The Typewriter Inheritance, Part One

By David Michael Newstead.

My grandfather passed away in 2011. And sometime later, I got a call from my mom, asking if there was anything in particular I wanted from his house. Nothing came to mind at first, so I told her I’d have to think about it. Then, a few weeks went by while I did a sort of mental inventory, trying to remember a house I’d grown up in and the man who lived there.

I imagined going up the steps, opening the screen door, and walking through each room like I had done many times before. In fact, throughout my life my grandfather’s house had remained almost completely unchanged. It was a veritable time capsule. His front yard, his porch, and the old chair in his living room had always been the same, including the last time I was there in 2010 as a grown man. He had made some of the furniture himself or inherited it from his parents. He’d owned rows and rows of books and National Geographic magazines. And as long as I’d known him, my grandfather still displayed the last pack of cigarettes he’d ever purchased decades earlier on a shelf by his old chair.

After he passed away, I found myself going over the memories I have of that house and re-examining my connection to a man who wasn’t difficult, but who was certainly difficult to know. And thinking back on it, plenty of moments came to mind. He taught me how to ride a bike, for instance. I used to be deathly afraid of the long creaking hallway that ran through his house. And I’d spent years playing in his backyard. But when I eventually returned to the question about what I wanted to keep from his home, I could only come up with one answer.

His typewriter.

As a child, I only knew the device as some relic that sat on a table in his den – never used, but never put away either. I would type on all the keys, fascinated with how it operated in front of me and the sounds it made. Back then, his typewriter was really a toy to me. A tactile thing to play with. Today, it’s a family heirloom of sorts, a connection to the past.

Although I’ve had the typewriter now since 2011, it’s never really worked and probably hasn’t worked for decades. I just had the thing sitting on display in my apartment: on a desk or a shelf or a table. It was an interesting conversation piece that followed me to every new city and had sentimental value.

Then one day, it occurred to me that I could set out to restore my grandfather’s old typewriter the same way that some people fix up classic cars.

But I don’t own a classic car. I own a Cole Steel Portable typewriter manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s in what was then West Germany. It pre-dates laptops and the internet and even electric typewriters and it was made in a country that no longer exists by a company that went out of business in 1966. I learned that it cost $94.50 in 1957, which means that typewriters weren’t cheap and that my grandfather certainly got his money’s worth.

What follows in this series are my attempts to restore that machine to working order.

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