Schrader: Repairing typewriters for a lifetime
The demand for a typewriter repairman might be about the same as the demand for someone who fixes vacuum tube radios in the 21st century, but that hasn’t stopped 83-year-old Clem Schultz from keeping at it.
I found him in Fairdale, located in the upper northwestern corner of DeKalb County. It was one of those bone-chilling windswept days in January, so we didn’t venture out back to his unheated shop contained a couple dozen old typewriters, but stayed in his warm house instead.
He began a career in office equipment sales and maintenance in 1959 after his stint in the Navy and has stayed in the same field most of the time since. He has attended trade schools for repairing typewriters and other office equipment, has owned an office supply and repair business at one time, and brought his son Larry into the business after he left the Navy as well.
Schultz lived on Big Timber Road outside Hampshire for 33 years while he worked in and around Kane County, but the arrival of the outlet mall nearby with all its bright lights drove him to find a more pastoral setting again. That brought him to Fairdale in 2001, not far from Kirkland where his step-daughter, her husband and her small child had moved earlier.
This house was a perfect fit with a workshop out back where he keeps typewriters in various stages of repair or for parts. His tool kit has remained pretty much the same over all the years, since he hasn’t added computers or digital printers to his skill set. He can rattle off a long list of machines and models he has worked on, including adding machines, mimeographs, Gestetner duplicaters, and even Varityper typesetting machines.
Most of the business now is with collectors and people who have a sentimental attachment to their old machines. But he explained that maybe one out of five sales or repair jobs are parents who decide to purchase a portable for their young college graduate who has visions of becoming another Ernest Hemingway. That famous writer used a Royal Quiet Deluxe model to produce some of his novels. Even Samuel Clements (aka Mark Twain) typed his Tom Sawyer epic on an 1884 Sholes & Glidden.
Unlike computers, typewriters can’t experience viruses or hackers or hard-drive crashes, and they can last 25 or more years with little servicing. But he admits to spending two hours or more a day on his PC when not tinkering in his shop.
Schultz has other interests now
that he is retired. He is a licensed
private pilot but not instrument
rated and doesn’t own a plane. So
he joined the Tebala Temple Shrine F-16 team. You may have seen him in one of those miniature jets mounted
on ATV three-wheelers doing maneuvers in parades all over the area. He serves as the parade chairman for
the Tebala Air Squadron, one that never gets off the ground but has a lot of fun entertaining crowds. He is also active in the Masonic Lodge at Genoa and helps with their Sunday breakfasts.
My fascination with typewriters began in the Office Practice class of Genoa-Kingston High School instructor Miss Margie Tiffany. My parents bought me a used Smith-Corona portable one Christmas, and I’ve never stopped typing. Of course, I advanced to electric models, then an IBM Selectric that used a ball instead of individual keys.
By the early 1980s, my employer presented me with something called a Decmate II desktop computer. So I have been forced to use these new-fangled devices with a big screen staring back at me ever since. But I have never been without a typewriter at home, sometimes with more than 10 in my den and basement. My tolerant wife has helped me reduce my inventory down to four machines, but now that I have found a qualified repair man, who knows how many more I can get up and running ... .
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday.