Blog Like Me 6: One For Ned Ludd

Tue 2 Oct 2007 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , | Posted by: Howard Waldrop

Skeptical HowardEverybody knows, I hope, these blogs are written in longhand, typed up on the last Adler manual portable typewriter ever produced (1975) and sent via US Mail to your capable Editors.

Then they do whatever it is they do, some arcane magic, and it turns into photons delivered to your house.

People (especially publishers) keep asking me when I’m going to get a word processor or computer or whatever.

“I produce words on paper,” I say. “ You print words on paper. How it gets from one to the other is not my bowl of rice.”

A tres charmant blend of practicality and Luddism, I think.

Norman Mailer ( who said a lot of crap, some of it very true indeed) wrote once years ago: “ You change, or you pay more for staying the same.”

Boy, did he have that right.

Just before they stopped making typewriters ( a fine tradition for @ 110 years) they got it exactly right. They began making true Universal typewriter ribbon spools—ones that fit almost every typewriter made after about 1920. They had two sets of perforations in the tops and bottoms of the spools, one side or the other fit the projections in the spool-carriers of almost anything. The ribbons were all-black cotton, and when you’d use them so long the ink was fading, you turned the spools upside down and used the part of the ribbon that had only been used when you pushed the “shift” key heretofore. If that didn’t work, you unspooled the ribbon, turned it over and respooled it to get at the new ink. With an all-black ribbon you got twice the usefulness.

They cost @ $2.89 in 1977 money.

But wait—when typewriters started getting scarce, the namby-pambies who didn’t want to ever see what was in a typewriter, demanded of the office suppliers they wanted Universal correcting typewriter ribbons; so for a while all you could find were half-white/ half-black ribbons that fit all typewriters. ( I cried out “ That’s what White-Out was made for! You effete snobs!”—but no one listened.) Or, horror of horrors, half black/half red, useless for a writer.

It was bad enough getting a half-correcting/ half-black ribbon when they first came out ( you were getting half the useful ribbon for a higher price, than formerly when they were still made of cotton. About ten years ago they changed them to nylon.)

That would have been a semi-viable alternative EXCEPT the ribbons tended to split and separate, jamming up in the ribbon guides sometimes, but most often being torn apart and jamming right in the business part where the keys strike.

Enough, enough I said. I went looking for something I could use.

I had spare sets of Universal spools—when even the second side of the ribbon became faint, I’d disconnect one of the spools, put the spool with the ribbon on it back in the box and writer –Used,  6/99 –or whatever on it, so I’d know how old it was.

(Many a time, finishing some mss on a deadline, I’d have to dig an old used ribbon out and finish the last three pages or so of a story—it was sharper and clearer than the ribbon that had just died on me while pounding out “ The Wolf-Man of Alcatraz” or “ The Bravest Girl I Ever Knew”—in fact, nearly all the xeroxes of my mss lately are sharper and clearer than the original typescripts.)

I found that OkiData, who still made ribbons for its printing calculators, used an all-black cotton ribbon for them, and that Carters—who were the people who had invented the Universal ribbon spools, were still making the replacements.

You guessed it: I bought the OkiData 62 Carters spools, unwound them and respooled them on the universal spools, a messy process, but one that left me with a ribbon that could be used twice, like in the old days. They cost, in the 90s, about $4.00 a ribbon, and they were about 15’ shorter than the typewriter ribbons had been.

Now, once again, there are so many Luddites still with typewriters, their voices have been heard, Carters is now making once again an all-black ribbon ( nylon now) on a Universal spool ( the kind men like!) They cost $5.95 @, or more than double what you paid in the 1970s for a better product.

But it is a lot easier than unspooling calculator ribbons on a cold winter’s night, and having to wash your hands in Go-Jo five times afterwards….

Next time : Pens!

Howard Waldrop