Repairman's typewriter-repair service still thrives

Saturday, September 8, 2001

DUQUESNE, Mo. -- Forget about motherboards and mice: Bill Lyscio finds solace in the clack of a typewriter key.

With powerful computers and laser printers seemingly in everyone's home, Lyscio has a niche business that still thrives even today in the golden age of electronics: He owns Hobbs Typewriter Repair Service in Duquesne near Joplin.

"If it's fixable, and I've got the part, I'll do it," said Lyscio, who has serviced customers from as far away as California and Texas.

Fixing typewriters was not what Lyscio had in mind for a career.

Lyscio, a former accountant with a Parsons, Kan., firm, and his mother bought into the business in 1972. Seven years later, the mother and son team bought out owner Phil Hobbs. Lyscio's mother worked there until she died in 1996.

Bill Lyscio continues to run the shop.

"I've enjoyed working for myself," Lyscio said. "Basically, I've enjoyed the challenges."

Among the oldest machines Lyscio owns are a typewriter from 1870 that features two sets of letters -- one each for upper and lower case. Number keys were along the sides of the keyboard rather than across the top, and there were two space bars and a moveable carriage.

He also has an 1890 Hammond model that features a printing ball mechanism and was a forerunner of the IBM Selectrics of some 30 years ago.

The machine also was able to create many of the symbols used in complex math and science equations.

"It was state-of-the-art for its time," Lyscio said.

And they both still work.

Older clientele

Lyscio says much of his clientele include older people who don't want to learn how to use a computer. The same could be said for his 30-something customers.

"Some younger people do not want computers," Lyscio said. "They're not computer literate, but need to type. A lot of them say they don't even know how to turn a computer on."

If a part is not readily available, Lyscio's workshop is a treasure trove of old machines, most of which have been scavenged for parts.

"Lots of times, in an old typewriter, you can find the problem in a minute and it will take an hour to fix. With anything electric, it can take an hour to find the problem, but take minutes to fix," he said.

To survive among office supply warehouses and other big-box retailers, Lyscio expanded his business by selling typewriter ribbons and cartridges, time clocks, cash registers and calculators.

Lyscio has had his skeptics.

Twenty years ago, Lyscio said he tried to sell a time clock system to a Pittsburg, Kan., oil company. When he called back to see if the deal would be completed, the purchasing agent said that they would not buy from Hobbs.

"He told us that 'we want someone who was going to stay in the business', that we were too small," Lyscio said.

The oil company went out of the business five years later.

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