Stiff keys moved toward the carriage like an old man lifting his arthritic knees up a flight of stairs. They rose once, twice and, with effort, three times. A weathered and worn ribbon, now more leather than cloth, slowly began to cough up faint traces of ink with each succeeding stroke. And with each erratic clack, Ray Bergman’s 1912 Travel Corona, Model 3 typewriter woke reluctantly from a forty-year slumber.
The old typewriter came to me by way of my college roommate, Scott Wagner. He stumbled upon it while cleaning out his parent’s closet a few months ago. Scott remembered that it was a special typewriter passed down to his mother from her mother, Isabelle Bergman Ritchings. Scott’s grandmother was Ray Bergman’s sister. Ray Bergman being one of America’s most revered outdoor writers, the author of Trout (the consummate bible of trout fishing) and the first editor of Outdoor Life magazine.
I vaguely recalled Scott telling me about Mr. Bergman when we hitch-hiked to Colorado back in 1974. I guess the subject came up when I had insisted on carrying a fishing rod all the way across the country and he thought it was a bit of superfluous nonsense. Although, he was pleased enough when I caught a nice fat trout somewhere in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park and cooked it for dinner. That trout beat a week of eating dried fruit, nuts and weak porridge. (The porridge, I might add, that had acquired a taste of ground squirrel after having to fish one of the ubiquitous and overly curious creatures out of a boiling pot one day.) It’s funny how fishermen can remember certain fish, and I remember that trout. I remember it because of the lure I used. It would seem unthinkable to any serious fisherman, but I was only 21, and our trip was such a spur-of-the-moment decision that I remembered to take the rod but neglected to throw in any lures or flies. We were a good eight miles into the backcountry and eight thousand feet up in the Rockies when the oversight was discovered—as I assembled my rod on the edge of some stream (St. Vrain, I think).
Fortunately, I did have one Eagle Claw hook and one can of Coors. So in the best tradition of any serious trout fisherman, such as Ray Bergman, I improvised and overcame. The beer cans were the old detachable pop-top kind. I popped one, and—applying my years of forestry and wildlife management studies—I drank the beer, and tied my first lure: a silver pop-top with a trailing Eagle Claw hook, loosely wrapped with black and red thread cut from my wool shirt. One cast and a rainbow hit, leaping a foot out of the water. I was so shocked that I missed the fish completely.
Scott offered me the typewriter, thinking that I might make use of it for writing some fishing stories. I’d written a couple of stories and, just like that trout, dumb luck had struck and they got published. Let’s be clear—I am no Ray Bergman. I am beginning to think Scott gave me the machine as a subtle form of retribution for having taken him on a couple of fishing trips where it either rained constantly, snowed, or verged on some other catastrophic event—like the tornado we walked into somewhere in Kansas, forcing us to prostrate ourselves in a muddy ditch for hours.
I don’t quite know what to do with the thing. It still works though. My typing skills are about as dusty as the old keyboard. It’s like being presented with a slide rule thirty years after the invention of the calculator. It sits there in silence, looking at me like a wet puppy. So I set the old machine up on my desk and pecked away on the stiff and cranky old keys. “All good men must come to the aid of their country.” “The fox jumped over the henhouse.” The Corona proved to be alive, although it tended to be unforgiving to those have succumbed to spell check. Do they still sell White Out?
I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Bergman, with his wife Gracie, sat at night in their cabin, by the banks of the Umpqua, with this typewriter after a day chasing steelhead. Or was it with them at camp, along the East Branch of the Ausable?
Fishermen, as a rule, are a friendly fraternity, mostly willing to share their expertise, except for revealing their special spots. It is the art of fishing that draws me as much as the sport and the camaraderie. If I were to have the honor to impart my words to others it would be on “why we fish” and “who we are.” It would be to encourage the husbandry of the resource, of pursuing clear waters, and instilling a conservation mindset to young and new anglers. On the acknowledgment page of Bergman’s book Trout, he writes, “When I am gone, when all who now read these pages have passed beyond, I hope Trout will continue to live, perhaps to instill in future generations a love and understanding of angling.”
He has succeeded with me, and perhaps the old typewriter, as inspiration, will allow me to continue to pass on the word, one fisherman at a time, into tomorrow.
Bil Monan lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and works at the University of Maryland.