Often when I walk around in my neighborhood or driving around throughout the country I wonder what people hides of weird projects, interesting hobbies or unique collections in their basements, barns or attics. I always love to meet people who have an interesting technical interest and learn about their passion.
Some time ago I got the opportunity to visit a place which sparked my interest. An elderly man living in the countryside that collected old radios – including a lot of other stuff, I later found out.
I wasn’t sure what to expect because old radios aren’t my main interest, but still I found it interesting to have a look at it and hear some good stories, and who knows, maybe stumble upon something interesting. I have been following the story about how Computer Reset reopened again to sell out everything and have been very fascinated by all the treasure hunts people have been going to find the most exotics and rare computers and equipment. Unfortunately it isn’t possible for me to go to Dallas, TX just to buy old computers. But I thought this could be my little treasure hunt for something I haven’t seen before.
Our appointment was just about to be cancelled because of bad weather with strong wind and snow so I was a little worried if it was possible to go to his place in the countryside and more important, if I was able to drive home again. When I finally arrived at his place he also shared his worries about the corona virus because of his bad health. So we agreed on keeping a safe distance and being extra careful.
THE ELECTRONICS WORKSHOP
When we entered his barn the first room we came into was a combined electronics workshop and storage room. It seemed like this was where his collection had first started. It was a nice and insulated room with his small electronics repair table in the corner. It looked like a time capsule of an old electronics repair shop from many years ago. All the walls were covered with small drawer racks filled with different kinds of electronics and mechanics components. The tables were filled with different kinds of measuring instruments like oscilloscopes, power supplies, meters, electronic devices and cables.
The rest of the room was organized as a storage space with tube radios, gramophone players, reel-to-reel tape recorders, old televisions and everything else. Ranging from crystal radios from the 1930’s to combined CD, radio and cassette stereos popular around the 90’s to modern DVD players. Well actually I think DVD players are almost obsolete nowadays and replaced by online streaming services. By organized I don’t mean sorted and organized on shelves or similar, well some of it was, but most of the devices were just stacked from floor to ceiling in big piles. In-between there was a small footpath between the different rooms. In one of the rooms it was simply impossible to see everything because it was just filled up from the back wall and five meters forward. The only way to get to the equipment in the back would be to remove everything in front of it!
Don’t get me wrong – the place was not a mess, dirty or disgusting at all. But there were just so many devices everywhere that I would drown in there and never get anything done because my head would get crammed up by frustrations about where and how to start organizing everything.
SAPRE PARTS ROOM
We left the nicely insulated rooms and went into the part that had originally been a place where the pigs lived (the place used to be a farm many decades ago). This part was used for storage of parts, components, doors, wood and about everything else. One drawer was full of old potentiometers another with turning knobs etc. At the far end of the room there was a steep staircase to the attic.
THE BARN ATTIC
I was overwhelmed by all the impressions I got from looking around when I got up in the attic. My best way of describing it is to compare it to a library with rows and rows of shelf systems. But instead of books and magazines organized by themes or name it was spare parts for old radios organized by type. One shelf with loudspeakers, another with cables, vacuum tubes (my estimate was that there were several thousands in the many boxes), mechanical devices, repair manuals etc. There were so many different things, and again more radios. I was amazed that all the things that were up here had come through that small steep staircase.
I was told that every radio that had been put here for storage had been tested and worked when it was left. However I’m afraid that a lot of the equipment has degraded over the years because of the changing temperature between winter and summer, the humidity in the air and just the fact that when old electronics equipment is left unused for decades it just starts to decay. Capacitors will dry out and leake, rubber bands will become brittle or crack, metal will rust, wood and plastic surfaces will mold. So it was a little sad to think about the destiny for all the things I saw up here. But still it was so fascinating to look around and discover new things when seen from a different angle.
HOW IT STARTED AND THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FUTURE
When we were back down in the workshop it was easy to see that he enjoyed the impression he could give visitors that experied his collection for the first time. He explained that he had started off by collecting Herofon (or Herophone as it was spelled on some of the first models) and then later Arena. But it was hard for him to let go of anything or even pass the opportunity when more were given to him. Because he thought it was so interesting to collect it and save their history.
He also explained that he suffered from poor memory and a health that was slowly deteriorating. To my happy surprise he had made up his mind about what would happen to his collections if he would come to a point where he could no longer take care of it. Instead of people with no knowledge about the value of the items would come and clean up everything and throw it out, he had made an agreement with a museum that can come and pick up what they want for their own collection.
To my surprise he also asked for my contact information and what was my main interest. Then maybe later this year when the corona virus has hopefully decreased its impact I should be welcome to come back and see if I could find something I wanted! I think he liked that a person like me, many years younger than him, could also recognize the value of old electronics with a historical impact.
On my way home I thought a lot about the visit, his collection and how it was organized. It was a great eye opener where I realized that I really need to keep focus in my own collection and what is the most important to me. I will certainly not end up in the same situation where my passion for classic computers and other historical electronics gadgets take over all my available space. I would rather have 10 unique interesting items in great conditions than a hundred different computers in various not working or incomplete states. I also need to have a heated place to store my equipment so it will not degrade over the years. I’m also searching for the best solution on how to organize my computers on shelves and glass display cabinets for the smaller items. Like many other computer collectors I have been looking for something similar to this chrome-plated steel lattice racks and for the smaller gadgets I’m going for some IKEA Detolf display cabinets.
Another lesson learned is that you can’t just collect computers, but instead you need to focus on a specific brand, time period, special kind of devices, in order to make it more manageable and limit the number of devices. I’ve tried to formulate and write down some guidelines for my own classic computer collection to specify what I find important.
Disclaimer: I was given permission by the owner to show these pictures but I promised him not to reveal any name, address or anything else about his place. If anyone is interested in his collection contact me and I will try to answer your questions.