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When we started our company back in 1971, we needed some basic office equipment, such as filing cabinets, typewriters, etc. Unlike today, there were no personal computers or smart phones. Access to computers were by dumb terminals and printers were quite large to accommodate massive printouts. For all practical purposes small businesses had little use for computers at the time, primarily due to the excessive costs associated with them. Our most prized equipment were two IBM "Selectric" typewriters and a Remington Rand adding machine, Model 41013-10. The typewriters were replaced many times over the years, and of course, we implemented computer equipment in the office back in 1980. However, it was our adding machine which became the workhorse of our office which we've used for over 40 years now.
The machine is rather large and heavy, much more imposing than the typical calculators you can buy in any office supply store these days. Nevertheless, it can still perform calculations at warp speed with an authoritative printer sound for each calculation. While other equipment came and went, our Remington Rand stayed the course and was used extensively. Frankly, the calculators of today pale in comparison in terms of durability and speed. We have had the unit serviced a few times over the years, but in reality it required little maintenance. As we became more and more dependent on the computer to manage our finances though, use of the adding machine diminished greatly. We still use it for occasional calculations, but not as frequently as the old days.
Recently we began to notice the print was fading on the paper tape. We couldn't remember the last time we changed the ribbon, maybe it was 20 years ago. So, it was finally time to take a look and see what the problem was. We removed the machine's plastic cover thereby revealing its inner workings, a voluminous labyrinth of small metal bars, springs, and gears. It was very intimidating and I would never presume myself to be proficient enough to work on the machine should the necessity arise. Today I am accustomed to simply snapping high-priced printer cartridges into computer printers. If I cannot fix the printer, I would probably be inclined to throw the whole unit away and buy a new one, but you cannot do this with something as imposing as our adding machine.
It had been a long time since we looked at the undercarriage of the Remington Rand which, in a way, reminded me of looking under the hood of a 1957 Chevy. Of course, we had no booklet or any other documentation describing how to maintain it. On the chance of finding an old booklet on the Internet, I began to run some searches based on the model number. Although I couldn't find any documentation, I discovered the adding machine was much older than I had originally imagined, 1955 to be exact. This means the machine was already 16 years old when we bought it second-hand in 1971. It also meant it was 56 years old and a museum piece. I could only find references to it in the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History. Naturally, we found this all rather amusing, that is, until we tried to replace the ribbon.
It had been many years since we had to replace an old-style cotton ribbon such as this, one without a casing, just a ribbon on a small metal spool. Threading the ribbon was actually the hard part as we hadn't performed such a task in a long time and had forgotten the exact route for the ribbon to follow. We persevered though, getting messy ink all over our fingers in the process. Fortunately, and to our pleasant surprise, we discovered we had one last ribbon in our inventory of office supplies. Fearing the ink may have dried up, we were pleased to find the ribbon sealed and packed in a plastic bag and paper box and was as fresh as when we had purchased it some 20 years ago.
It took two of us about 30 minutes to replace the ribbon, and I admit a fair bit of swearing, but we finally figured it out and installed it properly. The machine once again runs like a champ, much to our personal pleasure.
What I found interesting from this experience is that we have all been conditioned to discard office equipment when it wears out, as opposed to maintaining it for a few more years. It also says a lot about how we built things years ago. Here we have a machine that is pushing 60 years of age, yet is rugged, durable, and above all else, works as well as the day it was built. Unfortunately, I cannot make the same claim for computer equipment or smart phones which are three years old or younger. Our Remington Rand 41013-10 adding machine reminds me of the old Timex commercial, whereby, "It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'."
One final note, when we finished the job, we thought about reordering a new ribbon for the next time. I'm not sure we could ever find the correct ribbon but beyond that, if the new ribbon we installed lasts as long as the one we just replaced, I do not think it will really matter in the year 2032.
Keep the Faith!
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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.