year - I thought I would do what I believe in modern blogging parlance is called a "linkdump" and combine them all into one post.  ("Oh no, not another massive essay Bruce!" I hear you cry.  Well, I'm afraid so.  Sorry.)  

Stand by then for a selection of typewriter-based reports, featuring various typosphereans from across the North American continent - all of whom still work to repair and restore these wonderful machines so that they can continue to be used and enjoyed by young and old alike.  

Saskatoon typewriter repairman receives personal letter from Tom Hanks

We begin with this wonderful story from Saskatoon, Western Canada, where local typewriter repairman Tom Cholowski has been busy restoring typewriters and related machinery for both the local and national typer community.  Clearly a man after our own hearts - and not just in the matter of typewriters, as his attire and overall demeanour in all of his appearances makes clear! - Mr Cholowski has been fortunate enough to be recognised for his work by one of the most famous proponents of the typewriter - actor and collector Tom Hanks. 

Saskatoon man with a passion for old typewriters corresponds with actor Tom Hanks

Having written to Mr Hanks to express his gratitude in helping to preserve and further the cause of the humble typewriter as a well-known aficionado, Mr Cholowski was surprised and delighted to receive a response from the great man himself thanking him in turn for his work keeping the typewriters of Canada in a functioning state for the people of that country to enjoy.  Confirming the widely-held opinion (shared by this blogger, who has featured his typewriter-related deeds on here before) that Tom Hanks is an all-round splendid fellow as well as a fine actor, the charming letter is full of praise as well as the promise of a visit to Mr Cholowski's shop the next time the former is in the neighbourhood. 

source -

The story doesn't end there, though, I'm pleased to say, for in addition to his kind words Mr Hanks offered up one of his own typewriters as thanks for Mr Cholowski's work repairing Western Canada's broken typing instruments.

Thus a few weeks after the initial correspondence began, by now one of Canada's most famous typewriter repairmen was thrilled to receive a 1940 Remington Noiseless portable - complete with original manual and typewritten provenance - that was once part of Tom Hanks' collection and which is now safely ensconced in Saskatoon, where it rightly takes pride of place even among the hundreds of other machines that form Mr Cholowski's own collection. 

This has been a heart-warming story from start to finish, featuring two topping gents - including one who from all appearances especially embraces the Chap spirit - with a shared interest in keeping the marvellous machines that are typewriters alive and in the public consciousness for years to come.  Quite apart from the celebrity factor of Mr Hanks' involvement, Tom Cholowksi simply comes across as a jolly nice gentleman who has been able to turn his hobby into a business to the benefit of his local community as well as typewriter enthusiasts throughout the country and beyond.  His attitude is a welcome one in this day and age and his very existence makes the world a better place, not only for typosphereans and Chaps but for everyone.  Well done, sir! 

Tennessee handyman sets out to save manual typewriters

We head to Nashville, Tennessee for this next article where once again we find a passionate typewriter repairman intent on rescuing as many machines as he can from his local area and around the country.  This is Kirk Jackson, whose ethos is remarkably similar to that of Tom Cholowski's - and, indeed, seems to be a common thread linking many a typewriter enthusiast together.  Like so many of us a fan of mechanical items, old-fashioned ephemera and antiquated technology, Mr Jackson was inevitably drawn to the workings of manual typewriters following a chance encounter in 2016 with a 1954 Remington (the model isn't specified) at an antique shop in the nearby city of Goodlettsville.  From then on it has clearly been a journey of discovery resulting in a new-found love for these old machines that has led to him becoming Tennessee's premier typewriter repairer with his own shop and Instagram page.  Not only is it a gladdening tale, but the appeal of typewriters to Mr Jackson on a personal level is clearly apparent and the way in which he speaks of them, of their tangibility, their clarity of purpose and their ability to provide an intimate connection to the act of writing is a familiar theme that pops up throughout the Typosphere and among collectors the world over.  It is as ever good to see another younger person with the skills and the mindset to keep typewriters going, as well as appreciating similar devices from the same eras.  I applaud Mr Jackson for being so ardent an advocate for their cause; the city of Nashville - and the wider typewriting world - is fortunate to have him.

Moving a little further south now to the state of Alabama we're invited to meet William Lee, a typewriter repairman operating out of a little shop in the capital city of Montgomery.  Once again his story mirrors in many respects that of Messrs. Cholowski and Jackson, with the same sentiments coming to the fore and a clear love of typewriters and their mechanical nature very much in evidence.  Unlike the other chaps mentioned so far, however, Mr Lee's introduction to typewriter repair took place much earlier at a time when they were still a commonplace technology and this - combined with the attraction to and enthusiasm for his work, something which is shared with his fellow repairers - has understandably stood him in good stead over the years.  While that work has changed somewhat from when he first started out in 1973 it is nevertheless still pleasing to note the number of younger people coming to him either with typewriters for repair or to buy a restored one from him and even more of a welcome surprise to find that there are businesses in the area still in need of his services.  He is certainly providing a valuable resource to the people of the south-eastern United States and I can only hope he is wrong in his lament that he will be the last of his profession.  Mr Lee's passion, knowledge and experience is a credit to him and judging from what we've seen so far, I remain positive that with his help the folks of Alabama will continue to have a typewriter repairman handy for some time to come.   

Having met Mr Lee of Alabama we head back north of the border to Canada - this time to the south-east and the city of Kitchener, Ontario where we are encouraged again to make the acquaintance of Manfred Aulich, known throughout the region as "The Typewriter Guy".

Here once more we see the same story of a fellow typewriter aficionado who got bitten by the bug as a young boy and in the intervening years has used his skills to provide an increasingly valuable service to typewriter owners across the Canadian south-east.  Despite his advancing years I'm pleased to note that Mr Aulich has no intention of stopping any time soon and I only hope that as with the other older repairmen featured in this post he is able to continue for some time to come and maybe even impart some of his knowledge to the younger generation (who again get a positive mention as showing an interest in old typewriters).  It's cheering to see in how high esteem Mr Aulich is held not only by the locals but folk as far away as Toronto and Waterloo, so much so that - as the article states - his business is booming.  Tom Hanks even gets another mention (the man's fast becoming part of the thread of the typewriter story) with Mr Aulich intending to send him a machine he is currently restoring (the Continental Wanderer 35 pictured in the report).  I now have visions of typewriters flying back and forth through the mail to and from Mr Hanks and other collectors around the world!  Has a new version of the hobby just been invented - typewriter exchanges, perhaps?  Either way, Mr Aulich also gets my approbation for being a further champion of the typewriter in his corner of Canada.

source - Santa Barbara News-Press

We're over on the west coast of the United States for this next story now and yet another "Typewriter Guy" - enthusiast Simon Kiefer.  A slightly different take on the sort of typewriter narratives we have seen so far, but by no means any less commendable, Mr Kiefer's efforts see him lend out restored typers to his local community for use in creative workshops (type-ins, in other words), that I'm happy to note are [currently] sponsored by various local Santa Barbara institutes.  Here then is another aspect to typewriter collecting and repairing, similar in experience to that of Kirk Jackson in Nashville - the sharing of this supposedly "outdated" technology with the wider community as a means of reconnecting with the art of writing and of using these delightful machines for the singular purpose for which they were intended.  It is a thoroughly laudable enterprise and one that I hope Mr Kiefer can continue to provide especially through these difficult times.  Although no mention is made in this particular case of any typewriter repair skills per se, the tale of how Mr Kiefer came to love these old machines (once more very much an echo of Mr Jackson's introduction to the world of typewriters), the fact that he has over 100 in various conditions dotted throughout his home (with people even leaving examples on his doorstep!) and his experience growing up with them gives me to think that he must be adept at repairing them as well.  In any event, once more I applaud Mr Kiefer for his work in bringing the joys of typewriters and the typewritten word to the people of California.   

Up to the very north-east of the United States and on the border with Canada again for this penultimate article from the town of Winthrop, Maine and the story of the state's only typewriter repairman, Pat Costigan.  Like Mr Lee in Alabama Mr Costigan started out servicing typewriters as a young man in the 1970s when the machines were still prevalent and has continued to provide a sterling service to the people of Maine and beyond to this day, having seen the fortunes of the typewriter wax and wane down the years.  But as we have seen throughout all these news items (and know well) the fascination with and enduring quality of typewriters is undying and transcends the generations, with Mr Costigan also speaking of younger people showing an interest in these timeless machines and providing him with a welcome and hopefully long-lived fresh clientele.  It's nice to read of the interest that exposure to typewriters creates manifesting itself as a desire to study journalism or a similar writing-based vocation, as again we see much made of the intrinsic, hands-on aspect of typewriter use.  While he may be styled, like so many of his cohorts, as "the last typewriter repairman...[north of Boston]" the fact that his business is also doing well and with 20% of it accounted for by typewriters means I am sure Mr Costigan will be providing his services to those still reliant on and enjoying the use of typewriters for many years to come.  Another hearty "well done!" comes from this side of the Pond.

We end this post in New York City with another heartening typewriter-based story with a bit of a difference, in this case highlighting the work of English Literature professor and self-styled "performance artist" Brandon Woolf, who has spent the last few weeks sitting on a street corner in Brooklyn with a chair, a table, a 1940s Remington portable typewriter and reams of paper, envelopes and stamps offering a free letter-writing service for passers-by.  This is part of his latest concept art which he calls "post-dramatic theatre" but which again also owes much to type-ins and especially the idea of condolence notes (from which Professor Woolf's performance  - The Console - derives its name) and letter-writing in general.  All in all it sounds a most intriguing exercise, yet one which again brings the typewriter and its unique abilities into the public consciousness in a direct and engaging way.  While the theory may be to tap in (see what I did there?) to the uneasiness and melancholia that seems so much a part of the world at the moment I like to see the personal nature of this performance as providing a much-needed boost to people's interactions especially in this time of Covid - and there is nothing better than a typewriter for that.  

Seven uplifting typewriter stories from around America and Canada, then, which prove that there are many out there still devoted to keeping these terrific contraptions going well into the 21st century.  My only disappointment is that there is not nearly enough similar coverage of typewriter repairers here in Britain (well-known typospherean Richard Polt's website has a very handy list not only of British-based menders but worldwide ones too, which is a great resource) - perhaps something for this enthusiast to investigate for a future post...!  I hope you have enjoyed reading these pieces as much as I have (and of blogging about them) and that - especially for my fellow typosphereans out there - it serves as a reassurance that for every "last repairman" one hears about there is doubtless another out there carrying on what Tom Hanks rightly describes as "God's labour". 

1 comment:

  1. And as if to prove my last point, here's more news of another splendid typewriter repairman operating out of Perkins Township, Ohio.


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