Why I left a biotech career to repair typewriters in Bremerton
Office space is cheap in Bremerton. That's one reason you can find eccentric businesses there, like a business that repairs old typewriters.
Paul Lundy bought Bremerton Office Machines from its longtime owner, Bob Montgomery. “I originally saw an article in The Seattle Times about Mr. Montgomery," Lundy said. "You know, ‘The last typewriter repairman at 92,’ and it intrigued me. And I read that, went ‘wow,’ I told my wife, I've got to go check it out, say hi. And I did.”
That visit with Robert Montgomery roped in Paul Lundy. “The guy is a master craftsman. Amazing, the things that he knew and just told me in the four hours that I first met him was just incredible.”
Robert Montgomery was born in 1922 and got involved with typewriters as a young kid, as his father owned a typewriter business in downtown Seattle.
Lundy's entry into the craft followed a very different path. “I had a long career in the biotech industry. After 30 years in the industry, I really did want to change," he said.
"I like repairing things. I just always have. And I got into management — you know, all the things that you do for a career, right? You move up the ladder and you do all sorts of fascinating things. And then you realize, ‘Oh, I've lost my juju. Where did it go?’ And I found it with Mr. Montgomery.”
Montgomery remembers the day Lundy showed up. “Here's this eager guy looking for a job. He didn't know anything," he said. "He convinced me that he could learn to do it and he would work cheap."
Montgomery considered his offer. He told him he could have the job, but "I don't know how long it's going to last." Montgomery remains bullish on typewriters, but often describes his chosen trade with what sounds like gallows humor. “The rumor is it's got to go out of business. So far it hasn’t.”
Lundy started showing up at Bremerton Office Machines on Saturdays, which grew to three days a week. Pretty soon, he had two jobs. After talking to Mr. Montgomery about it, Lundy took the next step, asking his wife if she thought it would be okay if he bought the business. She did.
Lundy shows me some of the unusual typewriters around his shop, including one converted to type music symbols and nothing else. "You could actually write sheet music using this machine."
There are computer programs that can now do that work in a fraction of the time, but that's part of this typewriter's charm for collectors.
Then, there's the Oliver 9, which Lundy considers a work of functional art. The keys on most typewriters are more or less hidden in the body of the machine and flip up to the page one key at a time. With the Oliver 9, the keys stick up in the air like a pair of ears when not in use, and flip down. "A lot of people think of it as the Batwing typewriter," he said, because of the typewriter's unusual appearance.
Then there's the IBM Selectric, an electric typewriter that introduced a major technological advancement. Instead of individual metal keys that tapped out letters one at a time, occasionally getting jammed when too many of them converged on the page at once, the Selectric substituted a rapidly spinning sphere covered with letters. The technology sped up typing dramatically.
"It's a bit of a speed demon," Lundy said.
Of course, computer technology has left all these older technological advancements in the dust. “So what is it that keeps you feeling that your work is relevant today?" I asked Lundy.
“The people keep it relevant. It's the interest in wanting to use a machine that does this.”
His clients are, mainly:
- Published authors who still like to type.
- People with bad arthritis who don't trust computers.
- Families with typewriters who want to get them fixed.
- Parents responding to a child's interest.
- Typewriter collectors.
As Robert Montgomery likes to say, "There's just something about the machine."
Lundy said in our tech-hub of a region, there's a lot of interest in older technologies. While some of Lundy's customers come from the Bremerton side, 80 percent come from the Seattle area. They walk on the ferry with their typewriters and carry them the three blocks to Bremerton Office Machines, where Lundy charges $49 an hour.
Which leads to the question: Could Lundy have set up shop in Seattle?
“Seattle is a wonderful town. I mean we lived there for a long time," Lundy said, but, "It would have been hard to find a rentable space in Seattle. This is not a high end business. This is a small business. And it's so much more relaxing over here in Bremerton.”
Bremerton has been investing in bringing people and businesses downtown, which could make Lundy's rent go up, eventually. "There may be one day where I won't be able to afford the rent here," he said. "It will be a sad day.”
“You mentioned that you had you convinced your wife that it was sound decision to get into this business. Does she still need convincing that this is worthwhile or has she bought into it?” I asked.
“I think she's bought into it," he said. "If anything, I'm probably more sane now, you know, because I'm not commuting back and forth on the ferry every day. It's given me more time to be with her in the morning. So it's just been a very nice change for me.”