You can’t put a good typewriter down, ever

Belfast’s Book Festival draws typewriting enthusiasts from Maine and beyond

Some came from out of state just to participate in Tom Furrier’s Type Out
Mon, 05/09/2016 - 9:30am

    BELFAST — Belfast's Book Bound Festival included a slew of events for book lovers to enjoy, but one local event focused on the means of writing, rather than the finished product.

    The Belfast Co-op hosted Tom Furrier's "Write Out," an open call to all typewriter lovers to bring out their own, or simply to come and view what ended up being an impressive array.

    Furrier is the owner of Cambridge Typewriter Co., Inc., located in Arlington, Mass. The shop offers typewriters for sale and rental, in addition to providing repair services.

    He and wife Anne-Marie made the trek to Belfast Saturday, driving directly to the Co-op in a car filled with the focus of the day. Despite the numerous typewriters they brought along, Anne-Marie said it represents just a fraction of their collection.

    "Our family room is full of typewriters," she said with a laugh.

    As for what possessed them to hold their Type Out in Belfast - a place neither had been before, Furrier points to his friendship with Portland Public Library Archivist Abraham Schecter.

    "I've held the event in Portland before, and [Schecter] told me I really had to check out Belfast," Furrier said. "That's all it took," he said with a smile.

    Furrier has owned Cambridge Typewriter for 26 years, but his career working with the machines came about after a different career path failed to materialize.

    "He got his degree in forestry from the University of New Hampshire, but when he graduated there was a hiring freeze," Anne-Marie said.

    After a year of landscaping, Furrier would have a fateful meeting with the father of his best friend, who was the owner of Cambridge Typewriter Co., Inc.

    Ed Vanderwalle founded the company in 1968, offering typewriter rentals, eventually expanding to include sales and repairs as business continued to grow. It wasn't until 1980 that Furrier and Vanderwalle would have the conversation that would set a new career trajectory for the forestry graduate.

    Knowing that Furrier's landscaping work was seasonal, Vanderwalle offered him a position as one of his four repair technicians. It didn't take long for Furrier to realize his passion for the work.

    "By the end of the first day, I knew [working with typewriters] is what I wanted to do," he said.

    Ten years later, Vanderwalle was looking to retire and Furrier took over the company.

    While many may wonder how a company whose sole focus is typewriters has managed to stay in business for nearly 50 years, especially in the face of newer technology, the Furrier's both had a ready answer.

    "Ironically, the business that killed the typewriter is also what saved it," Anne-Marie said, referring to the rise of computers.

    Eventually the Internet provided a place for typewriter enthusiasts around the world to gather. Both Furrier and his wife mentioned the Typosphere - a popular site among fans of the machines, as a favored online gathering place.

    Over the years Cambridge Typewriters has also had its share of celebrity visitors, though according to the Furrier's you'd be hard-pressed to realize it.

    "We get famous writers in, but they never brag and usually you don't even know who they are until later," Furrier said.

    One visitor simply said they "liked to write," only for Furrier to later discover the visitor was none other than Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. Still, it's the everyday lovers of typewriters that the Furrier's most connect with, and that arrived in Belfast to share their passion with fellow enthusiasts.

    Furrier's Type-Out drew enthusiasts who had also made the journey from Massachusetts to Belfast solely for the event, including past customers of Cambridge Typewriter. While the event started with two tables displaying the typewriters the Furrier's brought to the event, it wasn't long before others began to arrive typewriters in hand.

    Eventually all three tables were filled with a mixture of the Furrier's collection and those that came from the suitcases brought along by participants. Around the tables people chattered excitedly about their shared passion, leaning over each machine to inspect its beauty.

    While there was no shortage of pristine, camera-ready typewriters, participants were invited to do more than just look. Furrier debuted 30 year old paper for people to use as they were invited to try out the machines of the hour, including one that came equipped with a green ink ribbon.

    The day overhead may have been dreary and overcast, but the wide smiles and laughter from the Furrier's Type Out was enough to warm the day.

    Erica Thoms can be reached at