Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Achilles' heel of a Brother electric typewriter

You may know my theory that every typewriter model, no matter how sophisticated and wonderful, has an Achilles' heel.

This is certainly true of the Brother Electric 3000, a rather obscure little machine from the '70s (it's a Brother type JP-8, for those in the know).

 
As you can see, the carriage return is still manual on this little powered portable, but it does have a repeat spacer and a tabulator. It's a compact machine with a cover that fits neatly over it.

  

So what is its Achilles' heel?

Well, I found an Electric 3000 a couple of months ago for sale locally, offered for just $12.95 because it wasn't working. I figured it was worth it, if only to discover an unfamiliar typewriter model. It hummed as soon as you switched it on, but the keys were completely unresponsive.

When I unscrewed the top plate, I found the reason: it was missing the belt that connects the electric motor to the large wheel that turns the fluted shaft, which in turn activates the typebars.

More precisely, the belt was there, but it had crumbled into unrecognizable flakes of brittle material! You can see those flakes at the left bottom corner of this photo. The two parts that are supposed to be connected by a belt are circled in red.



A wide rubber band was a decent temporary fix, and proved that a lasting belt was just what I needed.

After some poking around on eBay, and with the help of an eBay seller who specializes in these things, I located a flat, 17-inch-circumference belt. I doubt that anyone sells belts like this especially for electric typewriters, but you can find various kinds of small belts made for turntables, film projectors, etc. They may be new old stock.



If you need one just like this, you can buy it here.

The belt slipped right on, and the typewriter was good as new. I put it up for sale at Urban Legend Typewriters and earned some good money for WordPlay Cincy.



But was this just a freak occurrence?

No! Just a few days ago, I got the following e-mail:
I have a beautiful Brother Electric 3000 that has a working motor and carriage but the keys will not strike.  Do you have any hints on what I can do to get it in working order or should I just trash it?
Sure enough, when the owner opened up her Brother, she found the same fragments of a crumbled belt:



A fresh belt is on its way to her, and I hope it will do the trick.

Moral of the story: Hey typewriter manufacturers, use materials that will last for at least 100 years, OK? We're going to need these things when the Internet collapses!

13 comments:

  1. That's good work you're doing for people, Richard!

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  2. heh, I dunno that even steel belts would last a century :D

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    1. Why not? Smith Premiers from the late 19th century use a steel drawband to pull the carriage, and it usually works as good as new. Even some of the rubber on those early typewriters is surprisingly good.

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  3. PRB was the brand we used for replacement VCR belts, back in the day. Hopefully, as long as belts are available, we can keep these machines humming.

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  4. Nice rescue, and major karma points for helping out the other owner of a Brother Electric 3000.

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  5. A drive belt is an expected wear item. It is also decently standardized enough not to become unobtanium. Be Wile E. Coyote and have a few industrial supply catalogs around. McMaster-Carr sells flat rubber belts to custom lengths for minimal expense.

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    1. Thanks for the tip. It is true that belts will inevitably wear down sooner or later, but these Brother belts seem really pathetic.

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  6. Kinda like the chassis rubber grommets on Olympia SM3 and SM4.

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    1. That's true. We should probably consider those the Achilles' heels of these otherwise fantastic typewriters.

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  7. Worth knowing. I wouldnt have thought it was that simple a fix.

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  8. Great story. It's such a good feeling when you can put a typewriter back into service. You inspired me to pick up a very cute but very messed up Smith Corona electric at a thrift store today.

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