Tucked away in a Glenwood Springs alley, in a little shop of anachronistic wonders, the quick brown fox still jumps over the lazy dog.
Yes, that essential bygone-era typing exercise — the sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet — lives on inside Raymond’s Office Machines & Supplies.
When the wooden door at Raymond’s creaks open to the scent of machine oil and ancient office dust and the ghost of millions of inky words, the fidgety omnipresence of digital devices fades away. A 1915 Corona Special greets visitors with a typed declaration sitting in the carriage on Raymond letterhead; “Over 50 years of Sales & Service.” Nearby, there is a tiny 1901 portable German Bennett. It fits in a case no bigger than a clutch purse. Beyond that, the antique Olympias gleam with their fine steel and precision engineering.
Typewriters are lined up on floor-to-ceiling shelves. They are tucked away in rows of sturdy carrying cases. They squat, solid and reliable, on every surface. In the basement, there are typewriter towers and canyons. Typewriter belts, washers, feet, springs and other bits fill bins and boxes — so many, there are “parts for parts,” owner Darwin Raymond observed wryly.
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In the middle of this QWERTY warren, is a piece-de-resistance: a rare monster of a typing machine. It’s a 60-pound German-made Olympia with a 3-foot-long carriage. It resembles a desktop model of an aircraft carrier.
“As far as I can tell, it’s the biggest typewriter ever made,” Raymond said.
A rare typewriter lives to write again
The behemoth has come full circle; Darwin’s father special ordered it in the 1960s for a local dairy farmer and entrepreneur named Hank Williams who needed to be able to type up very wide forms. Williams didn’t get to use it for long. He died of a heart attack at a dairy convention in Denver in 1968, according to a typewritten story of his life.
Williams survivors must not have appreciated the space-hogging Olympia for too long. Evidently neither did any other customers at what was then called Raymond’s Printing and Office Supplies. Raymond found the typewriter moldering in an open shed on his father’s property.
It had evidently been there for decades, long enough for all the keys to be rusted into rigor mortis. A wasp nest and cocoons were tucked under the keys. A pile of dirt fell out of the casing.
It was just the kind of challenging typewriter rescue Raymond relishes. He spent more than 100 hours dismantling it, cleaning each part (typewriters have 3,000 to 4,000), then reassembling the bits into a machine that once again snicks and glides, clicks and clacks, and dings and whooshes as it imprints a yardstick of letters.
That is one of the rarest typewriters brought back to life by Raymond. But he has been ministering to more typing, adding, calculating and copying machines than he can count for six decades. For more than four of those, this small, soft-spoken man has been working with a large, whistling bird on his shoulder.
The bird is a 51-year-old Moluccan cockatoo named JJ. JJ acts like an avian assistant around the shop. When he is not looking over Raymond’s shoulder as Raymond puzzles through malfunctioning machines, JJ amuses himself by sorting through his personal box of discarded typewriter parts. At other times, he uses his vice-grip beak to turn two-by-fours and cabinet doors into wood confetti.
The man who serves as JJ’s perch started tinkering with typewriters when he was 12-years-old and helping out in his parents’ printing and office machine shop. Young Darwin had an aptitude for understanding how the carriages, typewheels, platen knobs and tilt rings all worked together in harmony to produce novels, love letters, recipes, term papers, invoices, and last wills and testaments.
During his lifetime, Raymond occasionally veered into fixing other things; the electronics for surface-to-air missiles, modern copy machines, antique adding machines, his own twin-engine plane. But typewriters always remained his first mechanical love. Nothing gets him going like a rusty, beaten-up old Olympia or Remington.
“I really enjoy fixing the machines. I get a real feeling of satisfaction to get one working again,” Raymond said as JJ gabbled in agreement.
And nothing hurts Raymond more than seeing a typewriter abused.
With a wince, Raymond related how the late gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson, using a shotgun, blasted apart an IBM Selectric that he had worked diligently to maintain over the years. To this day, he can’t bear to look at the famous photo of Thompson standing in the snow aiming at the helpless typewriter.
Like slow food, some — like Tom Hanks — find value in slow words
Typewriters in general were all but dead at the early part of this century, killed by digital devices rather than rifles.
But, about a decade ago, they started to emerge as cool throwbacks. The sound of a typewriter — described variously by aficionados as “the chatter of rain” or “the sound of an old man’s feet on metal stadium stairs” — called to those worn out by digital devices. Like film cameras and vinyl records, typewriters became trendy. Like slow food, slow words had new value.
Typewriters started to turn up as designer props in chic homes. They were spotlighted as serious accouterments for writers who had never given them up. And, inevitably, they were digitized. It is now possible to buy computer keyboards that sound like typewriters or typewriter-type keyboards that serve as docks for digital devices. The Amazing Type-Writer iPhone app produces text that looks like it was typewritten. The Hemingwrite is a word processor with a clackety keyboard and a retro look.
Raymond pays little attention to all these trends in what has been dubbed “the typosphere.” He has never been to a bar or bookstore “type-in,” or to a typewriter jam session or street-typing event where typists tap out letters and poems for donations. He has not attended a typing social at a retirement home, and he has not heard the Boston Typewriter Orchestra perform. He has watched the typosphere documentary called “California Typewriter,” but found it “kind of boring.”
He hasn’t visited the Welcome to the Typosphere blog where “typospherians” weigh in on all things related to typewriters. He is not part of the Antique Typewriter Collectors page on Facebook where typewriter fans post artfully-lighted photos of their Hermes, Coronas, Remingtons, Woodstocks, Underwoods and Olivettis — and confess to compulsive typewriter buying.
Raymond is aware that the actor Tom Hanks has become famous for his collection of more than 250 typewriters. But he was not privy to the fact that Hanks had devised his own digital touchscreen typewriter program called the Hanx Writer.
Raymond’s intense focus on the inner workings of typewriters means he also is not familiar with the other two typewriter repair people in Colorado — one in Erie and one in Longmont. There used to be conventions of repairmen (men repaired; women typed) where they would share their typewriter expertise. But that was so long ago, Raymond doesn’t remember when they ended.
Jim Baxter, the owner of Selectech, has been fixing IBM Selectrics in Erie for 45 years, but he was not aware of Raymond’s business across the Continental Divide. Baxter specializes in fixing mostly newer electronic typewriters that are still in use by authors, writers, accountants, attorneys and older folks who don’t trust those newfangled computers.
The shirttail of typewriter trendiness
Lowell Plum, who has been repairing typewriters in Longmont for 43 years, said he also has never heard of Raymond.
“It’s a dying art we are in,” said Plum with a sigh. He, nonetheless, has seen a small resurgence of repairs from typewriter collectors and has grabbed on to a shirttail of the typewriter trendiness.
Plum has an alpine-blue Corona autographed by Hanks. He had sent Hanks a typewritten letter asking him for the autograph on the unusual machine. Months later, he received a typewritten response from Hanks agreeing to provide the signature. That Corona is now Plum’s prized possession.
Raymond doesn’t own an autographed typewriter even though he has cared for machines for Thompson; for a John Denver co-songwriter; and for a famous wildlife photographer. In Raymond’s shop, the typewriter trend frenzy feels like something happening in an alternate world. The wheeling and dealing part of the typosphere holds little interest. He doesn’t do any advertising.
Raymond does worry about what will happen to all the machines, including the rare giant Olympia, when he is gone. He has two sons but they have zero interest in typewriters. One is a plumber and another an investment banker. He has an occasional apprentice – a young man who now lives in Denver but comes to the shop when he is visiting Glenwood Springs.
JJ should be around for a long time. He has the potential to live to be 100. But he is only good for dismantling typewriters. He gnawed his way out of his pen one night and pecked apart some typewriter keyboards, scattering bits all over the repair shop.
Raymond tinkers away beyond such worries. He focuses on his latest typewriter-in-need, twirling it on a workbench lazy-Susan, and patiently ministering to it with degreaser, tiny spline wrenches, miniature allen wrenches and nut drivers. JJ watches with one big eye cocked towards the machine in case there might be a loose spring he can grab and hide in his feathers.
As the typosphere goes gaga over old typewriters in some distant realm, Raymond brings one more back to life, one part at a time.
“My clients say I can’t retire,” he said. “And I won’t until I can’t do this anymore.”
UPDATED: Some photo captions in this story were updated at 7:44 a.m. on April 24, 2019, to correct the model of the large-format Olympia typewriter restored by Darwin Raymond. It is a SG1.