There was a Lifestyle feature in the July 27 Daily Chronicle about the resurgence of typewriter use and the nostalgia surrounding the machines.
It mentioned a new book by Tom Hanks (the movie star) called “Uncommon Type,” which has a typewriter woven into the plot of each short story. Hanks collects typewriters and has more than 100. I only had 14 in my basement at one time, until my wife, Kay, said enough – my collection has dwindled to only two now.
One belonged to the late newsman Dick Kliesch, who had told me years ago that the staff at WLBK radio used this special model that only had CAPS keys, as radio newscasters read from The Associated Press and United Press International wire stories that were transmitted in all capital letters.
So they wrote their local news copy the same way. I wonder if other newsmen such as Bob Brown and Russ Pigott also used it, or maybe even the radio pioneer George Biggar, who owned the station. Kliesch’s family passed it on to me with the understanding it would be given a home in a museum – preferably the DeKalb County History Center.
Getting back to my introduction to typing: My parents knew I liked to write “stuff” way back in sixth grade, so for my birthday they bought me a used Smith Corona portable.
I used the “hunt and peck” method then, but loved typing letters. That summer I decided to publish a little paper for our neighbors along the 1-mile stretch of Baseline Road south of Genoa. My mother surreptitiously went to the Davenport Grade School where she taught and used its ditto machine to run off a dozen copies.
I never saved a copy, so if you find one I would cherish that. I named it the “Baseline Blarney” and took photos with my mother’s Argus box camera to paste on each copy. I only recall two photos – one of Doc Corson with two dogs on his back steps and then Elsie Peterson wearing her apron standing on her front porch.
It wasn’t until my junior year at Genoa-Kington High School when I had the opportunity to take a typing class. It was called office practices taught by Miss Margie Tiffany. I learned the keyboard quickly and only faltered when we had to take a test with a blank keyboard. I think I dropped from typing 70 words a minute down to about 35 (without errors) but did pass.
In my first job out of college at the Byron Tribune, I used an upright Royal and by the 1980s had moved up the tech ladder to an IBM Selectric II with a type ball that you could change for different fonts. Now that was cool. But then my employer decided to computerize and provided me with a DecMate II that resembled ET in the movie, with a skinny neck that held the screen above the keyboard, plus a CPU tower on the floor.
Now fast forward to 2019 – about 30 years later –and you find me composing on a MacBook Air laptop. Next thing you know you will be able to talk your story into a microphone that transcribes and spellchecks and it shows up on your screen, Wait, someone told me about Dragonbytes software that already does that.
Now I only have one old portable, a manual Optima brand. It was picked up at a moving sale for me by Sharon Holmes (former county clerk) for only $20. It belonged to the Boeys. Bob had retired from the NIU board and moved down south. His wife, Doris, told me it had originally belonged to Bob’s father.
If you want to see my latest acquisition, plus a few dozen other treasures from our basement, you can come to the Step Back in Time collectibles public exhibit Aug. 24 at Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center.
Of course other residents will have some family heirlooms to share that are much more valuable than mine.
• The columnist can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His past columns can be found on his website www.dekalbcountylife.com.