Wheat State Vintage's Best Items of 2014

One of the best parts of running this little humble operation is being able to continuously collect and tinker without having to literally bury ourselves in old stuff, or amass outbuildings, American Pickers-style. Ed has a good sense of humor about the comings and goings of typewriters and other old miscellany, which I certainly appreciate. He's got a few old things he's really fond of too - hopefully in 2015 we see the beginnings of rebuild of his 1950s International Fire Truck!

I also very sincerely appreciate all of my customers and their making space for these great old items. Here are a few of my favorites from 2014 that have moved onto bigger, brighter things, and hopefully long lives with their new owners. 

For new typewriter owners: a little basic maintenance. Oiling keys, changing ribbons, and polishing.

In the past two and a half years, I have had about 75 typewriters move in and out of our house. A little bit of me wishes I could keep more of them, but Ed likely would be less inclined to  keep me around if I did. Priorities, I guess. 

Over the course of those two years, a handful of customers have asked me for a few basics when it comes to typewriter maintenance. And so, better late than never, here are a few of them, including how to oil the keys, a very basic how-to on changing a ribbon and, in the case of glossy metal machines, how to polish them to a great shine.

First, a few basic things that any typewriter owner should purchase to maintain their machines: 1) compressed air; 2) Machine Oil, such as 3-in-1 oil or Zoom Spout Oil; and 3) mild cleaning wipes (preferably without bleach, as bleach can cause old paint to peel).  You should avoid WD-40 because it can actually dry the keys out.

The first step, after you've wiped down the dust and grit as best you can from the exterior of the machine, is to use the compressed air to blow out any dust bunnies or cobwebs that may have built up inside. 

Next, to oil the keys. Run a thin line of the machine oil along the "joints" of the keys, where they encounter a lot of friction. The spaces between the keys do get buildup from dust, smoke and grit. If a key is sticking, a little patience might be required. Hold the key at its end and work it back and forth. As you move the key up and down, alternate gently pushing the key to its left, then to its right. You really are just trying to work the gunk out. All are different - some just take a little bit of oil, some take some real effort to get unstuck. I have spent 20 minutes working on one key in a really sticky situation. Sometimes it is also worth going back over it repeatedly.  

Finally, to install the ribbon. Typically they are set up to run from the left spool to the right, so I install the emptier spool on the left side (pic 1). {Side note: Most machines have a small lever that you press that actually shifts which direction the ribbon runs, so it can move from one spool back to the other. Each machine is different, though, so if you can, find a manual for your machine online. I may be able to help you.} Anyway. Thread the ribbon through the prongs on either side of the spool holders (pic 2), then through the ribbon holders just against the platen (the round rubber roller inside of the carriage - pics 3 and 4). There are also quite a few demonstrations on youtube if this isn't quite clear enough (and... it probably is not). 

The most fun part, if you have one of the older glossy metal machines, is to polish them up! Do not try this with a machine that has a crinkle finish, as the one in the photos above is. With the glossy machines, though, you can use auto wax - my favorite for typewriters is Meguiar's in the red bottle (though something like Turtle Wax works just fine). You apply the wax in just the way you wax a car; wipe a thin layer on with one cloth, wipe it off when dry with another cloth.    

Taking WSV's typewriters for a walk at Wonder Fair's Letter Writing Club

Lawrence is spoiled with retail gems, but among them the printshop/art shop/gallery/design mecca Wonder Fair may be my most favorite. The shop has sent customers and fans on secret club scavenger hunts, brought in national artists for printmaking contests, and, among many other things, just generally sells about the coolest functional and art paper ephemera you are likely to find. Last month, owner/operator Meredith Moore gave us one more reason to love WF with Letter Writing Club at the adorable (and tasty) Decade Coffee shop in East Lawrence.

The idea is to put away our glowing screens, and to focus on writing some old-fashioned letters to whoever or whomever you'd like. Decade has no wifi, so only a little smartphone self-control is required (I mostly succeeded). For this meetup - just the second LWC yet - Meredith was kind enough to let me bring some typewriters for the club to check out and use. These old typewriters, like any good old mechanical item, do need some use to stay in good fighting shape. Plus, I wanted to go as I could not actually remember the last time I wrote an real letter. The last one I for sure remember writing was a junior at KU in 2003. ELEVEN years ago. 

It was a great exercise! Writing a letter is such a unique way of corresponding - I was surprised by how differently I write when confronted with that format. I definitely need some practice. Additionally, in using a typewriter with no delete or correction ability, what you put down is what you get (which I suppose is also basically true if you use your even-more-old-fashioned hands to write something). 

Typers vs. writers.

Perhaps one of the most fun parts of the day for me was troubleshooting typewriter issues and teaching a couple of people (a college student and an adorable little girl) that had never before used typewriters how they work. The little girl, who had never even seen a typewriter before, wrote a letter to her grandma that said "I love you." As someone who got into acquiring typewriters in the first place because of my kid obsession with my grandpa's Underwood, my heart got a little melty. 

It was a great experience (and as a bonus Decade's coffee and cookies are delicious). I will return. And my relatives and friends may see a few of these strange old-fashioned things turn up in their mailboxes. 

If you are interested in a typewriter for yourself or a loved one, let me know! I am surprised at how brisk sales have been lately, but I am doing pretty well at restocking (as well as driving all over and beyond the metro, finding them). There are definitely a few interesting ones that will be put up in the shop this week, including a black and white Underwood/Olivetti 450, which is so modern-looking it hurts. 

A vintage stereo auction, and fixing one of the coolest record players I've ever seen

We caught a glance at the new old stock of a long-gone Lawrence electronics store at an auction last weekend. It was '70s and '80s faux wood stereo heaven, with many items being available in multiples, in their original boxes. Tape players, turntables, eight track players, four track players, radios, reel-to-reels, signage and advertising - dude. Heaven. The stock was from an old downtown Lawrence Mass Street store, whose name I wish I could remember. Based on the age of the items, the store likely closed down in the early '80s. 

I picked up a handful of radios, vintage cameras and decor items. Buying vintage electronics in my experience has been a disappointing mostly-broken/damaged/not working/busted experience, so I never am willing to pay much for electronics unless I have been able to test them (and none of these were tested). One (not surprisingly) busted item I bought which I am having repaired is one of the coolest record players I've ever seen. It is this turquoise lovely portable player from Telex - the Neptune. With its faux wood paneling and turquoise cover, it is quite possibly one-of-a-kind. I dropped it off at a sweet little electronics repair shop in Overland Park early this week: 

The place is called quite spartanly, 'The Electronic Center,' and is located at 75th and Metcalf in a tiny little space in a strip mall. The man who took in this sweet little Telex told me off the bat that Telex only made record players like this for maybe a year, in the early 1960s. I was impressed with the immediate knowledge. He made sure before taking my deposit that they would be able to repair it, taking the surprisingly simple turntable apart and showing me what needs replacing. I nodded as though 'oh yes, of course, that little tube-like power source clearly is bad. Obviously.'

Old guys with special tiny tools and tiny soldering irons and highly specialized expertise have a place in my heart. I should be able to pick it up in a few weeks. So far I'm really pleased with the experience. Before you put your old stereo in a landfill, give these guys at the Electronic Center a try. 

I welcome the (hated) Christmas creep - vintage Christmas looks from KC's West Bottoms

I know that fall sightings of Christmas decor/stuff in any store or tv ad makes many (most?) of my friends rageblind with anti-consumerism, but I can't help myself. I totally love it. I love lights and trees (real and fake) and cozy fires in fireplaces. Christmas is nostalgia on crack, and I associate it with good memories with my family. So, when I see the Christmas creep popping up in September, I, unlike many/most, start rubbing my hands together and plotting - Clark Griswold meets Mr. Burns.

I do have a (fake) tree picked out, but I have summoned enough self-control to hold off on buying it (as of today, at least). Ed meets my Christmas decor enthusiasm with a bemused side-eye - though that bemusement will someday turn to alarm when I finally throw it all off and start dressing the dogs and cats in Christmas sweaters and costumes year-round. Cracker would be most fetching (and angry) in a pair of Rudolph horns.

This Christmas love meets my love of old stuff beginning about this time of year with the West Bottoms' First Fridays. If you are not from KC, one sweet, musty-smelling weekend per month, one of KC's oldest neighborhoods opens up to hundreds of vintage and antique vendors. A dozen-plus old factories and warehouses down in the West Bottoms rail district have been turned into vast vintage showcases with hundreds of thousands of square feet of old stuff. It's my favorite place to go get a sense of what kinds of things to buy for my stores here and on Etsy, and to get ideas on how to use these pieces in decorating at home. 

There are always great displays and ideas in the West Bottoms - though now because of the season, the Christmas crap is popping up in all of the entrances and empty corners. My favorite of the Christmas displays was one of the more classic: 

But, with great, great volume comes lots of other good inspiration:

Trailers full of cameras and tube radios at a Union Star mansion auction

Gorgeous drive on Saturday up to Union Star, Missouri, right outside of St. Joseph. Stuff that my nerdiest auction dreams are made of: an incredible house on 130 acres of rolling farmland, and dude... a trailer full of tube radios, and multiple tables of cameras and camera equipment. Coke machines. Buffalo skulls. TOOOOOLS. Acres of tools. Old man (and April) heaven.

A perfect fall-colored AMC Pacer on a perfect fall morning

The leaves in our neighborhood have been outrageous this fall. Hank, our German shepherd, is also a fan, particularly of digging around in piles of leaves for smells. We could only like it more if we got to cruise around in this amazing faux-paneled AMC Pacer every day (quite erroneously referred to as one of the "worst car designs of all time"). 39th street stickers on the back of the car (of course).  

That Pacer would also be perfect for cruising down Ward Parkway, which we've learned is postcard-ready: 

A few favorite WSV items that have moved on. Or, I'm not a hoarder. Yet.

Since I can't keep every cool piece that I come across (and since Ed only has so much patience for clutter), some truly cool and lovely things have had to move from Kansas/Missouri to other, perhaps better homes. I totally understand how (but fear) how people get to American Pickers-style levels of hoarding. I keep telling Ed to build me "outbuildings," but he just won't do it.