Monday, June 18, 2018
Publication Date: 09/1/2010
Archive >  September 2010 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Down Memory Lane
Walter Salm, Editor
A recent newspaper article took me on a sudden trip down memory lane. It talked about a company in Dunkirk, NY called Will Repair Service, which stocks, sells, and repairs typewriters and word processors. The firm specializes in Smith-Corona, a brand that holds particular memories for me. In 1951, as a high school graduation gift, I received a Royal portable typewriter, a machine that kept me company for almost a decade. Okay, it wasn't a Smith-Corona, but SC was a runner-up choice. As a professional writer, I then acquired a manual office typewriter — a used Royal KMM — the fastest manual ever made. Later, I bought my very first electric, a used, rather old but very fast IBM IIC, followed later by a new IBM Selectric. With that brand-new Selectric, I thought I was in Heaven. Today, these things are all museum pieces.

Then came the computer age. It was 1982, and I was running an Osborne "portable" computer in my basement office, a wondrous machine that weighed 28 pounds, had a 5-inch screen (measured diagonally) that screamed for a magnifying glass of some kind. Operating system was Digital Research's CP/M, there was no hard drive, and the machine took two 5-1/4-in. floppy disks. The printer was by Smith-Corona. The reason: I couldn't afford one of those super-fast Xerox Diablo Daisy-wheel printers for my home office, and ended up instead with this slow-moving Daisy-wheel printer from that sold for about $700. It connected to the computer with a fat Centronics-compatible printer cable, which alone cost $25.

When I had a large project to print out, I would save the file and would order the print job only when it was time to go upstairs for dinner. The computer was incapable of multi-tasking, and the printer was slow, but it would crank merrily along using continuous fanfold paper, which would later require "bursting" and "peeling" off the tractor feed strips from each side of the sheets. It was slow and cumbersome, and was 10,000 times better than the old way — using a typewriter and then retyping new copy with all the changes and corrections. If I needed a new, corrected copy, I would let the Smith-Corona do it.

As the years went by and I graduated from CP/M machines to faster and faster MS-DOS computers, and finally bought my first hard disk drive, I realized a wonderful dream by acquiring my first laser printer. I went through 5 different laser printers over the years, including a pretty small Samsung unit that lived in my motor home for a couple of years until I decided to go strictly ink-jet to save precious storage space in the RV. I travel with a total of 5 computers in the RV, one of which needs some serious service work, but I loved this computer and would like to resuscitate it.

Today, I rely on an H-P Photosmart all-in-one color printer, scanner and copier that cost all of $49 in Wal-Mart 2 years ago. I was able to get rid of my small Xerox® copying machine and a seldom-used scanner. The H-P just keeps chugging along, using ordinary copier paper at about $3.00 a ream. My travel computer is a lightweight Asus Eee netbook that weighs 2.2 pounds, a recent purchase, and runs 8 hours on a battery charge. It's power-packed with a 160GB hard disk drive, fast power-saving processor, 2GB of RAM, and of course it runs on Windows® XP. I still use an H-P tower with a large flat-panel screen as my principal system of choice.

Getting back to that trip down memory lane, it's nice to know that I can still go out and buy a vintage electronic typewriter if the urge ever strikes me — and that somebody is still able to make a living selling and servicing these antiques. I kept a Daisy-wheel typewriter for years, until I finally sold the house when we went on the road. Since then, I have learned how to print envelopes on my ink-jet printer. That's still a special art, but MS Word has a nice utility tool that lets you do it with a pretty good level of accuracy.  

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