Zen and the Art of Typewriter Maintenance

Ace Typewriter, one of America’s last typewriter specialists, keeps hitting return.

By Christina Cooke January 2, 2014 Published in the January 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Nomad

Jazz emanates from a boombox at Ace Typewriter as Matt McCormack performs surgery on the 80-year-old Remington I inherited from my grandfather. He removes and washes the cylindrical carriage. He replaces the brittle black ribbon. He punches the keys in quick succession to ensure the typebars land with the appropriate, satisfying thwack. 

When Ace opened in 1960, some 30 shops served Portland’s typists. Today, the North Lombard establishment is one of just three—the only one that specializes in repairs. The 48-year-old McCormack may be one of the last 200 or so people in the nation capable of dismantling a typewriter to its last screw and reassembling it. His waiting list consistently runs to three months.

“There’s a lot of backyard poets and small story writers in Portland,” he notes.

McCormack’s father, Dennis, now 90, learned the trade on a navy destroyer during World War II. The son started at the shop full-time in 1983, when he was 17. “I’m rooted like a tree,” he says.

At his workbench, McCormack runs a rag of cream polish over my typewriter. He inserts a piece of paper and punches out a test line. I lean over and read what he typed: “Ready for the next eighty years.”

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