Siri can't fix your old typewriter. Luckily Brian Brumfield can.
There was a time not long ago when typewriters were modern marvels. Decades of trial and error and millions of dollars of development were poured into these machines, says Brian Brumfield. Only 50 years after they were indispensable, he's among a select few still fixing and restoring them.
Since 2012, Brumfield & Sons Typewriters has operated from a Marysville home as a hybrid business, hobby and personal crusade. Brumfield's infatuation was spurred by his oldest son's strange desire to own a manual typewriter, long after they'd edged toward obsolescence. Brumfield, a full-time manager at a web consultancy, didn't understand his son's desire at first, but he and his wife eventually bought Ian a 1950s-era Smith Corona, which had been sitting for decades in a garage in nearby Magnetic Springs. Brumfield has a mechanical background so he happily restored it himself.
Then Ian got a second typewriter, and his father fixed that one as well. Brumfield became curious about all the complicated and ingenious ways typewriters were engineered, and soon made it his mission to gather three examples from every manufacturer. That led to starting the family's sales and service business, for which he cleans and repairs most models. He keeps a boneyard of typewriters he harvests for parts, but he mostly fabricates his own.
“You know, 80 percent of typewriter repair is intellectual actually. You have to have really good powers of observation. You have to be able to think through things,” he says. “So for me it's the hardest part; it's also the most enjoyable.”
The average cleaning takes him two to four hours, but for the most complex machines, the IBM Selectrics, he'll put 10-12 hours into a job. It would be cost-prohibitive for most customers if Brumfield charged accordingly, so he writes off some of the labor to make sure they fix them rather than throwing them away. He sells them too, attempting to find good homes that are safe from the “choppers” who make the keys into jewelry. He estimates his personal collection now exceeds 250 machines.
His phone rings constantly. There isn't really anybody else around doing repairs, Brumfield says. He's got six machines in process and 10 more people on a waiting list. He only restores about a dozen a year. He wishes he could do more. He wants to preserve these machines, especially the golden-era models from before WWI.
Time is working against typewriters, he knows that. Most people wrote them off as dead after the dawn of the digital era.
“Well, the pencil's never been dead, right? The pen is not dead. Why would the typewriter be dead? It's just a different mechanism to get your thoughts on paper, and that I love about the machine. That's all they do. They don't try to spell-correct, they don't need software updates, they won't crash if the power goes out,” Brumfield says. “It's a timeless, almost perfect way to mass produce your thoughts on paper, and that to me is incredibly significant.”
Where the Wild Shirts Go
Behold, the circuitous lifecycle of a misfit tee.
Have you ever wondered what happens to the old T-shirts you donated to a thrift store? Some get sold, of course—the six local Volunteers of America thrift shops sell about 15,000 a year, estimates Stephanie Aubill, VOA's marketing communications manager. So there's still a chance for a random encounter with a happy customer strolling around the city in an eerily familiar Ameriflora '92 T-shirt.
What about the ones nobody buys? At VOA, the floor-life of an unsold T-shirt is about six weeks, according to Aubill, and then they're sold by the pound as mixed rags, with proceeds benefiting local community programs. But that's only scratching the surface of possible destinations, especially in a place like Columbus, where boom times are upon the T-shirt business.
When orders don't go as planned for Clintonville's Traxler Printing, whether it's a misprint or a late art change, company founder Zachary Traxler says the shirts' fate is ultimately up to the customer. They may demand unusable shirts be incinerated. Sometimes Traxler and his team use misprinted shirts to test designs for other clients. Once every available inch of space has been filled, they cut up the shirts and use them to clean equipment.
Or, if the customer consents, Traxler will send the shirts “into the wild.” First, he'll look for local nonprofits that want the misfit apparel. If there aren't any takers, he'll gather pallets of shirts for a quarterly pickup by Matthew 25: Ministries, a charity near Cincinnati. The ministry offers them to about 10 different humanitarian organizations, says Patty Dilg, the director of operations. She mostly ships to impoverished countries in Central America, the Caribbean and the former Soviet bloc, though last year Matthew 25 also provided shirts to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, St. Lucia and Dominica.
Before sending the shirts, volunteers extract any with vulgarities, warlike themes or those that don't meet their standards. The discards are sent to a recycler, Dilg says, or to a group in Nicaragua that uses them as fabric for other products. Shirts also may be cut up and used as stuffing in mattresses, pillows or quilts. So if you never come across that precious Ameriflora shirt again, rest easy knowing it may still keep someone warm.