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180423 April 23, 2018


The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Old Dog.
Tommy Towery
LHS ‘64

    I was half watching an old movie the other night while working on something else when my thoughts were captured by the sounds coming from the television set. It was a sound that had slipped away from everyday life so stealthily that I don’t guess I even knew it was uncommon in today’s life.

    The sound was coming from a manual typewriter. Think about the sounds they made. Close your eyes a minute and remember that sound…do it!  Is there anything else that sounds like that sound? I can’t think of anything. The old familiar clack-clack-clack that I heard took me back to the timed typing tests I went through as a member of Mrs. Parks’ typing class. How many of you remember sitting there in class waiting to start to type like a driver at a drag strip awaiting the green light. 


    Those words would fill the room with clacking in a wave of sound as unique as the ocean waves breaking on a beach. There would almost be a rhythm in the beginning as all of us beginners typed at almost the same speed. It would then dwindle down to chaotic noises as the faster typists like Bob Walker left most of us several lines behind. In the next minute, or five minutes depending on the test, the room was then filled with random bells that announced the end of the lines, followed by the clicking of the carriage return levers that were being pushed to slam the carriages back to advance to the next line.

    Can you remember the name of the typing book?  Wasn’t it Gregg Typing? It was one of those standup books and the pages folded over the top instead of left to right. We had to use typing books stands to hold them, if I remember right.

    Remember how a bell would sound when you only had five more spaces left in a line? If you kept typing, the carriage would stop at the end and not let you go any further. If you needed to squeeze in one or two more letters, you had to release the “carriage stop.”

    “Qwerty” keyboards, named for the top row of letters of the typewriter, were designed to make typing hard. That’s because the early mechanical machines could not keep up with a good typist. That’s why the common letters like “A-E-I-O-U” are either on rows where you have to lift you fingers to get to, or use other fingers besides your strong index fingers to use. None of those letters are at rest under your strongest fingers. They did a good job in slowing many of us down.

    We used the term “peck” to describe how we pressed on the keys. “Hunt and peck” was used by people who were not “touch typists.”  Those who did not get the wisdom that Mrs. Parks was willing to give us were destined to remain “two-finger typists.” 

    Carbon paper helped us make two or more copies of a paper we were typing, but also required two or more corrections when the inevitable mistakes were made. Typewriter erasers were often round wheels (made of rubber with glass or metal shrapnel embedded) and had a brush on the end. Some were more pencil shaped with or without the brush on the opposite end. You were never supposed to erase over the opening in the typewriter, but were supposed to move the carriage to the side and erase there, and then blow off the little bits of rubber and paper left behind. Often this procedure resulted in a hole in the paper. No one ever used the brush…they just blew the specks off the paper.

    Later on a white tab of chalk embedded paper was invented that allowed you to retype the incorrect letter and it would try to cover up the mistake. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. The little paper tabs ended up with some strange words on them from trying to fix multiple mistakes.

    A better solution to fixing mistakes was to use “erasable paper” which was easily erased with a normal eraser. It looked like onion skin paper. Using that type of paper didn’t leave the same type of mess as the other methods on normal typing paper. Speaking of mess, how many of you ended up with black fingers and other places when the ribbons had to be replaced. Remember the fun of trying to remove the old ribbon and then trying to remember how the new one was supposed to fit into all the loops and levers of the typewriter? That same type of mess came after you hit two keys at the same time and had to open up the typewriter top and untangle the keys, which had all the black ink on them. 

    Some ribbons were red and black, and a lever on the typewriter allowed the ribbon to be moved to make the individual colors. These were created primarily for bookkeeping entries where one needed to show negative items in red. There were “elite” and “pica” models of typewriters, which were named to indicate the size of the letters and hence the number of letters per line they created. Pica modes were 10 pitch and elite were 12 pitch.

    The two most popular names of manual typewriters I remember are Smith-Corona and Royal. I always liked the Royal model better and I think they were more expensive. Underwood and Remington also made fine machines as well. We used standard models at Lee, but by the time college rolled around, many of us were happy to have portable ones to do our papers on. I remember turquoise as a favorite color for portable typewriters.

    Deranged, satanic typewriters would cut the holes out of letters like “e” and “o” and “p.” Some would not feed the paper properly. Remember that you had to loosen the tension on the roller to align the paper properly and then click it back tight. Tabs were set manually with tab buttons. Rollers had their own sweet sound as you fed paper into them and then at the end of a page yanked it out making the roller rat-a-tat-tat.

    We also learned that to center a title on a page you went to 42 and backspaced one letter for every two letters in the title. How much easier is it to just hit “center text” these days? If you wanted words underlined, you backspaced to the front of the word and type the underline key – manually for each letter.

    What did you do if you needed to write Pi-R-Squared and use that little elevated “2”? Well, you stopped typing and manually rolled the paper down a half a line to type the two. If you wanted to write the symbol you typed “H”, rolled the paper up half a line and typed “2”, then rolled it back into place and typed the “O”.  If you wanted subscript or superscript then you did it manually. There were no special fonts for them on a manual typewriter.


    That sound from Mrs. Parks signaled a time to cease typing. Of course there was always someone who had to try to get one more word in. It normally required a louder and firmer “I said STOP!” from her to really get every student sitting in the typing room to end the test. What fun it was to look at the paper and see how differently the words that were typed were from the ones that you thought you were typing. Heaven help if you got one key off with either hand. “The quick brown fox” would then read “yjr wiovl ntpem gpc”.

    One of my funniest memories of typing class happened one day when one of the male shop teachers (can’t remember his name) had come over to sharpen a pencil or something in Mrs. Parks’s class while we were doing a timed typing exercise.  Just as he started out the door, she yelled “Stop!” to get us to quit typing. When he heard that he stopped dead in his tracks like a kid stealing candy from a store. I swear I think he threw his hands up over his head and must have been thinking “Don’t shoot officer – I stopped!”

    Another funny memory was the day I think Gary Metzger or Jerry Schultz (or someone like that) was sitting in home room, which was in the typing lab that year, and was messing with a typewriter while the morning announcements were being made. We were all supposed to be paying attention and most of us acted like we were. He was typing a note by faking a cough and hitting a key at the same time. It was a sound cover-up like a prisoner would use to cover the sounds he was making hammering his way out of the cell. Each cough would cover the creation of a new letter. This was going fine until one final cough. The cough covered the sound of the peck and the letter, but it did not cover the loud “ding” that signaled that the carriage was about to reach the end of the line. All eyes, including Mrs. Parks focused on him, with his hand caught in the cookie jar. We laughed but Mrs. Parks had to act mad, but we knew she was also laughing inside.

    I still say that the ability to type learned from Mrs. Parks was the greatest skill I learned from anyone in school, bar none. It may have been the greatest influence in my life.

        Memphis, TN -

Lee Lunch Bunch

For the Classes of 64, 65, and ‘66

Date: Thursday, April 26, 2018

Time: 11:00 am

Place: Galen’s Restaurant (formerly Mullin’s)

           Andrew Jackson Way

           Huntsville, AL

    Well, it’s that time again. It has been a long, hard, and cold winter for many of us, and we are ready to get out and enjoy the warm spring days. With that thought in mind, please save the date for our special group to meet, eat, and catch up with each other. Hope to see you there, and please do let me know that you plan to come. I do need to let the restaurant know in advance about how many of our group will plan to be there.

    Thanks and see you soon,

Patsy Hughes Oldroyd ‘65

(256) 232-7583

(256) 431-3396