Autumn and Garage Sale Find

We’ve finally moved into more typical autumn weather for Wisconsin. The heat and humidity were finally pushed out of the state and we’re going through more typical weather for this time of year. We still haven’t had a frost yet as of Oct. 6, but that will be coming soon. But even fall couldn’t arrive in a typical fashion. After a few days of crisp, cool weather with temps in the low 50s, the heat and humidity pushed back in for a day, with temps up in the mid-eighties with high humidity, triggering more rain and storms which we didn’t need at all. The Manitowoc County fairgrounds got hit by what was either straight line winds in excess of 75 mph or a weak tornado.

IMG_0037It may be October but there are a surprising number of flowering plants still bopping along as if it were still summer. I’m still seeing a huge number of bees, both native bees and honey bees. That’s kind of unusual for this time of year, but as long as the temperatures are still warm enough for them to be active and there are still food sources out there, they’ll be around.

I found this thing sitting in the basement the other day and had no idea where it came from.


I learned that eldest son found it at a garage sale for $5 one day and picked it up and, of course, it ended up in my basement. Well, I’m claiming this one for my own because I’m fond of old Hallicrafters equipment. I have two restored Hallicrafters short-wave receivers from the 1940s-1950s era and I love the things. This one looks like it’s in good enough shape cosmetically that it might be worth restoring. I haven’t done any research on this model yet, but judging from the way it looks I’d say it’s from the late 50s or early to mid sixties.

Once upon a time you couldn’t give away old tube radios. Thousands upon thousands of them ended up going to the landfill because no one wanted them. Now they’re turning into collectors items. Sort of. Prices on these things are all over the place depending on the brand, model and age.

There are issues with restoring old radios like these. Some of them pretty serious and if you don’t know what you’re doing, they could even be life threatening because of the dangers of electric shock. Depending on the radio and the design, some of these things had potentially lethal voltages floating around inside of them. So if you don’t know much about how these things were made and the potential dangers, don’t go fiddling around inside of them without educating yourself first.

The other issue is you can’t just plug these things in and turn them on if they haven’t been used in a long time. When it comes to these old radios, there is no such thing as “mint” condition except when it comes to the external appearance. You will always need to replace components inside with modern equivalents. Capacitors are the biggest issue with these. Those old caps will fail. There is simply no doubt about it. Usually the first thing you do with one of these is go through it and replace all of the capacitors right off the bat.

Another issue is finding things that can’t be easily replaced with modern equivalents, like vacuum tubes. Under normal operation vacuum tubes are amazingly long lasting. I know guys running old amplifiers, receivers and transmitters that are from the 1940s and 50s and are still running the original tubes. But they do fail sometimes, and finding replacements is a problem because they haven’t been made in decades. If you have an old tube radio, chances are good the tubes will still work unless the radio was abused or had some kind of electrical failure. But if you have a bad one, finding a replacement tube could be a problem.

Anyway, when I get some time I’ll open this one up and see what it looks like inside. It might be a good candidate for restoring.

Computer Memories

I ran into this little item in a nostalgia piece in a UK magazine called Gadget, and it brought back a lot of memories. I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years, some better than others, and one of them involved trying to sell these things–


I’ve been involved with the personal computer industry in one way or another since 1979, and in 1983/1984 while I was back in college studying business, computer science and electronics, I was also working a part time job for a business supply company that sold, among other things, this — this thing.

Epson’s claim to fame was making relatively inexpensive, relatively well made, dot matrix printers. Not computers. And when the company decided to move into the lucrative personal computer market, things didn’t go all that well for them, largely due to things like this, and the famous, (or infamous if you had to try to sell the damned things) QX-10 computer.

The HX-20 was, to put it bluntly, utterly useless. The 4 line, 20 character long display was was too small for any kind of serious work. And while the built in thermal printer was a nice feature, well, it doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have any software that actually does something useful, and the HX-20 had pretty much no software support at all. As the blurb above points out, the rechargeable battery usually didn’t. Recharge, I mean. And it certainly didn’t last 50 hours, especially if you used the printer or the tape.

The Epson factory rep took me out to dinner and dumped one of these things on me in the hopes I’d help him get my boss to buy them. I fiddled with it for an hour, the battery went dead, the printer only worked when it felt like it, and the tape deck immediately ate the one cassette tape I tried using. With the wonky battery, the dodgy tape deck, the ridiculously tiny display, and total lack of any kind of useful software, I refused to have anything to do with it.

Somehow he managed to talk our boss into ordering a dozen of the damned things, and now it was my job to try to sell them.

Meanwhile Radio Shack was coming out with the TRS-80 Model 100, which was the same size, had a 40 character by 10 line display that was actually useful, all kinds of goodies like a built in modem, built in bar code reader, real standardized I/O ports for RS-232, a ROM port for speciality software, and, better still, you could buy actual, real and useful software for it. And it cost less.

The things are probably still sitting in a box in storage somewhere. We certainly never sold any. They’re probably with the dozen or so QX-10 computers he was talked into stocking that we never sold, either.