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He Fixed 300,000+ Machines - America's Oldest Typewriter Repairman Dies At 96 201

Posted by samzenpus
from the ribbons-in-the-sky dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The New York Times reports, 'For eight decades, Manson Whitlock kept the 20th century's ambient music going: the ffft of the roller, the ding of the bell, the decisive zhoop ... bang of the carriage return, the companionable clack of the keys. From the early 1930s until shortly before his death last month at 96, Mr. Whitlock, at his shop in New Haven, cared for the instruments, acoustic and electric, on which that music was played. Mr. Whitlock was often described as America's oldest typewriter repairman. He was inarguably one of the country's longest-serving. Over time he fixed more than 300,000 machines, tending manuals lovingly, electrics grudgingly and computers never. "I don't even know what a computer is," Mr. Whitlock told The Yale Daily News, the student paper, in 2010. "I've heard about them a lot, but I don't own one, and I don't want one to own me."'"
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He Fixed 300,000+ Machines - America's Oldest Typewriter Repairman Dies At 96

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  • Technophobia (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 12, 2013 @04:53AM (#44827903)

    What is better, to fear what you don't know or to completely embrace it and know its weaknesses inside out? I'll opt for the latter anytime.

    I use computers extensively and they don't own me.

    • by d33tah (2722297) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @04:55AM (#44827913)
      Or so it lets you think.
    • Re:Technophobia (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:03AM (#44827935)

      To be fair, I know people in their 40s and 50s that don't even know how to email. Computers and their connections can be a daunting things, especially if you just didn't grow up with it or have a kid around to teach you and fix things. If tech competence were common, all those overpriced computer repair shops wouldn't be around.

      Plus if the guy was running a business sucessfully, there probably wasn't all that much personal incentive for him to learn although Computers benefit the elderly greatly.

      • Re:Technophobia (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tlambert (566799) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:24AM (#44828265)

        Sergey Brin: 40
        Linus Torvalds: 43
        Kirk McKusick: 59
        Vint Cerf: 70

        It's not an age thing.

        • Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dtmos (447842) * on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:44AM (#44828379)

          It's not an age thing.

          Why do you say that? Everyone on your list is young.

          Let me put it this way: Mr. Whitlock became an expert in a technology he learned in his teens, and rejected a technology that developed around him in his sixties. How receptive will you be to the state-of-the-art, game-changing technology of say, the year 2050, that makes the computer technology you have worked with your whole life, obsolete?

          • Re:Eh? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Jason Levine (196982) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @07:45AM (#44828819)

            Forget 2050. There are times when I feel like I'm struggling to keep up with technology and I'm only 38! I'll likely be that old guy who shakes my fist as "those kids" and says "In my day when we wanted to look up information we did it the old fashioned way: We googled it! We didn't have any of these fancy brain-chips to tell us the information as soon as we think of it. Now get off my lawn!"

        • Re:Technophobia (Score:5, Interesting)

          by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:48AM (#44828393)

          It's not an age thing.

          I never said it was. Hence, saying that even some 40-50s year old (vs this 96 yo) don't use computers.

          But there is definitely several generational gaps or cutoffs at play, from where computers were a luxury/novelty to something optional to something necessary.

          I don't count the average American person today being able to use a manual transmission for much the same reason.

        • > It's not an age thing.

          Definitely not. The fact that someone actually needs their typewriter fixed in 2013 means there are many younger than Whitlock still decades behind. But their printer will work when the power is out, and their system will never download a trojan.

      • by gmack (197796)

        And my grandmother started learning how to use a computer in her 60s and that was twenty years ago and I still get facebook birthday messages from her. Also during a slow period work wise, I made extra pocket money teaching retirees how to use the Internet.

        It's really not an age thing.

      • Re:Technophobia (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @07:10AM (#44828531)

        To be fair, I know people in their 20s and 30s that don't even know how to email.

        20 years ago how many people could fix everything in their car? How about everything in their house? Technology is no different. There will always be polymaths but aside from that most people specialize to be good at something.
        Farming, Beekeeping, plumbing, etc.

        I'd be willing to bet there are almost as many tech saavy people over 50 than there are under (ratio wise). I know plenty of 20-30 year olds that have the same toolbar problem. They get viruses constantly. They never copy their photos from their camera and when the SD card eats itself they ask me to recover it.

        The guy that invented C would have been 72 this year. The SR71 Blackbird made its first flight 49 years ago. Presumably the guys who designed it were in their late 20s-40s. So the oldest of them would be near 90 now. Fortran, Ethernet, GPS, GSM were all designed by people well over 50 by now and without them your tech savvy life would be pretty boring.

        There are plenty of old people that know nothing about computers but could fix your car blindfolded. And there are plenty of young people that know nothing about computers but are the same way with cars.

        There are plenty of people who run successful car repair shops because people don't want to learn cars. There are plumbers, electricians, welders, etc because people don't want to learn each of those skills. And there are people that run businesses that serve the tech illiterate.

        How many 20 year olds could fix their registry if it ate itself? How about creating a boot USB with GRUB2 installed on it and mounting an Ubuntu ISO in loopback so they could copy off all their files? I'm in my 30s, people I looked up to technology wise are in their 40s-50s. If anything I'd say it's the 20 year olds that know less than nothing about their computers. If their phone doesn't boot they just replace it. Look at clients at the Genius bar or Geek Squad counter sometime. It's not always a bunch of 50 year olds

        • There are plenty of people who run successful car repair shops because people don't want to learn cars. There are plumbers, electricians, welders, etc because people don't want to learn each of those skills. And there are people that run businesses that serve the tech illiterate.

          I agree with almost everything you wrote. My one quibble would be with "don't want to learn." For most people, it's a matter of time. After working all day and spending time with my wife and kids, I have precious little free time

    • Re:Technophobia (Score:5, Insightful)

      by idji (984038) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:23AM (#44827993)
      This guy was a specialist, who specialised on his expertise and lived a happy life. I will live a happy life having nothing to do with sport nor fashion.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      To "completely embrace" something is to let it own you.

      And any single human who thinks they understand the "weaknesses inside out" of anything sufficiently complex is merely a dullard with an unwarranted sense of intelligence.

      Life was much easier for the average Western worker before computers came along. And the signal-to-noise ratio he was presented with in daily life might have been occasionally irksome, but today it's so small that we spend most of our time busy doing absolutely nothing.

    • Re:Technophobia (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:15AM (#44828205) Journal

      What is better, to fear what you don't know or to completely embrace it and know its weaknesses inside out? I'll opt for the latter anytime.

      I use computers extensively and they don't own me.

      Depending on the magnitude of 'what you don't know', and how optional it is, fear is a perfectly reasonable strategy(especially if you are already expert elsewhere and judge that you'll die before all your legacy customers do).

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      who said he feared it? you're projecting an awful lot onto a man who built a successful career and shop around one area of technology and was happy as he was.
      why do you feel the need for him to use computers just for the purpose of using computers? that's hardly a rational reason to do something. if there is no need, why bother? you'll be luckily to be half so successful and happy with your life.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        well if the first thing about it that he says includes the notion that it's a machine that can "own" a human being then.. eh. yeah, fear comes to mind from that. he didn't see computers as tools, but as something that controls _you_. of course in some way that is true but only in the same way that the mail you receive controls you and the newspapers you read control you..

        which is sort of funny since he was obsessed with typewriters enough to work fixing them till he dropped.

        the real story is that he liked s

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:14AM (#44827971)

    "I've heard about them a lot, but I don't own one, and I don't want one to own me."

    He claims that he does not know what a computer is but he appears to understand very well what it does.
    Humanity needs more of him and less FB-Fanboys. /RIP

    • by dcw3 (649211)

      Bravo! First insightful AC post I've seen in months.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      "I've heard about them a lot, but I don't own one, and I don't want one to own me."

      He claims that he does not know what a computer is but he appears to understand very well what it does.
      Humanity needs more of him and less FB-Fanboys. /RIP

      The man spent his whole life serving machines, repairing them when they broke. And then he was concerned about machines controlling his life. Tell me again how this makes sense.

      • by QilessQi (2044624)

        It makes sense to me: he did not need to devote constant mental energy into keeping up with technology, so he was free to think about other things.

        He wasn't serving machines, he was serving customers. They paid him to fix their machines, which he probably could do in his sleep.

        Sounds pretty relaxing to me.

    • Yeah tossing the baby out with the bath water is a "real" sign of maturity.

      EVERY tool can be used or abused.

      Sticking ones luddite head in the sand doesn't change that fact.

      The only thing that makes him different is that he knew himself - his limits - but he also sacrificed learning and interacting with others in a different capacity (Internet / text / video / audio )

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:15AM (#44827979)

    Voiceover: This man is no ordinary man. This is Mr. M W Superman. To all appearances, he looks like any other law-abiding citizen. But Mr M W Superman has a secret identity. When trouble strikes at any time, at any place, he is ready to become... TYPEWRITER REPAIR MAN!

    Boy: Hey, there's a typewriter broken, up the office.

    Typewriter Repair Man: Hmmmmm. This sounds like a job for... Typewriter Repair Man. But how to change without revealig my secret identity?

    Superman 1: If only Typewriter Repair Man were here!

    Typewriter Repair Man: Yes, wait, I think I know where I can find him. Look over there!

    Caption: FLASH!

    Supermen 1-3: Typewriter Repair Man, but how?

    Superman 1: Oh look... is it a stockbroker?

    Superman 2: Is it a quantity Surveyor?

    Superman 3: Is it a church warden?

    Supermen 1-3: NO! It's Typewriter Repair Man!

    Superman In Need: MY! Typewriter Repair Man! Thank goodness you've come! Look!

    Caption:

    Clink!

    Screw!

    Bend!

    Inflate!

    Alter roller!

    Superman 2: Why, he's mending it with his own hands!

    Superman 1: Se how he uses a spanner to tighten that nut!

    Superman In Need: Oh, Oh Typewriter Repair Man, how can I ever repay you?

    Typewriter Repair Man: Oh, you don't need to guv. It's all in a days work for... Typewriter Repair Man!

    Supermen 1-3: Our Hero!

    Voiceover: Yes! whenever typewriters are broken, or menaced by Al Qaida Typewriter Repair Man is ready!

    • Superman In Need: Oh, Oh Typewriter Repair Man, how can I ever repay you?

      Typewriter Repair Man: With cash or check. I don't own a credit card machine, and I don't want one to own me.

  • I heard tell that the Russians [slashdot.org] were in talks with him.....
  • 300,000 repairs? The man was a machine himself. RIP.

    I wonder if he liked this?

    The Typewriter for Orchestra, by [youtube.com] Leroy Anderson [pbs.org]

    There may be growing interest in typewriters. Maybe they will be the office equipment analog to the return of vinyl records or vacuum tubes for music.

    The Typewriter Movie trailer (In the 21st Century) [youtube.com]

    They could certainly still be handy to have around.

    • Typewriters still linger around the office here, next to the pile of floppy disks.
    • I find the "300,000" amount to be exaggerated.
      Let's say the man repaired 10 typewriters a day, every day. No breaks, No vacations, no Christmas. That's 3650 typewriters a year. In order to achieve 300,000 during his lifespan he should have done that for 82 years, non-stop. he died at 96 so he should have started work at 14, keeping the pace for 82 years. ...Well, I guess it's theoretically possible, but still...

      • I find the "300,000" amount to be exaggerated.

        Lots of them weren't actually broken. The ribbon was empty. The margin was set weird. The Shift-Lock was down, etc.
        You know, user-error.

  • by dargaud (518470) <[ten.duagradg] [ta] [2todhsals]> on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:47AM (#44828101) Homepage
    On topic, I can recommend the movie Populaire [imdb.com] which I saw a few days ago, about a fast typist.
  • Last repairman? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by taleman (147513) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @05:48AM (#44828105) Homepage

    Are there repair persons anymore? Seems stuff is so shoddy nowadays it is not expected to last more than one or two years. Even if I want to have my machines repaired, they are either impossible to repair or it is cheaper to purchase a new one.

    • Re:Last repairman? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:17AM (#44828219)
      I think the dwindling number of repairmen is due to increase factory automation. Today, the amount of human labor that goes into making a device is very low (still decreasing) and unskilled. Repair is labor-intensive and requires skill. Therefore, for an increasing range of products, it's cheaper to make a new one than to repair it. The exceptions are when the items are very costly, like cars and houses, and/or difficult to replace, like HVAC systems.
      • My central air conditioning system was low on coolant. The "repair" technician spent the majority of his time in my house trying to convince me to replace the entire system. When I refused, he tried to convince me to replace the coil. He spent less than a minute waving his little electronic sniffer over the coil and listening to it beep, folded it up, and said yup, the coil is leaking. Did he actually find the leak? (A service for which he billed me over $300.) Hell no. The coil leaks, somewhere. He

        • by SirGarlon (845873)
          Drifting off-topic here, but your story is why I use Angie's List. Businesses like the one you describe rely on ignorant customers to function -- I say, deny them the opportunity.
        • by bws111 (1216812)

          In the past, factories did not have a whole lot of quality control. That is NOT to say that the things they produced were of low quality, but that there was variation. Different components were put together by different people. Person 'A' may have had a different technique he used when soldering a coil than person 'B'. That sort of thing. So, in the past, if your coil was leaking there was a reasonably good chance that the rest of the system was OK, and a coil repair made sense.

          Today, there is a lot of

          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            Quality control is only part of the issue. Today we have a culture that will throw away a relatively new mobile phone that merely because there's a new model available. There's not enough time given to items for them to even break.

            We had an article this week making the assumption that everyone with a 5 year old HDTV is ready to replace them with new models. If they're breaking already then these have LESS quality than televisions of 30 or 40 years ago. But they're not breaking, they're not even obsolete

            • by SirGarlon (845873)

              But they're not breaking, they're not even obsolete, they're just not "new" and so the modern consumer who is obsessed with newness wants a replacement.

              You say that like it's a bad thing. I say it's the reason I prefer to buy stock in Sony than to buy a new Sony TV.

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      Eventually, building and recycling things should become easy enough for the concept of repairs to stop existing. So what you describe is a sign of a better future.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        Nope. Not even close. That isnt a better future, its a nightmare future.

        building and recycling takes energy and time, and always requires some amount of new material. Recycling is never 100% recovery, and many things cannot be recycled at allonce created. Why spend 3x the amount of production energy (building it first time, recycling it, building it again) when you can jsut repair it, and only spend the production energy once? your concept of the future is fundamentally inefficient. there will always be a n

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        Most devices that are sent to recycle centers are only crudely recycled. Ie, computer monitors will have wires ripped out to be melted down but the rest will go to a landfill. That's not really recycling. At best it's a feel-good solution so that naive consumers can stop worrying and start spending more money. Many modern devices are designed to make recycling nearly impossible; like sealed smart phones or tablets filled with resin to give them a solid feel.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Are there repair persons anymore? Seems stuff is so shoddy nowadays it is not expected to last more than one or two years. Even if I want to have my machines repaired, they are either impossible to repair or it is cheaper to purchase a new one.

      Well you can always take the "get off my lawn" approach and complain about the low quality of everything, but most of it is simply refined mass production. Once you have a production line set up it just churns out thousands or millions of units cheaper than one repairman fixing one device. Never mind that this person must have parts, tools, storefront and skills as well as dealing with all sorts of potentially abused, damaged and flaky used goods. This of course leads to a causality loop, because there's no

      • Re:Last repairman? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday September 12, 2013 @07:26AM (#44828639) Homepage Journal

        Well you can always take the "get off my lawn" approach and complain about the low quality of everything, but most of it is simply refined mass production.

        You have got this completely wrong. It's not about mass production, it's about cost reduction. It's about using cheap plastic cases that snap together and have to be spudged apart because it's cheaper than a nice metal case that's screwed together. It's about using a rivet when you could use a screw or bolt. It's about producing a product which will last just long enough to outlive the warranty.

        Take a look at all the techniques for mending clothes for example, why are they disappearing? Is it because clothes are much weaker now or harder to repair than in the past? No, mostly it's because when they're so worn and torn they start needing it we'd rather throw them away and buy new ones because a pack of socks is cheap and spending hours darning is so extremely poor value for our time.

        Clothes ARE weaker and harder to repair than in the past. This trend is exemplified by shoes; even most leather shoes are effectively unrepairable because they don't have enough leather to actually stitch together, and they were only glued to begin with. Army issue combat boots can be resoled maybe once now before disposal and the fabric tore out of the side of my Belleville desert boots on the second wearing. (This is the kind of gear they're selling our GIs? Traitors.) Natural fabrics have been waning due, believe it or not, to climate change. Cotton did poorly last year and failed horribly this year.

        Same with shoes, they still last years but now when they're almost worn out it doesn't pay off to try eeking out the last shreds of life anymore.

        I'm hard on shoes. I'm lucky if they last me a year. They used to last me two, when I was even harder on shoes. Shoes have gone straight to fucking hell.

        • by dj245 (732906)

          Well you can always take the "get off my lawn" approach and complain about the low quality of everything, but most of it is simply refined mass production.

          You have got this completely wrong. It's not about mass production, it's about cost reduction. It's about using cheap plastic cases that snap together and have to be spudged apart because it's cheaper than a nice metal case that's screwed together. It's about using a rivet when you could use a screw or bolt. It's about producing a product which will last just long enough to outlive the warranty.

          Take a look at all the techniques for mending clothes for example, why are they disappearing? Is it because clothes are much weaker now or harder to repair than in the past? No, mostly it's because when they're so worn and torn they start needing it we'd rather throw them away and buy new ones because a pack of socks is cheap and spending hours darning is so extremely poor value for our time.

          Clothes ARE weaker and harder to repair than in the past. This trend is exemplified by shoes; even most leather shoes are effectively unrepairable because they don't have enough leather to actually stitch together, and they were only glued to begin with. Army issue combat boots can be resoled maybe once now before disposal and the fabric tore out of the side of my Belleville desert boots on the second wearing. (This is the kind of gear they're selling our GIs? Traitors.) Natural fabrics have been waning due, believe it or not, to climate change. Cotton did poorly last year and failed horribly this year.

          Same with shoes, they still last years but now when they're almost worn out it doesn't pay off to try eeking out the last shreds of life anymore.

          I'm hard on shoes. I'm lucky if they last me a year. They used to last me two, when I was even harder on shoes. Shoes have gone straight to fucking hell.

          I don't disagree with you, but a significant portion of this could be attributed to weight reduction and size reduction. Each traditional fastener (screw, bolt, etc) might weigh only a gram or two, but adding enough material to support a fastener starts to add significant bulk and weight. For mobile electronics, this absolutely matters.

          You could make a strong case for footwear as well, especially performance footwear where the difference between a soldier running at 18mph and a soldier running at 18.1m

        • Try these: Red Wing Shoes [redwingshoes.com]. Comfortable and durable. I've had them resole some in the past. Some of them make for very good walking shoes - like 10-20 miles / day.

        • My five-year-old and worn all day every day Keens would disagree with you. Doc Martins are also superb. Depends what you buy.
    • by ledow (319597)

      Everything is going the same way.

      My father was a mechanic for lorry fleets for decades. He's moved onto delivery driver because there's just not enough "mechanic" work for lorry fleets any more and what there is is centrally managed. Most things are modular and just swapping out kit for a new one.

      I work in IT, it's pretty much the same. I was shocked the other day to find a laptop keyboard of a particular model for only £10 on Amazon to repair someone's laptop for them. Every other time I've

      • It is sad that almost no one fixes stuff any more. I can fix almost anything but even I bought a new dehumidifier because finding a freeze stat for my old one was going to be hard and I needed one soon.

        I will never find a job fixing things because no one wants that done. I still can fix my own vehicles and anything that breaks down. My lawn tractor is as old as I am (46). I fixed a free DSLR camera and used it for years. Everything is still fixable and some things are worth it if is was gotten free.
        • by ArsonSmith (13997)

          Because things are considerably cheaper now then they have been in the past. To pay someone to repair something is going to cost a repair company in the $40-60 range just to get a tech to look at it. (hourly pay + shop + transportation etc...)

          Then you'd be looking at the techs hourly pay of ~$20 or so an hour plus cost of parts, etc it's hard to provide a repair service call for less than ~$120. That's only going to be the start. If a part is required then that cost is added, if the task is difficult tha

    • Re:Last repairman? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dywolf (2673597) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @08:27AM (#44829227)

      yup. this mentality of throwing money at a problem til it goes away, while bad for society as a whole, is great if you know how to profit from it.

      for ex: friend gave me his mower free bcause it was broken and he went out and bought a 56" riding mower to replace it (granted he has a bit of acrage now, so its not a total waste on his part), and didnt want to bother trying to fix it.

      what was broken on the mower i got for free?
      recoil spring on the starter (cut off the bent/deformed end, abotu 8" worth, bent a new hook into it, reattached, pulls like a champ)
      dirty carberator (dunked in a bucket of carb cleaner for half an hour, cleaned off and reattached)

      Now it starts like a brand new mower, like a horny teenager in a whorehouse, even with a half hearted lazy pull.
      So for the cost $10 of cleaner, and a couple hours repair, I got me a $350 mower.

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        My riding mower threw a rod and plunked a hole in the crank case. New this model is ~$2200. I looked on craigs list and found one in good running order around $1200, also looked around and found a brand new complete drop-in motor was $520. Ordered the engine, dropped in (5 bolts, a wire harness plug, fuel line and a hot wire to the starter) up and running good as new within 2 hours.

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      also, most stuff can be repaired. just hop on a fixer forum, or even just google around.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Are there repair persons anymore? Seems stuff is so shoddy nowadays it is not expected to last more than one or two years. Even if I want to have my machines repaired, they are either impossible to repair or it is cheaper to purchase a new one.

      Stuff isn't shoddy these days. You may think they are, but they aren't. It's just you've got survivor bias going on - "old stuff" looks more reliable because for the most part, what old stuff you see today is merely the survivor - you don't see the crap that's broken

    • by n7ytd (230708)

      Back in the day a typewriter was a serious investment, just like all business machines that eventually trickled their way into consumer use. (Think telephones, faxes, copiers, adding machines, printers, etc.).
      When something costs $$$ and makes your business $$$$, there's a legitimate need and market for repair services that can keep a device going for $$. As soon as the object becomes obsolete or replaceable for $$, or with only a very few special use cases, it makes no financial sense to repair them.
      It's

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      It's s throw-away culture. It also means no need to have quality or plan for a device that will last 20 years or more. It used to be when you bought an appliance you would have it for quite a few decades; typewriters, televisions, adding machines, washing machines, telephones, bicycles, etc.

      People look back at the 50s and ridicule it as an era of conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence, but it seems probable that we're more wasteful today in many ways.

      Many times we discard items that are still wo

  • 300,000 Machines? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ericpi (780324) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:12AM (#44828193)

    There have been about 30,000 days since he started working in 1930. If the 300,000 number is accurate, he would have had to fix an average of 10 typewriters, every day, for the past 80 years. That's without any weekends or holidays.

    I guess I have no direct experience repairing typewriters. However, I would have certainly guessed that it takes longer than ~1 hour to "fix" a typewriter. In addition to that, I would think it's hard to find a stream of that many typewriters to repair. (I.e., a rather successful business.) If these numbers are true, the guy was pretty impressive.

    • Re:300,000 Machines? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by EvilIdler (21087) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:32AM (#44828311)
      Some repairs are pretty easy (replacing one simple part). Typewriters used to be pretty sturdy too, so many repairs would be of the simple kind. Somebody who's good can probably replace a cylinder in 5 minutes and a key in 15 (or less).
      • Re:300,000 Machines? (Score:5, Informative)

        by jqpublic13 (935916) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @07:22AM (#44828609)
        Not only are some repairs quicker than others, but TFA noted that he had a staff as large as six people at one point assisting him in his shop... I don't doubt that a man of his abilities could repair 300,000 machines (depending on the complexity of the repair), but it could be a reference to those repairs he supervised, and not just those he actually performed with his own two hands.
    • I imagine that most repairs would take far far less than an hour. And that when you are hired by a company with a million typewriters, always haveing work to do when you come in in the morning is not a major problem.

    • by The-Ixian (168184)

      Presumably he had several employees in the hay day of typewriter repair...
       
      However, you bring up a good point. The article should credit the institution he founded / lead, rather than himself, solely.

    • by Yergle143 (848772)

      Maybe he'd have given a more accurate number if he knew how to use a computer.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      I really wanted to get a job repairing typewriters when I was in highschool, as there was a shop that did this downtown. These were the most nerdy things around, even compared to the nascent microcomputer industry. Hundreds of tiny parts all of which are unique and which must be fitted together precisely like a puzzle. Of course the vast majority of repairs would have been just cleaning them (more likely to be gummed up than to have parts actually break). But I think it would have been fun for a summer.

  • Very sad (Score:5, Funny)

    by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:15AM (#44828211) Homepage
    R.I.{.
  • [quote]
    A man of sober reserve, Mr. Whitlock could wax uncharacteristically philosophical about his long, symbiotic relationship with his charges.
    [/quote]

    Why do journalists feel that they have to write insane sentences like that? Guess what... it doesn't even make sense!

  • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:24AM (#44828267)
    It would seem a shame for all his experience not be passed on to another generation, even if it is for an archaic technology.

    .
    • by dj245 (732906)

      It would seem a shame for all his experience not be passed on to another generation, even if it is for an archaic technology. .

      Why? We have better ways to solve that problem now. It is like losing a repairman who specialized in Penny-farthing bicycles [wikipedia.org]. Those skills aren't especially needed now. If society needed that skill again, someone could figure out how it was done.

  • India's Godrej company ended production of manuals in 2011 [dailymail.co.uk]. For millions of rural Indians the ticket out of poverty has been typewriting and shorthand certificates. My dad used a portable Remington to pound out inspection reports. He stopped using it once he became a superintendent and got his own stenographer. I used it as a toy and kept it going for long time. Lacking a proper machine shop all my repairs were done using bent paper clips and bits of nylon strings. These machines are indestructible. Eventua
  • by gweihir (88907) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @06:43AM (#44828373)

    Typewriters are at the pinnacle of mechanical engineering before electronic control systems made it possible to compensate for inaccuracies and faults in the mechanics. They demonstrate what can be achieved when it _must_ be perfect in order to work.

    I do very well understood why this guy thought he had found his calling, because indeed he hat. Impressive.

    • I'd say that the piano got there first - and probably has more complicated mechanics too.

      • Typewriters are far more complex than pianos. Pianos are interesting, but each mechanism is fairly simple and identical to the others. On a typewriter, you have each key, but you also have the carriage and all that goes with it.

        • The una corda pedal moves the entire mechanism relative to the strings. The sostenuto pedal holds the dampers off the strings of the keys that were depressed at the time it was pressed while allowing the other dampers to operate normally.

          There's no way I would describe the piano escapement as simple. Just the fact that the hammer has to bounce away from the string while the damper stays raised when the key is held down but the mechanism has to allow very rapid repeats is a non-trivial problem to solve.

          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            I'd say there were roughly similar in basic complexity. But the typewriter has smaller parts with tighter tolerances, plus may different incompatible styles and mechanisms.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        Nope. Not even close.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Pianos are not mass-produced and not nearly as miniaturized. They could be built a lot earlier. But yes, they are impressive too.

    • Typewriters are at the pinnacle of mechanical engineering before electronic control systems made it possible to compensate for inaccuracies and faults in the mechanics. They demonstrate what can be achieved when it _must_ be perfect in order to work.

      Not to take anything away from the impressive mechanics of the typewriter, I would have said the clock and its derivatives were the pinnacle of pre-electronic engineering.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Clocks are pretty simple, as they are completely deterministic and have a single force-path.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        Well, watches maybe. The gears are so small that it's a much more impressive feat to manufacture them to the required tolerances than for a large clock.

    • by QilessQi (2044624)

      Don't forget antique pocket watches. I've owned a couple, and watching the movement is mesmerizing. Springs, gears, and sundry bits, all working together to convert linear time into circular motion, and all it takes is one simple winding to set it in motion. And you can carry it with you. Beautiful technology.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      I don't know.. I always thought pinnacle of mechanical engineering was V2.

      Certainly not typewriters...

      then we have these things called "clocks" which are tremendously accurate mechanical tickers that have very fine parts in them and utilize gemstones as sliding surfaces....

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Thursday September 12, 2013 @11:47AM (#44831669)

    While I make a living with technology I still love old mechanical things and look back at how they were made and used. It's fascinating to see clockwork mechanisms with gears that had teeth that were hand-filed and laid out using a compass. The typewriter was a product of the industrial revolution and the complexity and the nuances of some of those design decisions, like the QWERTY keyboard we all know and love were products of that era. [kyoto-u.ac.jp]

    It's sad when we lose a living link to that kind slide rule and french curve technology. Mr. Whitlock was probably so adept at what he did that he could identify a problem just from the description. I can also imagine a back room where there are boxes and boxes of spare parts gathering dust, just waiting for a broken Smith Corona or Olivetti to come through the door.

    Sure, it's faster and easier now with modern technology but we all need to remember that technology and progress builds upon the prior innovations and in 20 years I'm sure people will probably laugh and these bulky tablets and cell phones we all cling to much like Smegle and his precious ring. I learned to type on typewriters, old clunky things that could jam your fingers and rip paper just by looking at it. I also remember the story of the neighbor's cat getting it's tail caught in the carriage. They wound up cutting it's tail off because they couldn't get it freed. Ahh the halcyon days of correcting fluid and carbon paper, a bygone era now replaced by MS Word.

    As I tell my kids, when we lose a piece of our history we lose a little of ourselves.

         

  • Printers are so cheap (But consumables not so) that you don't need to repair them. Just buy a newer, faster more capable printer.

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