Adam Bradley: Rescuing and Restoring a 1964 IBM System/360 Mainframe
Adam Bradley, engineer by day, computer historian by night, tells us of his adventure buying an IBM 360 from German eBay and bringing it back to the U.K. for restoration.
Adam Bradley, Engineer and Computer Historian
- Adam’s love for the IBM 360 computer: it’s the one NASA used, and it’s very recognizable (shown in Mad Men)
- How did they find the IBM 360 they’re restoring? Drunk German eBaying
- They discover they actually bought a whole room of equipment
- But wait! There’s even more equipment they can have!
- Getting everything back to the UK was a challenge, Brexit made it more difficult
- Sunspeed (IT relocation specialists) to the rescue!
- Crowdfunding to cover the costs
- How convenient Adam knows a friend who rents a building at Creslow Park with a Cold War high-security data center room (where the computers now live)
- The goal is to get the IBM 360 fully functional, just like when it was new
- They need volunteers with specific skills to help with the repair and restoration
- IBM 360 Model 20 Rescue and Restoration Blog
As you listen to the podcast, follow along with pictures on their blog!
- The project’s Amazon Wish List
- National Museum of Computing (UK)
- Creslow Park
Former high-security communications site for MI6, new home for the computers
- Bletchley Park
Codebreaking during WW2
- Colussus computer
First programmable digital electronic computer
- Adam Bradley’s website
IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to The TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic. My guest today is Adam Bradley. Adam is a multi-talented engineer who has been involved in the computer history field for over a decade at The National Museum of Computing, which is located at the English Country house of Bletchley Park.
Now, Bletchley Park may sound familiar to you, because it’s the estate that became the principal center of allied code breaking during the second World War. It’s the home of the Codebreakers, ten thousand men and women of a professor type that worked in the wider organization, the most famous of whom that you’ve probably heard of is Alan Turing. It’s where Colossus was developed, the world’s first programmable digital electronic computer that was used to help in decryption.
Adam wears many hats, but he’s primarily a railway engineer day to day. And when he’s not playing with trains or computers, he’s probably to be found designing and building something vehicle related. I’m really excited to be speaking with Adam about the rescue project that he and two other colleagues are working on, and actually a bigger team of people quite honestly.
They’re rescuing an IBM System/360 Model 20 Mainframe from the early 1960s, a journey that started by having to transport it across Europe to England before Brexit was final and hopefully get it to work again. Let’s find out more together.
Hello Adam. Welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you joining me on the podcast.
ADAM BRADLEY: Hi Ivan. It’s a pleasure to be here.
IVAN: Let’s start by finding out where you’re joining us from today, and what’s [laughing] the weather like.
ADAM: I’ll be joining you from sunny Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom, about 10 miles from Bletchley Park.
IVAN: Ten miles. In what direction is that from Bletchley Park?
ADAM: I am south of Bletchley Park.
IVAN: So, you’re closer to London than you are to Bletchley?
IVAN: Okay. Wonderful. And you said it’s sunny there today?
ADAM: Yeah, sunny and clear skies for a change here in old Blighty.
IVAN: Oh my, well that’s great. Well, as I said in the intro you’re rescuing an old IBM mainframe. What’s so special about an old computer from 1964?
ADAM: So, the IBM System/360 is probably one of the most recognizable computer systems ever brought to market. If you’ve ever seen the show Mad Men, the featured computer in Mad Men is the IBM 360. It came in red or blue, it’s got this big reel to reel tape drives, the big disk drives, the huge control panels everyone loves to see, and everyone understands what 360 is when you show them that.
But also, they were the first family of computers designed to cover a complete range of applications in both commercial and scientific from a small scale to a large scale. NASA used an IBM 360 in a lot of its space exploration programs. They were the leading computer of the sixties. They were really quite an important turning point in computer history.
IVAN: And they lasted for how long? What was their longevity?
ADAM: So, I believe, well, in fact I know, that some System/360 software is still running today on the modern systems at mainframes, and certainly people do still use a lot of the same architecture in software. But they still manufactured them in 1964, and I’m not entirely sure when the last one was actually built. I want to say 1971.
IVAN: And I know about the AS400 and is it the AS390? Is this the predecessor to that or was there a whole bunch of stuff in between?
ADAM: Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of stuff in between. There’s different architecture, but yes. When System/360, 370, 308X, 3090, then I think you had System/390 Z series mainframe, red nines and tens, and then you go through all that locally.
IVAN: I-series as well.
ADAM: And of course, we started out with the 1400s. So, it’s been a progressive history of IBM mainframes, and as I say, the mainframe department is still manufacturing Z series machines today.
IVAN: Incredible. What was so interesting and special about this particular piece of hardware that you’re rescuing?
ADAM: So, the thing with IBM 360 is, I’ve had a passion for them for so long because they’re so iconic, but you don’t often find one. Museums have them, there’s a few in private hands, obviously most of them are very, very large, and take a lot of power. And I theorized never thought I’d come across one. I thought they would’ve been hoovered up by collectors. And then when we stumbled across ours, we thought, Wow, that’s quite something special. So, the total story behind it is certainly interesting, and I hope to go into it [laughing] a bit with you later.
IVAN: Yeah, it involves some sort of drunk eBaying, I believe. How did you come across this piece of hardware?
ADAM: So, it was a friend of mine’s birthday, and we were meeting at a pub in Leighton Bedford for his birthday drinks, on a Monday evening as one does, and there was an Irish country folk band playing in the back to nobody but us. And my business partner at the time had just moved house, it’s the local area, and I said to him, “Oh, why don’t you come for a drink and join us?” So, he came along. And, I’ve known Chris Blackburn for over 10 years, probably about 12 years now, and he was a volunteer at the Museum of Computing with me for quite a long time, and we now work together and have done for quite a few years. And we’re sitting down having a few drinks as you do in the evening, it was getting on a bit toward 9 PM, and Chris turned to me and handed me his phone. I looked at it and he’s on German eBay.
Now neither Chris nor I speak German, so I’m not quite sure he was on German eBay, but you know, as one does. And he shows me this listing, and the listing has a very interesting title because I would say it’s in German, but it doesn’t really describe the machine. The listing said, I’m going to mispronounce this, I’m going to butcher the German language, so I’m very sorry. Seltene Anlage Puma Computer, IBM 2020 which translates from German into rare plant Puma Computer IBM 2020.
IVAN: [laughing] Puma Computer. What’s a Puma Computer? What is that?
ADAM: And there’s a handful of photos. There’s one of two reel to reel tape drives and a model I’ve never actually seen before. There’s a cabinet full of disk packs. There’s an IBM card punch. There’s a picture of the 360 logo, a picture of some manuals open, a picture of a card reader, a disk drive and some punch cards. I’m like, Okay, this looks like it could be an IBM 360. And the description translates to, Dear Sirs and Madams: We offer you a relatively rare plant Puma Computer, IBM 2020, probably from the 1980s in red with accessories. Shelf with rollers on, individual parts identified by the numbers System/360, Island 29, 3504 and a whole other list of parts. Since this system has been in an old house for some time, we know not if it is complete. Whether all parts are there is not known to us as an executing company on behalf of the homeowner. Items are in worst condition and possibly corroded.
This is my favorite part. The dimensions are different. Maximum height 1.7 meters approximately. In total 6 parts in a dimension of approximately 1x1 meter, depth approximately 6 cms. Condition for delivery. Collection in Nuremberg at ground level within 14 days. Good Luck and fun bidding. And then on the 8th of the 4th 19 the seller added the following information: A Mercedes Benz sprinter full. Now I don’t know if you guys have Mercedes Benz sprinters in the US, but they’re kind of a large van.
IVAN: I think that they would be the equivalent of what we have in the United States that Amazon uses to deliver for Amazon Prime. They’re like this van that’s about, maybe 10 meters long, right? Maybe not that long.
ADAM: I’d say it’s longer than that. Probably equivalent to something like, is it called a Chevy Astro van? Something like that?
IVAN: Something like that, yes. It’s got all the windows kind of blacked out and there’s just this big vertical space right?
ADAM: Yeah, without the windows. Yeah, but they’re certainly not huge, and the weight restrictions are quite limited on them in the United Kingdom certainly, because the total vehicle weight can’t exceed 3½ tons.
ADAM: Including everything in it. So, we’re thinking, Okay, that seems a bit weird. But, anyway, so on the bidding when we looked at it was a few hundred Euros. We were like, Well, we may as well have a bid. So, we put €500 on the auction and carried on with our evening, and whatever else. And the next day he got up for work and went in the office, and of course Chris and I sit next to each other at work, so we opened up the eBay auction and watched the bidding. And towards the end the bidding was about to climb, and I bid a few times more, and I thought, What are we actually going to pay for this? So, I thought, Why not? Entered a number and hit return and waited and the auction, the hammer fell on €3,710.
IVAN: Wow. About $5,000 worth.
ADAM: Yeah. So, we were now the proud owners of an IBM 360, or so we thought. [laughing] I sent an email to the auction house and waited to hear back, and about 24 hours later I got an email back saying, Yes, thank you. Let us know when you’d like to collect. I thought, Right, okay. Well they’ve given us a description of what it is. It’s ground level, it should be fairly easy. All of the IBM equipment of our era fits through a standard size door, so that should be fine. It’s all on wheels, yeah, this is going to be fine. And it’s probably in storage in a barn I thought.
IVAN: And you said it was a residential home earlier right? So, no red flag so far.
ADAM: Yeah, I figured it was going to be somewhere in the countryside. Of course, I get the address, when I look at it, and it’s in downtown Nuremberg. I’m thinking, Who would store an IBM 360 mainframe in downtown Nuremberg, where probably prices are not cheap? I thought that’s odd. And I looked at the street view and down the street there’s these sort of apartment blocks, and then there’s this abandoned building, it’s all sort of closed up on the side that looks like it was built quite a long time ago. I think, I wonder if it’s in there. Anyway, I went online, and I was trying to find a truck with a tail lift, cause some of this stuff is quite heavy I’m not about to lift it into the truck. A person still weight 600 kilos.
IVAN: That’s a lot.
ADAM: So, we were like, Yeah, we’re okay. So, I went online, and I found the Sixt Rental Car will guarantee you a van with a tail lift. So, I thought wonderful. So, I booked that online. We booked our hotels; we booked our flights. Our plan was, I was going to fly out the first day, go and meet the auction house contact, and the next day Chris Blackburn and his father John were going to fly out, meet us there, and we were going to do the move. We were going to get everything out of the building, put it on the truck, go rent some storage in Nuremberg, stick it there, and then sort out getting it back to the U.K. Because they made it very clear they wanted the whole thing cleared out within 14 days, because the building was due to be demolished.
IVAN: I see.
ADAM: Right. Okay.
IVAN: That sounds like a reasonable plan.
ADAM: Yeah. So, I fly up there, I land in Nuremberg, it’s a beautiful, very hot day. I go and check into the hotel and whatever else. The next morning, I get up, and I get in my rental car and drive over to this building. I park, I’m a bit early, 20 minutes early, and I wander down and there’s a glass, like glazier shop next door that make glass window panes and that sort of thing. So, there were panes of glass everywhere, and there’s a bloke pulls up on a Harley Davidson. He gets off the bike and walks into the glazier, so I thought okay. And then in an allotted time he walked out, and he looked at me and he said, “are you Adam Bradley?” I said, “yes, I am.” He said, “oh, my name is Günter. I’m here to show you the IBM.” I said, “Okay, wonderful.”
And he spoke fantastic English I must add. If it hadn’t been for Günter this entire experience would’ve been much more difficult. [laughing] He was our translator, photographer, everything else. So, he drives to the building and at the front there’s a door and it has a single step, but this door is closed up by a wooden shutter and clearly hasn’t been used in a very long time. So, he says, “there is a problem. So, I said, “Well, what’s the problem?” He takes me around the side and shows me the door that does open, which has three very large steps amounting to about 1½ meters high.
IVAN: Ooh. Wow.
ADAM: Now as I say, this thing weighs multiple hundreds of kilos, and if you could build a very long ramp out over the steps it wouldn’t be so bad, but this alley way it was down was maybe 2½ meters wide, 3 meters wide, so it would be a very steep ramp if you were to build one, which would be very uncontrollable. I thought, Alright, that’s not great. And he said, “No, that’s not the problem.”
IVAN: [laughing] What’s the problem?
ADAM: So, we open the door, and somebody has installed a heavy duty water pipe behind the door, so the door only opens about 15 inches. So, you have to sort of sidle into this room. I’m like, Okay, this has just gotten very interesting. So, we get into the building and there’s a false floor in it, which had actually at some point been used as some form of lashed out computer center. But over time the false floor had gotten damp and was like sagging in, so one of the machine wheels was sunken into the false floor. Oh higgily, diggily, some of the floor tiles would give way under foot and this kind of thing.
I look around and I think, This is not a single IBM 360, there’s more here. So, I wander down, and I find the main 360 processor, a printer, two disk drives, a multifunction card machine, 29 card punch and 2 acetate drives which is all on the listing. I also found a console desk which I’ve never seen before. And as I walk down to the end I see another IBM 360 [laughing] in blue with the cables wrapped around it, and a large printer and opposite that an IBM 370. So, I turn around to Günter and say, “So, what’s ours?” He says, “well everything in the room.”
IVAN: Wow. Everything.
ADAM: He said, “you have bought the contents of this room. I just need it gone.” I’m like right, okay.
IVAN: Wow. Jackpot.
ADAM: Yeah, except how do I now get it out of this building? [laughing] So, to set the scene even more, it’s in the back streets of Nuremberg, which were built a very long time ago, and it’s all cobble streets as well. So, it’s not a flat tarmac surface and a wide road that you could park a truck in and easily load things with. If you park a truck in this street you’re blocking the street. We also can’t get a lorry down there because it’s too tight and everything’s on a grid system in this part of Nuremberg, but the grid systems, the way they park their cars, you want to turn around the corner you can’t see what’s coming. It’s very old European city. It’s beautiful. I thoroughly recommend visiting Nuremberg, but for these purposes it was certainly a challenge.
So, I discussed how difficult it would be to close a road in Germany and the answer is apparently very difficult, unlike in the U.K. where you can just apply to the council. So, we started thinking about it and I cancelled my truck. I thought, There’s no way I’m going to get this out of the building. So, I said to Günter, “I’m going to have to go and think about this. I will come back tomorrow with Chris and John and get their thoughts on the matter.” So, I went away, and Chris and John flew in that evening, I met with them, we had a few beers as you do in Germany, had a bit of food. The next morning got up and took them to the building to show them the problem and obviously excitement upon seeing the incredible machine that we bought because this thing was beautiful.
We realized there were two things here. One, it was still cabled in, so all the cables still ran under the floor and they hadn’t been moved in probably 40 years. I asked Günter when the last time somebody sort of opened this building up was, and he thought it was the early 80s.
IVAN: My goodness.
ADAM: So, I thought, okay. I said to Günter, “The only way we’re going to get this out of the building is by that front door, which had a small step, maybe 12 inches.” I said, “We’re going to have to build a ramp and we’re going to have to take it out the front door. Do you have the key to the front door?” He said, “no. No one’s opened that door since as far as we know, 1975.
IVAN: Oh, my goodness.
ADAM: So, I thought right. okay. “Can I cut the door out of the frame?” He said, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” I said okay. So, I took some photos, bits of documentation, did some measuring, estimated weights and so on and so forth, and we went on our merry way.
I spoke to Günter the next day and he said, “I’ve spoken to the owner of the auction house” and he said,” Yes you can do whatever you need to do to get out the building so long as the building is secure at the end of it.”
IVAN: And so, you have to get all of that equipment out of the building because the building’s going to be demolished, and that’s a hard date, you have to get things out of there by.
ADAM: Well, this is what we’re told, but this flexes a bit in the future and basically what I can establish is they wanted the building cleared out, because whoever had been resident there hadn’t paid rent in a very long time. And we’re talking 15 years’ time.
IVAN: Oh, my goodness. Geez.
ADAM: And they just ignored it, because there’s this old building from the 1800s, and it’s not really worth anything apart for its real estate, but it was quite steadily built and everything else. And eventually the owner had turned around and said, “look, we need this cleared out now.” And they’d gone in thinking it was an empty building and it wasn’t. I’ll get on to what else they found in the building in a minute. So, yeah, we had to clear this building out, we had a 14 day window to do it. So, I said, “Right. Okay.”
So, we went back to the U.K. and the next weekend was a bank holiday weekend. It was I think a weekend where both the Monday and the Friday were bank holidays so it’s a four day weekend for us.
IVAN: And this is about a year ago, right? This is April, May of 2019?
ADAM: Yeah. This is pretty much a year ago weekend before last I think. Yeah. God it doesn’t seem like that long ago to be honest with you. [laughing]. So, I thought right. I’m a big metal guy. I like metal working, I like cars. I’m not a big woodworking guy. So, I took it out and I bought a few tools. I went out and bought a circular saw, a jigsaw, reciprocal saw, you know, all this stuff, and I hired a van. Now, at the time I was 24, I’m now 25. Hiring a van in the U.K. that kind of age is very difficult. There’s a lot of risk involved for the companies, and it’s very expensive. And when I said I need it for the bank holiday weekend and I want to go to Europe in it, I got an awful lot of, “No, that’s not happening. Sorry.”
Now to make this more complicated, Chris could’ve rented the van, because he’s in his thirties, however he has some meetings in London the day we were supposed to come back, so he wouldn’t have been able to drive the van back. So, it became quite a complicated scenario in trying to figure out how to do this. And I ended up just phoning around all these different van high companies. I’m driving around to just seeing them, see if they could help me, and I find out eventually Hertz Rental Car, while they are in the U.K. they’re not like a massive presence here. Even Europe Car who are the European hire company wouldn’t rent me a van to go to Europe.
IVAN: My goodness. [laughing]
ADAM: So, I went to Hertz and they said, “Yeah, no problem at all,” and they gave me a price, and they said they’ve give me the required vehicle in hire form which basically says you haven’t stolen the vehicle when you go across the border.
IVAN: Good thing.
ADAM: Yeah. So, I said, “yep, wonderful.” Got the van, went and paid them, I think it was about £700 and something, picked up this Mercedes Vito and started driving to Germany effectively. We loaded up all the tools, got in the Eurotunnel and drove over there.
Now, when we were in Germany last time we stopped and grabbed some master gloves from a hardware store out there, and the hardware store was called Bauhaus. Now in the U.K. we have a few major hardware store chains. We have Wicks, Screw Fix, Home Basin, B&Q. None of them quite rival Bauhaus.
ADAM: I’ve never been in a shop quite like it. They sold everything, and I mean it was a credit to Germany because everything had a list of the Euro norms it met underneath it’s price tag.
IVAN: Oh, excellent.
ADAM: This mask meets EN-15 and details of the Euro norms, and they’d even printed the Euro norms in the store for you to go and check.
ADAM: It was so quintessentially German. It was fantastic. It was exactly what you’d expect from that kind of place.
IVAN: Of course, it is.
ADAM: Yeah. So, we decided to stop at Bauhaus to pick up the wood because we didn’t want to put the wood in in the U.K. and drive all the way there. So, we decided to go and buy it in Germany. So, we stopped at one, I think it was near Stuttgart. And this Bauhaus was so big you could drive the van into the store.
IVAN: Whoa! Wow!
ADAM: You could drive around all the aisles of wood to pick up the wood and put it in your van and then at the end you can open your van, they just scan it in the van. [laughing]
IVAN: That’s great. That’s so great.
ADAM: Exactly. So, we’re going around and finding wood and pick some pretty chunky wood to use for this ramp, obviously for the weight it’s going to carry, and I had to get the wood cut because it was too long to fit in the van. What that entailed was about a 35-minute conversation between a German chap who worked for Bauhaus and myself, with me trying to explain I wanted the wood cut, and him not speaking a word of English.
IVAN: Oh, my goodness.
ADAM: And me not speaking a word of German. [laughing]
IVAN: And there’s no Günter around because Günter’s in Nuremberg.
ADAM: In Nuremberg. So, we had this very comical conversation which ended with me carrying the wood to a saw and drawing a line on it and letting him understand that you’re going right, okay, yes fine. Would you cut some wood for me?
So, we then went and paid for the wood which was a few hundred Euros, and then we drove the rest of the way to Nuremberg. We booked an Airbnb for the evening which was in the attic of a house in the suburbs of Nuremberg. Nuremberg has a fantastic transport system with trams and subways, so we headed into Nuremberg Town Center for some dinner. On our previous visit we found a restaurant called Restaurant Oberkrainer which is on one of the central squares in Nuremberg, and I mean I’m a huge fan of German food and German beer. I love a wienerschnitzel.
IVAN: Oh my gosh, I love wienerschnitzel. They’re so great.
ADAM: Oh, it’s the best thing ever.
IVAN: The best, yes.
ADAM: And spaetzle which is cheesy German noodles. It’s fantastic. So, we went there again. It got to the point at the end of all this where when we’d walk in they’d just look at us and go, “Oh, it’s those two English guys again,” and just seat up, hand us schnitzel. It didn’t even require a menu anymore. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] That’s great.
ADAM: It was very funny. So, we hit it there, had some dinner, had a few beers. We were pretty tired from the drive, and we went to bed.
The next morning, we got up very early and headed to meet Günter at the building. So, we get there and think, right, the first thing we’re going to do is build a ramp or cut the door out of the frame and then build a ramp. So, this door’s obviously been in place for a very long time and it was made of solid wood. So, I first thought, Well, okay, I’ll just cut around the locks with a vibrating saw. Well that didn’t work, I broke the blade.
So, then I thought, Okay why don’t I just use the crowbar and leave the door open. Yeah, that didn’t really work either. So, I ended up cutting down the side of the hinges with a circular saw and it was a bit dodgy, then using the reciprocal saw to go around the hinges and pull the door out. So that was the first step, that was job done.
We did jump up and down the ramp to test its strength so that was fine, so we then cut the boards for the door and boarded the building back up. We then headed outside and thought, Well, what do we do now. We’ve got a bit of time left. We thought, Let’s start uncabling the machine. Because obviously these cables have been set here for quite a long time. We need to check that we can actually get this machine moved out of here quickly when we actually come to it.
So, we went to look at all these cables and what I didn’t know and what I since learned is the IBM 360 Model 20 cables are actually hardwired into the backplate of the processor. So it’s not a case of two connectors on both ends, it’s a case of a connector on one end and the other end is hardwired into the machine. It comes out of the bottom, which means there’s not a whole lot of clearance between the bottom of the machine and the floor, and the cables wedged underneath the middle of it, which makes moving them a real challenge.
IVAN: Yeah. And how long are the cables?
ADAM: Oh, you can actually specify your own length according to the manual. But ours are I’d say maximum length is probably 10 meters.
IVAN: Wow. So, 30 feet of cable. That’s a lot of cable in addition to the machine itself, that you can’t separate.
ADAM: Yeah so you have to wrap the cable on top of the machine, and it comes in quite a bundle. If you look at our website there are some photographs of the cabling on top of the machines. It’s significant. And to make it worse, these cables have been under the floor for so long they were like spaghetti. It was absolutely rock hard.
IVAN: Oh man.
ADAM: So, we knew it was going to be a challenge. And to make it worse, all these connectors were aluminum, and they’d all seized, so we had to use a releasing agent, to go between the connector housings to get them apart. So, I unhooked all these connectors and tagged the cables where they’d come from with identifying tags, took lots of photographs so I could put them back together again in the end. We then thought, Well, there’s not much more we can do here.
So, we started picking up the things we knew we could take with us in the van, which is things like the manual packs and the punch cards we found lying around, that sort of thing. Loaded the van up and thought, Right, that’ll have to do.
So, we went out for a beer that night with Günter and also a woman called Olga at the Auction House. Now Olga had been the first person that I’d talked to. And Olga is she’s a Russian who lives in Nuremberg and speaks German, but also speaks English. So, she came out to dinner with us, to of course, Restaurant Oberkrainer, and we had a very pleasant meal. The next day Chris had to get up very early, around 4 AM to catch a tram to go to the airport so he could catch his flight to London City Airport for a meeting that day, and I jumped in the van intending to drive back to the U.K. Then I remembered the day before when we were packing up, we had been really tired and we had a tight schedule for time, so we were just throwing everything into the van. So, I thought, I should probably reorganize that before I do 400 miles of Autobahn and followed by 400 miles of Europe.
IVAN: Didn’t you say you were going to put it in storage before you got it out of the building? But at this point you think you’re driving it back?
ADAM: No. No. At this point the machine’s still in the building. I’m driving the van back with all the utilities and tools we’d taken to build the ramp and the door.
IVAN: Of course. You haven’t taken the machine out yet. The processor is still in there. Got it.
ADAM: The machine’s still in there, yeah. So, I’m on this very quaint German street in suburbs of Nuremberg, unloading this entire Mercedes British Mercedes van which is full of tools and wood, and sawing wood in half in the middle of the street to try and fit it all back into the van, with very bemused German people walking past me looking at me as this crazy man in the street sawing his wood. So, I put it all back in the van, drove back to the U.K, got it unloaded, got the van returned.
So the next step was to actually go and move the machine, so I contacted a few of my friends to see if they could come and give us a hand to move this thing, because I knew it was going to be very challenging. And unfortunately most of them were very busy at the time and unable to come help in such short notice because we’d be going the following week.
So, Chris and I booked some time off, and luckily a couple of my friends, or one friend in particular, Lawrence Wilkinson, who is an IBM expert, he’s originally from New Zealand but now lives in Switzerland, and his friend Jan Jaeger, came up from Switzerland to meet us in Nuremberg and give us a hand and have a look at the machine.
So, they came up, we all met back in Nuremberg, Chris, myself, Günter, Lawrence and Jan and started unloading the machines. So, we parked the van with the tail lift, oh, I need to tell the story of collecting the van, I always forget this bit. So, we turned up to Sixt Rent-a-car in Nuremberg and I went inside to collect the van. They just handed me some keys and I signed a form and they sort of ushered me out the door to this car park of vans, so I had to wonder around trying to find the right van. I found the one they have given me, of course the most battered van you’d ever seen.
IVAN: [laughing] Of course they did.
ADAM: Yeah. I get in this van, put the key in, turn it and I get about eight warning lights on the dashboard. [laughing] So, taillights out, headlights out, sidelights out, indicators out, coolant level low, washer fluid low, all this stuff coming up. So, I go back inside, and she appears, this woman, with an orange Sixt Rent-a-car watering can full of water, opens the bonnet and tries to pour it in the brake fluid. So, I had to stop her putting it in the brake fluid and into the coolant reservoir where she then proceeded to pour approximately two and a half liters of coolant into the van and then just shut the bonnet, waved at me and left.
IVAN: That’s it?
ADAM: It definitely needs coolant, but I don’t really have much choice here I’m going to have to take it.
IVAN: And it had the lift in the back, so you were happy with that part?
ADAM: It had a tail lift, and to make it even better in the U.K. you get what’s called a column lift car lot which is two lead screws in the side of the van that lift the tail up and down they’re not particularly strong. This one had a proper hydraulic tail lift on it which we were pretty happy about. So, we drive over to the place, Galganhauf Strassa, that’s what it was called, start moving the machine.
So, we start moving the small things first. We take a couple disk drives and just the small things we can sort of roll out the door easily, a couple of punch card machines, that sort of thing. And we decide that before we take anything heavy we should actually probably go and rent some storage, because we haven’t done this yet, we haven’t had time the day before to go and rent the storage.
So, there were two storage options. There was a place in central Nuremberg, but it looked very expensive. Well there was a place in a town called Fürth which is approximately I’d say 12-15 miles outside of Nuremberg which looked like a much better deal. The place was called My Storage. So, we drive over there, walk in the door, and this place is very big, it’s an old warehouse that they converted, it’s very new and it’s very modern. It’s actually a very nice storage facility.
And we walk in, there’s a gentleman behind the counter, and I had made a phone call beforehand to say, “Can I just walk in and get storage?” and they said, “Yes, no problem at all.” So, they showed us around a few storage units, and we wanted something reasonably large, so he took us into the basement and there was one in the corner that was quite big and probably suit our purposes quite well, and there’s a big cargo lift that takes you down there, everything’s great.
He gives us a price, we say, “Yep, that sounds good.” So, we decided to buy three months storage, because if we didn’t use it we could get a refund for the difference, and it was discounted for buying three months, you got a free month or something. So, it made sense for us at the time. We then unload our stuff, get into the cargo lift, take it downstairs, stick it in the room, lock up again, go back up top, get back in the van and drive back to the place.
At this point Jan and Lawrence arrive from Switzerland, so we decide the next thing to take is the blue processor which is right by the door. And this is wedged in with a printer against a column that’s supporting the roof of the building. Now, when I say wedged in, I mean wedged in. We had to maneuver things. There was five of us, all rocking machines to try and get this loose. It was very in there. I don’t know how they got it in the building to be honest with you, or in the space. So, we eventually get this loose, get it out of the building on our ramp. This was the first real test of our ramp and it held up. Got it on the tail lift and with a bit of groaning from the tail lift it went in the van.
As it turns out, cause we had to park very much on a curb on the slant, controlling very heavy things with wheels on a slant in a van is not very easy, so obviously it just proceeded to roll into the wall of the van, but heidy ho, after we strapped that in we drove that down to the storage place, unloaded that, went back for more.
So, we keep doing this for a while back and forth loading things up, and then we get to a tape drive. Now I hadn’t thought too much about tape drives, a couple of motors, it’ll be fine. I take the first tape drive, which was the master tape drive, and we’re rolling it out but thinking, This thing feels quite heavy, put it on the ramp, but I mean the ramp is groaning and creaking and a bit of a cracking noise coming from it, and we’re thinking this doesn’t sound good, and we’re having trouble moving this thing. It’s very heavy. Get it onto the tail lift, push it as close to the fulcrum of the lever as we possibly can, Chris goes and pushes the up button on the tail lift and the hydraulic makes a whirring noise and nothing happens. So, we’re now stuck with a tape drive which as it turns out, weighs 980 heliograms.
IVAN: Geez. So, 2,000 pounds. That’s a very heavy tape drive. Wow.
ADAM: On a tail lift, on a slope, on a cobble street, that I can’t get back in the building in central Nuremberg. So, we’re thinking what on earth do we do now?
IVAN: Don’t know.
ADAM: So, I get under the tail lift with my hands and Gunter does the same on the other side, and using all of our brute force that we had, managed to force the tail lift up with the hydraulic pump assisting to get this thing into the van, [laughing] and both of us underneath the tail lift was just enough to help the hydraulic pump lift this thing up.
IVAN: Wow. You’re lucky it didn’t fall back off.
ADAM: This is all while Jan and Lawrence are having to try and hold this thing on the tail lift, on the slant. So, we roll it into the van, and of course the first thing that happens is it rolls into the side of the fan, smashes the rail off the side of the van. [laughing] Luckily it hit the back of the tape drive not the front, cause the front’s made of glass and it didn’t do any damage, but it did break the van more than it already was.
IVAN: Oh dear.
ADAM: And then ratchet strapped this thing in with as many ratchet straps I could find. And we got that taken off to the storage facility. I mean maneuvering it through the storage facility was certainly an interesting experience and not one I would care to repeat.
IVAN: Because of all the cobble stones as well I’m sure.
ADAM: Well the storage facility wasn’t too bad, it’s nice flat concrete, modern warehouse, but there’s a lot of very tight corners, and it didn’t turn very well because all the bearings in the wheel just seized up and everything else.
IVAN: Oh dear.
ADAM: So, we get it inside and that was okay. Luckily the second tape drive is much lighter and isn’t a slave driver, doesn’t have all the power supplies in it which is why it’s so heavy in the main one. So, with that in, Lawrence and Jan had to head off back to Switzerland because they had a long drive ahead of them, and we carried on unloading, had to go back the next day and finish up the unloading. So, we took a couple more bits in the van, drove back to our Airbnb and parked up obviously securing the building again. Went out for dinner and drinks and the next day got up really early again and headed back there.
So, what was left was everything that was still cabled onto the floor. So that was the processor, the console, the printer, multifunction card machine. So, we thought, Right. Let’s get these cables out. This is what I’d been dreading. So, we lifted up a little of the floor tiles and I mean these cables they are very stiff, haven’t been moved in a very long time, but are still very delicate. So, it took us hours to unpickle these cables and get them out and try and get them out from under the floor with the machines. And to make it worse you can’t really get behind the machine because there’s various detritus laying everywhere, like old air conditioning ducts and a wood burning stove, which is made of cast iron of course.
IVAN: Can’t move that.
ADAM: All this stuff. So, we pull all this stuff out, manage to get all the cables out and get the lighter things out. At this point two of the chaps from the glazier next store turned up and these are very large, strong chaps who said they’d help us with the processor. So, they come in and they give us a real hand moving this processor on the van which was very helpful. We get that loaded into the van and the room is now clear, that was the last thing. So, it took us two days and lots of effort to clear the room.
At this point I’m having a look around. I look over and there’s this, by where the 370 was and if you look at the photos you’ll see there was a 370 and a blue 360 at the end, where they were wedged in with the column, there was a big window, and the window was covered on the outside by some wooden slats, because in Europe it’s very common to have dropdown slats over your windows on the outside of the building. And I then realized that the window wasn’t actually a window, it was the hole in the wall and the glass had been removed. So, somehow, this equipment has stayed dry in the building despite there actually being a massive hole in the wall that’s been covered by thin wooden slats for over 40 years. [laughing]
IVAN: Forty years, my goodness. Wow. So, what an incredible story just to get it out of the building. So now at this point you have it in a storage unit in Germany.
IVAN: Let’s fast forward to what happened just after that. You went back to England and now you had to figure out how to get this equipment again from the storage unit to England, and you have about three months to do that, and you also have a very long journey with this really precious equipment. How do you figure that out?
ADAM: So, I didn’t think it would be too difficult, realistically. I thought we’ll probably just find a haulage company that has a hard sided truck and trailer with a tail lift, because cumulatively this stuff weighs, let’s say, 14 tons.
IVAN: Whoa. That much? 14 tons of equipment.
ADAM: Oh yeah, so that Mercedes sprinter comment I made earlier, it’s not going into any Sprinter van, it’s just going to fill the Lorie, and it weighs 14 tons.
IVAN: So, this is not something you can drive. You absolutely have to hire someone to do this?
ADAM: Yeah, I would have to make 20 trips in a van to do this, which is just as you can quite imagine not viable. [laughing]
IVAN: Not at all. I know that the internet helped somehow to find someone to move this for you right? How did that go down?
ADAM: So, I got a few quotes from a few haulage companies and most of them frankly said, “We can’t help you. Sorry we’re not going to Europe right now because of Brexit” or “We don’t have a suitable vehicle” or all this kind of stuff. And the answer otherwise we got was, “Well, if you put it on pallets we can move it.” Well, I can’t lift nearly 1 ton tape drive onto pallets for you, I’m sorry, sort of thing.
We ran a crowdfunding campaign online to raise £5,000 to move it back, which is about the estimate we’d been given. And, I must say, we posted the article on Slashdot quite late at night, and overnight I got some notification saying the server had crashed, the database had crashed because we got Slashdot overnight. We had millions of hits on the blog just appearing out of nowhere.
IVAN: That is so great. I didn’t even realize Slashdot was still a thing. That’s amazing.
ADAM: Yeah, it’s really still a thing. We did Slashdot and I think three times its taken us down. Also, the Register picked up on it which is the technology site from the UK.
IVAN: Yeah I love the Register.
ADAM: Yeah, they’re great. So, they picked up on it a few times. They’ve actually been a real great proponent of ours. They’ve really helped us out.
ADAM: And we raised the money in less than two weeks.
ADAM: Which was fantastic, but we’re still having trouble finding a haulage company. And I posted about it on the blog, you know, Brexit is scuffling our move, because most of the haulers are saying, “we can’t help you because we’re really worried.” This is the time when we didn’t’ know if Brexit was going to happen, if it was going to be a hard Brexit, it’s going to fallout Europe, or what was going to happen, and they didn’t want their trucks getting stuck in Europe. And similarly, we wanted to beat Brexit so we didn’t have to end up paying import tax on this machine that we can’t really value.
IVAN: So, you had to get it in as soon as possible?
ADAM: Yeah, it was quite a stressful proposition for us. So, the Register picked up on my blog post, and they did a post about it saying, I think Brexit Scoffers Big IBM Rescue or something to that effect, because on the Register we’re now called the Big Iron Geeks. That’s what they named us. Which I’m not opposed to. I quite like that. [laughing]
IVAN: No, not at all.
ADAM: But, yeah, so they made this post, and somebody on LinkedIn had seen a post by another chap and had commented, “Have you seen this Register article?” And he responded with “Oh, no I haven’t. I’ll give them a call.” So, I hadn’t seen any of this. I hadn’t been aware of any of this occurring. I walked into my office one morning and at 9 AM on the dot I got a call. The chap introduced himself as Dan Apolee from Sunspeed who are specialist IT relocation data center services company.
IVAN: Perfect. [laughing] It’s exactly what you want.
ADAM: He said, “oh, I can help you. We specialize in moving delicate equipment, server equipment. We moved things in the nuclear industry, we know what we’re doing.” He said, “and furthermore we really like what you’re doing. We really like the project, and we’d like to give you quite a significant discount. In fact, we’ll just do it at cost price to us.” I said, “Wow, that’s really very generous and frankly you’re exactly what we need right now. So, can you please give us a quote?” He sent over a quote which was below the money we had raised. It was I think around four and a half thousand Pounds or something to that effect. And he said, “we’ll send over our latest truck. We just bought a new truck. We’ll send it over. Let’s get some dates in the diary.” So, we figure out the dates in the diary, when we’re free, and I messaged Günter and Günter said he’d more than happily love to come and help us and see us again, so, thought, fantastic. And they sent us over that new truck. So, we flew out to prepare the stuff. I knew a lot of stuff was just loose, actually I just realized I missed a part of the story out. After flying back to the UK, when we had collected the machine and moved it into storage, about a week later I got a phone call, while I was in a meeting, from Günter. Now Günter had never really called me before when I was in the UK.
IVAN: Something’s up.
ADAM: Yeah, I received this phone call and he says, “Adam, we have found more parts of the IBM.” I said, “Where? We emptied the room.” He goes, “No, in the room behind.” I said, “What do you mean the room behind?” He said, “Well the room behind the room.” I said, “I didn’t see that room.” He said, “No, we didn’t think there was anything was in it.” I was like, right. He said, “Yeah, it was under a pile of Porsche parts.”
IVAN: Oh my God.
ADAM: Okay. So, they’ve opened this room behind the room that we’ve been in, because it turns out this building is much longer than we thought it was, and basically this room was like a machine shop. There was a milling machine, a lathe, and a lot of random junk, pottery, old engines, things you could imagine. And under a pile, I mean there was basically an entire classic Porsche 911 in there minus the chassis.
IVAN: Really? Wow.
ADAM: So, engine, body panels, the lot, just no chassis.
IVAN: For a guy who likes vehicles, that must’ve sounded amazing. Did you get that as well?
ADAM: Unfortunately, it had all gone to auction by the time I got there, and it sold for quite a significant amount of money unfortunately. And, I have more than enough cars to keep me entertained. [laughing] Too many projects on the go at once. But, he said, “yeah, we found more. Do you want it?” I said, “Well, yes, I do.” He said, “Okay. You need to be here tomorrow.” Really? He said, “Otherwise it’s going to scrap.” I thought, oh great. So, I messaged Chris, and I booked a flight the next morning for, I think it was 6 AM out of Stansted to Nuremberg. I jump on this flight and I booked another van and I go over and I pick these bits up. He says, “oh, I found some things in the attic as well. Do you want to go up to the attic?” And I was like, “Well, we’ve been in the attic in the main room.” We had a look around. There were some VW bits up there but nothing major. He goes, “No, no. The other attic.” I went, “Of course there’s another attic.”
IVAN: Of course, there’s another attic.
ADAM: So, we go out the door and it’s around the back up these concrete stairs which have clearly been there for over 100 years which are covered in slippery moss. So, not like the safest walking place, and there’s no handrail or anything, there’s just these slippery, concrete moss stairs. We go up to this door in the back of the building and I walk in and the floor sags as soon as you step one up, and there are holes in the floor that lead down to the room below, where it had just broken through and the roof leaked. But all over the wall were boxes upon boxes of unused IBM punch cards.
IVAN: Oh. Amazing.
ADAM: These things are hens teeth, and IBM machines in particular. IBM always made the assumption that if you got an IBM machine you’re going to buy IBM punch cards. So, they are really sensitive to the thickness and the size of the card. So, to use a third-party card it might not work properly. So, these things are hard to find. So, I thought, Right. We need to get all of these out of here as well.
The problem is they were on shelves that were made by bending bits of metal pipe and screwing them to the wall and then just sticking wood on top of it and piling the boxes on top of it. And it sat there for so long if you pulled a box the whole shelf came off the wall. So, I’m standing on a ladder that’s clearly been there for 50 years on a floor that has holes in it that’s giving way underneath me, trying to pull these boxes off of the shelves that are falling down.
But we get them all down. We get them down these mossy stairs, and these boxes are not light either and get them loaded in the van. So, I take the van, I put all the stuff in the storage area. I literally just threw it in the door, like dumped it in the door. Very tired. Dropped the van back at Sixt, I went and flew back home.
So, when Sunspeed was going to come and get the stuff, I remembered I had to get all this stuff in some kind of movable format because we weren’t going to wanna spend four hours loading the stuff up with random boxes, we needed it on pallets. So, when I was planning to go over back there again, a friend of mine Chris Wilkie agreed to come with us and give us a hand. So, I’ve known Chris for a very long time, this is the other Chris, and he’s what I call a doer. He’s very good at getting stuff done in a very short timeframe.
IVAN: That’s what you need.
ADAM: Exactly. So, just the guy I wanted to come with me. So, we flew out there and we flew out 5 AM from Stansted again, landed in Nuremberg, picked up our rental car and went straight to the storage place. And I had tried to figure out how you buy pallets in Germany prior to this, and the answer is that you either have to have a minimum order of around 50, which I didn’t need, or they’re horrendously expensive, you’re talking €45 a pallet. Now, I really didn’t want to spend a few hundred Euros on pallets that I was going to use once.
But I remembered in the storage area there had been all these pallets dumped around the place that looked disused. So, when I went in, I said to the chap, I said, “can I use some of these pallets?” And he said, “No, they belong to other people.” And I said, “they’ve been here for this point six months. They hadn’t moved.” And he said in his very typical way, he said, “No. I can’t help you.” I said, “O kay. Fine.”
So, I talked to Sunspeed about getting some pallets brought over from the UK, and they said they had brought some with them in the truck. So, I was like okay great. So, I borrowed the pallets from the loading areas that had been left lying around and replaced them with the ones that Sunspeed brought over from the UK when they came over. So, we loaded up the pallets and got it all prepared to be moved the following day. All the cables, all the disk packs, everything, all the pallets are ready to go. I moved as much stuff upstairs as I could to get out of the downstairs locker, so we didn’t have to use much time on the lift, and that was also the morning we went to prepare.
And then we went back to the hotel intending to go out for some drinks and some dinner and meet Günter. So, we get back to our hotel, and this time I picked a hotel in the center of Nuremberg because it had parking and because it was quite cheap for the three of us. And I said to the hotelier earlier, “where’s the nearest bar?” She said, “Oh, there’s a great English pub just on the corner.” I was like, “No, I haven’t come to Germany to drink in an English pub. I could do that at home.”
IVAN: That always happens? It doesn’t matter where you go, that happens.
ADAM: So, we go into this English pub and lucky enough they sell German beer, and after about half an hour Günter joined us, and then about half hour later Chris Blackburn joined us, having just flown in and checked into the hotel. So, we had a few beers there, and we were looking around thinking this is an interesting part of Nuremberg. Lots of interesting characters wandering around here. So, we carried on, we went out and had some dinner, found a lovely restaurant that Günter recommended, and the food was fantastic. I’m sorry we hadn’t found it before. If I ever get back to Nuremberg, I will go back there, however I forgot what it’s called, I can find it by walking around, but I couldn’t find it by address. So, that’s why I can’t recommend it. [laughing] We’re eating in the restaurant and Günter says, “Oh, it’s an interesting area you’ve chosen to stay in.” I said, “Well, why is that?” He said, “Well, it’s the Red Light District of Nuremberg.
IVAN: Oh my gosh.
ADAM: I said, “well that would explain the area.” I mean, the hotel was actually very nice. [laughing] So, I found that quite humorous, and it explained some of the more interesting characters. Yeah.
IVAN: So, Sunspeed arrives and?
ADAM: Sorry. I got a message the following morning. They were supposed to arrive at, I think, 12 PM. And so we headed there quite early to unload all of the machines, and they took a message saying, “been out on the Autobahn, they were delayed for quite a few hours.” So, alright fine. So, we loaded all the machines upstairs, got everything ready for them to come so they could just wrap it and roll it onto the truck as soon as they got there.
And about an hour after we got there they turned up, so they made up the time somehow, I don’t know how, and they got there actually earlier than their estimated time of arrival originally, which was obviously really good for us. I mean these guys were the professionals. They get off the truck, they were really helpful, really friendly guys. They had these boards laid out to move things on it easier with the metal grates, they had more bubble wrap than I’ve ever seen in my entire life to wrap the machines with. So, they put these cardboard corners on the machines to protect the corners. They wrapped the machine in bubble wrap and taped them up and they pallet wrapped that stuff. And to give an example of how quick these guys work compared to us, it took the three of us around, well, maybe 10 minutes to wrap a machine and then the time we’d done that, they had each done one.
IVAN: Geez. They’ve done it before, right? They’re professionals.
ADAM: They knew what they were doing, yeah.
ADAM: And I said, “Oh, is this your new truck?” and they said “No, the new truck needed to be used for something else, so we brought an older truck with us, which is actually slightly bigger.” It was about 3 feet longer. I said, “Oh, that’s good.” It turns out that was very good, because when all was said and done and loaded up, we had filled the truck. There was an inch and a half left at the end of the truck. It was full.
IVAN: And 14 tons of equipment. How amazing.
ADAM: So, with that said and done, they head off back to the UK, and we drove back to the airport. Actually, no, we stayed the night in Nuremberg, so we went out in Nuremberg, and had another dinner, and the next morning flew back. And they were due to arrive at our place for drop off at 1 PM. Now, I need to give you a little bit of background about the place the machines are being kept because it is a bit special.
IVAN: So, yeah, that was going to be my question is, where are you keeping it right now? Where did it get moved to?
ADAM: So, I mentioned earlier, my friend Chris Wilkie who came with us to Germany to help us collect the machine and wrap it and prepare it and everything else, Chris is the leaseholder of a site called Creslow Park. Now, Creslow Park is an ex-British transmission station from the Cold War, and it was owned by section 6, otherwise known as MI6 which is the British Foreign Intelligence Agency.
ADAM: So, it’s this big data center like building with anti-blast walls and a 40 foot razor wire security fence in the middle of nowhere, and you can’t find it unless you know it’s there. It’s a really incredible site. But it’s got huge amounts of power flowing into it, it’s got massive generators, it’s got Rolls Royce V12 twin tower generators.
ADAM: This place was built for the Cold War and, of course, it was built just before satellites really became a thing. And then when satellites became a thing it got switched out from mothballs. They spent all this money building this site and it lasted about four years.
IVAN: And your friend is a leaseholder there. Explain to us what that means. That means he has use of the building.
ADAM: So, somebody else owns the site but he’s got, I don’t know how long, but I’m going to guess a 20 or 30-year lease on it. He pays them like a rental amount, and he has use of the entire site.
IVAN: Okay. Got it.
ADAM: In fact, he owns it for the next x number of decades.
IVAN: Got it.
ADAM: Also, to that fact I wasn’t privy to the comments of his lease. But yeah, so it’s a big building and he uses it as the masthead for his telecon business. He runs fiber optic broadband and comms company along with data hosting and that kind of stuff, and he intends to eventually develop it into a data center. I keep a lot of my cars up there and there’s a car workshop and whatever else. There’s a big empty data hall. So, perfect place for us to put the IBM.
IVAN: I was going to say, how lucky to have a friend that has a data center with empty space for you.
ADAM: Exactly. I mean how common is that in today’s market. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] It’s wonderful.
ADAM: So, it all just sort of came together in perfect synchronicity. And luckily Chris is a really good guy. Even though he doesn’t quite get why we do this, I think he appreciates the interest. So, the truck turned up, it turned up a bit early, and I mean, a few days prior, Chris and another friend of mine, Clinton, who works for Chris, had spent the whole day clearing the space because it was full of old server equipment and everything else. It was just all put there for storage.
So, we had this big open space ready to use. The truck turns up and we get ready to start unloading. We set up a few cameras that are time lapsed to the end load and we’re set to work pulling it off the truck. Pulling it all in ended in about an hour and a half. So thankful the Sunspeed guys got all of our documentation off of them, shook hands and they left, and we spent the next hour and a half unwrapping the machine and raveling up the many, many meters of bubble wrap, and we were back in the UK.
IVAN: And that was way before Brexit, or just before, well I guess Brexit happened much later in the end space, but at that time you thought it was going to happen in October. When did you guys get back to England and started unwrapping?
ADAM: So, November 24th I think was the day that the machine arrived by in the UK. So, with the whole Brexit thing, obviously Brexit got delayed, and then there was a withdrawal agreement signed and everything else, so we haven’t even actually done Brexit yet, we’re still in the, sort of, withdrawal phase, and the negotiation phase, so don’t’ know what Brexit still even looks like.
IVAN: So, you’re able to make it before the deadline, you got everything in, you started unwrapping things, that was the end of 2019. And here we sit in May of 2020, the equipment is all still at Creslow Park?
ADAM: It is indeed.
IVAN: And what kind of work have you done since unwrapping there?
ADAM: So, there are a couple of other members of the team that are worth introducing. One of them is called Peter Vaughn, and Peter is an engineer working in the medical industry who I’ve known through the Museum, he’s been there longer than I have. He looks after the IBM 1130 at the Museum, and such has a lot of IBM experience which is very lucky, because it’s quite hard to come by. So, he came along and had a look at the machine and was equally as impressed as we were by the condition of it. The machine is in absolutely fantastic condition. There’s almost no corrosion on it. It’s very dirty, but it’s in very good physical condition, which is very lucky. So, we started cleaning the machine, and cleaned and scanned the manuals and everything else, and it’s a long cleaning process.
We put a callout for volunteers saying, if you’re interested, and another TMSE chap called Simon Van Winklen came along and said he’d love to help, what could he do. His project is the 29 card punch, which he’s just about cleaned and did a fantastic job on, and I’m sure we’ll get him to carry on doing that. There’s a huge problem with acoustic foam in our machines, it degrades and becomes this sticky, horrible mess, so I spent quite a lot of time removing acoustic foam and replacing it.
The two disk drives both had disk packs that were stuck in them and what I mean stuck, we could not get these disk packs out. So, the last visit we managed to get those out, we basically just look at the machine, documenting it, giving it a really good clean before we can really start on the restoration process.
IVAN: Tell me about the documentation that you brought over, because I think I read that there’s been a considerable effort to scan the documentation that came out from Nuremberg.
ADAM: So, when we were in Nuremberg we found a significant amount of documentation, about 40 manuals, which we assumed was the documentation for the system. A few of them are in German, most of them are in English. So, I picked u p a few which were all for the 360 and I bought a large format scanner that scans A0 so I can scan these obscure document sizes cause they’re slightly larger than A3 lengthways but not quite A3 wide, they’re a bit odd.
But having gone through them in depth during this lockdown period, I realized that quite a lot of them are IBM 370 manuals from the 370 we’ve got. We’re actually quite thin on the ground on 360 manuals. So, I’d hoped that we had the power supply documentation, ‘cause it’s the next thing to start doing. But unfortunately we actually don’t, so luckily the IBM archives have said to us that they’ll give us access to anything we need if we ask them. So, post lockdown I’m hoping to talk to them and hopefully get a full set of manuals digitally that we could look at. So, that was a bit disappointing for us in the end. But if anybody is interested in a full set of IBM 370 manuals, give me a shout. [laughing]
IVAN: Are you going to open source the manuals, or I guess you don’t have any copyright holder. You don’t own them so maybe you can’t open source them, but what do you intend to do with the scanned images?
ADAM: It’s a bit complicated. I would love to do that, but IBM, rightfully so, they own the copyright, want me to ask permission before I release anything. So, I’ve got to go to them with a big list of everything and go, “can I release these?,” and wait to see what they say. And I’ll imagine they’ll say yes. I don’t think they’ll have any commercial value, but I don’t know so I’ll have to wait and see what happens there.
The other thing we’ve been doing is we had a lot of tapes go with the machine, so another friend of ours, Delvin Holroyd of the Museum of Computing has a tape drive that can read tapes into modern computers, so he’s been dumping some of the tapes for us, and we found, not a lot so far. We found the records of a plumbing company on some of the tapes, and another one that lists contacts of, I think, billing payees, but aside from that nothing too interesting yet.
IVAN: So, I used to work for Imation that was spun off of 3M and the business that we had was, I was in the optical division, so I was mostly concerned with CD’s and DVD media, but we had a giant tape division, and that was kind of the bread and butter that Imation had when we first spun off. But it was 3M before that, so I’m curious to know are there any brands that are associated with the tapes themselves? Were they IBM brand? Or some other third-party brand of the tape? Do you have any information on that?
ADAM: Yeah, so the vast number of tapes are IBM branded. They come in IBM spools with IBM logos on them. There are a few others mixed in there, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the brands were now, and there are very few, maybe two or three on IBM brand. But they’re all 9 track so very easy to read.
IVAN: Nine track, okay, so that’ll be easy to get in there. So, you started the cleaning after the unwrapping. How much more time do you expect to spend in cleaning and getting everything to a place where you could actually switch it on? I’m guessing your goal is to switch this on, right? Or maybe you have a different goal?
ADAM: So, the goal is to have the machine fully functional as it would’ve been when it was new.
ADAM: I suspect it’ll be around 10 years before we’re at that point.
IVAN: Whoa. Really?
ADAM: Yeah, it’s not really a short-term project. So, the next step after the cleaning, getting it all documented and looking good is to go through and replace any consumable parts like rubber seals that have started to degrade and everything else. Once that’s done, it’ll be power supplies next focus. So, CPU power supplies probably the first thing we’ll look at, which we’ll need a bench test to test the outputs and everything else, and probably we want to replace the capacitors as well, because the capacitors all contain PCBs and they’re quite old.
IVAN: They’ve blown.
ADAM: But I really don’t fancy reforming them, so probably replace those with modern ones, which are admittedly very expensive, but probably worth doing rather than risking the machine. So, there’s that. Once that’s done it will be a case of logic testing, getting the machine up and checking the logic as well as doing the mechanical engineering around the punch card readers and tape drives and everything else. So, I started looking at punch card readers. They’ve got a few components but most of them I could make myself, and luckily a 3D scanning company based in the UK offered to scan some of the gears for us so we can manufacture new gears. So, that’s very helpful of them. I have a few other parts I can turn out with my lathe or 3D printer myself as required.
And yeah, I think it will be a long slock. We’re also hoping to build an interface box which is where Simon, John and Chris come in because they’re all electronic engineers. And building a box that will interface between the machine and the peripherals, so we’ll be able to do things like read punch card decks into modern PC and replay them back over the interface. So I don’t have to use the actual machine that we want to we can test outputs and inputs using modern computer technologies. And what we’d eventually like to do, and the dream is, to get the machine operational on the internet, so you’ll be able to interact with IBM 360 on the internet.
IVAN: Oh, that is a wonderful goal. That would be just a beautiful thing to bring to life, a piece of technology from the sixties and restore it and connect it to the internet that it was honestly never designed for. How wonderful.
ADAM: Well, yeah, I think it’s gonna be terrible fun having people from all over the world being able to access and use the mainframe remote. I’m hoping we can sort of sit in the room and see things jump into life without touching it.
IVAN: That will be amazing. This is a personal project for you?
ADAM: Yes, both Chris and I are the two.
IVAN: So, you’re funding it, you’re crowd sourcing it, you’re raising funds to help you with this restoration. Once you’ve restored it and it is on the internet, where will it be located? Will it continue to be at Creslow Park, or do you have some other plans for it?
ADAM: For the foreseeable future it will be at Creslow Park. There is no real museum space in the UK available to take it where it can be operational. So, the Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park is completely full, and they’ve got other machines that they’d like to display before we put this on display.
They’ve got an early IBM mainframe called Flossy that we’d love to go out and display but it’s physically very large and we have no room for. Other than that, they fact that the Museum doesn’t operate machines anymore, they stopped doing that a few years ago unfortunately, and we would need a very large amount of power to run the machine. Everything is three phase and it will take a lot of energy. So, it will remain at Creslow for the time being. What I hope to do is offer some days, where a small group of people will be able to come online and buy a ticket to come and see the machine in action, maybe even operate it. Maybe groups of no more than 10 people in a day. Cause we’re hoping to have it laid out exactly like they did in the sixties. Have everything set up as it was, have it all functioning exactly as it was back then, so then you can really go and experience sixties computing in the massive way.
IVAN: When this machine was in its heyday and when it was working and doing its thing, what was its primary function? Do you have a feel or guess for what this particular was doing in Germany?
ADAM: So, I have no idea who this machine belonged to or what it was doing. This is one of the great mysteries of this machine. We don’t actually know who it ended up where it was. We think the story goes it was owned by a large company in the local area. They probably had an 1130 before it, and we’re guessing that the 370 we’ve got is the machine they had after it. I would assume that whoever owned it when it went to its location last was probably an engineer that worked on the machine or something like that.
There is a bit of a misnomer here. There was some suspicion the machine had belonged to Puma, because Puma had a large facility in Nuremberg. However, that mostly comes from the fact that they were Puma logos on the machine. Now as it turns out, the chap who had owned the machine before, whose name was Jürgen Richter, had actually owned a tennis shop. So, I now think that perhaps he had used the machine as his, sort of, accounting practice for a tennis shop as well as running other services on the side. And we know this because I found a lot of his medical records inside the machine along with a lot of his tennis invoices and final statements from the bank from the early eighties.
IVAN: You know, I have a thought. If it is related to the tennis shop then does it actually have the logo of just the cat, or does it have the word Puma in it as well? Because it could be that it’s Schlesinger’s. Schlesinger had what looked like a Puma logo as well.
ADAM: It’s got the big word, Puma, underneath it.
IVAN: Oh, it does.
IVAN: Okay. I thought maybe it was Schlesinger. Those two guys are so similar.
ADAM: No, it’s got the original early green eighties Puma logo. Even from the early photos of the machine that I got from the eBay auction you can see the Puma logo on the side of the machine. Yeah. I think that was one to throw off the scent. I don’t honestly know where it came from. There is one application in the punch card trays that we think is a banking application, so it could’ve even come from a bank. But, we don’t know and I’m not sure we will ever know, unless we can check the serial number against the delivery list for IBM.
IVAN: How can listeners and people who read what you’re up to, how can they help you?
ADAM: So, primarily at the moment, there’s just really a couple things we’re looking for which are, volunteers who can actually come visit the onsite for this and help us restore the machine. We’re looking for people with expertise in electronics particularly, in sixties electronics but anything really. We’ve got lots of other jobs we need doing, modern interface and that sort of thing. We really, really need a power supply engineer who is very comfortable working with three phase power supplies, because none of us are really power supply engineers. I’ve certainly never done much linear power supply and certainly not with three phase ones. So, anyone who could help out with that would be really helpful.
And, we also ideally would like somebody who can read punch cards. We’ve got a large number of punch cards which are out of spec so they’re not the right thickness, they might’ve gotten damp, that kind of thing, and I’m loathed to put in through any kind of high speed reader. I mean any kind of machines I’ve got access to that can read punch cards are all very high speed. So, if you have a single or easy to run punch card reader optically that you have in the UK that we could use that would also be very helpful.
Aside from that I’m not looking for much else right now but if people want to keep reading the blog and keep up to date with us, that’ll also be really helpful. We enjoy seeing people read our work and hope they enjoy it and will be able to come and see the machine when it’s eventually working.
IVAN: Well, I’m looking forward to eventually visiting you, maybe visiting Creslow Park as well to see the machine.
ADAM: Yeah, definitely.
IVAN: I know we have some plans to go to the UK next year, so hopefully we’ll be able to do that. You also have some Amazon wish lists as well, right?
ADAM: We do, yes we do actually have an Amazon wish list, listing some things that we would like or need. And there’s things ranging from various prices on there from, sort of, a can of super cold spray that we use for removing foam, oscilloscopes, some power supplies that we think we might, or we know we will need in the near future. One thing we are definitely looking for is a really good multi channel oscilloscope to use on the machine, because all of ours are a bit old. Mine still has valves. [laughing]
So that would be helpful otherwise. And eventually I will publish by and away, but if anyone would like to donate to the project that would be incredibly helpful for us, because it means that they could stay with the machine and that when other engineers are in they could utilize it rather than coming back with me and need it for other projects.
IVAN: That’s amazing. I’m so glad you spent this time with us. I’ve learned so much and I’m sure our listeners have. It’s been just an interesting story to hear about the journey of getting this piece of equipment from one country to another. Will you join us again at some point in the future and give us an update?
ADAM: Well, thanks for having me, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And yes, I’d love to definitely. When we have something to tell you I will definitely shoot you an email and we can chat again.
IVAN: That would be wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us Adam.
ADAM: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
IVAN: Adam Bradley is a multi-talented engineer and a part of the team that is rescuing a 1964 IBM System/360 Model 20 mainframe. You could read about their progress on their blog at ibms360.co.uk. And don’t forget to visit the National Museum of Computing online as well. They are at tnmoc.org. And, of course, Adam has his own website at ajdb.co.uk. Give those guys a visit.
You’ve been listening to The TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.