Friday, January 13, 2012

Typewriter

My wife and I were doing some spring cleaning and came across her old typewriter in the storeroom. This old thing had seen her through her varsity years 3 decades ago. Complete with carrying case, it still looked pretty new. But unfortunately, the keys were jammed. Still, I told her not to throw it away.


I have not heard of this brand called BBE; have you? Actually, it’s a brand for Olympus. Notice any difference in the layout of the keys compared to our computer keyboard?


I remember growing up in the kampong, my father used to have an Underwood typewriter. As one of the few English-educated men in our kampong, the neighbours often came to him for assistance in official correspondence. Hence the clacking of the Underwood was a familiar sound in our home.


One day, during my Secondary 3 year-end holidays, I was feeling bored and decided to teach myself how to type using my dad’s Pitman’s typewriting manual. I faithfully followed the instructions and practiced the lines; “asdfgf” “;lkjhj”. I even timed myself to make sure that I attained the required typing speed at each stage before progressing to the next.


After completing the 3 main rows of letters, I decided to stop, and skipped the last section which was for the top row; the row with the numerals. I figured that I would not have much need to use those numerals. I was already quite satisfied with my progress. Whenever I see my friends laboriously ‘typing’ with 2 fingers, and having to fix their eyes on the keyboard while they worked, I feel glad that I invested those hours in this project back in 1967.


It’s been decades since I last used a typewriter. I remember that when you wanted to type a single sheet, you had to use an additional sheet of paper so that the keys would not damage the drum. Of course, if you wanted a duplicate, you had to use a sheet of carbon paper, which was usually blue or black. And when you reached the end of a line, a small bell goes off and you literally had to use you left hand to push the ‘carriage return’ lever. Of course you could manually set the tabs as well as the line spacing and even Cap Lock.


Things have really changed since those typewriter days. I remember looking for a typist to type out our university final-year project report. My project partner was able to get the help of a relative to do the job for us at a discounted rate. Still it was expensive; especially since the university required our report to be typed with double-spacing, and we were charged on a per-page basis.


When I started work as a trainer at the National Productivity Board in 1984, I remember there were two engineers in my IE class who were from Smith Corona. I visited their plant at Bedok South which employed more than 1,000 workers. By that time they were already producing mostly electric typewriters.


There was another typewriter factory located in Ayer Rajah Industrial Estate. Do you know the name? Hint: Begins with the letter ‘O’. I remember bringing a Japanese JIT expert to visit the company sometime in the 1980s.


In the 80s, many companies had started to use the work processor. At our NPB office in Cuppage Centre, we had a huge typing pool (they don’t label us National Paper Board for nothing you know). I think they were using the Philips word processor. The other well-known brand was Wang. Whenever, we had a job, we would submit our draft in the In-tray and explain to the typing pool supervisor our requirements. And then we had to wait; sometimes up to a couple of days, for the document to come back. And then you make the corrections and the process is repeated. It paid to be nice to these ladies as we often needed to beg them to expedite our last-minute assignments.


We certainly have come a long way, haven’t we?


Do you know what this numbers 1, 0 and 2 signify?

I just found another photo of a typewriter among my collection. This one is an Olivetti. I cannot recall with 100% certainty, but I think I took this photo at the AVA Sembawang office in Lorong Chencharu a few years ago. I noticed that they had a typewriter in the corner. I asked them to remove the cover and let me take a photo. They said they used it occasionally to type out cash receipts or something like that.

45 comments:

peter said...

O = Olivetti

peter said...

U frogot the colored ribbon - red and black?

peter said...

In the SAF, the "weapon" of the clerks was the typewriter. During Battlion Stand-by, clerks got to stand-by with their typewriters.

I loved to play with those long carriage typewriters - 21" in the SAF. One time, I pushed too hard and the whole carriage came off and fell to the floor.

Lam Chun See said...

Yeah those company clerks had to type CRO everyday. Even in the field they had to bring their typewriters along.

Lam Chun See said...

Not very sure if that Olivetti factory at Ayer Rajsh produced typewriters or something else.

Tim said...

It's hard to believe we used to struglle with those old mechanical typewriters. I used to love playing with my mother's typewriter.

In my first job we also had a big typing pool. Visiting them was fun ... they were all girls, and I was single, so ....

Brian and Tess said...

I bought my first typewriter, an Adler small portable machine probably in 1970 - when I started my first post-grad course. And like you Chun See I also taught myself to touch type the letters but not the numerals! To this day whilst I can type like the wind I have to stop to look at the numbers!

Icemoon said...

The one we had is also white. The best part was the smell, I suppose it came from the ink?

FL said...

I am still in possession of a typewriter looks similar to that of Chun See's picture. It was bought at Yaohan Orchard (already closed down) in 1986. It's the Alder brand same as Brian and Tess. It states that the typewriter is made in Japan. I bought it for my kids back then !

Redstorm said...

I remember learning how to type the proper way with the help of the Pitman's manual on typing after finishing O level and being bored at home. During the army days, I remember helping a young regular LTA type his project papers that he had to submit for his SATO course. I was not a clerk but he recognised by typing speed (about 70 words per min) and knew that I was the only one who could typed his paper within a short period of time. I completed about 50 odd pages of his papers from 10am till around lunch time. He was pretty impressed with my skill till today he still remembers it. Those days, we used the Olivetti typewriters.

Redstorm said...

I used to watch my brother servicing these manual machine when he was working as a typewriter technician. Remove the cover and used a short brush to clear off the dirts insides especially those that get stuck in between the keys. Spray a little bit of WD40.

Lam Chun See said...

When I visited the Smith Corona factory, I was amazed to learn of the amount of work that went into producing one typewriter. Was surprise at the large number of parts in a single typewriter. Can't remember the figure. Must be hundreds.

Brian and Tess said...

Chun See - and the complexity of a typewriter was indeed reflected in the price - certainly in the UK, my purchase of a small portable machine in 1970 was quite a substantial investment for me, certainly the equivalent of quite a good laptop now and look how limited a job it could do compared to a laptop!

veii said...

This article might offer some clues about the Olivetti factory.
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1309&dat=19950717&id=5HpaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=6B4EAAAAIBAJ&pg=3102,3776408

Gintai_昇泰 said...

I think Adler brand was the best after having so many types. I was an investigator in the early 90s then. PC was not common then. We had to carry our typewriter around to hospital or prison to record statements! Oh we didn't go for any course. I used 2 or 3 fingers to type. Those were the days.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Veii for recommending that article. Reading it, my memory is refreshed. I think when I visited the Ayer Rajah factory, I saw many chip-components auto-insertion machines. And now I recall that Olivetti used to sell PCs too.

Lam Chun See said...

BTW, I have just added a photo of an Olivetti typewriter.

Keith said...

Ha! I was clerk for a while during army days, and I learnt how to type from a fellow clerk. Even now, I type with all fingers on the keyboard. On the typewriter, I remembered being able to type about 30-40 words per min. Followed a senior officer for some major exercise while being a clerk, and don't remembered packing typewriters but always building and unbuilding tents instead. LOL

Lam Chun See said...

Ha Keith. So did you kena "stand by typewriter"? LOL.

I remember in my battalion there was a very ngiao LTA. During standby, whenever the siren goes off - what do you call that? - he would check even the medic's saftey kit. I think one poor chap go charged becos his needles were rusty.

So was your typewriter cleaner than our rifels?

Keith said...

The exercise was a high level division exercise. Don't recall 'kena' such things like standby typewriters/rifles as officers and senior NCOs have more immediate worries, ie how to please the div comd. And remembered seeing many senior officers @#$#ed by him during plans presentations/updates. At one point, he was so mad I remembered him saying to his staff officers, "Don't let me charge all of you!"

Lam Chun See said...

How come nobody able to tell me what the 0, 1 & 2 in photo no. 3 mean?

James Tann said...

LCS. I believe its the line spacing. Single and double spacing between each line.

Tah Chung said...

Chun See, this thing may fetch a good price at the antique shop....but yours look really new. Any idea if the Pitman manual is still on sale? With the amount of time the kids spent using keyboard nowadays, it is worthwhile for them to learn speed typing during the school holidays.

Lam Chun See said...

If you do an internet search, you will find that Pitman typing courses still available. I found this book on Amazon.

Anonymous said...

I served as an ops clerk during my army days in 1988/89. My unit was 1st PDF Comd (Maju Camp) located at Lorong Gaung. I served there for about a year before the new Maju Camp was built.

Attended clerk course to learn typing at School of Manpower at Seletar Camp.

I have used the manual typewriter to type letters, ammo vouchers and other forms. I have also used it to create stencils for cyclostyling. This was done by typing directly on the stencil without the typewriter ribbon.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for sharing that insight into the clerical ops in the army. Normally when people talk about the NS days, they tend to focus on the combat side. I bet if we dig into the non-combat areas, like the clerical work, there are plenty of untold stories.

My own impression is that (for my time that is) many of the army clerks were highly educated men who were medically not eligible for combat vocations. Many of them ended up quietly working behind the scenes. At a time when the SAF was led by many officers (at OC and Coy 2IC levels) with quite low educational levels, these NS clerks were a big help to their commanders.

If possible I really would like to write some articles in GMY to pay tribute to these men.

Keith said...

Chun See, I agree SAF clerks must be paid utmost respect. Although I was clerk for abt 2 mths b4 being sent back for recourse, I fully understand being a clerk was no easy job especially on the ops side.

peter said...

In SAF, clerks seem to have "more power" than even OCs if they work in Bn HQ, more power than PCs/NCOs @Company level.

Most clerks know how to play politics and suck up to their bosses. As a result they can escape duties (except duty clerk) and week-end duties. Also clerks can ndine at same table with the officers. Clerks can also book-out after 6pm and stay-out. O yes, i more thing RSMs dare not touch the clerks if they sport long hair.

I agree with Chun See's observation. In our time, graduates prefer to be clerks for the above reasons.

Anonymous said...

Not every clerk have the kind of power. Only those who report directly to high ranking officers have. For example PA to CO or even camp commander. Those who report to chief clerk or clerk NCO or Ops NCO have no power.

There is another bunch of clerks who are classified as 'white horse'. These clerks certainly enjoy some privileges and probably escape some weekend duties.

Keith said...

Ops clerks' work at brigade/division level was tough. Not only did they need to hold on to their typewriters and typed ops orders etc, they had to help draw and color talcs, be waiter, help setting up and dismantling tentages, be at the tail end of the food chain and at the back and call of everybody, being screamed at by panicking crabs and enciks, treated with no respect, etc. Would anybody still want to become ops clerk ??

Lam Chun See said...

I think Peter's statement is too sweeping. I only know of coy-level staff and I think our friend plays very imp role; include helping and advicing the new PCs.

Icemoon said...

"During standby, whenever the siren goes off - what do you call that?"

Chun See, we call that a turnout. Everybody would be shouting 'turnout, turnout' and scrambling down to the parade square.

Anonymous said...

I thought it's called 'activated'.

Anonymous said...

Is it "Stand to"?

Icemoon said...

You get "activated" if higher HQ decides to deploy your unit to ops, otherwise you are just on "standby". A button is pressed, so to speak, but there is no siren. To assemble the individual groups (can be in different camps), a siren goes off to "turnout" the gang locally. "Stand to" is a term used in static defense.

Anonymous said...

During "recall" a siren is also sounded. Everybody have to return to camp, no matter where they are. This usually happens at night. Personnel on duty will be sent on jeeps to notify and fetch the others back to camp. All units fall in and prepare to move out, on a simulated major exercise.

Lam Chun See said...

Actually, I was referring to the time when my platoon was on "standby" when I was in 30 SCE. I wrote here earlier;

"I hated doing ‘standby’ even more (than DO). You had to be in camp 24 hours a day for 7 full days. At any time, the DFO, Duty Field Officer can sound the siren and your platoon had to fall in and be ready to move out. As we did not have our own medical centre but had to share the one in the neighbouring 40SAR, every time the siren sounded, the poor ambulance driver and medic had to race over to our side."

I don't think it is "activate". That is serious, and it means we actually had to move out of camp. Most likely it was "turnout" as in the DO coming around the guardroom and the guard commander will shout "Guard Turnout".

Anonymous said...

Yah, when I was on standby in the 30th CEB, if the siren sounded, and I am walking to the cookhouse, I have to double back to barracks, draw arms and fall in. One morning the siren sounded and it was because a prisoner had escaped by climbing over the fence and hitch hiked on a lorry that stopped for him in Mandai Road. He was doing detail in his boots and PT shorts but managed to scale the fence like a monkey. LOL. They must have changed the name of the camp to 30th SCE.

Icemoon said...

If I recall correctly, during my time if the siren sounds in camp during recall, this means MINDEF has pressed the button and the flashing man will appear on TV with the code words. This will not happen at night because who in the right mind will recall brigade or division level (depending on code words) back to camps at night, including the reservists. Chaos, unless it is a war.

If unit decides to play play, only the barrack siren will sound to assemble the personnel on standby. The barrack siren will sound at least once a day to check status, like equipment and weapon condition.

Anonymous said...

I had 3 recalls during my time – two at Mandai Camp and one at Selarang Barracks. We all knew beforehand that there will be a recall that night. Ha, they call this the element of surprise. LOL. The fun part was going out in jeeps to fetch our camp mates back. At dawn everyone assembled in FBO, with all the vehicles lined up, in the parade square. Then we were told to fall out. We never moved out of camp. The main purpose of the exercise was to test our combat readiness. Icemoon, I have never heard of reservists being recalled. I think you were referring to the “All Nation Recall”, as a prelude to war. Fortunately we never had to conduct this exercise. This happened the night before the 6-day war in Israel in 1967. Our recall system was probably based on the Israeli model. After all, they assisted with advice and training during the early years of the SAF.

peter said...

I cant say for other SAF Arms but for me in the Infantry side, I can share some bits of information.

On Company standby, we draw all weapons already and rifles are fully loaded with live rounds. Attached personnel such as 84 mm and 106 mm also carry live rounds. If I am correct 2 magazines fully loaded.

Every day we have turn-out (any time of the day) after receiving Orders. Some turnouts include falling in the company square and weapons inspected, 3 tonners, rovers and mini-mogs start/rever engines. Those in the cookhouse run back to company line to get their weapons. At one time, even gas masks were carried. All vehicles carried concertina wires fixed to engine front.

For more extreme situations, we leave camp in a convoy and head for a destination given by Orders.

In the case Battalion Stand-by within the SIB org, there will be so much noise especially if done in the dark of the night. Parade square lights are turned on.....

Anonymous said...

Haha...that's long time ago...I worked as a teacher cum clerk to teach students in typewriters at Typewriting school in queensway shopping many years ago...

patcheon said...

I have one old manual typewriter sitting at home too. But don't have the ribbon to make it operational again. Hopefully other parts are still movable. Hahaha

Anonymous said...

I have several typewriters to let go if anyone is keen. Claudia at 9877 2839 :) Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Does anyone know where I can get the ribbon for the BBE Olympus typewriter? I have a fully-functional one, but need replacement ribbons. Do let me know!

Thank you very much!