Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Pretty Selectric Knockoff

I visited Ole Kehlet yesterday. He maintains a squeeze-in typewriter repair shop on 16th Street, in the old shady section of the area of Sacramento known as Midtown. The purpose was to stand embarrassed at his counter while he deftly undid the damage I had done when I had tried to force-feed a Selectric III font element to my Selectric II.

BSI Model 180, Made in Holland, with Brochure and Manual

I had acquired a Selectric II about a year and a half ago, at the beginning of the current flare up of my obsession with typewriters, fascinated with the engineering marvel it is, and as an icon of the 1960's and 1970's; a time when I was moving from grad school and into the work force. But it barely functioned, and was set aside with all the others that would get attention by and by. I eventually took it to Ole a few weeks ago, who poked at it for a bit and finally deemed it hopeless, offering me one in his stock for the price of servicing, $65.

I was excited to have a functioning Selectric II, which reminded me so much of the reports and papers I had written as a young geologist. Excited until the Selectric III element incident, anyhow, which brings us back to my visit to Ole's shop yesterday. A visit there is never a quick in-and-out. Time must be allowed for conversation - no, for listening to Ole. His hands seem to work automatically as he talks, waving them over your typewriter not even seeming to touch it but disassembling it just the same. Yesterday he talked about the Selectric's system of levers, a mechanical computer, really, that orient the ball around the two planes putting the character struck into position. Slack-jawed, I comprehended only that it was a complex and amazing engineering feat.

A thin band of spring steel orients the element horizontally, and I had managed to mangle it by my dumb and dumber action. New old stock is the only source for these bands. Although he said he only replaces about one a year, he went through the complicated process of installation and calibration smoothly, and my machine was back to working order while I watched and listened.

Unfortunately, despite the increasing interest in typewriters, work has not been coming in the door with enough volume to cover even the small overhead it requires to run his shop, so he is going to close it by the end of the year and work from his home. In the meantime he is beginning to distribute excess stuff. Some typewriters he has are worthless, despite their rarity, and he has been giving them to a guy who disassembles and sells them for scrap metal. He showed me the BSI, an IBM Selectric II knockoff, made under some sort of agreement with IBM by Business Systems Inc. (BSI) in Holland. He said I could have it, else it would be scrapped. Looking at the new-appearing machine, unmarred on the outside and which even inside had not gathered dust bunnies, obviously very little used, I had to take it. So the two monstrous machines came home with me.

So far I have typed about five pages with the BSI, a couple of letters and playing with different font elements (but no Selectric III elements, which I now know to identify by their yellow labeling) and it seems to operate perfectly, although sounding a bit clunkier than the IBM - even my wife noticed.

Now I have the problem of deciding what to do with it. Hang onto it, I suppose, as a back up for the Selectric II. As if I had the space to do that. It's to these crazy quandaries that this delightful obsession leads us.


  1. The shell is quite different, as are the platen knobs! Well worth saving from the scrap heap. :)

  2. Wow, I never heard of the BSI.

    Keep me posted on Ole's whereabouts, and I can update the location on my typewriter shop list. Many repairmen do work from home these days. It makes sense, even though the atmosphere of a real shop can't be beat.

  3. First BSI I have ever known. Too bad Ole is closing his shop, but at least he is going to keep working. I almost learned the hard way back in the 80s or 90s about the Selectric-II and -III elements not being interchangeable.

  4. Ooh, be sure to post the BSI in the database. I'll make a category for it.