Friday, June 27, 2014

Typewriter vs. Keypunch vs. Keyboard

20140812 584c, sorry about the blur.
The ISO was up to 800, but I see the shutter speed was 1/6.
The posting on Tank Car Safety and a post I have been working on for the Keokuk Dam and Powerhouse are effectively small research papers. And I have been thinking about why I'm having trouble writing them. The last time I wrote a research paper, I used a typewriter and 3x5 notecards. On the other hand, I did not have spell check, a web search engine, and satellite maps. My current issue is that I have to invent an electronic version of notecards.

Another problem is that the monitor provides such a small window into what I have written. For years I had a monitor that was 1600x1200 pixels from work. But I had to surrender that monitor when I retired. And now all of the monitors that I could buy are shorter. The monitor I'm currently using is 1920x1080. It is interesting how much impact loosing a couple of inches of height has had on my comfort level when editing a post. But the "research" posts grow large enough that even a larger monitor would not help.

So I printed what I had written so far so that I could spread it out on a table and see what I had and try to figure out a new structure for the post. In the past, when learning another persons program (or relearning one of my own), I would print it and go find a conference room table to lay it out on. Think about how many more pixels are on several pages of paper compared to a monitor. No wonder it is so hard to see the "big picture" with a monitor.

And then I thought about cutting apart the various paragraphs and pictures so that I could physically rearrange the content. This reminded me that the origin of cut&paste is not ctrl-X/ctrl-V but rather newspaper editors cutting up columns of typeset text to paste them on pages.

And my use of a typewriter for research papers reminded me of a meeting I had at work in the late 70s. Keep in mind that the PC was not developed until the mid-80s so keyboards did not exist. We had terminals that integrated the input (keys) and output (CRT) as one unit. In that meeting I mentioned that I had keypunched a memo. A colleague asked me "When was the last time I used a keypunch?". He thought I should have used the verb typed instead of keypunched. I turned to him and asked when was the last time he used a typewriter. I had certainly used a keypunch more recently than a typewriter, and so had he. Fortunately the introduction of the keyboard in the 80s also introduced the verb keyboarding so that I now don't have to choose between antique terms for the activity of banging on keys.

So we don't have to go back to the 1800s and early 20th century to do Industrial Archeology of relics. Typewriters and keypunches became relics in the 1970s with the advent of text processing (troff and TeX are the two I used) and then word processing (What You See Is What You Get or WYSIWG) programs. In fact, the text processing programs have also become relics.

Concerning punch cards, during grad school, you could tell who was doing some serious programming because they needed a box (2000 cards) to carry their program. In fact, I had a program that required me to use a drawer (3600 cards). And I remember that I could grip about 700 to 800 cards.

We got rid of our typewriters years ago. I used to have punched cards and a 1200-foot reel of magnetic tape from college up in the attic. But they got thrown out several years ago. So there are no pictures for this post of antique computer media.

John L Huck shared
Manny Day I worked third trick at West Liberty IA the summer of 1972. Traffic was usually light (except for when a bridge on the spine line north of DM washed out, and all traffic between Des Moines and MN was routed through West Lib) so I copied train orders on a typewriter like this. 37 copy flimsies. Then I would call Ralph Fee (DM dispatcher) away from his coffee to read them back. All set for the next day's handups. Can anyone post interior photos of the West Lib operator's station, either from the 20th Century or as restored?
[I knew train orders were called flimsies. If they had to roll in 37 sheets and 36 carbon papers, no wonder the sheets were thin.]

Chris Percell posted
My recent find, All set to copy.
Kyle Graft trains run on little pieces of paper not much thicker than toilet paper did it ever work......
Kyle Graft i had to take a typing test on a manual typewriter when i was interviewing for a Managment Job for the Katy in 1981...
J Pete Hedgpeth There was a time when the use of the typewriter for train orders was not allowed. Look at the old "operator's script" on orders back in the late 1800's and early 1900's.. I don't know when the use of typewriters was begun, but it was of fairly recent..probably 1920's or so. I'd be glad to hear from somebody who knows with a reasonably high degree of accuracy. That old operator's script was beautiful, but in some cases hard to read. BTW...I'm assuming that most of you guys know why train orders were written on transparent paper and were called "flimsies".There is a specific reason why that kind of paper and reproduction was used.
John Stell Order could be read by holding up to firebox on steam engine so they could have light to read it,.
Bill Neill Kerosene and electric lanterns also worked very nicely to illuminate the backside of train order tissue.
J Pete Hedgpeth John Stell you get the prize..Your answer is absolutely correct...However the firebox was not the only light in the cab..There were gage lights and usually an overhead light, but they were dim and somewhat unreliable. Whatever it was the idea was, as you allow the light to come through from the back rather than trying to make the writing out via a light shining on the face of the paper. Just as a little "aside" was many years after I became aware of train orders that it dawned on me that the writing on the flimsy was ON THE BACK rather than the front of the paper. This was accomplished by use of "double face" carbon and/or just putting the carbons in "upside down" to get the writing on the back..This reduced...or, at least, minimized the possibility that the writing could get smeared via moisture. Also there was a metal sleeve which was inserted under the bottom copy of the "manifold" being copied. This provided a solid base to write on..Also, of course you guys also know that the writing was NOT DONE with a ball point pen..It was done with a STYLUS. ie looked like a BP pen, but the tip was a solid "rock" with a point, thus avoiding having ink on the face of the order, but the writing was on the back as transmitted via pressure on the styles against the metal piece used as backing and forcing the carbon ink onto the back of the order. It was always puzzling to me as to how something could be written with a "rock"..The old operators...egged on by my dad, when we would be in the depot at Langdon, MO would tell me that the rock was "magic" or some other tale..I would play with the stylus and never could figure out how it worked. Also..Most of the old operators had their own STYLUS which was "honed" to their individual specs. Just like most of them had their own "Bug" rather than using the usual small "manual" key which was the usual thing in TO offices.
Allen Miller I posted an Oregon Short Line train order on this site last May that was dated 1901 and was typewritten. In my personal collection I have orders typewritten in 1908. It was the use of the typewriter that brought about the rule that additional copies of a train order had to be repeated to the train dispatcher. Prior to 1910, most rule books only required that additional copies of an order be "traced" from one of the original copies and there was no need to repeat it to the dispatcher for accuracy. Some roads, such as Michigan Central required engine numbers to be spelled out as well as written in figures, because the early typewriters had rather small letters, usually in a Roman style serif, and numbers such as 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9 could be rather indistinct on their own when making multiple copies with worn carbons. I'm not sure when "all caps" typewriters first made their appearance. In those early days too, the railroad did not furnish the typewriter. If you wanted to get in on this new labor-saving technology, you bought your own model of choice. Hopefully telegraphers of that era didn't stand outside the local office supply store for days waiting for the latest model Underwood All-Caps to hit the shelves like modern day techno geeks do when the newest I-phones are released. But to answer Pete's question, typewriters began to be used regularly in train order service from the late 1920's on. Although some roads such as the Frisco and Kansas City Southern never allowed train orders to be typewritten. There were also roads that only allowed slow orders and bulletin orders to be typed, all movement orders had to be handwritten.
Helen Young via DustyOldThing
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