by | Feb 6, 2018 | Underwood | 8 comments

A 1940 Underwood S came into Urban Legend Typewriters in sorry shape. Its owner said it had “sat on a shelf in my grandparents’ garage for as long as I can remember. It has been given to my college aged daughter, and I’m looking to have it cleaned for display purposes for an upcoming birthday. I can’t imagine it could be restored to working order, but if so, I would also like an estimate of cost.”

It certainly was grimy. And the carriage wouldn’t move.

As I began to disassemble the machine for cleaning, I was impressed with the traces of words I could see throughout the red half of the old ribbon.

There was also a mysterious inscription in the right ribbon cup. 3-45 may mean March 1945, but I have no clue about the other figures.

As I cleaned, degreased, and lubed the parts, they started to function. I believed this machine would type again!

But my heart sank when I removed the paper table and discovered that the back of the carriage frame was broken, right at the point where the right carriage frame bearing is screwed into the cast iron of the carriage frame.

Here’s a view of the broken frame, minus a chunk of cast iron, the two screws, the lift hook shaft support, and the carriage frame bearing. (No, I would not know what these pieces are called if it weren’t for the great 1945 Ames manual that you can download at the bottom of this page.)

As a desperate measure, I tried using J-B Weld (a strong epoxy) to glue the whole thing back together. And it did hold — but the position of the bearing was not precise enough. There was too much friction, and the carriage could not slide properly. After a couple of tries, I concluded that it wasn’t possible to get this piece back together both firmly and accurately enough to create a viable writing machine again.

I did get the typewriter looking better:

But with a broken heart, it can’t write. It’s a shadow of its former self. In a sense, it’s not a typewriter at all, because it can’t do the job of typing. But at least this noble old machine can stand as a handsome family memento.

And yes, I wound that old ribbon back onto some clean spools. It’s rich in meaning—even if the meaning can’t be deciphered.


  1. David Brechbiel

    Richard, this was an amazing, labor of love. Certainly, a testament to your stewardship of our writing machines. The post was well-written and this typewriter has now been uniquely documented for the ages. The family will surely find a place of honor and cherish it … not only for what it is today, but what it was through its final words of days, years, and decades past.

  2. Scott K

    I do love this version of the underwood. It would have to be my favorite design of theirs. Sadly I don't own one. That said, is this section of frame part of the cast structure of the machine, or a bolted in sub-frame? I think it can still be repaired but will need some bracing.

  3. Bill M

    I'm sure your great work will be appreciated each time the recipient looks at the fine typewriter. Last year this time I had a spare carriage that may have fit or its parts used. It was one of many things left behind in FL.

  4. Richard P

    It's part of the cast-iron structure of the frame. The difficulty in any repair would be getting the bearing into exactly the right position, so there is no friction between it and the rail, while at the same time fixing it tightly and securely enough to the carriage. I've concluded that the only real fix is to replace the whole carriage. The owner of this typewriter may want me to do that, but maybe not; having the original parts may be more important to her than function. We'll see.

  5. Richard P

    Thanks for your kind thought.

  6. Mark

    This is kind of sad but at least the machine has now achieved some decency!

  7. Ted

    You can't save them all, but you can save enough.
    At least it's a good-lookin' corpse. :D


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