Something like ten years ago, I was perplexed by the piston mechanism inside a Sheaffer Balance Vacuum-Fil pen. Serendipitously, I came across a classified ad that sold parts for the Vac-Fil and that brought me in contact with Fr. Terry Koch. I received an unusual catalogue consisting of a number of different colored, 4x6 sheets of paper, each describing some part, supply or tool for various models of Sheaffer. As well, I received on a similar sized paper a series of hand made drawings, using different colors of ink, showing how the piston worked in the Vac-Fil.
In some scheme of the universe, I have to thank Father Terry for initiating me on the road to pen restoration. At about the same time, Roger came across a similar problem will a Vac-Fil and he also undertook the Sheaffer initiation lesson with Father Terry. The reason we did not share this information was not due to a lack of communication between us, but because we were not destined to meet each other for another five years.
To cut to the chase, in later October Roger and I drove down to Los Altos to have lunch with Father Terry and to have a conversation with him about, what else but pens. The Jesuit Order Novitiate and retirement facility is located at the top of a hill that is part of the grounds for the Mirassou Champagne Cellars. After lunch, we went back to his room to talk about his life with the Jesuit Order and his contribution to the world of pens.
Father Terry was born in Evenston, Illinois in 1929. His father worked for the Italian-American Lines and moved his family to the San Fernando Valley in 1936. The memories of this and other long road trips still resonate for Father Terry and one of his great pleasures is to drive over unfamiliar territory to some distant destination. Shortly after our day with Father Terry, he decided to take a trip across the country on highway 40 that links Sacramento to Ocean City, Maryland.
Along the way he also indulged in another one of his pleasures: contacting people on Ham radio. He belongs to a group that collect call signs. The purpose of this collection is to locate and contact call signs from every county in the US. Father Terry showed us the logbook of his collection and he is close to claiming the brass ring.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Orange County was a vast grove of citrus fruit trees with Los Angeles just beginning to loom as a distant metropolis. Father Terry grew up in this sylvan setting while a global conflict raged in the background. He graduated from Loyola High School and went on to seminary training, theological college and then ordained in the Society of Jesus in 1960. He went back to teach physics and math at Loyola for the next thirteen years.
In 1977, Father Terry moved north to the Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos and remained there for the next thirteen years as well. The Retreat served guests who came to stay for a short period of spiritual renewal and upon leaving for the worldly domain; they would inadvertently leave behind personal possessions of all kinds. While ballpoint pens were well on they way to capturing the writing market, a significant portion of the population still wrote with fountain pens.
During his spare time, Father Terry began to tinker with these lost pens at the Retreat. The Vac-Fil was one such project. Since parts were becoming scarce and his vow of poverty prevented him from sending such pens to the few repair services still available at the time, Father Terry began to make parts for his repair projects. Out of this humble beginning came the fabulous Father Terry parts and repair tools catalogue.
The current iteration of the catalogue consist of twenty packed pages and for Sheaffer lovers, it's a treasure trove of information and minutia. While the current catalogue uses standard 81/2 x 11 format, the different font sizes indicate that it was collated from the original catalogue of 4x6 individual pages. All the gaskets and rubber parts for various models of Sheaffer pens (as well as Eversharp and Conklin that use a similar filling system) can be catalogued on a single page. The remaining catalogue is a compendium of hand made tools for working on these pens.
Father Terry emphatically believes in the use of common and inexpensive tools for pen repairs. All it takes is a little adaptation of the tools that can be found in the dollar bin at the local hardware store. Furthermore, the ingenuity of the tool adaptation leads to an insight as to the design of the pen. Here is an example: A particularly irksome task is to clean out an old sac from the Sheaffer protector tube. Father Terry makes two tools; one for the Snorkel and the other for the non-Snorkel, from brass tubes with wood handles at one end and sharpened at the other. These items sell for the princely sum of $3.00.
Right below item HH is an illustration of two standard drills, one 7/32" and the other 17/64, both fitted with wood handles. Since these drills are readily available at local hardware stores, Father Terry does not sell these items, but provides this information for someone to easily make a tube cleaner. Along with hand drawn illustrations of the various tools are useful, hand drawn blow-ups of the various parts of the pen. If someone wants to know what the Vac-Fil packing unit looks like, there is an assembled view as well as an exploded one.
There is a wide assortment of useful tools in the catalogue. While the primary focus of these tools are on Sheaffer, many are useful for other writing instruments as well. A brief summary of these tools include a knock-out block, sac scraping and removing picks, pencil lead reamers, shellac, spanner-ended screw drivers, silicone grease, various knock-out and positioning rods, a Parker Duofold button puller, and a "J" bar insertion tool.
The catalogue is available from Father Terry with a SASE, addressed to Father Terence Koch, P.O. Box 128, Los Gatos, California 95031-0128. He can also be reached via email at Fatherterry@aol.com. Father Terry continues to repair pens and he can be contacted at the same addresses.
When Father Terry began to repair other people's pens, he began to shape his philosophy that any pen collector can choose to repair his own instruments. There is a profile on Father Terry written by Henry Gostony published in the 1991 January/February issue of Pen world. The article describes a meeting of the Southern California Pen Collector's Club meeting at the home of Harvey Raider that featured Father Terry and his Sheaffer repair techniques.
He provided a series of demonstrations on repairing various models of Sheaffer such as the piston gasket or the replacement of O-rings. Over the next decade, Father Terry would take his catalogue and his assortment of tools and parts to pen clubs meetings both in Southern and Northern California and pen shows around the country. His favorite pen show is still the one in L.A. where without fail he would have a table.
It was late in the afternoon when Roger and I took our leave. Father Terry's contribution of the world of fountain pens began with that first generation of folks who started the modern collection of pens. He was able to shepherd in a second generation and he is looking forward to helping a third one.
At 73, Father Terry remains hale and hardy, although
he has undergone treatment for a medial condition. He told us that he
has asked "man upstairs" for seven more years and while he has
not yet received an answer, there is no doubt in our minds that we will
find Father Terry at a table at the next Los Angeles Pen Show in February.
If you are going to this Show, be sure to stop by and have a chat with