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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Orinoco Flow with a Smith-Corona Skyriter

A 1950s Grumman canoe built in Marathon, NY
Alan Seaver's Smith-Corona Skyriter
Henry Whiting Ferris Jr 
Almost four years ago I posted about George Ely Russell, who in May 1919 set off from Seattle in an 18-foot long, canvas-covered Peterborough canoe to paddle 1000 miles to Juneau, Alaska. Russell took with him a Corona 3 folding portable typewriter (serial number 84165) he had used on the battlefronts of France in World War I. About one third of the way into his epic voyage, while approaching the Heiltsuk First Nation Reserve village of Bella Bella on the east coast of Campbell Island in British Columbia, 98 nautical miles north of Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, Russell dropped his typewriter into seven feet of water. Unable to fetch the Corona 3 off the bay floor with a salmon hook, Russell stripped off, dived in and rescued the portable from a salty grave. He wiped it off with an old rag, dried it in front of his night fire ... and went on to write one quarter of a million words with it! These were incorporated into a book called Eighty Days in the Wilderness: Seattle to Alaska by Canoe
Russell's great and justified faith in his Corona 3 was replicated 36 years later, when two young American ex-servicemen, the 5ft 8in, 10st 5lb Henry Whiting Ferris Jr (1931-) and John Alexander Thomson (1928-, not Thompson or Thomason, as often reported) took a 9lb Smith-Corona Skyriter with them on a trailblazing, year-long 7000-mile journey canoeing from Venezuela through Brazil and Paraguay to Uruguay and Argentina via those three mighty South American river systems, the Orinoco, the Amazon and the Plate. Later hailed by his local newspaper, the Ithaca Journal, as a modern-day Ulysses,"Whitey" Ferris was a 1952 Yale graduate in psychology and sociology and Thomson a 1954 UCLA arts (geography) graduate, although Thomson gave his home town as Portsmouth, Ohio. The pair bought the $69.50 portable typewriter, the sturdiest lightweight machine they could find, at Rudolph's in Ithaca just before departing for Philadelphia and on to Venezuela. Ferris and Thomson had a similar experience to Russell's, in that they lost one of two 16mm movie cameras and both of their 35mm still cameras when tides swamped their canoes in the early part of the adventure. The cameras were sent back to Caracas for repair. But, as with Russell, the Corona portable survived unscathed - only to be left behind in Buenos Aires in late October 1956. 
The Orinoco is the fourth largest river in the world by discharge volume of water. and the river and its tributaries are the major transportation system for eastern and interior Venezuela and the llanos of Colombia. Its source, 3455 feet above sea level near the Venezuelan–Brazilian border, at the Cerro Delgado-Chalbaud in the Parima Range, was not explored until 1951. Three hundred and fifty-six years earlier, Sir Walter Raleigh had sailed down part of the river in search of the fabled city of El Dorado.
Ferris was the grandson of Dr Harry Burr Ferris (1865-1940), professor of anatomy at Yale from 1895-1933 and a pioneer in the study of cancer, and the son of New York pathologist and director of the Tompkins County laboratory Henry Whiting Ferris Sr (1895-1985), a US Navy captain in World War II. Henry Jr served as a field medical aid with the Second Infantry Division and as a psychologist with the Eight Army Psychiatric Department in the Korean War. Thomson served in Japan and Korea in a fleet squadron and on escort carriers as a US Navy pilot after World War II.
Ferris and Thomson had been tutored at the American Institute for Foreign Trade (now the Thunderbird School of Global Management) in Phoenix, Arizona, by economic historian Professor William Lytle Schurz (right, 1886-1962), the institute's president from 1950 and its director of Latin American studies. The two young men, attending AIFT on the GI Bill, were fascinated by Schurz's assertion that the Orinoco journey was feasible. Schulz, in the immediate aftermath of the conquest of Everest, called the South American canoe venture, "One of the few feats requiring comparable courage and stamina remaining on the globe". Schurz had spent many years in Central and South America with the US Department of State, and he helped Ferris and Thomson plan their trip. Schurz taught at a number of academic institutions, including the University of California, of Wyoming and of Michigan and was US commercial attaché to Brazil during the Hoover administration. In 1922 he coined the phrase "The Spanish Lake" and his The Manila Gallion (1939) was a landmark study on the Spanish empire’s trans-Pacific commerce between 1561 and 1815.
Ferris and Thomson began preparations in June 1955, including making a sail out of an old army parachute, and left on a Swedish oil carrier from Morrisville, Pennsylvania, on October 1. Twenty-five days later, at 2am, their joined 59lb, 17-foot Marathon NY-made Grumman aluminium canoes were lowered into the waters at the mouth of the Orinoco in Venezuela. One year and one day later they arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After some weeks of paddling, they branched off on to the Casiquiare, a distributary of the upper Orinoco flowing southward into the Rio Negro, in Venezuela. This forms a unique natural canal between the Orinoco and Amazon river systems. It is the world's largest river of the kind that links two major river systems, a so-called bifurcation. The area forms a water divide, more dramatically at regional flood stage. From the Casiquiare the pair traversed the Negro, Amazon, Tapajós and Juruena rivers, followed by 20 miles by truck and a final 2000-mile stretch of canoeing down the Cuiabá, San Lorenzo and Paraguay rivers to the Plate. 
Having achieved the longest inland water journey on record, at least from north to south in South America, Ferris and Thomson crossed the Plate to Montevideo and made their way back to Florida by train to Brazil (where they had their canoes sent from Buenos Aires to be swapped for parcels of land) and plane to Bolivia, Peru and the US. There had been a contract with New York publishers E.P. Dutton for an illustrated book but, perhaps because of the damage to the cameras, it does not appear to have seen the light of day. Instead, Ferris and Thomson gave talks about the trip to various groups back in the US, as well as in Paraguay.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Scrabble and the Typewriter

Al and Nina Butts test the game at home.
 Alfred Mosher "Buttsie" Butts (1899-1993) in his University of Pennsylvania Yearbook in 1924 and in January 1954.
Butts's friend James Thompson Brunot (1902-84) in 1953. Brunot gave the game its name, Scrabble, and from 1949 made and marketed the earliest sets in an old schoolhouse building in Newtown, Connecticut. He's seen here amidst some of the 150,000 letters his small team manufactured each day. Brunot patented the game in 1953-54 and Butts received royalties on each set sold.
Above, US advertising at Christmas 1955, and below, the first ads in Australia at that same time:
How LIFE magazine launched Scrabble at Christmas 1953:
Clare Potter and Peter Pagan in Vogue in 1953 and, below, Anne Gunning Parker in 1954:
An American living-room game, 1952:

Friday, 16 March 2018

Instagram and The Typewriter Revolution

In a comment to a post on this blog two or three days ago, Richard Polt flagged an announcement he was about to make regarding Instagram. I'm sure I was like anyone else who read the comment: deeply curious. In my post I mentioned that I had joined Instagram about nine months ago, and wasn't all that impressed by it. Richard's announcement duly came on his The Typewriter Revolution blog at midnight my time last night. What I wasn't expecting was that, after 1000 Instagram posts, Richard has decided to bow out of that particular branch of social media - well, not entirely, but almost.
At the time of his announcement, Richard had a staggering 4323 followers (and was following 1189 others, including myself). In a post on February 16, 2016, he revealed he had 1600 followers, so the rapid growth in the popularity of his Instagram posts is quite evident - a lift of 2700 in a little more than two years. My own figures are paltry by comparison (440 posts, a mere 178 followers). Still, these figures aren't all that relevant. It's keeping up with the posts of 1189 others that I find mindboggling. I follow 148 grammers, and that's time-consuming enough. Just when you think you've caught up, you have to keep scrolling down, because Instagram has rudely snuck in five or six more ads for you to delete, additionally demanding to know why you've deleted them. And being one of 4.5 million grammers following Tom Hanks (who only follows Rita Wilson anyway) is just a silly waste of time. So, too, I suppose, is following as many typewriter sellers as I do, since I'm no longer in the market to buy them.
At first I didn't find the typewriter community on Instagram as friendly and happy as Richard did. Richard very kindly reposted a post of mine about offloading typewriters, and I found myself being called a philistine and the entire nation of Australia being insulted (this from a country which has Donald Trump as its president!).
But as time went by, this wasn't what bugged me about Instagram most. I kept seeing images from this blog appearing without any credit given, most especially by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra.
A few years ago, I took an image of a young lady in Christmas garb and superimposed on to it a photo of one of my own typewriters, a Corona four-bank:
On July 30 last, the Boston Typewriter Orchestra used the image I'd worked on without so much as a word about where it came from. I pointed this out in a comment on the post, but there was no response, so I gave up bothering. In fact, the uncredited lifting of images from this blog just increased. I'm pretty much free and easy when it comes to using images, but I try to ensure that if I take one from the Internet, I mention its origin. I expect others to do the same.
My use of Instagram is, I suspect, somewhat different to Richard's, who initially set out to promote his book The Typewriter Revolution on various forms of social media. My Instagram posts include a whole range of things - typewriters just happen to among them. Instagram helps me keep abreast of my other great passion (apart from my partner), which is rugby. I also found it useful for getting back in touch people with whom I'd lost contact, like Piotr Trumpiel and Adwoa Bart-Plange, both of whom used to have such wonderful typewriter blogs, as well as following the Chapmans in England. Instagram is also probably as good as Facebook for finding out what close friends and family (now much extended, thanks to my partner) are up to.
In strictly typewriter terms, however, I feel I'm a little like Richard in becoming increasingly disillusioned with the sheer superficiality of Instagram posts. Initially I was amazed that so many people I'd never heard of were doing so much with typewriters. After a while, however, as wonderful as the typewriter images are, one is left craving for more depth to the posts.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Never Laugh at a Kangaroo - And Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Typewriters Out Among the Gumtrees

What was once a weekly flood a free typewriters has turned into a tiny occasional trickle these past few years. All the more reason to be all the more appreciative of the few offers that still come my way. A week or two ago I was contacted out of the blue by a woman called Jo Walker, who said she had four typewriters to give me. As it turned out, she had gone to extraordinary lengths to track me down. And it turned out I had to go to some lengths to find her, and her typewriters.
Ms Walker lives on a dirt track off Poppet Road, Wamboin, on the edge of the Kowen Forest. I had no idea where this sparsely populated rural settlement was, although it is a mere 10 miles from Canberra. Wamboin is possibly derived from Wiradjuri wambuuwayn, meaning "large grey kangaroo", although I didn't know that before I set out for Ms Walker's home. When I did find it, after a pleasant midday drive through the forest, on a bright, sunny Friday, the first thing I noticed was the sign, "Wildlife Sanctuary" (Ms Walker also deals in native plants and seeds). Then to my astonishment I found Ms Walker's home completely surrounded by kangaroos. Typically the males among the great eastern grey (or forester) kangaroos mass around 10 stone and stand almost 6ft 7in tall, and have the scientific name Macropus giganteus ("gigantic large-foot"). In the wild, the sight of them can be pretty intimidating.
These two massive big bruisers kept a close eye on me all the way.
Once the four typewriters had been safely moved to my car, Ms Walker took me to meet some of the somewhat friendlier (and much smaller) members of her roo family. One of them tried to snatch my phone from my hands, and I let out a nervous laugh. "Never, ever laugh at kangaroos," Ms Walker warned. "It's a sound they don't recognise, and it startles and unnerves them. Their communication is all in grunts and growls." Ms Walker went on to say that she has seen kookaburras gather in the gumtrees around her house and start laughing just to see how the kangaroos react. This was all new and quite fascinating for me. Native birds aside, I'm just not a wildlife sort of guy.
But the typewriters ... well there were two wedges, but I did appreciate the two Adler Gabrieles - although one, the electric 2000, has a motor which weighs 5½ pounds, more than the entire weight of a real portable, like a Blick or a Standard Folding:

Monday, 12 March 2018

All the 3s

Some respite at the end of a traumatic and tiring week came on Sunday at 11.27pm, when this blog's page view meter clicked over to 3.333333 million. Such have been the travails of the past two months, I even neglected to mention the blog's seventh anniversary at the end of February. Still, the meter just keeps on turning over, by 1000-1200 a day, often much more, mostly as typewriter enthusiasts look to find a way to reattach a drawband. I've also been partially converted to Instagram in the last nine months - it's far more about mere glancing than learning anything (indeed, I hardly ever read any of the captions or exchanges), yet it does offer some interesting insights - one being that the typewriter world, at least for me, seems to be rapidly expanding by the day. Where once the Typosphere offered an accurate gauge on the growing passion for typewriter use, now Instagram provides at look at other aspects of the demand for typewriters. I'm often left feeling I'm now a little out of touch.
The last year has been, for me, the very best of times and the very worse of times. On our first anniversary, my partner found she had ovarian cancer. It turned our tiny world upside down, and of course completely demolished any grand plans I had for my 70th year, including a trip to New Zealand. The main thing for me now is to help her as much as I possibly can to get well again - everything else, typewriters included, pales into utter insignificance compared to that goal.
My new life, as of March 2017, will explain why this blog's posts declined to 41 last year compared to 145 in 2016 and 248 in 2015, and between 400-500 posts in the previous four years. But let me stress that I have in no way lost my love for typewriters and their history. In the past week or so my blogging input has started to lift again, and in some small way I can thank Instagram for a renewal of enthusiasm of blogging. Time, and certainly not a lack of material, remains the greatest deterrent to putting posts together, but I do hope to be more a regular contributor to typewriter lore in the months ahead. Some of the posts may relate to many typewriter-related events that occurred last year, but so be it.
My partner and I are both being super positive in these unfortunate circumstances. Our longer-term aim is to get to England next year, to catch up with Richard Polt, if he visits there, as well as meet Piotr Trumpiel, Rob Bowker, the Chapmans and others in the British typewriting scene. So our catchcry is "onward and upward", and certainly having typewriters as an obsession helps provide a pleasant, if only occasional, diversion in these trying times.  

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Silver-Seiko Silverette Portable Typewriter and Jimi Hendrix's Foxy Lady

I knew the Silver-Seiko Silverette portable typewriter would be useful for something artistic one day! Watch Italian one-man-band and self-proclaimed “Trash n’ Roll” artist Porcapizza nail it. The typewriter is outfitted with aluminum potato crisps cans and the sound is run through an effects processor which serves as the percussion, assisted with a looper. A telephone receiver acts as the vocal mic, while kitchen butter knives fashioned as a mbira add a metallic bassline. The song truly comes together when Porcapizza picks up his homemade four-string guitar, fashioned from a yellow construction hard hat, an old wooden tennis racket and a bunch of black zip-ties, all assisted by reverb, vocal filter and a looping system.