Last of dying breed, Vancouver typewriter repairman keeps busy

Tricia Chan
Photo from The Associated Press

At 84 years of age, Art Skill has witnessed a period of rapid technological development.

From the rotary telephone to iPhones, from the enigma machine to portable laptops, communication has shifted immensely over the last century. But for Skill, there is one machine that has endured the test of time: the typewriter.

Skill has been working with typewriters in some way since he was 19 when his older brother set him up with a job at Remington Rand in Vancouver. Ever since, he and typewriters have gone side by side, like A and S on a keyboard.

And as Vancouver’s last typewriter repairman, he says business is still good and he doesn’t see himself retiring anytime soon. There’s just too much meticulous work that needs to get done to keep these machines operational.

“You can clean them, which will make them look pretty,” Skill told the Vancouver Sun. “But if you’re going to use them, you can’t have sticking keys, the backspace has to work, the tab has to work. If the ribbon reverse doesn’t work, it’s a bitch to wind it back.”

His company, Polson’s Office Products, had 35 employees in its prime. Now, it’s down to four: Skill and his wife, as well as two other technicians with their own set of special skills.

For example, Skill explained to the newspaper that every lawyer has an IBM Selectric typewriter, a model first introduced in the 1960s, which is why he needs an expert who knows them well.

“There’s no memory, for one thing,” he says of the typewriter. “A computer is storing everything you do.”

His other employee is an expert in manual typewriters, those used before the Second World War.

“It’s an older guy, older than me, would you believe, who can do the old stuff,” Skill revealed to the Sun. “Don Brown, who’s just under 90.”

Skill sells new electric typewriters from Japan and has refurbished and repaired machines available, as well. He also makes money renting typewriters out for movie or television sets and has an interesting vintage collection.

“I have an Arabic typewriter,” he told the newspaper. “The carriage goes the other way.”