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MY TOUCH AND GO TICK TACK TOE with the 1971 OLYMPIA SM9 TYPEWRITER.
Updated: Jan 30
VOLUME 1 of TYPEWRITER TRIALS.
This morning, I am giving into a first nudge, an introductory foray into the world of writing on the subject of typewriters. My curtains are closed, rippled and pink, fine threads of soft white light sew through the thin shade as morning makes its face a bit brighter, time moving, time passing over this house. It was only about one month ago I came across a typewriter that caught my eye immediately and set me to search message boards and videos far and farther to get whatever info I could find under my belt. I would be reading and go back to the opened tab on my phone where the typewriter sat in waiting, looking at it, swiping through the images. Looking for any damage, any hints of true wear or dysfunction. It was being sold as-is so I knew I was getting into some sort of mess, even if it would take some poking around to find exactly where the problems were. After a bit more reading up and some more video time I purchased it for $54 with free shipping; Seemed like a very good deal to me. As I waited, as snow fell, as I wondered, I continued to read and look into this specific typewriter. Almost nothing could have prepared me for what I would be receiving though. Really quick, before I get into the rest of the lovely mess of a time I have had, I just have to say; this is a very capable, durable, brilliantly crafted machine. When looking this typewriter up, you will find almost only rave reviews. The only real problem I see people have with it is the aesthetics, the shape, the colors, the loss of the cursive 'Olympia' logo; for me these are not too important. After using this and getting to spend time doing some work on it, I have come to appreciate it more and more, it's lovely. Now, onto the rest of the article!
Here is the model I got, this is after I did some work on it.
Right after purchasing the Olympia SM9, I searched for and purchased some new ribbons from an Etsy shop. This ribbon was supposedly for “all Olympia SM models” but upon receiving it and the typewriter this proved to be false. The day came when the typewriter itself arrived, a day when the snow had stopped and a dull freezing fog had wrapped this city, squeezing it to a crawl. The mail came late, around 5:30 pm and I was not home yet, I was notified and as fast as I could, I hopped a bus toward my porch. The moment I hefted the box, I was smacked with the weight of this “semi-portable” typer. I carefully opened the package and lowered the Olympias front into my hand. It looked banged up, it looked worked, and it looked good. I saw the top and lifted its hood, looking into the glowing platinum and cast iron chasm within. It looked good as well, but I noticed the type bars (strikers) seemed to be sticky; they would go up easily and then hang up mid-way upon return. My first reaction to this was to grab the isopropyl alcohol, q-tips, paintbrush, a can of compressed air, and a towel to get at the gunk in the escapement.
I had previously watched some videos that ‘Phoenix Typewriter’ posted on their youtube channel about how to do basic cleaning and what to look for when doing so; this helped a ton. I proceeded to dab and brush and press the keys while blowing air through and so on and so on. I pressed the keys over and over and over again, and for so long, nothing seemed to work. DEAD KEYS. That was the word that came to mind and I searched and searched for an answer. I flipped over the typewriter and looked at all the parts, not knowing what most did, what this typewriter needed specifically, or what could be causing this. I looked for images of the underside of an Olympia Sm9 for hours on and off, and eventually, I found one that was rusty and very banged up being sold for way too much, but this image showed me clearly what my problem was. All the springs that link the opposite end of the type bars to the fixed bar that runs horizontally across the frame on the underside, were missing!
The 7 springs you see on the bottom right were originally missing, but were attached shortly after the parts body arrived.
There was no tension, nothing to lend the strikers a hand in returning home. At least for this issue, therein lied the problem and now the search was on for a parts body that wasn’t $100-$200, and that had a photo of these springs the Olympia needed. It was about 2 days till I found the body, made an offer, and waited to see if they’d accept; they did! I waited about a week and yesterday was the day it graced my stoop. I got it in my office and once I opened it I slowly flipped it over, always kind of nervous to see what reality holds, the springs were there! I’m pretty sure I shouted in excitement.
Parts body with the 7 missing springs.
Pulling out my piano bench, I set the flipped-over part's body on it, and then carefully flipping over the “working SM9” I set it beside the other, seeing now exactly how to get this done. I pulled off each spring one at a time, dusted them, and pulled out some little fuzzes before reattaching them carefully with tweezers. After getting them all attached, I flipped it over, and WOW! The keys were snappy as ever! I could and couldn’t believe it. It is funny to think that most likely the seller I bought this one from or someone before them used this SM9 as a parts body, making this a non-working typewriter. I wonder what typewriter they used the springs on to get it up and running. Must’ve been a special one.
After this little bit of easy work, I have nothing but high hopes for this SM9 and am more and more impressed with it the more I type.
There are a few more things that aren’t working on this typewriter though, the paper support has snapped, and it no longer rests inside of the main chromed support where it can extend to hold a full sheet and show you where you are on your page. This support also will not lock into place inside the panel that usually supports this operation.
Something either got knocked loose or was also removed at some point. When I received the Olympia, there was a big dent right in the area where the support folds down and usually stays put till the user presses a little silver button, and then it is free to pop up and do its job. There is also an issue with the claw-shaped tab-clearing knob. Seems as if something has come loose, but I could be entirely wrong on that; it just seems as if it isn’t connecting with anything. Other than all of that, the last thing I can find that seems to be happening is that when selecting the solid black color with your ribbon selector, the feeder for the ribbon refuses to jump as I type. When I select the solid blue, it is more than happy to hop to it. These are all things I plan to work out over time, but for now, this puppy is roaring and ready to go! Well, not so fast, revisiting the ribbon debacle; The one that was sent to me had many cutouts in the spool. The Olympia SM9 has one prong/pin that sets in a section of the spool, making it shift forward as you use the keys, triggering the gears beneath the plastic platform the spool sits on. This has teeth all the way around and as you type it ever so subtly ticks along, the teeth then catch a metal arm that prevents the action from going counterclockwise, in turn guaranteeing ribbon travel as you type, making it so you aren’t smacking the same spot in the ribbon the whole time, leading to faint type and eventually a ribbon with a tear in it. The spools I ordered with all the cutouts were impossible to set in a way that they would catch, I tried so many different positions, but nothing seemed to work. The spool that should be turning and pulling would sort of just sit and rock atop the motion of the turning beneath. My partners' stepmom a few days before the part's body arrived, had me come by and pick up her father's electric ‘Smith Corona Electra’ typewriter for me to use. I had started cleaning it a little even though it was snappy and responsive it had accumulated a ton of dust and some patina. It sat there on the floor in its case beside me and all this noticing and decision making, when all of the sudden I thought….why not try the ribbon that was on the Electra! I slid the lid forward and saw that this spool had 4 circular holes around the center hole; could it be? I wondered. I removed the old ribbon, and set in the new, noticing a distinct difference in the spool needing to be turned till it set correctly on the pin, and wah-lah! It was a match made in typewriter heaven! It jumped, it scooted, it didn’t go slack, and it was beautiful. This has been such fun easing into the vast and snappy world of typewriters. I just can't wait for what’s around the bend and for all the stories and poems and whatnot that come from every clack clack clack down the line.
I hope this was interesting to you and I plan to write more in the future on this typewriter and perhaps many others as well. If you have a favorite typewriter of your own, or maybe even one you used to own, please comment down below and let me know, I am curious to hear about your journey as well!