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Published February 15 2013

In a digital age, Fargo man still operates typewriter repair shop

FARGO – Some drivers may do a double take when they get a peek at the sign on John Ham’s little shop tucked away just off of 16th Avenue South in Fargo.

But it’s no illusion. There is still a typewriter repair shop in Fargo-Moorhead.

Ham started FM Typewriter Service about 1987 after being with IBM for more than 20 years.

IBM was moving away from a lot of the work Ham did for them.

“I just thought I’d make a change and try something on my own. So I did,” he said. “I kept pretty busy for a while there.”

He worked out of the basement of his house for a few months, and then walled off a section of the garage to make the tidy, little shop he has today.

In a world of word processors and Google Docs, the typewriter repair business isn’t what it used to be. Not that that’s a problem for the 72-year-old Ham. He’s semi-retired now.

“Sometimes you’ve got something to work on, and sometimes you don’t, but I usually find something to do out here,” said the soft-spoken Aneta native. “Right now, I don’t have one in for repairs so I figure I’ll get that one (on the work counter in his shop) fixed up in case somebody’s looking for one.”

Besides repairing manual and electric typewriters, Ham fixes and sells used units and has done some laminator repair.

While the typewriter doesn’t see anything like the use it did in its heyday, Ham said businesses still use them to fill in forms, “just type something up quick,” or maybe address an envelope.

Along with machines belonging to businesses, he does work for private individuals.

“Some people, their grandma had it or something, and they want it cleaned up and working just because it was in the family for years,” he said.

And there are some people, especially older people, who don’t like computers, Ham said. “They’d sooner type it out.”

While some customers have their typewriters repaired to use, others have them repaired to show.

“If they put it out, they usually want it to work,” he said.

Ham’s wife, Lois, said he enjoys the work.

“He likes people,” she said, and he “likes to help them.”

“It makes you feel kind of good if somebody really wants something and you can do it for them,” John Ham said. “If they say, ‘I really like this machine, and I hope you can get it to work’ and you do, it makes you feel good.”

Paul Robert, a freelance travel reporter who lives in Almere in the Netherlands, owns the Virtual Typewriter Museum website (www.typewritermuseum.

org). He said it’s unusual to find someone still doing typewriter repair.

“This has been a dying trade since the 1980s,” the former typewriter collector said in an online interview. “I don’t think anyone’s started a new typewriter repair shop since the 1980s when people switched to word processors and computers.”

“This guy’s a survivor,” Robert said.

Robert said Ham’s skill set would give him an exalted status among typewriter enthusiasts.

“If he goes online and joins the Yahoo! typewriters group, he will be welcomed like a hero,” Robert said.

Ham said customers urge him not to close up shop. And he doesn’t have any plans to do so in the near future.

“I’ll probably do it as long as I can, you know, if there’s a little demand for it,” he said. “I figure as long as there’s something to do once in a while, I’ll keep doing it.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734