Once obsolete, typewriters get a tech upgrade

The typewriter is seeing something of a revival as enthusiasts use modern technology to upgrade their once obsolete machines. (Phil Cross/KOKH)

Between the click and clack of keys striking precisely between the type guide, there is a 'ding,' as a key sticks.

"We don't bend in the typewriter business," Ron Borchmann says as he adjusts the type bar on a 1945 Remington Remette, "We don't bend, we form."

A few sprays of lubricant and some carefully cajoling and the typewriter is once again emitting that familiar rat-a-tat-tat.

These days, when something becomes outdated or obsolete there is no use for it; the old phone is turned in, recycled or tossed in a drawer. However, there are those that are reaching back to bring new life to once forgotten pieces of the past.

“They are stepping away from the keyboard aspect and wanting the hands on feel,” said Borchmann, one of the last typewriter repairmen in Oklahoma. Borchmann owned and operated Edmond Typewriter for years. He closed his business when computer text took over for the clicks and clacks of the typewriter.

Borchmann was self-taught on typewriter repair. He worked around the country before settling in Oklahoma. “The first week I was here I had full time day job and a full time evening and worked on Saturdays.”

These days Borchmann is mostly retired, but his old customers and a few new ones who find him online come to his home for repairs to old typewriters. He has had quite a mix of people, from those looking to keep their old typing alive to those younger folks who are trying to unplug from a digital age.

“Every office had a typewriter, every business had a typewriter, these kids they've never seen a typewriter,” said Ron’s wife Rusty Stone Zebra. It was actually typewriters that brought Rusty and Ron together.

“He said you can leave it [the typewriter she needed repaired] here and I'll look at it and I'll call you and let you know how it is,” Rusty recalled, “I said well I've never seen the insides of a typewriter; I'd like to see what it looks like.”

Soon enough they would begin dating and get married. These days they enjoy reading about typewriters and researching them online. One of the most interesting developments in the world of typewriters is the technology that allows users to turn typewriters into USB keyboards.

The website USB Typewriters advertises itself as “a groundbreaking advancement in the field of obsolescence.” The site’s owner created the circuit board and program that allow for the modernization of almost any manual typewriter.

You can purchase kits that allow you to do it yourself, with only a file, some pliers and a hot glue gun. The kits can also be upgraded to allow for Bluetooth connectivity which eliminates the need for a cable between the typewriter and the computer or tablet.

The little Remette, which was produced before the United States entered a second world war, which was witness to tragedy and triumph has jumped 70 years into the future.

"Who knows what has happened in the life of this machine," Borchmann ponders.

Each typewriter has its own story; a story that continues with each repair.

While there still is not enough interest in typewriters to warrant opening back up the shop, Borchmann said he enjoys seeing people take an interest in the old machines.

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