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Associated Press | File 2010
Author Elmore Leonard works on his trusty typewriter in this file photo. Leonard died Aug. 20.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Q: I have an IBM Selectric 3 typewriter. I'm looking for somebody that can service it. The main thing is that certain keys stick. I use a computer for most things, but there are times when I want to address an envelope or send a card.
I used it when I worked for Congressman Jim Olin and when he closed his office [in 1993] we were given the chance to buy the machines so I did. I had a man quote me a price of $200 to fix it once, but I think his shop is closed now.
Kathy Ratliff, Roanoke
A: Kathy, this is a tough one. Since the arrival of personal computers, the typewriter has almost gone the way of the whale oil lamp, public pay phones, telegraphs, 8-track tapes, video rental stores, carbon paper and mimeograph machines.
This saddens me, especially because the smell of mimeograph/ditto fluid returns me to the third grade with Miss Molly Mehagan, my teacher and first love. The way she handed me that slightly damp paper with the purply ink as she passed by my desk brings me right back to Crestview Elementary School. I can still smell those vaguely sweet chemicals filling my nostrils as I draw them in deeply.
I always thought we'd marry, Molly Mehagan and me, and we'd create our wedding invitations with ballpoint pens on carbon paper and make copies by running them through the inky rollers together. But I digress.
There are still those who love typewriters -- Tom Hanks uses one to write thank you notes, and recently waxed poetic about it in an essay in The New York Times. Prisons still use them -- most prisoners aren't allowed on the Internet -- and some famous writers say they write better when they can feel the letters hitting paper.
Cormac McCarthy wrote "The Road" on his Olivetti, and Stephen King's "Misery" would not be the same without the Royal that was missing the n, t and e keys when he finished.
And it's hard to imagine Hemingway writing "The Old Man and the Sea" on anything but a battered 1940s Royal while standing at his upright desk in Havana with a bottle of gin and a cigar beside it.
Your IBM Selectric was the Cadillac of business typewriters. When it was introduced in 1961 the innovative type ball design revolutionized the industry and greatly increased the speed at which a skilled typist could take dictation or produce an invoice in triplicate.
Later Selectric models included features like the correction tape ribbon that eliminated the need for either Wite-Out or that opaque correctable, erasable paper.
I did some research to find a place to fix your Selectric, with some success. My smart aleck lawyer friend Tommy Strelka said, "I know a place. It's called the 1800s. I know a Doc Brown who can give you a ride in his DeLorean."
I stopped in at Roanoke Typewriter Sales on Campbell Avenue Southeast, beneath the Interstate 581 bridge. There I found proprietor Glenn Moore, 70, who was profiled in a 2010 story in this paper. I was probably lucky to catch him in the shop, as he spends more time doing commercial service calls than manning the store.
He sat at his desk by the window and told me stories of the boom years, which included fixing the machines in the formerly smoke-filled newsroom of The Roanoke Times & World-News, and we talked about how things have changed in the years since he started. He worries that kids today with mechanical minds who would have found decent paying jobs in textile and furniture factories are unable to find jobs that pay a living wage, and wonders who will fix things in the future.
Moore says that repairing typewriters isn't a huge part of his business anymore, though he does service all the machines in area funeral homes, which still use them for filing death certificates.
He says that your estimate of $200 is probably pretty accurate, since the guts of it must be taken apart and given a special bath and then put back together, which takes quite a while.
I'll post both Moore's phone number and the story by reporter Duncan Adams about him on the What's On Your Mind blog. I know it's a lot of money to repair it, but part of me hopes you'll go for it so that your Selectric 3 will live a little while longer.
If you've been wondering about something, call "What's on Your Mind?" at 777-6476 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to provide your full name, its proper spelling and your hometown.
Look for Tom Landon's column on Mondays. Visit the blog at blogs.roanoke.com/whatsonyourmind.
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