“I’m not a computer person,” he said.
Guiding the paper into the carriage, he cranks the knob to set it in place and begins softly typing on the surprisingly quiet, brown typewriter, pausing to check the numbers for the invoice. For each new line on the page, he cranks the knob again, feeding the paper farther up so he can begin clacking on the keys again.
Computers may have killed the local typewriter store, but typewriters stay alive in unexpected places. In Lodi, across the nation and abroad, people are turning to typewriters for a sense of nostalgia of the past, for ease of use — and in some cases, to prevent international espionage by keeping data offline.
The typewriter retains a special image as a mechanical marvel, sometimes put on display as art or used for vintage re-creations, like typewriter-written wedding invitations.
Atwood got his start typing when he took a class as a Lodi High School sophomore in 1953. After high school, he enlisted in the Navy in 1956, where he worked as a typist. He said there was one other person who knew how to type on the ship.
“Thank goodness I took typing,” he said. “When I went to the Navy, I wasn’t classified. They were short on typists — called yeoman. Who knows what I would have done otherwise. I spent time typing daily reports.”
When Atwood left the Navy in 1959, he joined the family printing business, which began in Stockton as Atwood Printing.
Over the years, he started his own printing business, Big Valley Printing, and bought Abrahamson Printing in Lodi in 2006, where he works today.
His daughter, June Atwood Aaker, who also works in the business, said that typing comes naturally to her father. Despite her attempts to show him how to use bookkeeping programs on the computer, he insists on continuing to use his typewriter.
“This is how it’s always been done,” she said. “He’s been very adaptable to change, but this is something he wants to do. And he should do it.”
Since all of the machinist and typewriter repair shops in Lodi have long since closed down, Atwood must take his typewriters to Stockton Typewriter Co. — part of A-Tec Office Supplies and one of the last places still offering typewriter repair in the Lodi area.
But Abrahamson Printing is not the only place in Lodi where typewriters have doggedly maintained a presence.
Joe McLemore, CEO and owner of Stockton Typewriter Co., said that since they bought out the old Lodi Typewriter Co. more than 15 years ago, plenty of Lodi residents and businesses have become frequent customers.
“It’s more people who don’t want to change over and people who want that nostalgic feeling, like writers. It’s also people who want to collect them,” he said.
A quick search on eBay shows that vintage typewriters are reasonably affordable. Several from the 1940s and ‘50s sell for between $20 and $60. A newer model, similar to the one Atwood owns, sells for more, between $70 and $150, but according to IBM’s archives the Selectric models were priced at around $400 dollars new.
Several companies even sell new typewriters. Royal Consumer Information Products, Inc., formerly known as Royal Typewriter Company, still sells typewriters for several hundred dollars — though the ribbon and cartridges to print cost only a couple dollars.
Typewriters can be found occasionally in antique and consignment stores in Lodi, but also in places like the Bank of Stockton and Lodi High School, according to McLemore.
Teri Scott, a secretary at Lodi High School, said the school’s secretaries have four or five old IBM electric typewriters that they frequently use to fill out forms that aren’t kept online. Sometimes, she said, she uses them to address envelopes.
The clicking sound of typewriter keys and mechanical parts can even be heard in the halls of the Lodi News-Sentinel, from behind the office doors of publisher Marty Weybret, who said he uses them for writing quick notes and addressing envelopes.
“It’s sort of a nostalgic device that gives me a sort of hands-on experience after living in a virtual world all day,” he said.
Typewriters are not dead. Typists young and old plunk away at the keys in offices and in homes. Collectors have seen the mechanical devices as works of art to put on display.
“Some girls are (buying typewriters) for weddings or for decoration, not to use,” said Katie Castillo, office manager at Secondhand Rose. “We used to get them in 10 years ago, when they didn’t sell fast. Now when we get them, they tend to go quicker. One girl said she was typing up the seating chart for her wedding on it.”
For some people, typewriters are the practical solution to make sure information stays private.
A July 15 article in The Washington Post reported that German and Russian officials were considering returning to the old machines in response to ongoing problems with espionage by the U.S. National Security Agency.
Perhaps when you search your attics to dig up old machines and sweep off the dust, consider joining the discreet gathering of typewriter enthusiasts that continue clacking away at their desks in Lodi, pausing only to hear that satisfying bell ding before they continue.