A Typewriter Needed Cleaning

Paul Marion Fleetwood

© Copyright 2013 by  Paul Marion Fleetwood


Photo of an old manual typewriter.

         It was, as best I can remember, late in the Fall of 1952 when we decided to clean the typewriter.  It was a standard model used in those days except for an extra long carriage.  The extra long carriage was needed to handle the wider transfer and destruction report forms used in the Crypto room at Ethan Allen Air Force Base.

    I was the Non Commissioned Officer in charge of the Chriptographic Section at the Base.  We had a room in the basement of the Headquarters Building that we referred to as "the dungeon".   The name was appropriate.  It had no windows and the door was always double locked.  The equipment was top secret and I still won't describe any of it after all these years.  At the time I was the only person in the Air Base Group that held a top secret final cryptographic clearance. 

    Business was pretty slow in our area even though it was during the Korean Conflict. There were four of us guys who worked the room and we often had to be there 24 hours a day just in case a hot crypto message came in and needed to be decoded.  But most of the time it was the usual military thing of 'hurry up and wait'.  We did a lot of waiting and not much hurrying during the Fall of 1952.  So mostly we were bored.

    Usually the only time we weren't bored was right after payday when we had enough money to hit the bars and drink beer.  But that would only last three or four days at the most and then it was back to painting by the numbers if you know what I mean.

    Well one night three of us were sitting in the crypto room shooting the breeze and  trying to think of something to do.  Jim Josef, Jim Turner, and I finally decided that we should maintain some of our equipment.  I got the bright idea that maybe we should clean our one and only typewriter.  

    We got this big old mechanical mechanism down in the floor and started to disassemble it piece by piece so we could get it really clean.  If you have never seen the internals of an old mechanical typewriter, you can't imagine how many little parts there are. 

    After three or four hours we managed to have it pretty well taken apart and had the parts laying all over the floor.  After cleaning the pieces we tried to put them back together.  That's when the fun began.  Well actually that is where the frustration began.  Along about midnight we finally had most of the pieces reinstalled but several pieces were left over and we didn't even know if the ones that were installed were in the right place.

    About that time Bill Basinger, who had been out somewhere, came back.  When he saw the situation, as he was wont to do, he jumped in and started telling us what needed to be done.  We took that opportunity to gracefully bow out and leave it to him to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

    The next day I needed the typewriter to type up some reports.  Unbelievably the keys would strike the paper and type a letter but the carriage wouldn't move.  I pondered this conundrum for a while and then found an extra large rubber band.  I drove a nail in the wall and hooked the rubber band to the nail and the other end to the typewriter carriage.  Then when I would strike a key the carriage would move one click and I could type the reports.  I thought this was a marvelous example of Yankee ingenuity.  Well Vermont is definitely Yankee country, especially there around Winooski where the base was located.

    Unfortunately while I was typing up a report the next day the Crypto Security Officer came in and observed the rubber band operation.  He wanted to know what happened to the typewriter.  We all allowed as to how we didn't know what had happened and suggested that it was worn out.  He countered with, "why don't we send it out for repair".  And we did.  Since no one could come into the Crypto room without proper clearance we had to carry the typewriter to Burlington for repair.

    Reports piled up for a few days while we anxiously awaited our typewriter.

Finally Captain Kelly came to the door and knocked.  When I opened the door, he stood there with this big typewriter in his arms and handed it to me.  Then he said  "the repair man wanted to know if someone had dropped it off of the roof".  He said "I've never seen one screwed up like that before".  I assured the Captain that we had not dropped it and let it go at that.  He grunted and went away.

    This episode helped to break the boredom for awhile and we had some good laughs after we caught up with our typing workload.  There were many other times when we were bored stiff and I still snicker when I think of some of the crazy things we did when we worked behind locked doors where no one but crypto personnel were allowed.  Maybe I will tell some more of those stories someday.

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