The Way Paper Work Usta Was

Before I launch into a rant about how things were years ago, the above title is partially based upon the mangled diction that comedian Jeff Foxworthy often used. He has been referred to as  “The King of Redneck Jokesters,” and in many ways, he represents the way comedians usta was – politically incorrect, glib and masterful in his stage presentation.

Paper work in all its forms has undergone huge transformations in past decades so that now there are few similarities to how it usta was done. Both the production and duplication of papers today are the main areas of change. In fact, about the only thing that has stayed relatively the same through the decades is the keyboard.

For example, I was introduced to the keyboard in my high school typing class in 1959 as a junior. The one I’m typing on now has almost no changes in the keys’ positions except for some symbols and punctuation marks.

Photo by Marcin Sokołowski from FreeImages

The format producing the print, however, is nothing like it usta was. In my typing class, we learned on manual typewriters, a very accurate phrase because producing print was entirely dependent on hand coordination. The layout of the typing desks in the business department of the school was rows of separate typing desks and chairs, each having the machine and a supply of paper beside each typewriter.

We students were instructed to sit with feet on the floor, backs against the chairs and relaxed hands bent lightly over the middle keys – not much different from now. We picked up two pieces of paper, perfectly lined up to each other, and inserted them into a slot at the back of the “roller.” Knobs were placed on both the right and left sides to make them easily usable for both right and left handed people. (The TWO papers were required so that the keys didn’t make indentations on the roller).

Photo by wax115 from FreeImages

The typewriter’s other moving parts consisted of a fan-shaped open area on the top; here were the little metal “legs” that contained raised areas with the letters, numbers and other marks on the upper ends. The keys were attached to those legs, and the typist had to pound/push the keys down an inch or more; the legs would pop up to the paper, and there was the print.

On two small spools to the right and left under a top cover was the ribbon that held the ink to make the impression on the paper – no choices of color; it was only black. The ribbon wore out after a while, and putting a new one in was a real pain. The old spools came off (black fingers guaranteed), and new ones were inserted by pulling the ribbon just right to hook on top of and under two little prongs in front of the paper.

The “cage” was the device that had a metal handle which had to be used at the end of each line of type. The handle was on the right side, and as the typist saw that the print was getting toward the end of a line, he/she reached up and with a swipe returned the roller to its left side. For obvious reasons, left- handed folks tended to be slower at the process than right- handed ones. Because of being an English major and needing to type a lot, I developed a wicked right-hand mosquito swat.

My typing teacher at Mentor High School was Mrs. Betty Armstrong, who later taught in the Business Department at Riverside. At the end of the semester in Mentor, she told my class that we were the worst typing students she’d ever had. Eleven of us earned a “D” grade, and ten flunked. I was one of the really lucky ones who passed.

I didn’t earn that grade because I was slow at the keyboard but rather because I was impatient. There were two mortal sins in Betty’s class: strikeovers and smudges from carbon paper. Strikeovers happened when one didn’t want to properly erase mistakes but just pounded on the key hard to try to cover the wrong letter with the correct one. We were supposed to erase the mistake first, but it was a venial sin to ignore putting a piece of paper under the erasure to catch the shavings, which could clog the mechanism.  Betty had an eagle eye for those strikeovers, and I gave her plenty of reasons to groan.

The unit called “Carbon Paper Usage” in her class was a more advanced level that came mid-semester. To make copies, a sheet of carbon paper was inserted with the ink side against the second sheet, or even a third sheet. The typist had to pound the keys with more force when doing carbon copies. Because of the seldom-used “z” and “x” keys, it was best to use a different finger than the pinkie when you needed those. The pinkie is the weakest, least nimble finger, unless one is a prissy tea-drinker using a delicate china cup.

The quality of print on the manual machines was much inferior to modern print. Some letters were darker than others because of the varying strength of the typist’s fingers. The more typing done, the lighter the ink on the tape became. Almost everyone hated changing the tape, so many people sent out writing that was hard on the eyes.

Not only did the erasure need extra time; we were instructed to put a little slip of paper in back of each carbon sheet so the copy wouldn’t have an eraser smudge. One lousy error and it took five minutes to correct properly, so my philosophy was “let the damn smudges fly and be happy with a “D” grade.” Betty hated smudges.

When it was time for me to major in English and head off to Toledo University, my dad knew I would need a typewriter and found a “bargain” for me. It was a black, heavy antique one (even then) with big gold letters in an arc on each side saying ROYAL. It must have weighed at least 30 pounds, and I hauled it back and forth to Toledo numerous times each year. Now, I would not even be able to lift it.

Unlike the typewriters we had at Mentor High, mine had black metal, flat keys with small silver rings around each key. They prevented one’s fingers from slipping off the intended key. I think the machines in the Mentor class had plastic keys with a slight depression in them, or maybe they were a light-weight forged metal.

Most instructors at TU still accepted handwritten essays and term papers done with ball-point pens, so maybe my Royal was a real treat for them, especially since I have always been slightly verbose. I put it away in my attic and got rid of it many years later with only slight qualms about some collector who might have wanted it in an antique store.

Then, along came a huge advancement: the electric typewriter. My husband bought me an electrified Olivetti brand after watching me type huge volumes of verbiage on a manual one during my teaching years. I had to make some adjustments; the new one was so “touchy” that it at first felt as if it would fly across the table. After all, I was used to “pounding.”

During my teaching years, I wore out three electric typewriters, which saw many “ditto” papers go through their rollers. Dittos were a huge advancement, far better for duplicating copies than carbon paper and regular copy machines. The ditto sheets were double pages, attached at the top. The back side of the front page had purple ink that would transfer to the second page when one typed. Then one had to go to the “ditto room” in the school to make copies. The ditto machine had a large metal roller with a lever that opened a slit in which the inked page was placed, ink side up. (Purple fingertips guaranteed).

Blank paper was put into the holder on the bottom of the machine, and one turned a crank to produce copies. On the top front was a “counter,” which could be set on the number of copies needed. I never used the counter – didn’t trust it. Odd that I thought I could count better than it could. The machine had a tube that went into a rectangular gallon can on the floor labeled “ditto machine fluid.” (What a concept! For sure I’d have thought it should be drunk).

After several years of my being “Queen of the Ditto Machine,” an amazing advancement happened: An electrified version was invented! Not to be behind the curve, the high school bought one. No longer did the operator have to stand there and crank; a button was pushed and it cranked copies off like crazy. It even had a counter that could be set from 0 to 100. I was beside myself at the wonder of it all: no cranking, so instead I could bother the secretaries with  stupid questions, like whether they’d trash the ditto machine after I retired.

There were certain concepts that it was best to absorb before working in the ditto room. It also contained a mimeograph machine, which I never learned to operate. It seemed everyone who used it ended up with hands (and more) smudged with black, and I much preferred purple. Also, a white or pastel shirt or blouse required carrying newly run dittoes inside something or the ink transferred to one’s clothes. Woe be it to the teacher who wanted to use the machine when the gallon of fluid was low or empty. The caps of new ones were difficult to open, the tube had to be transferred, and the fluid had a sweetish, alcohol odor. Actually, it was rather pleasant, and once my tenth graders realized that, they liked it when I passed out “fresh” ditto copies.

Beginning in about the late 1980s, the more technically-minded, progressive administrators and teachers in the district started making a slow transition to computers. I was most decidedly not in that group, and in fact dug my heels in about learning anything about computers. Tenth graders were at that time new to the high school building because ninth graders attended one of two junior highs.

Apparently almost all of the junior high teachers had transitioned to computers before the sophomores came to RHS. On the first day of many of my tenth grade English classes, I received some quizzical looks when I passed out pages with purple ink. Some students asked, “Purple ink?” I always responded, “Yes, they come off of what’s called a ditto machine, and they will be like that for the rest of your school year in here.”

A friend in the English Department, Cindy Metzger, took it upon herself to convince me how much easier my life would be if I could do paper reproduction and students’ grades on the computer – impossible for me to believe.

However, I grudgingly followed her to the computer room; she was realistic enough to start at the very beginning by showing me the “on” button. Then she showed me a floppy disk and the slot where it was to go. I said, “But it isn’t floppy at all.” She said, Well, no, but that’s just a term that isn’t literal.” We gave up only a few minutes later; I decided that nothing about computers was literal. I also told her that I was only a couple of years from retirement and it would take me longer to learn computer function than it would to “do it my old way.” Cindy gave up the cause.

Hanging onto old ways of doing things has always been my preference; I do not adapt to change well. A favorite adage of mine is that if the United States had been settled by people like me, the population would not have made it farther west than Detroit.

Obviously, I have gotten over the computer phobia but only out of necessity, and progress has been in baby steps. I admit that the new-fangled machines are marvels. Besides, the tenth graders at RHS no longer need to wonder where the purple ink came from since the Neanderthal teacher has long since retired. My ways are definitely “usta wases,” and so am I.  The manual typewriters are things of the past, but so are many arthritic fingers and much carpal tunnel syndrome.


Related posts

2 Thoughts to “The Way Paper Work Usta Was”

  1. Doug Powell

    Great article, Gretchen. I still have a lot of your ditto-created aviation tests & quizzes in my folders. And I also had Betty Armstrong for Typing I. Who could forget her trademark ” Lez Get Quaaaaat” when we students wouldn’t shut up. 🙂

  2. Mary K. Zmecek-Lette

    Reading your article my memory was drawn to the click, click, click of the keys in typing class. Walking into the class there was always the scent of paper, typewriter ribbons and correction fluid. We learned to pace our typing speed to the “Blue Danube” – which somehow was brought up in speed as the year went on. Thanks so much for sharing your great story.

Leave a Comment