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Reviving a Hammond 1

The Hammond 1. A legendary grandfather which I'd always wanted for its beauty, mechanical ingenuity, and historical importance. It is not extraordinarily rare, but I only recently (spring 2003) found one that I could afford -- a battered, dusty machine which turned up on eBay. It is serial number 10892, which according to Peter Weil was made around 1889.

I decided early on that I wasn't going to try to restore this typewriter to original condition. For one thing, I just don't have the skill. For another, it's not necessarily a virtue to erase the signs of history. After all, one of the features of a typescript as opposed to a word-processed document is that the typewritten page bears marks of the writing process -- deletions, additions, corrections. So I thought it was all right for my Hammond to look 114 years old, not brand new. What I hoped to do was clean it and bring it back into working condition. This page documents the process.

Here's the typewriter as I received it, fresh from its long desert slumber.

The machine came from a lady in Arizona who had acquired it some years before when she bought the entire contents of a storage building in New Mexico. It had a little water damage and a great deal of dust -- fine, dry Southwestern dust which smelled of cigarette smoke.

The machine was obviously dropped at some point or bashed with a heavy object. Some veneer is missing from the back and sides of the wooden base, along with a lock which would have connected the base to the missing cover. The horizontal part of the paper support was gone, and the posts were bent. The mechanism moved, but very sluggishly.

Fortunately I had some guidance as I began disassembly, thanks to articles by Richard Dickerson and Robert Nelson in ETCetera. Once you unscrew two semicircular wooden pieces, the keys can simply be lifted out of the machine; they are not attached to the mechanism. The black metal plate at the rear of the machine is also easy to remove.

I cleaned the ebony keys with Pledge, which left them smooth but not shiny. I cleaned the key levers with fine steel wool. The next step was removing the mechanism from the wooden base. Two heavy screws came out easily, but the typewriter was still glued to the base by the old rubber feet which had fused to the wood. I had to use a table knife to pry the mechanism loose. It finally came out with a slightly scary "crack." Here it is, looking like the skeleton of some odd sea creature.

In the picture above, I have removed the celluloid cover over the center turret. This is a fragile piece that is often missing. It is held on by two small screws on either side of the turret. When I washed it with a mild soap solution, it released a god-awful sulphurous smell. A ghost of the Hammond logo was still visible in the right light. The ribbon spools, which lift right off, let off the same nasty stench but came out looking brand-new. There was a bit of plastic ribbon tied to the core of each spool, suggesting that someone may have actually typed with this machine 70 years or more after its manufacture.

The base was filled with at least half a cup of fine dust. A toothbrush removed the dust effectively. Unfortunately, the fine threads of the velvety green cloth also came right off, leaving a dull and faded fabric. There was probably no way to save the velvet. Someday I may put down a new semicircular velvet strip under the keys (the space between the keys is the only place where you can glimpse the cloth). Notice the thin wooden piece at the back of the base which is present in the second picture, but not in the first. This piece can simply be lifted out. It is quite thin and fragile at its narrowest point.

The parts of the base which had been under the semicircular wooden cover revealed their rich tones after a little cleaning; the parts that had been exposed showed many signs of age. I rubbed the base repeatedly with Johnson paste wax, which the dry wood soaked up greedily. Result: it still looks old, but at least it looks cared for. (This base is oak. Some other specimens of the Hammond 1 have mahogany bases.)

Reviving the mechanism required many happy hours. I did not disassemble the whole thing (I am not that mechanically gifted), but I did unscrew various parts in order to understand the machine better and have better access for cleaning and polishing. A toothbrush and a canister of compressed air were helpful for removing the dust. The two feed rollers were glued together and had to be pried apart -- whereupon they spun as beautifully as when they first left the factory (although the rubber is severely cracked). The paper basket is just a curved tin sheet which was easily lifted out for cleaning.

Liquid Wrench and 3-in-1 Oil helped everything move again. When the dust was off, the carriage moved smoothly back and forth. The tension was still perfect after more than a century. (Good thing, because the key to increase the spring tension is missing. I believe it was separate and was inserted through a hole in the rear of the case.) After lubrication, the two-lobed type shuttle glided back and forth with ease. But it is currently locked in the "figs" position, and I am reluctant to force it down into the normal position. I put a shine back on the parts with fine steel wool and Mother's Mag and Aluminum Polish.

Here is a rear view after reassembly.

Welcome back, Grandfather.

Thanks to Steve Maloney for inspiration; to Richard Dickerson, Robert Nelson and Peter Weil for information; and to Rob Blickensderfer and Peter Weil for parts.

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