The IBM Selectric, the revolutionary typewriter that was developed in Lexington, turned 50 in late July. A number of its fans wrote in, sharing memories and old photographs. But for Ed Reed of Ed's Office Machines, the Selectric isn't a symbol of a bygone era. He's up to his knuckles in them nearly every day.
Head out Winchester Road, make a left after the drive-in, and you'll come to Reed's workshop, which also serves as a garage and model airplane hangar. Old manual typewriters and the odd adding machine share the floor space with a '66 Chevy pickup. Resting on its own typing table is an old black Remington, which Reed used for years to type out invoices. It commands a place of honor in the repair shop, like a veterinarian's beloved cat. But the Selectrics, lined up on shelves and on the floor, have the other machines outnumbered.
"There's not that many of us folks around anymore who can work on them," Reed says. "I get people by word-of-mouth from all over the state."
You can also find Reed under "Typewriters — Repairing" in the Windstream yellow pages. It's a nostalgic category that suggests there might be other entries for typewriters, which, of course, there aren't. Reed's is the only name listed.
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Undergoing rehabilitation this day was a Selectric II and an IBM Wheelwriter, which replaced the Selectric. It offered advances including limited memory and spell check, and was advertised as having the special "Selectric touch," but it never earned the devoted following of its predecessor.
Reed, 70, was in the right place at the right time to form a lifelong connection to the IBM icon. After graduating from Clark County High School in 1960, he went to work at Rees printing company in Winchester.
He quickly gravitated to the back room, where school typewriters were worked on — in those days, typing was a standard part of the curriculum. "The boss started letting me take them apart — old Remingtons, Underwoods, Royals." Reed felt more at home there than with the printing presses.
"In 1963, I got a job with a firm in Lexington — L.T. Davis Co. — on North Broadway. They started to send me to school to work on the more advanced machines."
Mr. Davis, as Reed refers to him, dealt mainly in Sharps and Remington Rands. He sent Reed to places such as Atlanta, Philadelphia and Nashville to learn about their newer model typewriters, copiers and calculators.
"Then I got connected with a person from IBM and saw the way the trend was headed," says Reed. On his own, he went for training on IBMs at night to be a part of it.
Davis wasn't convinced right away. But, Reed says, "People liked our work, and we got more service contracts." And those service contracts, at places such as the Army Depot in Richmond, helped the boss see the light. The company added refurbished IBMs to its inventory, too. Reed worked for Davis until Davis retired in the early '90s. Shortly afterward, Reed took over the business, renamed it and started working for himself.
Correct me if I'm wrong
Reed himself was won over early by the Selectric's design and workability. "They were made real durable."
He was also impressed by the users' love for the machine. And when the Correcting Selectric II was introduced, it was the clack heard 'round the office-machine world.
"Everyone makes mistakes," says Reed. Suddenly there was a typewriter that could fix them with a keystroke. "My No. 1 call is: 'My correction key isn't working well,' " says Reed.
He still has a few service contracts at businesses, courthouses and banks that need them for forms that haven't entered the computer age. "You can always count on Ed and know he will be in a delightful mood," says human resources specialist Diane Warren at Link-Belt. "He keeps our Selectric II typewriters humming."
A good doctor
At L.T. Davis, Reed says, "One young man came to work with us from the vocational school, an excellent student. But he had trouble out on the job. He'd say, 'Ed, I don't get it. I can take those machines apart in the classroom blindfolded.' He couldn't understand how I could find the problem so fast. I just told him it was experience." And for him, "experience" means understanding both the machine and its user.
Customers praise his warm deskside manner. Marji Oliver, a receptionist at Lexington Center, says, "I love him — his personality, his friendliness, his helpfulness, and he knows what he's doing."
Says Reed, simply: "I was always taught the customer is right, and to be kind and courteous to them."
And for individual customers who aren't up to bringing the patient to him, he still makes house calls.
A good story
At the University of Kentucky once, he went to work on an older professor's Selectric. "The first time I went in, I told the young woman at the desk I was there to work on a typewriter. She looked at me and asked, 'What's that?' "
That story might sound too cute to be true, but Reed is not the kind of person to make things up.
"I was taking classes in Nashville," he says. "There were about 15 of us there. We got into the real delicate stuff, with screws and springs. A fellow next to me was clearly frustrated and finally said, 'There's one thing for sure, you couldn't be a preacher and work on these machines.' The instructor didn't know me, but he came over and said to me, 'You're a preacher, aren't you?' " Reed's calm demeanor and clean language gave him away.
That doesn't mean that Reed never gets frustrated at man's typewriting devices. "Machines can be complicated. When I can't figure out a problem, I usually find if I leave it and go to bed, the next morning the answer is right there."
Reed's customers live in fear of his retirement. "Some days I think about it," he says. But "as long as the good Lord gives me strength," he plans on keeping his hands busy and his customers satisfied.