Kevin Stumpf tell us about his commitment to collect and preserve mainframes and mini computers for 17 years- This is a great story and you will enjoy his adventure.
Dave has collected computers much, much longer than I in fact I no longer collect nor do I have a collection any more, but between 1984 and 2001 I either found or was given, and then trucked and stored around 60 tons of computers, spares, supplies, accessories, and documentation. A brief list with links to photos of them is below.
I grew up with the “big boys” and so even though I found all sorts of either discreet-logic or micro-based desktops and portables, I very much enjoyed mainframes and minis if for no other reason than “real computers have control panels.” Besides, they gave me an excuse to drive big trucks too.
During this time there was a sense of urgency. Many collectors, myself included, believed that mainframes and minis and rare (read: unpopular or unsuccessful in the marketplace) micros were being scrapped at an alarming rate so it was up to us to ensure these artifacts would be around for future generations to study and enjoy. Now I believe we were a little over-enthusiastic. You probably won’t find as many ModComp’s as PDP-8’s, but many, many gems are still out there. Perhaps my sense of urgency is off kilter again, but I am sure there is still an IBM System/370 Model 165 with my name on it out there somewhere
During the hay day some American collectors made odd comments about me due to my escapades up here in Ontario, Canada*. There was a rumour that I must be well-off to afford the expenses that were bound to accrue when handling such large items. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was a labour of love and I had the backing of my family so sacrifices were willingly endured, but I rarely ever paid for these systems. That is because I was providing a service by removing the systems in exchange for them. The owners either had to pay someone or let this odd fellow (me) do it for free – we’d de-install, remove false flooring, cabling, docs, tapes, disk packs, furniture, everything!
Even though money wasn’t needed to buy anything, there were always expenses and then storage costs. eBay came to the rescue! There was always something extra or something that no longer “fit” the collection so it was sold to other collectors. Then towards the end of my collecting years I wrote A Guide to Collecting Computers and Computer Collectibles: History, Technique, and Practice (http://kevinstumpf.com/A_Guide_1998.htm ) and sold just enough copies each month to pay the rent.
Another silly comment I heard was something along the lines that “it was good that Canada still used so many old systems.” Give me a break. While such a comment is technically inaccurate it seems to be, at the very least, statistically impossible. If the market in the USofA is 10 times larger than that of Canada there should still be a slew of old mainframes below the 49th still ticking away or being cloistered until written off; many more than the Canadian market could support. Remember that /165 with my name on it? It will pop up in the USofA, not Canada.
While none of my acquisitions were easy to find, I would say I was blessed with resourcefulness. Instinctively the search for mainframes started with leasing companies who then introduced me to precious metal re-claimers**. The idea was that since leasing companies were responsible to dispose of the hardware when leases expired, they were a natural source to find out what would be available and when. While continuing to work with those sources I also held monthly chats with third party maintenance companies because the mainframes I was after were no longer supported by the manufacturers. Just imagine…perhaps the size of the collection would have been 200 tons instead of 60 if I had lived in southern California instead of an hour west of Toronto, eh. Just joking.
It distressed me to no end seeing dust accumulate on the collection. There it sat tucked away in a “ware”house. There had to be a reason for me gathering and preserving all this stuff. That’s when the idea for the Commercial Computing Museum – COMMPUTERSEUM – popped up. If you are interested in that part of this saga please visit (http://kevinstumpf.com/Account_of_COMMPUTERSEUM.htm ). The point I hope to make here now is that collections, I believe, should be active, not passive. It is incumbent upon collectors to try to put their collections to good use. There are activities you can do on your own. What I mean is that you can use your collection to educate and inform without working with or through clubs or volunteer-run museums. Indeed VCFs, open houses like those run by MARCH, and tours offered by the good folks at RICM, Bug Book Microcomputer Museum, and the Personal Computing Museum are good in themselves, but they are not the only venue from which you can help others enjoy vintage computing technology.
My collection has been used to fill retail windows in downtown stores or fill empty storefronts in malls. You are hard-pressed to find a shop or mall owner who doesn’t need and want help dressing vacant windows and storefronts. Another venue is schools. We took a DG Nova to high school electronics classes and called the class the School of Retrocomputing. We once collaborated with another local collector and ran a fund raiser for a downtown shelter by tidying the “ware”house and opening the doors to the public. It was rewarding to see how surprised and pleased each person was. Young and old saw things they would otherwise never see let alone be that close to.
Why not use your collection as props? You can also use your collection as the theme or backdrop to performance art, social comment vignettes (http://kevinstumpf.com/BatteryBasedLifestyle.htm ). The collection was also used as a “draw” at tradeshows. Organizers of local, regional, and national tradeshows gave us “guest booths”. Amidst all such serious endeavours don’t forget the goofy uses like computer arts and crafts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhfFN0W6hjE&feature=youtu.be ).
One of the coolest stories I “collected” involved a sculpture and the control panel from an IBM System/360 Model 65. I once tried to sell the control panel from a /65 on eBay. A professor from a local university was combing eBay looking for such an artifact so he called to ask if he could come over to, essentially, make a blueprint of the panel because he is also a sculptor and he wanted to make a metal sculpture of the panel. How cool is that? He also mentioned he hoped to also make one of the /40 panel so I was able to introduce him to the fellow who had purchased my /40 panel. The final results can be seen hanging in an exhibit travelling around the world (http://cgdy.com/?page_id=5&id_slideshow=29). Who knew.
Dave thank you for this opportunity. Peace everyone.
*Kitchener, Ontario to be precise. Kitchener is a twin city to Waterloo. Waterloo is the hometown of RIM, now called Blackberry. To learn more about my hometown please watch a presentation called A grassRoots History of the Early Hi-Tech Community in KW that was recorded at the Personal Computer Museum (http://kevinstumpf.com/grassRoots_intro.htm ). The Blackberry was created in KW for a reason. I wager that at one time in the late 1960’s Kitchener-Waterloo had the highest Instructions/Second/Capita in the world!
**I was always impressed by how well these fellows knew their mainframe model numbers
Partial list of machines that were in the collection…
- DEC KL-10 (the one at Paul Allen’s Living Computer Museum)
- IBM 4361 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMIvmdLD5qg)
- UNISYS Model 20 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMIvmdLD5qg)
- DEC PDP-15
- IBM System/3 Model 12
- DG Nova (every model)
- DEC PDP-8 (every model except the Straight-8)
- DEC PDP-11 (every model except the 11/20)
- IBM System/23
- DEC DECSYSTEM-2060 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMIvmdLD5qg)
Most of an:
- Amdahl 580 (5885 dual processor – the I/O controller “wings” were 2.5m/8’ long and weighed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMIvmdLD5qg)
- IBM 4381 CPU (the tallest cabinet IBM ever made)
- Burroughs B-80
- DEC PDP-9
- IBM System/38
- IBM System/34 (which I grudgingly took because, you guessed it: no control panel!)
|David G Larsen|
|A start on the move to new location|
"by David Larsen" KK4WW Computer Collector Historian
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