About the Colony

Longtime journalist still has a love affair with the typewriter

Lon Allan
Lon Allan jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

While giving my family a tour of the City Administration Building a couple years, ago I took them into the office where Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis’ desk is on display. The desk, which graced a corner of the Pavilion on the Lake lobby for almost 20 years, was lifted into the City Hall office through a window.

My 6-year-old granddaughter was immediately fascinated by the machine sitting on the Lewis desk. It was a vintage typewriter. We told her that the machine typed words as your fingers flew over the keys.

She’s been asking for an old typewriter for the past year and a half. I don’t know what she’d do if she got one. I don’t think her young hands could even work the keys, now “sticky” from dust and old age.

But she still wants one.

I told her that I pounded a typewriter for close to 30 years before I saw a computer keyboard.

When I left to attend college, my parents bought me a portable typewriter that I used every day. I typed my senior project, which included an original and two carbon copies. We could spend a whole column on carbon paper and that ultimate test of a person’s manual dexterity: changing the ribbon.

I typed every day in the Navy and certainly used the device to type tests and other papers for my students when I was a teacher. I even knocked out radio scripts for the University of Minnesota’s School of the Air for almost a year.

Certainly the typewriter has been a significant part of my life as a journalist. But for the past 30 years, I’ve fallen in love with the computer when it comes to generating “copy,” from hard news to soft features. Like many of you, I kept the typewriter around for addressing envelopes and filling out forms, both of which you can do with your computer.

Seeing a vintage typewriter on a desk where it is simply serving as a piece of art makes me feel good. Looking back, the most significant “skill” I learned in high school was how to type with all 10 fingers. I worked for many older editors and reporters who pounded out their material using just their two index fingers.

We’ve come full circle, because now I text everyone using just one index finger on what still appear to these eyes as very tiny keys. When the Atascadero Historical Society had to remove everything from its museum at City Hall following the 2003 earthquake, more than a dozen old typewriters lined a shelf in a basement room. They were moved but not discarded.

Nobody dared suggest they be tossed in a nearby dumpster. But the typewriter went away, just like those old phone booths did.

Gone from the newsroom is the “clackity-clackity” sound of typewriters. You barely hear the clicks of a keyboard, especially in light of the fact that many journalists aren’t even in an office, but filing their stories from their home or a nearby Starbucks.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 805-466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.