Early Days With IBM and Sorbus
2003, Howard Oels
I do not wish to imply that I was a great wizard in my days as a C.E.
I had my share of failures. It
is just that I remember the success better than my failures.
This is about people, events and machines.
When some of my family heard that I was joining IBM someone sent me a
story from a weekly news magazine. A woman was living in the eastern part of
the country. It seems that her
husband after his retirement had become sick and after a lengthily illness had
finally passed away having greatly exceeded the maximum limit on their health
insurance. That resulted in
leaving her with a massive debt and creditors after their payments.
She decided the only thing she could do was to sell her house and most
of her furniture and move into a small apartment.
In the process of getting ready to move in a smaller place she was
going through a old trunk in the attic, sorting and discarding decades old
invoices. Among bills an other obsolete material she found a stock
certificate for 100 shares of a company.
She was hoping that it may have some value as she checked the financial
section of her paper but the company was not even listed.
She threw the certificate in the trash later to retrieve it again.
This happened several times till finally she thought she will just keep
it. Later a friend that did some
investing came by and she showed him the certificate.
He recommended that she keep it and that he thought that it was somehow
connected to IBM.
She had to borrow some money from a friend for a round trip bus ticket
to the nearest city with a IBM office. In
the local IBM office she contacted the office manager and asked him lf the
shares were worth anything. He
almost had a stroke when he saw it. The
company stock she had was for a company called International Time Recording,
and that name was later was changed to International Business Machines or IBM.
The lady was patently waiting in the office for news about her stock,
later she cornered the manager who then called the IBM New York headquarters
to inquire about it*s
value. They still had not at
quitting time there computed it*s final value but the amount was up to $27,000,000
plus in 1950*s
A good friend
at church worked in the data processing department a large company.
He mentioned IBM as a place for me to work.
I was petrified, I had heard so much about IBM that I was certain that
I would be way out of my league there. He
gave me the name of the person to call at the local IBM office, Doug Beckley. At the time I worked for
California ( GTE
) as an cable splicer’s helper. I
was on the GI Bill and was making a very low salary even including the pay
from the GI bill. I think the
phone company encouraged men on the G.I. bill so they could get away with such
a low salary.
One foggy morning I made the call to IBM from the top of a wooden
telephone pole using a linesman*s belt phone.
The pole had wooden cross arms with open iron wire between poles.
I went up the pole with linesman*s hooks and belt, then I connected the phone to the
open wires and dialed the operator. I
said “Operator I want to make long distance call and bill it to my home
phone.” She replied “OK and
what number are you calling from?” I
said “I don*t know.” She
then said as though I were really dumb “what is the number on the dial of
your phone.” In reply I
answered “number 12.” She
would not take only a 12 as the number and said “12 what?”
I replied “just 12 I am a telephone lineman and that is all there
is.” I explained where I was
and I had no idea what this number was. She
panicked and in a quivering voice said “I just started here today and no one
told me what to do about this type of situation.”
Finally she had her supervisor contact my wife for permission to bill
our number. Doug was working on a
tough machine trouble and he asked if I could call back later.
I outlined where I was and how difficult that would be.
After he stopped laughing he gave me a time for an interview.
He always remembered that call. I
was always the nut that called from the top of a telephone pole.
I was given an oral interview then given a ten question test with up to
four multiple answers for answers for each question.
All of the questions were loaded.
The first part of each question was what are they asking.
The question could be easily mis-interpreted for something else and you
could easily misread it, that was part of the test.
You wrote down the letter next to the answer you wanted. In the question there was an answer for the most obvious
mistakes you might make. One
question, number 7 was seemingly simple but it was really loaded.
I believe it had a value of more than l/l0 of the total.
It had a answer for the most obvious mistake that you could make.
Later I took a medical exam. My
medical examination papers lost for some time.
Sometime later I received a call that I got the job.
Much later I found out that they had 178 men apply for that one job and
I got it.
I was furnished with a great tool bag with lots of great tools in it,
before going to Endicott for basic school I worked with the time division
people doing preventative maintenance or PM on time clocks.
One place that we went was to a big grain elevator to service some job
time clocks. There was an
interesting mode of transportation from floor to floor.
There was a strong wide endless belt with projections sticking out at
regular intervals. As a
projection passed you stepped on either the up or the down side. The belt did not stop you timed your stepping on or off to
match the belt. The cardinal rule
was if the area around the belt was red and a bright red light was flashing
that meant that this was the top or bottom floor and get off.
The electrical contacts inside these clocks had sealed covers.
In a grain elevator dust could cause an explosion with any spark.
I remember being up on the 12 th floor and looking out from
a wide door that had a waist high metal bar across it. The end of my toes were over thin air. Far below I could see some pigeons gorging themselves on
spilt grain. Something disturbed
them and one huge overstuffed bird started running trying to get airborne.
It came to a sudden drop off at a dock, still without enough speed to
fly. It crashed into the pavement
below feathers flying everywhere. It
was against the rules to ride the belt with a tool bag in your hand so you
took everything along you may need in your pockets.
Our South Gate IBM office was at the time I started IBM the fastest
growing office in the entire company. At
the time I was at school we had more customer engineers in school that were
working in the home office. We
were considering having a office party in Endicott.
IBM basic was like nothing I had ever had before.
First it was in a small town “Endicott” in upstate New York.
The town had two
( Endicott Johnson ) and IBM.
Many people there thought that the IBM people were stuck-up and later
after close reflection I think so too.
On arrival you had a room reserved for two men for two night*s
in the local hotel. There you got
several handouts with a list of local people that rented rooms and the prices
they charged for them. A map
showing where the rooms were, also where the various school rooms and factory
buildings were. The rooms
farthest from everything were generally cheaper than rooms closed by in town. I was without wheeled transportation so I did a lot of
The IBM school was in Endicott in upstate New York.
I lived in southern California and loved the food that was available in
California. The food in Endicott
was bland to my taste. I would
order a hamburger with everything. Everything meant a thin layer of butter and
a single slice of dill pickle in the middle.
Later I became friends with a man in a local restaurant and described
the hamburger that I wanted and said how do you order one like that? He said “you order it ‘California’ style.”
If you liked your coffee without cream you must say “Black Coffee”
the word black must be first, even then it was a toss-up if you would get it
black. In one downtown restaurant
it took four cups before the waitress got it right, even then she almost added
the milk. In California
restaurants you would see signs advertising “Good old eastern flavor” in
Endicott you saw the same type of signs proclaiming “That good old western
You were responsible for getting a place to stay.
Because I did not have a car I did a lot of walking.
Some students did have automobiles and were popular men.
They were able to rent the cheaper rooms further out than us on foot.
We were given a maximum allowance of $27.00 dollars a week for all
expenses room, and food.
Back in our home offices we did some self study on various machines but
it was nothing like the real thing. There
was a joke going around the school that if you dropped your pencil you would
flunk because by the time you reached down to pick it up you would be so far
behind that you could never catch up. The
information came at you so fast. I
am not sure that was actually a joke. We
heard that if a college gave you information at the same rate you could get a
full Masters degree in eighteen months or less.
I can believe that. Then
information came faster than I had ever seen before.
It was more like a review for someone that already knew the information
Training was as follows, you received various machine manuals and
schematics then you had a lecture on the circuitry and mechanics then you
studied at home. Then exposure to
the inside of the machine. You would eventually remove major parts and then reinstall
and adjust them. An finally
“bugs” ( troubles placed on the machine for you to diagnosis,
electrical or mechanical. ) You
would then write the problem on a slip of paper and hand it to the instructor
who would grade you on the time it took to complete the diagnosis and how
accurate your information was. We
were also well graded on our use of hand tools. I rated myself a 10 there.
I got into a disagreement with our instructor.
We were putting a steel collar on a steel shaft and putting a taper pin
in it to hold it tight. You went
to the tool cabinet and got everything you might need for the job.
One of my tools was defective and I needed to get another one from the
cabinet. When he was checking the
finished assembly, he said “that is very good, but you did need to make a
trip back to the office for something.”
I said “not really I was replacing a defective tool that was in the
cabinet. In the field if I had a
defective tool and I could not replace it at the office I would buy my own.
I always have had used good tools.”
He did not mark me down now that he understood what happened.
The three basic types of students were we follows.
1. “D” A diagnostician could diagnose a problem
quickly but had trouble repairing it.
2. “R” A repairman had trouble finding problem
but could repair it quickly when the problem
3. “D & R” Both types one and two, a all-around
tech. Most of us were type 3 or you would not
Grading myself on the 1 to 10 scale I was a 7 in category I and a 9 in
category 2 and a 10 in hand tools.
My class had a man who was overqualified for the job, he was a 10 + in
each category. He had been a
research engineer for a large oil company and wanted to do the same job at IBM
but first he wanted to know what working in the field was like, very
commendable. It took him only 14
months to be a field manager in his home office unheard of before.
I lost track of him but I am certain that he made it to IBM research.
In school the first three times he pointed out that the training manual
had an error the instructor argued with him because the books had been in use
for so long. His logic convinced
even our leader that he was right and the changes were later made.
After the third time our instructor just wrote down his reasons and
passed them along without any arguing.
Normally we worked in two man teams in the lab.
The first time I worked with him I was blown away.
We were assigned the job of getting a 403 ready for a demonstration for
a visiting tour group. This
demonstration was to be running the test deck with the test control panel.
The lab machines had numerous bugs placed on them and were still
suffering from the incomplete correction of many of them.
When we were running the test we knew just what the results should be
and any change indicates some problem. He
started the test deck and looked at the output.
He made three notes on the printout indicating the first three errors
and what the probable cause was. Only
once that evening did he fail to get it correct the first time and then he had
written down alternative cause and that was it.
For the first time someone had gone through the entire basic IBM school
making perfect grades in all tests. Only
on the last added class ( 407 ) did he get a question wrong.
Toward the end of that class the machine designer interviewed the class
and they were bragging that they had stumped the expert. ( His reputation
was spreading. ) He piped up with “My answer is more nearly correct than
yours.” They replied that had
placed the bug on several machines on the assembly line and that was the
result. His reply was “Fine but the factory machines do not have this part
slightly worn as do most of the machines in the field and there are more
machines in the field than the factory. If
you had that part worn some just a little bit, then my answer then would be
correct.” The next day the two
were back in class meekly stating that after simulating the wear he was
correct and gave him belated credit for his answer.
That gave him a perfect 100% grade for the entire school, the first
time ever. Someone that sharp could have been enamored with himself, but he
was an OK guy.
The IBM school had a military class going through at the same time as
our 407 class. Often we would
come in and the machine would not work properly and we would need to clear the
problem before continuing. Once I ran the diagnostic test and the output appeared to be
in a foreign font ( characters. )
I looked at the punched card deck and it also had similar looking
characters printer on them. For a
few seconds I had a strange feeling. I
took the output and cards to our instructor and said “look this machine can
read and print arabic.” He was
startled for a short time also. There
was a severe timing error in the print area causing the problem which I
In Endicott IBM would take the top student each year from local high
schools in mechanical shop and offer them a intense on the job training as a
tool and dye maker. When they
finished they were offered a top paying job with IBM while still very young.
One trainee instead after his IBM training moved to Texas and applied
for a job in his new trade, however he was still so young that no one there
would believe him and give him a chance in spite of his certificate from the
IBM training group. Finally one
company at his own expense called the Endicott IBM factory for a
recommendation. He was given a chance based on the enthusiastic
recommendation of the man responsible for his IBM training.
They hired him with some doubts but he turned out to be a better,
sharper worker than their top man with more than 28 years of experience.
The younger man had learned some of the latest advances and shortcuts
in that trade. It was very
The IBM school ran two shifts. Sometimes
school had two classes going at the same time in the day and also two at night
shifts. The one limiting factor
was the number of machines in the lab. One
group started in the morning on the machines while the other group was in the
class room. That afternoon they
switched. On Wednesday after
class we had a singing rally and EVERYONE was invited. We had IBM songbooks and the sing-along format was always the
same, first we sang patriotic songs then fun songs finally some IBM songs
finally ending with “Ever Onward” the Star Spangled Banner of IBM.
The leader would ask for requests from the floor.
One evening we all got together and conspired not to request ‘Every
so the song leader kept saying “one more song.”
Eventually after an additional 10 songs we realized that we would see
the sun come up if we did not make the request.
You were never directly told so but you knew that to belittle the
singalong was worth a quick trip home, without a job.
I kept one of the song books for historical purposes.
The Phoenix IBM office later denied that the book had ever existed till
I showed them a Xerox copy.
The basic school was for 12 weeks with an additional optional 4 weeks
for the 407. Toward the end of
the 407 class I came across a typewriter repair trainee, he was complaining
about the grueling four weeks that he was there.
I gave him a hard time explaining that I had been there four times four
weeks or 16 weeks and had no sympathy for him.
IBM customer engineers that worked in remote locations were called
triple threat, that is they were trained in data processing, time equipment,
and typewriter repair.
One day in downtown Endicott I passed by a telephone cable splicer down
in a manhole, he must have had a new helper. He
did not want to exit the deep hole so he was trying to make his helper
understand what he needed. I
showed the helper what he was talking about in less than a minute.
The man in the hole offered me a job as his helper I declined. I had
been there before.
While at school we were invited ( also required. ) to a dinner
at the IBM country club. It was a fancy meal with good food with many waiters and an
assortment of table hardware at each place.
At each table was a older person not in school and I am sure that she
was reporting about our table manners or possibly lack of.
There was music, singing, and a orchestra playing.
During my stay in school we had a three day weekend.
Another C.E. trainee from Sacramento California ( Also named Howard,
our class had four ) invited me along and we drove in his Austin Healy to
upstate New York. It was a sporty
six cylinder vehicle with a two speed rear axle that was controlled by a dash
mounted toggle switch. In it we
visited Niagra Falls. That car
would really GO! He let me drive
it on the freeway which is now interstate 90, after a few miles I remarked
that New Yorkers were sure drove poky. He
asked how fast do you think you are driving.
I looked at the calibrated speedometer and it was setting on 110 miles
an hour. I slowed down to the
legal 60 MPH speed limit and seemed so slow then I almost felt that I could
get out and jog that fast. We
visited the falls, Old Fort Niagra State park, and we had a short trip into
I was driving on the way back we were traveling south at night on a
country road Hy 96 through the finger lakes area.
We were behind what we called a ‘New York Hotrod.* That
is it was loaded with stuff, lights, figurines, and such each vehicle was
different but I am sure that the owner thought that it was cool. As near as I could tell the engine was stock.
Most of the local Hotrod car engines had many shiny chrome parts,
generators and starters among them. I
had the power to pass him but I did not know whether the dark I could see
ahead was ‘no cars* or ‘truck around a bend in the twisting country
some miles we came to a four way stop. Ahead
I could see the lights of a small community and the road was clear for well
over a mile. I pulled out pass
him but he accelerated to stop me from passing.
The two speed rear end was in low range as Howard said “stay with
him, stay wit him.” The small
engine in the Austin Healy was well over the red line in RPM*s
( 6,000 ) and it was screaming. After
a quarter mile of this the engine exhaust sound on the other vehicle indicated
that it had toped out. I looked
down and saw 87 mph on the calibrated speedometer.
Finally Howard threw the rear axle drive switch to high range.
That was a real experience the, engine took on a deep roar, the tires
spun and the car wanted to fishtail. It
felt as though we were hit from behind by something big.
Considering that it was already going 87 mph we really took off.
We passed the other car in a flash and we were through the small
community in the blink of an eye. I
was then over-driving my head lights on the then dark twisting road ahead so I
slowed down to a saner speed. I
have always wondered what that other driver thought then.
I was certain that he thought that he was at least the equal that
strange automobile when it broke rubber and sped off like that.
Another man from Southern California drove back to Endicott in his
modified street legal rod. He had a trailer with a separate, ‘racing engine* and the equipment to switch. One weekend he went to the local drag races.
He quickly realized that his racing engine was far superior to anything
there, even his slightly modified regular engine was superior the ones racing
He asked what were the rules about racing equipment.
There were essentially no rules other than it must be street legal, you
entered your vehicle got a large number for the side door and had elimination
races with other cars, the winner went on to the next race till someone won
the finals. It had been some time since the top local racer had lost a
event. His father was wealthy and
he could buy whatever he wanted. The
Technician from the west entered the contest with his racing engine and
eventually the two were paired up in the finals. Needles to say the man from out west won hands down.
Even so he did not really push his machine, just enough to handily win
the final race. The local
previous winner was immediately interested in this strange new vehicle.
When the people there heard the comment that he did not really push his
machine, the statement was met with disbelief and astonishment.
Wining over the former best and it could do even better, ‘show us.’ Another final was arranged.
This time he pushed and he was not just ahead but to the finish line by
the time his competitor was a little over halfway down the track.
The engine was apparently breathing fire as the tires spun.
Now there was really an interest in this strange looking machine.
Everyone was gathered around it in admiration. “Just look the motor it had no major chrome parts, just
some chrome acorn nuts along with some strange looking things on it.”
The rich local man made an offer for it that could not be refused and
the ownership changed hands.
The man from the west had been frequenting local salvage yards and
seeing the most incredible things for sale, things long since gone from
California salvage yards. He
wants only five dollars for that transmission?
Why back home it that condition it would sell for a minium of $250.00
dollars. And that rear end over
there, priceless. I have not seen a engine block like that for sale in years.
He bought a small flat bed truck and a trailer with his money from the
local man and started haunting the local salvage yards on all of his time off.
He was thinking this stuff will be worth a fortune at home.
I can sell part, keep some and afford to make a real rod.
I am sure his investment and time payed off.
I guess it is normal to remember unusual problems especially if you had
a hand in their repair. Being a
rookie the execrations were fortunately low.
IBM was growing at a fast pace, especially our South Gate office in
southern California and getting into school at the time I was hired took some
time. I spent most of my pre-school time carrying parts for the
older men and helping as a go-for. We
could remove covers on machines in the office and play with the adjustments on
them as long as we did not destroy anything too valuable.
I was sent out to help a man working on a tricky 407 problem.
When data was printed and summary punched in a card on an attached 514,
the 407 would have the dreaded ( reset check ) otherwise the 407
would work without a problem. He
was snowed in and he was stuck. I
was of no help because I had no idea what was happening.
Trying to find something to do I glanced down at the control panel in
the 514 punch. There was a
control panel prong bent down and I asked if it were ok to straighten it.
“Go ahead” was the reply. Fifteen
minutes he asked do you remember where the bent prong was.
I pointed to the prong that still had the marks of the bending and
straightening. We placed a
control panel wire there simulating the bent prong.
The problem which had been gone was now back, the bent prong was the
original problem and I had repaired it without knowing what I was doing.
After I was back from school for a short time I fell heir to a sticky
problem on a 083 sorter. It ran cards at 1,000 a minute.
If they were all going into the same stacker in the #4 pocket they
would drag on the pocket sides and cause a jam.
In you made an adjustment on that one pocket the adjacent one #3 would
then have the problem. Each
machine had a thin gray adjustment manual with all mechanical adjustments in
it. In it’s information it said
you must start at the far left #9 pocket and proceed toward the right-most
pocket. That worked. Later my manager later asked about the fix and I told him of
the sequence of adjustment that it required.
He asked “where did get that information?” I said “I read it in the adjustment manual,” he looked
At a major tractor company parts warehouse in east Los Angeles there
was a shinny new 403 that had a dual carriage, form feed, the only one that I
ever saw. It would feed different
forms at different times and different amounts under program control.
The two part thick and very slick forms of paper on the right side
tractor would slip and that would cause the feed pin guide to slip up causing
misprinting and jamming. I did
every test and adjustment I could think of including everything the grey
adjustment manual all to no avail. I
then tried various modifications ( Cluges ) still nothing.
I was dying and nothing worked. Finally
the account D.P. manager said “Why are the only one of six places nationally
having this trouble.” It dawned
on me this setup cannot possibly work the way it is and everyone is having the
same trouble and just not communicating.
I called my boss and said “has anyone thought to checked the other
tractor parts places to find out if they having the same trouble?”
He said “I don*t
know but I will find out.” In
about two hours he called me back to say all six installations were having
exactly the same problem but no one had thought to cross check.
I told the local D.P. manager there that he was not alone with this
problem, then packed up my tool bag and left.
Later when I was there on another machine and I looked at the printer
operation and noted that the top and bottom right side slick forms now been
stapled together, and it was working fine. problem solved.
Out in Pico there was a big tractor dealer that sold complete machines.
The D.P. manager handed me a copy of letter he had mailed to a customer
in Mexico, earlier the customer had overpaid an invoice, so they were sent a
credit invoice. They promptly
payed that also. Over and over
they had doubled and redoubled the credit amount repeatedly by paying the
amount label credit. They were
finally sent a letter along with the invoice explaining that they do not have
to pay the credit amount. He had
a return payment again. He was exasperated.
I took a card and wrote down the address of the customer.
The manager wanted to know what I was doing that for, I said I am going
to send them a invoice payable to me. We
My boss sent me out to a customer as a pacifier one day, the old timer
with the account had been trying to adjust the huge but delicate
electro-magnet on a 402*s
two speed clutch without success, but he was busy elsewhere at the time.
The manager wanted me to be there to keep the customer happy but he did
not expect me to be really successfully and actually adjust it, just be there
and pretend that you are repairing it. As
nearly as I could measure the clutch adjustments were perfect as per the grey
manual. As I listened to the
machine it sounded as though, I was on the western overlook at Hoover Dam.
I could hear a much too loud 60 cycle hum coming from the machine.
I got out my VOM and measured the DC voltage and it was set correctly (
48 volts ). I then got a
.05 mfd capacitor and using it in series measured the DC again on the meters
AC scale. It had 18 volts ripple
on a 48 volt DC power supply. I
asked the D.P. manager if this machine had a history of many, one of a kind
problems, he said “it has.” I
told the customer that I needed to the office for parts.
I replaced the two parallel 8,000 mfd capacitors and the hum was gone.
I then measured the D.C. again and found that it was far too high now
at ( 65 volts. ) I moved the adjustable transformer leads about till the D.C.
voltage was set correctly at 48 volts under load. The A.C. ripple was now 1.2 v.
The discoloration on the transformer indicated that was where the leads
had been originally. The previous
C.E. had been trying to adjust a huge electro magnet with a D.C. voltage that
had a high ripple ( 18 volts
) on it, almost an A.C. voltage. Months
later I was there working on a 082 sorter in the same place and I asker about
the present reliability of the 402, after a moment of thought the D.P. Manager
said “there has not been a single problem on it since you had last worked on
it.” The other C.E. had be
working on a symptom and not the real problem.
Made me feel great.
I got a Saturday call on a 604 problem.
The place had two machines. A
new application that should work was failing.
It did the same on both machines.
The 604 calculator had tubes that gave three output pulses on a program
step. Various functions would
accept this output and do that operation.
Stepping the machine through had exactly the same results.
Finally I ran a specially wired test panel.
One of the three outputs for one program step was dead..
The other end of the plug wire was to a divide latch.
The other machine had a bad divide latch.
The results was the same on both calculators.
The Los Angeles area had Technician that was sharp on one of IBM’ new
big computer. He received
numerous call for help from all over the country often late at night.
One night he was out on a help call, in another state.
His wife answered the phone call.
She asked the calling Tech some of the questions that she had heard her
husband ask. One question led to
the calling Tech to reach a solution. Later
she explained hearing her husband ask the same questions many time before.
She did not even know what that machine looked like.
I was in the town of Whittier California and the dispatcher asked me to
stop by the high school where I had graduated to work on a 805 test scoring
machine. ( A machine that
could read the current through pencil marks with special lead on a paper and
record the results on an analog meter. )
Because I had never even seen one before I didn’t know how to operate
it. So I used the old ploy
“show me the trouble.” Translated
that meant “How do you operate it?” The operator ran some papers through explaining the failure,
as I watched how she operated it. I
removed the many small screws holding the top cover down and tilted it up, not
knowing where else to begin. There
directly before my eyes was a wire with a crimped connector it*s end, it was hanging just below a brass bolt and
all over a brass nut and washer laying on the base.
I replaced the wire, washer and the nut, and then tightened the nut and
said try it now. Fortune was with
me, it worked perfectly and I got credit for a great and speedy fix.
Glen Able normally took care of that machine but for him it was
intermittent and the wire had not come completely loose yet.
When he lifted the covers to look inside the connection was pulled
taught and it worked fine. The
next time they had a problem they asked for me because of the speedy repair I
had made on a intermittent trouble the last time I was there.
That was my second call on that machine.
After that I got lots of experience on that type of machine.
One of our customers at a steel fabricating plant that had a strong
union that had just gone on strike. Our
field manager Doug Beckley asked me to go out there to repair a 407 if the
strikers would let me through. I
was to ask for permission to pass and if it was denied promptly leave.
When I arrived at the gate I was greeted by a union shop steward and
four burly men blocking the gate. I
said that “I was from IBM and wanted to go in and repair a machine, is it ok
to pass.” The Stewart said
“NO!“ I thought I was
bluffing when I said as I backed out onto the street “Ok but the machine I
need to fix is the one printing your last paychecks till the strike is
over.” ( Only one of their 407's had the ability to print payroll checks.
) That got his full attention, he followed me out to the street and while
ducking big trucks as he pleaded for me to please come back in.
Later I found out that if I had been denied entry the company by law
did not need to make the last payroll payment till after the strike was over.
To my amazement the bluff was actually true that was the very job and
machine that was down. But I had established a precedent and from then till the
strike was over the only two vehicles were actually welcome in that gate and
that was mine and the lunch wagon.
One day when I arrived there were the same union shop steward but a new
crew of huge men blocking the path. The
shop foreman was talking on the phone in the guard shack with his back turned
to me. I just sat there with the
men still blocking the path and glaring at me till the shop steward happened
to looked around. When he saw what was happening he turned loose of the phone
in mid air, and ran out and did a flying tackle on the four men blocking the
gate knocking them down. Over his
shoulder he waved at me to continue in as he was admonishing the four men now
lying flat on the ground.
Later the D.P. Manager there said that he would rather insult the CEO
of the company than antagonize the IBM Customer engineer, good thinking on his
At the same big steel company the machine room ran 24/7/365 and one
type of machine actually ran all the time, the 077 collator.
Under those conditions there was a certain gear that lasted at best two
months, less if you did not keep it properly lubricated.
It took several hours to replace it and restore the timings that were
lost in the removing. I got in
the habit of taking a small piece of metal and scooping the grease back on the
gear each day on each machine. One
day I thought why not make something that would scoop the grease all the time
and perhaps it will prolong the gear*s
life. I built one and clipped it
place and it worked. The gear
then lasted indefinitely. I
submitted a suggestion for
Suggestion Award $1,475.00
got stock reply answer number X-10. I
wrote several follow-up letters which my wife typed for me, even when she was
busy with our three daughters. One
day a district official stopped and asked if all was going well.
I mentioned my frustration
with the suggestion department about my idea.
The Southgate office had enough made for all of our machines and for
nearby Long Beach. After looking
at it he asked “What is their objection” he said.
I said “they tell me it will not work” at the time he was watching
it work. He asked me to send to
him all of my correspondence about it.
For some time I was the office night man, I came in at two p.m. and
worked till either ten p.m. or till all of the calls were done.
About three weeks later at an office meeting I was called forward and
presented with a suggestion award certificate, one of the managers said
“have you spent the money yet.” I
said “what money?” They
started “looking for the money.” Someone
then brought in a huge colander and held it up as they poured in it three bags
of silver dollars, The total amount for the suggestion was $ 1,475.00.
I was stunned all of the managers shook my hand and patted me on the
back. Then they said do you want
to call your wife. I did and I
said “I won that suggestion award.” Like
a good wife she asked “How much was it for.”
Like a good husband I said “guess.”
She said “$150.00” I said “more.” “$250.00” she ventured
with excitement in her voice. I
replied “much more.” Her next
guess was an excited $1,000.00 I said “$1,475.00.” She let out a little
scream of joy. Another Technician volunteered to take my place for the
remainder of my night shift so I could go home and celebrate with her. I had
the option of the silver dollars or the check I took the check. The total amount had the taxes deducted.
One IBM technician turned in a suggestion for the 729 tape drive.
Inside the drive was a series of solenoids that controlled tape motion.
It needed to be taken apart to clean.
It was a precision adjustment and required some hours to finish by
using an oscilloscope. The
assembly needed to be taken apart and cleaned once a week on drives that were
used heavily. That cleaning
destroyed all of the adjustments. Some
big systems may have up to 100 drives or more.
One man if he were good could do two a day. The change allowed the entire task to be completed in thirty
minutes without losing the adjustments. He
was giver the largest award ever given at that time.
He was at a IBM school at the time.
His wife was flown to the school site for the award ceremony without
his previous knowledge that she was there.
TO CALL A C.E.
Never call for a C.E. until everyone has had time to form his own
opinion as to how to fix the problem.
2 Give dispatch an urgent call to
send a C.E.
3. Alert guard or receptionist so
that C.E. has trouble
getting into machine room..
4. Ask him why it took him so long
to get there.
5. Make sure someone has just
started a long on
6. Hide all print and manuals for
7. Ask how soon
the machine will be operating again.
8. Block machine
so that C.E. cannot get to the Covers.
9. Hide all
samples of intermittent failures.
10. Tell C.E.
this is the same trouble we had three
again when it will be operating.
12. Make sure
operator that bad failure is out when C.E. arrives.
13. Tell him the
last C.E. had the machine running much
14. Ask him many
questions which are in no way
connected with the trouble at hand.
15. Ask again,
how soon the machine will be operating.
16. When he
finally gets the machine running, tell him
what a good job he has done, although he should
have done it much
17. After he
leaves, call his boss and tell him the
machine is worse now than it was before. This will
give him a chance to come in again and you can go
through the above rules again.
I never saw the above ever published, it must
have been printed or taught because every single
item in the above list has happened to me repeatable.
the big steel fabricating company a parking spot was reserved for their IBM
Technician very close to the machine room
I found that I could touch the closest machine and the hood of my car
at the same time.
machine room was like most, was very noisy.
One day a man arrived with some building materials to build a sound
partition between the keypunches and the remainder of the other much nosier
machines. The man laid out a
measured chalk line on the floor and took out a drive-it.
He loaded it with a blank bullet and drove a nail through a two by four
into the cement floor. I was
across the room and as I looked toward the source on the noise.
I could see papers and punched cards flying through the air all the way
to the ceiling. I remember
thinking “some sort of explosion blew all of that into the air.”
Actually the items were originally in the hands a lady verifier
operator as she was just setting down. When
the gun shot took place on the floor right behind her chair.
Her reaction was to throw everything high up in the air.
The next day the D.P. manager said that he would have been ahead if he
had sent all the girls home due to the large number of keypunch errors made
after the shot.
customer far from the Southgate office but north of my house was a company was
that made heating and cooling equipment.
They had a 407 that was loaded with every option available. On rare occasions it would get a reset check ( meaning
that what printed from the mechanical counters did not match what was in the
counters before the printing ) the trouble was very intermittent and
consequently very hard to trouble shoot.
I could never get a failure in my tests. One day I was frustrated and
started checking things on the machine in general. I found a serious fluctuation in the machines D.C. voltage.
After some time I finally I measured
the A.C. input line voltage and
I saw a
deep double drop of
( 48% ) in the line voltage also.
The machine power transformer was part of a ( constant voltage power
supply ) but the dip was overcoming it.
The machine D.C. voltage would rise when line voltage would dip very
low then when the line would rise back to normal the D.C. machine voltage
would fall. It would go the
opposite direction from the line voltage.
When the huge D.C. dip coincided with a high current demand on one of
the occasional 407 operation the reset check would occur.
D.P. manager and I went out to see the shop maintenance engineer. He said that the dip was due to a huge multi-head spot welder
that made 12 parallel welds at a time then moved over slightly and quickly
made 12 more. We went to the
power panel room and he showed me the analog meters that indicated the current
and voltage for the three areas in the building.
They had connected the welder to the office buss because of the
normally low load there.
input voltage dipped from 600 to 400 volts and the current went from 200 to
400 amps at each of the two welds as read by the analog meters.
The spot welder was making gas manifolds for heaters from heavy stamped
sheet metal parts. That dip
explained the general lack of reliability in all our office machines there
including a 604. They said that
in their previous location a nearby movie theater had problems with the light
output from their projectors when the welder was working.
I said that under the conditions there was nothing that I could do for
him. It was always a joy to find
that a sticky problem was not my responsibility.
still another Whittier customer a huge cemetery.
Staying non profit was sometimes a problem. In the data processing department the CEO’s son was
presently working. He was getting
to know all of the various parts of the business.
The son had a upcoming wedding and the incoming gifts were being
stored, opened on some tables along one wall in the D.P. room.
I was looking at them and noted that almost every gift had an
electrical cord attached to it. Because
I lived very close to the instillation I went home for lunch that day.
On the way home I stopped at a hardware store and bought a gift for
him. At home I wrapped it in
fancy paper and found a card to attach to it.
I gave it to him when I returned, he said that I was not expected to
give them anything. I insisted
and he opened it. In it was a box
of four screw in 40 amp house fuses. I said that if they plug in too many of their other gifts at
the same time they would need them. He
laughed as he said “That is what you would expect from an IBM C.E.”
We then all laughed.
database was huge. Many people
were buying cemetery lots on time payments and the printout was a two part
form, accordion folded. The stack
over two and one half foot tall with many entries on each sheet.
It required someone looking through the entire list to find anyone who
was delinquent in paying.
new Data processing manager changed that to what He called an exception
report. It was less than one inch
thick and it included only delinquent*s.
The first time it came out everyone was shocked by the smaller size but
eventually they understood that this was much better and lot*s easier to work with.
He also started a systematic reduction in various reports.
He would randomly put a finished report on his desk.
Depending on how often it was printed, he placed the next report on top
of the last one. When the stack
had three scheduled reports and no one had called for their report and they
were not on vacation or in a hospital it was delegated to as needed only
report. He gave them as much information as before but not in unless
reports. Prior to this they had a
crew of seven working in the daytime and a crew of four working at night. Still
giving everyone as much information as required he had a crew of only two
working one shift.
of the old-time IBM C.E.’s was relating to me his experiences during World
War II. It seems that he was
working at a IBM installation out in the far Pacific.
It was at a U.S. Navy base and most of the machines were well past
their prime. One machine
especially, a tabulator 405.
were at the wrong end of a long supply line.
Although he maintained a supply of normal parts, occasionally something
would break/bend for which he did not have as a spare.
He found that the machinists for the Navy were able to make nearly
every thing necessary to keep things running.
The tabulator a 405 was in sorry shape and needed constant work just
make it through the next report. One
day he was told that the Japanese were nearby and likely would soon overrun
the base. He was given a full
case of theremite grenades with instructions to destroy each machine so that
they could not be reactivated, or copied or reused by the Japs.
Knowing what to destroy on each machine to totally render it unusable
he sparingly placed grenades on all of the machines saving plenty for the
tabulator. It was covered with them.
When he had them burning the entire tabulator was fused into the cement
floor in a molten cauldron. It
was impossible to tell what had been there before because it was now a slag
pool. “The feeling I had while
it melted was close to madness” he said.
He confided to me that he was afraid the U.S. would retake the place
and he would be required to keep servicing it.
He also said “I bet the Japanese wondered what that slag pile had
been. Possibly some secret
Rookie on His Own
first regular assigned customer was a large tire company in east Los Angeles.
They had a good sized installation of machines and a Data processing
crew four men and about twelve keypunch and verifier operators with a
supervisor for each department. The
programer was very good. Once
when I found a mistake in his wiring for a new 407 job, I really studied the
manuals carefully before I told him he had made an error in wiring and how to
chance it. He augured with the new guy for a while till I pointed to a
paragraph in the manual stating that you cannot do it that because it will not
always work all the time on every machine.
He had programed in on one machine and was attempting to run the job on
another machine and that one would not work.
What he was doing worked on two of the 407*s
but not the third so he placed a call on that machine.
The problem was based on some close timings inside the machine.
The variable machine timings were within the +/- tolerance for some
circuit breakers but it may not work.
woman in charge of the keypunch section officially worked for the man in
charge of the entire department, but she usually got her way. One of the keypunch operators was continually complaining
about some vague problem on her machine and I could usually find nothing wrong
with it. One day I suggested a
test and the Data processing manager agreed, after everyone went home for the
evening we swapped all cover that had scratches or any markings on them with a
machine across the isle and left the identifiable parts ( covers ) in
the same place. It still looked
like her machine. The first thing
the next morning she still had the same problems so we asked her to try the
machine across the isle. She said
that one was working perfectly. It
was her own machine with different covers and location.
He told her to come into his office and when she left it she picked up
her things and left. I never did
see her again.
keypunch operator at that company could remember the exact problem, time, and
date of every failure her machine ever had.
She would say it is doing the same as it was on this past time and
date, many times it was many months ago.
I always attempted to get her to describe what was the failure now, to
no avail. One day it was having a
intermittent problem and I knew that she would compare it to a older problem.
So I asked her to punch a series of numbers that I could remember
before I started. The machine would not fail at that time.
The next morning she said that it was doing the same as the previous
day and also on a named earlier time and date.
I asked her to punch the same sequence of numbers as I had given her
the day before. She replied
“when an operator types something and goes on to the next item she forgets
the old data.” I said that
“When I go on to a new problem on a new machine the same thing happens and
for the same reason.” She
finally understood and never made a older comparison to me again.
had one very fast verifier operator and knowing that I was fairly new man she
would put up with problems on her
machine because her machine had a light touch
( fast ) and she was afraid that I make it sluggish.
By that time I had figured out that a machine with a light touch had
fewer calls, not necessary fewer problems because the operator will tolerate a
minor problem on a really fast machine. Finally
her verifier stopped working completely and she had to let the rookie work on
it. A keypunch or verifier
machine operation required a series of things to happen sequentially on each
key stroke, any one operation being slow would cause the machine to feel
By then I had learned a number of extra things that made a machine work
faster and applied them all to her machine before I returned it to her.
About one half hour later she asked me what I had done to her machine.
I told her what I had done to repair it and went on saying “I thought
it was rather sluggish ( Not really ) so I did a tuneup on it.”
She said that is great because it had never worked so well before. I
knew that if I could make a machine that got that response from her “I had
the days that every field machine had a parts catalog I was talking to our
office parts man on the phone. There
was a 407 that I had made temporary repair and I was making certain that the
part that I was ordering was the one that I needed.
Each of the men operators would come over to the machine press stop fan
the cards, readjusted the carriage then restarted the machine. Then another operator would do the same thing.
I thought “if there is something wrong with that 407 I wish the would
tell me.” Then I noticed that
they were looking elsewhere and not at the machine.
I followed their gaze to see the real reason they were doing that.
A lovely young strawberry blond was at the desk of the head keypunch
operator going over some papers. She
was bending way over while wearing a loose fitting dress with what was then
called an Outlaw neck line ( very low and loose fitting ).
She was showing off her great tan and it was visible from her forehead
all the way to her belt line and it was all perfectly visible and very even.
I was in the best place for the view because I was there before she
came in. Suddenly I was having a
problem talking and making sense so I told the parts man that I will call back
later. I hung up the phone, then
dialed a partial number to keep the phone from ringing and watched.
IBM 519's had a device that could print on one end of a card up to nine
numbers on one line or the other. What
printed was under the control of
the wiring of the control panel. One
day one of the operators handed me a card and said that the end-printer was
printing incorrectly. I could see
nothing there and I said “don*t
you mean not printing at all.” He
repeated his statement and escorted me over to a dark closet then turned on a
UV lamp. Then I then could see the error in the glowing number.
They were using invisible ink. The
ribbon in the machine looked like a strip of oily white cloth.
By the time I finished the repair my hands were glowing under the lamp
as much as the printing.
had started this system because tires were turning up missing somewhere in the
plant. At each stage an inspector
should count the number of tires in a batch and write it on the card under the
printed numbers. He could see the
original number printed on the card and he got to estimating the count instead
of actually counting. Because
there were certain defects that would cause tires to be rejected the number of
tires in each batch would often decrease.
day when the invisible numbers started coming out there was flurry of calls
wanting to know how many tires should be in each batch.
They were told to “just count them.”
They then asked “how will we know how many there should be, and how
many were they were to count, and how will we know if we are right?”
The reply was “Just count them all and we will tell you if they are
correct or not.” Shortly there
was noted of occasion a sharp drop in the number of tires in one general area.
A lookout room was built in the rafters over that department to watch
them. From the high perch they
saw a trash truck stopping out or normal sight of the floor level people.
They layered the bottom of bed with tires and filled the top with
trash. All this with a camera
rolling featuring them. A
undercover police car followed the truck to a warehouse with many stolen tires
in it. The system of invisible
numbers worked so well that they continued using it.
I remember innocently saying once to another C.E. they used invisible
ink to print on their 519. I had
to explain the process and reason to him.
was describing something about a TV repair to a machine operator there.
At one point I said “that capacitor will have a high voltage charge
so be careful and do not touch the terminals.”
He piped up saying that “No! as soon as a capacitor is removed from a
circuit or the power is turned off it immediately becomes inert without any
charge.” I set up a
demonstration using a large value capacitor ( 8,000 mf @ 48V ) to blow
up a small diameter wire after the capacitor had been charged from a machine
by meter leads. I removed the
leads from the machine, and using other leads I placed them on the charged
capacitor, the small wire exploded into vapor from the heavy charge in the
capacitor. He was amazed, but
then he believed me.
keypunch operator as I came in said that most of the star-wheels had been
knocked off her machine and could I quickly fix it.
I took off the cover looking for the missing parts.
She said “No I found them and put them in my coffee cup and ! ! !
Oh my god I drank them. . . .” I
told her that “IBM hardened the wheels in a bath of molten potassium cyanide
a highly poisonous compound.” She
was concerned, and I did not tell her that none of the compound remained on
the parts. Later on IBM stationary I had our office secretary type up a
phoney invoice billing her personally for the parts. It was placed on the counter top of her machine by the lady
that delivered internal company mail. We
were all watching as she came unglued when she read the invoice.
when I was looking in the base of a keypunch I saw a greasy ten dollar bill
lying there. I kidded the operator and asked her if it was ok if I kept any
greasy old ten dollar bills I found in her machine.
She was laughing also and said that it was ok for me to keep it.
I went over and got a paper towel and picked it up and thanked her
profusely. When she saw the
$10.00 bill and realized that I was not really joking she changed her tune and
wanted it back. We argued back
and forth for a while till the woman at the next machine pointed out that was
probably the money she had accused her husband of taking from her purse.
It had apparently fallen out and slid in her machine and landed in the
grease. I made her promise that
if she would apologize to her ‘poor husband’ I would give it back.
She promised so I gave it back.
volunteered to repair a special ( one of a kind ) Braille printing
machine controller made from a modified IBM 056 verifier.
Prior to the controller the brail writer has two sets of three keys
plus a central space bar. Three
keys for each hand. A brail
character was made from a combination of six raised dots.
The keys were one key for each dot.
The top left dot was number 1 below it was dot number two, then dot
three, the top right dot was number 4 and so on. There were many rules for brail printing but the operator was
relieved from knowing that to print a ‘n*
you pressed the keyboard ‘n* and not keys 1, 3, 4. and 5. The machine translated for you
of the 056 was connected to the Braille writing machine.
Normally the Braille machine had seven keys three for each hand and a
space bar. The operator needed to
know the complicated rules for Braille writing and needed to press the proper
keys for each character. The
machine was in a private residence and had been modified by an IBM engineer
from the San Jose plant. The
brother of the lady that lived in the house.
With the new setup the training for an new operator was much less and
many more could volunteer as a typist. The
basic machine had been donated by IBM. The output was small indentations in a
thin folded zinc alloy plate. It
could be written on both sides by turning it over.
The holder was made so that the reversal offset the dot areas and
allowed double sided brail. The
finished plate could then have a sheet of special paper placed in the fold and
run through soft rubber rollers. The
paper would then have the data impressed on it and could be read on both sides
making a Braille documents smaller by having both side with text on it.
Also multiple sheets could be run from the same plate.
That machine location had five times the output of other similar
machines without the controller.
was great coming there because I was a volunteer and she took extra care for
my comfort. She always had a
fresh batch of my favorite cookies or pie and a hot cup of coffee waiting. Not
all of the 056 was used and the designer gave me the remainder to turn in to
the parts department. I gave them
to our parts man saying that I could not repair the machine so I was secretly
removing it from the customer’s office one small section at a time.
He did not know what to think.
Pico where I lived there was only a small community bank.
It was the same one my father used and we were both Howard Oels.
Many times they took my pay check and placed in it dad*s
business account or they would take the amount dad payed
account ( usually a
substantial amount ) and it was always against me.
Any number of times I had checks returned for insufficient funds.
Not one occurrence was a true failure in my account.
It got so that when a teller saw my wife or myself they would make way
toward the back room because we were usually so mad. To settle the problem permanently I finally changed banks.
I was trained on a bank proof machine. That
bank had one. I was taking my
first call on it when a teller saw me and hastily fled to the back room.
I followed her there and she nearly panicked.
Once by looking deep inside that machine I found a loose check.
They said “so that where it went.
We turned this place upside down looking for it months ago.”
another bank in Whittier I arrived in the morning before the bank was open,
the tellers were all there. The
guard did not know me and said “What do you want?”
I said I am from IBM and I am here to repair your bank proof machine,
where is it. He pointed toward
the back of the building. I asked
a lady there where it was and she took me there.
Just as I was setting my tools down a cart piled high with the money
for the tellers was removed from the vault and placed beside the machine. I followed the lady back up front and she wondered why.
I said “because of the cart with the money.”
She said “you are from IBM and we trust you.”
I replied “How do you know that I am from IBM did you see a ID card.
Have you ever seen me before?” Finally
someone moved the cart so I would work there. Later my boss said.
“You did the correct thing.” The
following is the reasoning for my actions.
My Sister Faye
Where: Whittier California. A Department store ( Myers
40 odd years ago
All the sales clerks at the end of there day they would put there money
in a cloth bag, and were turned in to the cashier. The next morning the
cashier would count the money and make sure they balanced. Then she would make
a bank deposit. The cashier and the credit department were next to each other
with only a door to separate them. The door to the cashier was open most of
one morning a man came to the credit department and said he was a repair man
and had come to fix the machine. In an office you always have a machine that
needs fixing, so he was let in and showed to the machine. We were all busy and
didn't pay any attention to him. I do remember him hitting some of the keys.
He then went to the cashier office and we didn't pay any attention to him. The
next thing the cashier came out of her office and said something like
"what is this man doing he is taking some of our bags." The man was
going past her with bags in his hand, and out the door. One of the lady that
worked there started for him, he looked at her and said "stay back,"
and he was out the door. Every one had a different description of him. We told
the police what we though we saw. They found the bags later, in a trash bin,
but no money.
man was dressed in a suit. After thinking about it is seemed odd.
A Southgate IBM typewriter repairman was talking to a security man for
a company that did highly classified work.
He was bragging about how tight his security was.
The IBM man picked up the carbon ribbon on the typewriter he was
working on and began to read the information on it.
It was just a little worse than having the original document but not
much. The man looked very pail.
He immediately set up a daily collection of the used portion of the
Glen Able was
a most interesting man. He was an
senior IBM customer engineer in the South Gate IBM office. He was possessed and possibly cursed with a photographic
memory. He was able
( 602A )without any reference books in front of him.
On one memorable occasion ‘to me’ I called him for help on a 407.
At the account where he was working the person answering the phone said
that he was working on a collator 077. I
told him my symptoms and in a flash he said that is probably caused by
improper timing on this circuit breaker, giving me the number, it was.
His first appearance was always misleading, he had slightly stooped
shoulders and he had a slow drawl when he spoke. He sometimes gave the
impression that he was not playing with a full deck to people who first saw
him. He has a keen mind and a
sharp wit. He had a great sense
of humor but it was somewhat dry. He
could pull your leg without any facial changes and you would never know you
were had. He must have laughed to
himself many times.
At a brand new customer that had never heard of Glen Able I was looking
at some new machines that were waiting installation. This was before I had gone to school. There was a 082 with a problem.
The machine had redesigned covers and they were removed differently.
I found out how to remove them by experiment when I was by myself.
Glen came by to fix the problem. At
first he was stumped by the new covers and had a problem getting them off so
he could work on it till I showed him the procedure.
The customer was watching him fumble with the new design.
Later the customer said to me “wasn’t he a little old to be
starting in this business.” I
was speechless for a time.
Late one night I was working on a machine that I had not been trained
on a 602A. I called him at home
and described the symptoms, he correctly told me the exact relay number and
contact number that was failing and what was the problem with the relay. ( Welded
open number two point. )
At a Southgate office meeting we had some visiting VIP*s from world headquarters.
Glen announced that the Southgate IBM office was the only IBM office
that had a bachelor with three daughters, and there he is Clyde Bachelor.
We knew where he was going but it took some time before the visitors
One day Glen and I were having lunch together in a park, and I related
a story that I had heard about him, in that a customer in down town Los
Angeles had a recurring problem that had gone on for some time.
He had a 402 tabulator that when turned on first thing in the morning
had a near solid failure, then over the next 45 minutes the trouble would
become more intermittent till it would not fail for the rest of the day.
The owner was a personal friend of the IBM founder T. J. Watson.
Finally he placed a call to Watson.
Watson mentioned it to his aid and as it went down through the various
levels the pressure to have it repaired quickly grew with each level that it
passed through. When it arrived
at the local level it was an imperative.
Consequently they sent Glen Able over.
Glen made his usual first impression and did nothing to change it.
He opened the
the machine schematic ( different
schematics in different aged machines ) and sat down by a window making
occasional drawing in the air with his finger.
Then he would look out the window then back at the print.
This went on for some time till the customer called his local office
and said that the great whiz they had sent over was doing nothing. Why he had not even turned the machine on yet.
The man on the other end of the phone knew about Glen and his antics.
He told the customer just to be patent and his machine would be
repaired. Eventually Glen
replaced the schematic, moved a paper holder, then removed a rear cover and
opened a back relay cover and extracted a single plug-in relay.
Without looking at it he tossed it in the trash can, got a new relay
from the parts cabinet checked it plugged it in the machine.
Then he reassembled the machine he said “is anything else here that
is wrong that I can fix while I am here.
The customer was blown away by his actions.
He said “you haven*t even turned the machine on yet how do you know
that it is repaired.” Glen
answered “you can try it, but it is fixed.”
The customer ran the machine and naturally it worked perfectly from the
start. After his admittance that
it was repaired Glen said again is there anything else that needs fixing.
The Data processing manager was stunned and could not think of anything
else that needed fixing, so Glen picked up his unopened tool kit and slowly
Glen said to me that the story was for the most part true.
I said would like to add to the story if I may, Smiling Glen said
“OK.” It is that “Glen knew
what was wrong with the machine before he walked in the room and all that was
for show.” He had a faint smile
and said that was probably true also. I
had an occasion to use the same trick when I moved to Phoenix and it worked
well there also. Glen explained
to me once, that in every IBM school that he attended he always had the same
spot ‘dead last*.
The Best C.E.
Knowledgeable Customers always wanted Glen to answer their service
calls. This was not always
possible if he was busy somewhere else. One
customer would whenever someone came by to service his machine would call the
manager Doug Beckley after the call and say “that last man that came here
don*t send him back.”
Doug sent everyone in the office by on each succeeding call, some
traveling many miles to get there. Because
of timing Doug went by to take a service call himself.
As soon as he got back to the office he got a call from the customer
send that same man back.” The
next urgent call the customer waited and waited for service, finally he called
Doug saying it was vital to have his machine fixed pronto.
Doug said “I have been making a list and you have said not to send
every one in the office but Glen Able over.
He just left on his vacation and as soon as he returns I will send him
right over.” He said “I will
take anyone you have.” Doug
sent three men by to show that we had someone available.
That was the last time he did that.
All offices had the same dinner in turn but when the Southgate of had
their dinner sponsored by IBM it was something to remember.
The affair was in a elegant restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.
IBM payed all expenses. Including,
round trip car mileage, local parking, and a baby sitter if required.
There was a waiter for each two couples.
Every time I took a drink
of water my glass was immediately refilled.
The food was very tasty and good looking too.
On my fruit plate were largest and best tasting strawberries I had ever
had. The fruit plate on a crushed
ice boat with blue streaks running through it.
It also had a battery operated light under the ice. My wife was impressed, so was I.
FOR MAKING ELECTRONIC
Approach the machine in a confident manner.
This will give the machine (often mistaken) idea
that you know something. This
will also impress anyone who happens to be looking, and if the machine should
suddenly start working, you will be credited with it’s repair.
If this step fails to work, proceed to Step Two.
Wave the reference manual at the machine.
This will make the machine assume that you are at least somewhat
familiar with the source of knowledge. Should
this step fail to work proceed to Step Three.
In a forcible manner, recite Ohm’s Law to the machine ( before taking
this step, refer to some reliable textbook and assure your knowledge of
Ohm’s Law. ) This will prove to
the machine beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you know something.
This is a drastic step and should be attempted only after the first two
Jar the machine slightly. This
may require from a three foot to a six foot drop, preferable on a concrete
floor. However we must be very
careful using this step; while jarring is an approved method of repairing a
machine, we must not mar the floor. Again
this is a drastic step and should it fail work, we are forced to proceed to
Add an IC. This will prove
to the machine you are familiar with circuit design.
Also, this step will give the machine an added load to carry and will
thereby increase your advantage. Should
these five steps fail, we must proceed to the most drastic step of all.
This step is seldom needed and must be used only as a final resort.
funny stories were always floating around IBM.
The above was one of the popular ones.
IBM salesmen were on a quota and failing to meet “your quota” was
serious and was often grounds for dismissal.
New salesmen were often given the customers that had little potential
for new sales. Old timers were
given the more productive accounts. The
best that one of the rookie salesman had he was able to sell was an occasional
ribbon at one of his customers. He
was far behind quota and it was early December.
On December 8, 1941 when he arrived at work the rookie salesman found a
urgent note requesting his immediate presents at the customer where he had
little to do with and was his poorest in previous sales.
The data processing manager handed him a U. S. Government emergency
edict that gave that company ( in case of war ) the right to intercept
any IBM machines now in transit to anywhere that met their needs and for the
IBM assembly line to fill their seven page close line order before any other
orders were filled. He met quota
and actually exceeded the sales for the entire office for that year.
Normally such accounts were made an office account but no one knew that
this customer was capable of such a large order.
With his windfall check in hand he quit IBM.
One day I was in the office talking to the lady from personnel.
I knew that a typewriter salesman was facing a deadline, he needed just
one more machine to qualify for his quota and he was desperate with only days
left. I could tell by his voice
that something important was happening. As
he hung the phone he suddenly tossed everything on his desk high in the air
and let out a rebel yell. It
seems that one of his customers had just ordered twelve machines.
It the same local west Los Angeles neighborhood was a major tire and
inner-tube plant, was a company that made and packaged several types of
detergent soap, a wholesale hardware dealer, and a drug wholesale company.
It was common for the various customers to give their IBM C.E.*s
a discount on the products they sold. The
tire plant had an employee store. There
you could buy any of the things that the company made and sold.
This included tires, tubes, tennis shoes, and garden hoses among
others. The plant that I worked
in only made only tires and inner-tubes.
The tires for sale at the employee store were of various grades and
prices. The lowest price and
grade was for tires that had serious defects and could be only used for farm
vehicles that moved slowly. The
best discount tires had a blemish in the product name.
These were good tires but they would not put them on the regular
market. I bought some tennis
shoes there once.
The machine plug-in relays had two small round wires as the moving
contact surface. The air in the
plant must have had a high rubber residue because it took only a small amount
of the material to cause the wire contacts to fail.
Visually looking at a relay contact it would look like it was good but
a meter would find no continuity and cleaning it would clear it.
The wholesale hardware nearby that had an incredible assortment of
hardware products and also they had an employee discount store the IBM men
were allowed to use it. The
display room there had one sample of each product and some punch cards in a
holder in front of it. To order
you would take one or more cards from the holder in front of all the item you
wanted and then you would go to the checkout desk and receive a printed
invoice. Just before Christmas we
went there to buy gifts for our three daughters, they had all the latest
things at a huge discount over our local stores.
The major ruber company had a cafeteria that had at best high priced
mediocre food while the hardware company had low cost and good food.
Many people not from the company ate there.
I accused the tire company of having the plant just so they had a
captive group for the cafeteria where they actually made their profit.
Local independent hardware stores would go to the hardware wholesale to
purchase the items for their store. The
higher the quantity of an item they bought there the better the price they
were given, up to some maximum. Once
at a local hardware near my home I was talking to the owner about the price I
paid for a very high quality lawn mower ( I used it for 27 years ).
He said that he could not get a quantity of “one” for that price
for his own use. The companies
always gave us the discount as if you had purchased the maximum quantity.
I was working on a 407 at the wholesale hardware dealer and it was
quitting time on Friday night, I was tired and I wanted to go home.
There was a very odd and different looking bolt that had stripped it*s
threads and I was certain that it was made only by IBM, I made the mistake of
saying that I would fix the machine but I would first need to order that bolt.
The Data processing manager took me out to bin after bin of hardware, there
was a entire bin of that “Special” bolt, I stayed that night till the 407
was running again.
During this time I went deer hunting for the first and last time.
I was with my grandfather and father in a pickup truck. I am a
non-smoker and I am allergic to tobacco smoke.
Both of them chain-smoked the entire trip.
I was about to abandon ship and head for home walking if necessary.
While hunting I walked aimlessly around trying not to get lost.
I was walking along a road graded in the side of a steep hill.
Suddenly a very near by a shot rang out and a hanging twig shattered
about six inches directly above my head.
I got over next to a bank to prevent further shots from getting that
close. I saw a small limb laying
there and threw it over the down hill side of the road.
A man ran up and pointed his rifle toward the still bouncing limb.
I chambered a round in my 30-06. He
froze as he looked over his right shoulder.
I imagine that my riffle looked like a cannon to him.
It was pointed at his middle with my finger on the trigger, there was a
huge soft nosed bullet in the chamber. With
that same gun and ammunition I had shot a hole through a 1 / 2 inch thick iron
plate. He was careful not to turn
his weapon around toward me. He
knew that the sound that he blindly fired at was me.
He started to shake violently and then he started to walk away.
As soon as he got out of view he started running and I think that I
would have needed a motorcycle to catch him.
Neither of us said anything at the time, it was much later before I
could think of clever things that I could have said.
The hardware wholesale company leased one of the first IBM 305
Ramac’s, it was about the third in the Los Angeles basin. It was a huge disk drive that used vacuum tubes for the
logic, one of the first commercial disk in computer history. Its best feature was it’s random access, unlike a magnetic
tape which had serial access. It
had more much more capacity than drums. It
had huge platters to write on. ( By today*s
standard the data density was very low.
) The disk plates were about
24” in diameter but there was only two read write heads for the 50 platters,
both top and bottom surfaces. The
heads were positioned on the platters with a small billows, contact was
prevented by air flowing through a small hole in the head.
A seek from the inside track on the top platter to the same location on
the bottom platter was by today*s
standards was very slow, until you realize that before that time they had a
huge deck of punched cards that took a slow manual operation to find the same
information. The disk covers were about six feet by four and over five and
one half foot tall.
The machine kept a running inventory of all items in stock.
It could store 5,000,000 seven bit characters.
And it was updated as each order was filled and new items were brought
in. It was announced on September
The monthly backup was to punch out the entire contents of the disk on
thousands of cards. ( Each card had 80 positions of data [72 useable ]
about 62,500 cards. ) Hey it was the state of the art at the time.!
Once Monday after a really bad weekend rain storm they found that the
roof had leaked directly over the Ramac.
A waterproof tarp was placed over the machine to divert further water
flow as the roof was repaired. Then
attempts were made to dry it out. They
were dubious about turning it on due to the moisture in the high voltage
electronics. The IBM Technician
cleaned the platters but there was still moisture in the tube area.
The DP manager went out to the warehouse and brought in a new air
compressor to blow out the moisture, some new heating lamps and a big new fan
to dry the machine. After several
hours the machine was turned on and tests were ran on it with only one minor
I was given a personal tour through the plant at the soap packaging
plant and shown the huge machines that packaged the various product in their
line of washing products. This
plant packaged boxed detergent products.
There were high up on stands that were the size of a small motor-home
were bins with material for the mix for the various types of detergents.
One thing that struck me was the actual cleaning material came from the
same bin for all the various detergents and accounted for a little less than
1/8 of the bulk in the box, while 7/8 of the box was what they called filler.
Filler was made from several inert things including flecks of material
that had distinctive coloration, and different odor was used for each separate
product. The filler only other
function was to give the product bulk. Essentially
there was little real difference in the various products other than
advertising. The items that were
the most heavily advertised cost a little more One day my wife had several women over for meeting and with
the meeting over they were discussing various things. Finally one woman mentioned that she liked a particular new
detergent. Another piped up to
say that another was clearly better. Each
of the three women visiting there liked a different detergent that was made on
the same line. They had their
backs to me but my wife could see me having hysterics across the room.
Later she asked me why was I having such a time.
So I told her about the tour less than a hour before and seeing all of
the cleaning product mentioned before coming from the same bin with only the
filler different. On one occasion
the soap company sent four small boxes of detergent samples to many households
for a rating, the tour guide said
all of the boxes had exactly
the same material ( Including filler ) in them and the test was really
what design on the box was best looking.
One box had a huge percentage of votes as the best product.
One of my customer was a large vacuum tube and electronics
manufacturing company. This was before semiconductors.
I could buy tubes for my TV there at a sizeable discount.
IBM tubes had very different characteristics than tubes used for most
audio or RF applications. The IBM tubes were basically switches, that is they were
biased to complete cutoff or fully on, no in-between and were chosen for that
parameter. Only in regulated
voltage power supplies were linear applications used in IBM.
At another customer, a wholesale liquor dealer had a inventory problem
also. As the product was in
various sized glass containers there was a degree of breakage so there was a
way to enter into the card inventory “Breakage.”
When they bought a Ramac it was for the same reason, inventory control.
One day there was an order for a quantity of a popular item and the
actual inventory was short from what the machine had in it*s
memory. The IBM salesman was called about the supposed failure of
this new machine marvel and it*s
fancy software. They then did a
hand calculation of the additions and subtractions and the value in the
machine should have been correct. They
did a spot inventory of the most popular items and found a number of
Late one night after normal workers had gone home they empted a storage
closet overlooking the loading docks and created a opening to observe the
loading operation. Watchers in
the observation room had a printed list of things each truck should have,
finally they found one truck that was loading extra product beyond that was on
the printout list. As per a
pre-arraignment setup they phoned a undercover police car to follow that
truck. At an unmarked warehouse
the truck stopped and unloaded a number of things.
A backup was called and the warehouse and truck were raided.
The night operator for some time had been entering a large number of
false breakage entries in the old punched card format, and he thought he was
also doing the same in the Ramac. He
had incomplete training on the new machine and the entries were not being
properly entered. A crew of several men had been ripping off the company for
some time. There were no purchase
invoices for anything in the raided warehouse, it was all stolen.
As Southgate IBM customers were three major car manufacturing company*s and they each had assembly plants there.
I saw a huge hole in the wall at one data processing room on one visit.
That hole was just opposite the end of the assembly line where newly
finished automobiles were driven off to a parking area.
The DP Manager said that a car had just came off the assembly line and
would not start. It was pushed by
hand up near the wall waiting for someone to later check it out. Some time later still unattended the motor started ( with
it in gear, and it with a automatic transmission ) the motor throttle was
wide open. It crashed through the
cinder block wall into the Data processing room narrowly missing an operator
working there. He said “The
machine was under lock up till some engineers came out from Detroit to look
for the reason why.” It would
not do to have that happen on cars in public hands.
There was never any information given out about what failure or on
combination of failures happened to cause a automatic transmission equipped
car to suddenly start in drive on it*s
own after such a delay. I don*t
blame them for that.
One large company*s
Data processing night manager suddenly died and another manager was assigned
from another department on a temporary basis.
I was concerned about having a man in charge that did not know about
proper machine room operation. I
need not have worried because he did a marvelous job.
He was not afraid to ask questions, especially of me.
Later when through due course they hired a qualified replacement, I
remarked to him “You did a great job.” He said that the company had a
training program that trained managers to handle almost any assignment.
His parting comment was I have a new respect for data processing and
from now on I will be better prepared to request data from them.
There was a 063 card to tape out at the far opposite end of one of the
automobile assembly plants. The cards were transported out to the machine
rolled up in a tube ( do not fold spindle or mutilate this card ) that
was moved by pneumatic tubes The
cards were always bent and hard to feed into the 063 machine.
Feeding problems due to the rolled cards were my biggest headache
there. The 063 read cards and
converted that information to a paper tape.
That tape was then placed on a network teletype that had remotes around
the plant in all manufacturing departments.
The data on the card had all the information for a given car.
It included all wanted options, accessories, model, and color.
The remotes were in each department where sub-assemblies started.
Like engine, body, seats, wheels, header upholstery, paint, trim, dash
and radio. The line was so
organized so that the next part from the subassembly line was for this car. I thought before seeing a line that they probability built
several of one design at a time. The
reality was the next unit usually was generally something entirely different.
Possibly a blue two door car of one make followed by a red four door of
another make. I was not allowed
to drive down to the back door because no-one was allowed entry there in
private vehicles due to past theft of thing like entire engines.
I had to walk the two blocks to the 063 machine through the plant and
then up some stairs. I took
advantage of this an took a different path each time so I could see the entire
line in operation. I was joking
with the 063 operators that if I ordered a car I would make my own card and
have it loaded with everything. He
said no on knew who this next car was for.
Later I found out that was not entirely true.
At that time I was impressed by the body paint department.
The different colors of paint were in different hoses.
On the automobile firewall was the paint information along with many
other things. The proper hose was
selected the nozzle cleared and painting began.
Just prior to painting the finished body was dipped in a super
de-greaser compound and then immediately immersed in a primer tank then it
went through ovens to quick dry the paint.
The only reason not to run a car body through the primer tank after
cleaning was a close by fire and even that was in some doubt.
It was super clean and without protection so rust started in minutes
and would ruin it.
There was a rash of problems on 407 analyzers in the office so we had
to take apart and clean each part, hundreds of them. This took a good deal of time so we ordered a temporary
spare. One of the parts inside
the analyzer part had 600 of the same parts in each unit. It was necessary to clean them all and many other small
parts. One Technician had the
parts on a table and we wanted to play a joke on him.
If we hid a part he would just think that one was lost and get another
from parts. My idea was to get an
extra part from stock and place it in the pile.
When all the places were full and one was still remaining it would
drive him nuts. It was my idea
but a manager actually did it. It
worked he spent some time looking for a place to put that 601 st part..
We had ordered one analyzer but it gave us a spare
so we were able to
exchange and remove all units ( one at a time ) and thoroughly clean
them before we returned one for credit.
One of my buddies has a strange problem on a 407.
The expensive analyzer unit had all of one part in the wrong place.
He took it apart and repositioned them all 600.
He then placed it on the machine, hand cranked it over then hit run.
After a resounding crash the same problem was on the unit.
Repeating the above slow process and cranking it over he turned the
motor off. As it was coasting to
a stop he noted that it was running backward.
There is a mechanical device to prevent running backward but the power
of the motor overcame it. The
motor later was found to have a pinched wire inside.
After years of use it made contact causing the motor to reverse
direction in use.
of a Typewriter
A much older typewriter was taken in as a trade.
The machine was waiting for orders to completely destroy it to
preventing it from competing with new machines.
Several typewriter repairmen were next door for coffee when the
execution order arrived. The
machine was placed on a narrow Dutch
door and as they returned the machine was ( accidently? ) pushed
off to land upside on it’s carriage on a cement floor with a resounding
crunch. The look on their faces was priceless.
One customer was an aircraft manufacturing plant.
I got a call from the DP manager that he really needed a machine
repaired now. I said that I was
only a mile away and would be there soon.
About 65 minute later I walked in the room, he said I was counting on
you to be here sooner. I said “Come over to the window, see that green Chevy in
the lot.” He saw it.
“I was parked there in between five and ten minute after I talked to
you, it takes me that long to get through the various check-in procedures
inside this building.” Between
my car and the Data processing room was a gate with a guard, a open and direct
path of less than sixty feet. He
said “The next time you come here go to that gate to come in.” That saved
me lots of time getting in there.
There was an operator there that was doing one job only, she was
preparing a report. Before she
went on vacation she finally found someone to take over that job while she was
gone. A supervisor took over the
report. He could see that as it
was explained to him the data was incorrect so he decided to investigate
further and found.
The data was incorrect
No one received the report ( it was stacked in a
storage room unread. )
The original work order was for one ( 1 ) report
original requestor no longer worked there.
When she returned from vacation she was assigned
Another customer was a company that made copper tubing.
I got to see the start of the process when I went to a machine shop at
the far end of the plant. All of the tubing had it’s beginning was from the same
place, a cylinder of copper about 14 inches across and about 18 feet long.
That cylinder was heated to a bright red glow as a spinning steel
mandrel was pushed through it creating a long ragged and thick walled tube.
The approximate size was four inches inside diameter and one and one
half inch thick and about twenty five feet long.
It was reheated and then drawn through smaller die after smaller die
making it longer and smaller in diameter. After
heated ( annealing
). If you got one eight inch
tubbing it had gone through all the previous sizes before reaching that size.
Becoming smaller in diameter as it became longer in length.
It was cut into shorter manageable lengths as it grew longer.
The Data processing manager there was always knocking IBM, me, and the
world in general and I hated to go there for service. Till I mentioned it to another C. E. He said that is his was of testing you, he thinks that if you
do not fight back you deserve it. The
next time he did that I told him where he could go and what he should do when
he got there. After that he for
the first time he invited me to the cafeteria for coffee and a chat. We found that we had many things in common and we became good
The entirely new field of semiconductors was starting out with a bang.
To teach our field CE*s about this, one of the men that had more time as
a Technician went to a class at a local university. Afterwards he decided to teach many of the field men about
the subject. We signed up for
night classes and we were saturated with information on how to design and
build our own transistors but with nothing practical for a service technician.
How do they fail, catastrophically or fade away like tubes?
What type of failure*s can you expect?
I sat in the class in a daze not knowing enough to ask a meaningful
question. Later I figured out
that everyone else was having the same problem.
Part way through the class one of my favorite electronic magazine had a
23 page insert that explained it all from a service technician*s point of view.
In the next class our instructor made a statement that did not compute.
According to what he just said a small signal transistor was going to
control a 100 amp circuit directly. I
objected and asked the first meaningful question from the students in the
class. He was stunned and had no
answer, so he said that he would question the professor that taught the class
he was in. He later made another
explanation that made more sense. We
were given parts and a schematic for building a small semiconductor radio when
we finished the class.
of a End Printer
One morning I received a call at home to, on the way to my regular
account, I was to stop over at a major food chain main office in Southern
California to reposition a guide wire on the 519 over the end printer,
basically a two minute job at the most. With
the tiny wire in place I asked “where is the printer?”
After they looked for it for some time with no luck I went on to my
regular account. Later that
afternoon I received a call to stop back there on my way home to install the
printer. The DP manager looked as
though he had been wallowing in a messy and wet storm drain.
His shirt and pants were filthy. I said “what happened?”
He replied that after removing the end printer that was causing jams
the operator had set in down on the floor, in someone*s
way who moved it, into someone*s else way [ repeat ] till it was
finally placed in the spot that was the cleaning person*s
area for things to throw away. By
that time there was a mad rush to the trash dunpster behind the building. It
was empty just having been emptied by the collection truck.
After calling IBM and discovering that the printer had a replacement
value of more than $2,700.00 ( the price of a top of the line used car at
the time ) they decided to go out to the dump to look for it.
The man at the gate directed them to where their collection truck had
just dumped it*s
load. They preceded to spend most
of the day digging through that messy pile.
In mid afternoon the man at the gate came over and asked what they were
looking for. They described the device.
He said that there was something that looked like that on the ground
over by the gate. They walked
over to discover the printer on the ground in plain site, they had driven
close by it on the way in. The
trash pickup operator saw it and said that it looked valuable and placed it
there. I replaced it with no
problems in the 519.
However other related problems did occur. On my next service call there I replaced a broken gear on a
402 and tossed the broken gear and tooth in the trash can.
On my next trip there was the broken gear and the tooth were both on my
desk on a clean paper towel. I
replaced a tube in the 604 and threw all of the parts away again.
My next call everything was on a paper towel again.
I wrote a note saying that it was ok to discard this.
My next trip had all of the parts that I had throw away plus something
unidentified from somewhere else in the building, the collection was growing.
Finally I had to, every so often to take the discards out to the
dunpster and burry it deep down it the trash out of site.
Later I was assigned a new account and the C.E. that now had the place
asked me why it was so difficult to throw away broken parts.
I told him why.
The sales department there had a monthly report.
After the break off day it took two days to compile it and many of the
department employees had nothing to do till the report was finished then
everybody was busy. Sales were
first entered on a big ledger sheet with a special machine.
All the data was collected from the ledgers and various reports were
A outside company modified a IBM keypunch to punch a card from each
ledger transaction. At the end of
the month the cards were given to the staff of the data processing department
to compile the reports. The
reports were really simple by data processing standards.
The D.P. crew immediately started working on them.
The Data processing manager then invited the sales manager to the
cafeteria for coffee. After a
short time one of the Data processing operators came in for coffee also.
That was a signal so the Data Processing Manager who said “lets see
how your report is progressing.” When
they walked in the Data processing room the finished reports were waiting for
them. The sales manager was
sand-bagged. He could have not
been more astonished. However
anything finished that quickly could not be very accurate, so the printed
reports were gone over minutely looking for the necessary mistakes.
They were accurate and complete, machine printed and not hand written.
Needless to say that was how it was done after that.
I heard this following story from more than one IBM Technician at
various schools that I attended so I believe that it is true. All were from
the same office. There was a
customer that manufactured women*s
undergarments, the building was fairly old and the best air-conditioning was
reserved for the data processing room and the models dressing room.
When a new Technician would go over to help they were told to ask for
directions to Data Processing at a certain desk.
They were then told at the desk to go through that door, cross the room
and go through the door on the right wall.
Normally the person giving the directions would note the time till they
reappeared, usually red faced. The
reason was the first room contained the models dressing room and the models
wore nothing but a smile, while waiting for a request for a showing of a
particular garment. The models
had been seen that way so often that they no longer were concerned.
A average man coming in there un-expectedly would normally panic.
It was normal to count the number of seconds a new man would be in
there before he came out with a red face.
On hot summer days that room was a popular place to eat your lunch.
If you had a railway as a data processing customer you could never tell
another IBM Technician about the really dumb things they did there for one of
They had never had taken a call at a railroad account.
They had taken a call at a railroad account.
If it was for reason number one they would never believe that a data
processing account could do such insane things. They may not call you a liar
to your face but you could see it in their faces that they thought so.
If it was for reason number two, they did not want to hear the piddling
dumb thing that you thought you saw but they wanted to tell you about the
really dumb thing that they saw.
The account that we had was in the community of Los Nietos east of Los
Angles and south of Whittier it was a railroad switching yard for trains into
and out of the greater the Los Angeles area.
It was a desirable work location so the turnover was low due to the
old-timers that had bid on the jobs there.
Their union protected the old-timer*s
in several ways. One way was if
you had more time on the job in your job category and wanted someone*s
else position in the same category you could bid for it and replace ( Bump
) him. The classification for the IBM machine operators was clerk,
it was a very broad classification. The
man that stood outside in the cold rain holding a clipboard directing that
this car should go to that track and join the buildup for a train going there,
was a clerk also. He might look
inside the warm office and sees someone setting down drinking coffee, he may
think I have more time than he does so he bids for and gets his job.
With no knowledge of his new job he is then setting before a 047.
Months earlier one day Doug Beckley had said to me “you live near Los
you.” I replied that “I
do.” He said do you know where
this street is showing me a slip of paper with a crude map drawn on it.
I said “yes” Doug said “If you go west on it from Norwalk Blvd.
You will see some railroad tracks crossing at a shallow angle.”
I said “Yes I know where that is.”
He continued “There is a street from the south that dead ends
there.” “Yes I know that
street also.” He continued “about 100 feet south of the intersection on
the east side of the street is a yellow/orange building across some tracks.”
I said “Yes I know where that is.”
Doug said “Now I know you are lying.
No one knows where that building is.”
I replied “Go back to the last intersection and recall if you will, a
telephone pole on the south west corner.”
He said “I suppose there is a pole there but I don*t
recall it.” I said “well I do because when I was working for the
telephone company I was on that pole every day for well over two weeks.
While I was there we watched that building being hauled in intact on a
big truck.” That I how I became
the C.E. for the railroad because at the time I was just about the only one
that could find them.
Their machinery was much older versions of the normal equipment that
was found in most initiations. Absolutely no one there had any training on
anything and their description of troubles did not match any other data
processing department, mostly their descriptions of problems baffled the
dispatcher. The IBM dispatcher
had no idea what their trouble was when they called for service.
They did not know the simplest thing about any of the machines.
In most Data processing installations a qualified operator could pick
up a control panel from a collator and rewire it for some other job.
At the R.R. they did not even realize that the control panel could be
removed from the machine let alone rewire it, and besides there was only one
job. Each time I came I would
give them lesson number one on some machine operation only to repeat the same
lesson to the same person the next time I came
At the beginning they had keypunch/tape readers based on the 031 card
punch, a 063 card to paper tape machines, an 405 tabulating machine, a 552
card printer, interpreter, a 082 card sorter, and an 077 card collator.
Later the 031*s
were replaced with 047 tape/card machines.
No one there understood the concept of the program car required to make
work properly. One day I saw a
new man set down before a 047 ( that had been turned off ) for some
time. He was looking all over the machine for something.
Finally in triumph he found the power switch and turned it on. I knew then that this was his first time to use this machine
and that he could not expect any assistance from anyone else there so I took
pity and gave him an extended lesson on operation of that machine hoping to
make my life a little easier.
When a rail car would first be brought out of the greater Los Angle
area they would need to punch a card with the product it carried it*s, car serial number, the date, it*s weight, and it*s
final destination. In the
switching yard they would sort the cars out depending on it destination.
Trains could have one of three paths from that yard.
North through Bakersfield toward San Francisco, south through San Diego
or east through Victroville. The
local trains were sorted into bigger trains going through one of the above
destinations. Incoming trains from the above directions were sorted into
small local trains.
Rail cars originating in Los Angeles had cards punched for them and
that data would follow it to it*s
destination. They had a IBM machine ( 063 ) that would read a card and
punch a paper tape with all of the information required, that tape would then
be placed in a teletype and sent to the next station down the line arriving
before the train. The 405 would then print a list of all the rail cars on each
train and that list would accompany the train, along with the total weight.
The tape/keypunch 047 could print the punched data onto the card and
that eliminated the 552. For
proper operation the 047 required a program card wrapped around a removable
drum the same as any other keypunch or verifier, the workers there called it
the [ Brain ] card and each operator had discovered some of the helpful
program functions. He jealously
guarded his [ Brain ] card and the parts of the operation that he had
discovered. He would not share
it. ( I had to figure it out
by myself so you must do likewise. )
He kept it in his shirt pocket till it became nearly useless due to its
wear and age. As the cards became
older and more worn they caused reading problems and more and more machine
One day I finally had it. I
made a universal program card that had all of their various discovered
functions plus some they had not yet found.
I made several cards and placed one on each machine drum, then I gave
each man three, I placed five on almost every flat surface in the room.
When I left that evening I happened to look in the trash basket and saw
all of the grungy old ‘[ Brain ]’ cards there.
They had suddenly lost all of their value.
In the program card there was a field designator for each field and
control punches for some automatic functions. It would copy the date from the
previous card, punch alphabetic data here, numeric data here, skip this area.
Each day on the graveyard shift, and after midnight all of the cards
from that day would be sorted by car number and then merged by car number into
a monthly master deck on the 077 collator. Many cars on short hauls were run
through the yard more than once in a month.
Suddenly I started getting reports that the collator was not feathering
in properly, ( Mis-merging ) over time I completely rebuilt the 077 and
then I ran the most demanding collator diagnostic test that IBM had.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the 077.
Still the same trouble call came in about the machine.
Normally the man that did the sorting and collating went home just as
my shift started in the morning and we never crossed paths.
I finally told him to stay over for one hour and I would come one hour
early so I could watch what he was doing.
It was plain that he was not happy with this arraignment but he
complied with my request. As I
watched he placed the newly sorted cards in the upper feed and the master deck
in the lower feed. I had a
sinking feeling, you always placed the newly sorted deck in the lower feed to
insure that were in an ascending sequence.
I immediately knew then that the problem was the sorter 082 and not the
collator 077. I said “When you
had that bad sorter jam did you remove the brush holder before you removed the
cards.” He said “No I did not
know you could remove it.” That
answered my REAL question “Did you have a bad jam?”
The sorter read brush ( IBM part # 202 I got one from my tool bag to
replace it ) end was flared out and was reading three columns instead of
one and reacting to the first hole it found there in any of the three columns,
the sequence of the new cards were way out of order and the merging was wrong
because of that. Not putting the
newly sorted cards in the lower feed the collator did not detect the error.
He was not happy when I told him that he would need to re-sort all of
the cards for that month. And
then he must ‘ALWAYS*
place the newly sorted cards in the lower feed, even if that was not the was
it was done before. And if THAT
red light on the 077 came on there was an error in the card from the
sorter. I considered trying to teach him
on a new sorter brush, ( All operators were required to know that.
) but I instantly realized how futile that would be.
To make the outgoing paper tape for the teletype the data was Centered
on all header lines. The first
the line the sending yard, then two blank lines, then the date, a blank line,
the number of cars in the train, a blank line, and the total train weight, a
blank, line then car data one line for each car.
Each blank line required 60 spaces and that took some time for the
teletype to send. A blank card
was placed in the 063 to make a blank teletype line. They asked me if I could make it faster like the one*s that came in from El Passo Texas.
I reprogrammed the 063 to send several carriage returns in place of the
60 spaces. Our teletype output
then became the best looking and the fastest on the network.
I got a call one day that the 405 was tripping one of the building
circuit breakers. When I got there I turned the 405 on and nothing tripped so
I asked a operator what was the problem.
The operator turned on several other machines and said that the porter
was making coffee in the next room on a hotplate then he then turned the 405
on. I could hear the breaker trip
on the wall behind me. I said
that “that circuit is overloaded and that tripped the breaker.” He said “of course it is and I want you to replace it with
a higher capacity breaker.” I
remover the wall plug and while pointing to it said “anything from that plug
forward is my responsibility any thing back is not my problem.” He said “why not you work for the railroad don*t you?” I
said “No I work for a company called IBM. It was not my problem.”
They had no idea who I worked for.
There was only one man there that could be expected to remember the
instructions I gave them about how to do something till my next visit.
He was a WW II army veteran ( German army ) and he was
sharp. If they lost him the place would probably collapse.
He was the only one that could remember from call to call what to do to
recover from a problem. I was
surprised that he did not get bumped. I
was certain that somehow he was being protected,
Overall seeing their operation made me very reluctant to travel by
train after that.
The railroad was not by far the worst customer in the IBM Southgate
Office, that title was reserved for another major tire company further down
town from our office. After
losing the previous C.E. I was assigned to that customer, there was a
collective sigh of relief from all the others C.E.*s
in the office because they knew that they would not have it, at least for now.
Any C.E. assigned there immediately started plotting how to get away
from there. ( Whatever it took. ) Of the last eight men given that
assignment all had either, quit, transferred, or changed what they did just to
get out of there. They all had
left the local Southgate office. Unlike
the steel fabrication plant who reserved the closest parking place for their
IBM C.E. this place would not even let you park in the visitors area. ( You
were there every day and therefore not a visitor ) The plant workers came
in much earlier and the regular close in places were all taken when I arrived.
The only available places were far out in the huge employees parking
lot more than a block away.
They payed starvation wages to their workers in Data processing so they
were mostly trainees. As soon as
they got any experience they naturally got a better paying job and better
working conditions somewhere else. The
general manager sat in his office and I don*t
recall him ever doing anything useful. The
floor manager was consistent, he was disliked by everyone there.
Every worker including the keypunch operators hated him and they had
personally told me so one at a time. He
went out of his way to antagonize everyone including their IBM C.E. and he was
good at doing that. One day I
really had it with him and I doubled up my fist and followed him around the
room trying to get close enough to hit him.
Unfortunately I was never able to get close enough to swing at him.
The general manager saw that and later asked why couldn*t
I get along with him. I did a
careful slow scan of the room, finally I said to him “there is not a single
person that you can see from here that can get along with him.
Some would like to push him down the open elevator shaft, others want
to do something very painful to him like pushing him out the third story
window and then do it again if he survives the first time.“
I showed him a card as I wrote a list of the last eight IBM men that
had been their C.E.’s and said do you recognize these men. He did and I said “the reason they are not here any more is
because of that man. When I had
the misfortune to get assigned to this place all of the other men rejoiced
because they did not get stuck here.”
I then called my boss at IBM and told him about it.
After a pause he said “Howard I didn*t believe you had it in you to do that” and he
then hung up. This was years
before IBM sold equipment. Each
year there was a big job making a huge batch of cards for a tub file and
printing on them with a 552 interpreter.
They rented another interpreter from the Service Bureau Corporation ( A
IBM owned company ) on a temporary deal.
The rental did not include service.
The machine shortly developed a problem, it stopped printing in
type-bar number one and later in number two.
Both the general manager and floor manager spent most of the day trying
to figure out why it was doing that. As
I once walked by it I could see the problem a common thing and easy to fix. There was a modification that would eliminate that failure
but it had not been applied, it would have prevented the problem.
They wanted me to repair it for free.
Or they would pay me cash from a separate account to fix it.
The rental budget they had did not include the cost of the repair and
internal accounting was not set up for this added expense.
After a while they pleaded with me to make the repair.
I said “get permission from my boss and I will do it for free.”
They called my boss and made the request for permission for me to do
it. He said that “If Howard
does that you must promise him a job because he will no longer be working for
IBM.” Reluctantly they finally
authorized a billable service call from IBM. My boss called me and said that it was arraigned
for me to fix it and could I do it in one hour or less
( minimum billable time was one hour. )
I said “I would feel guilty if I took as long as ten minutes to fix
it.” He said at least lubricate
something while you are at it. I
reached in my tool kit and took just the tools that I needed, I had gone over
the process repeatability in my mind, sort of a rehearsal.
Even then I was finished in exactly six minutes even with the extra
greasing. The two managers were
watching me closely as I did the repair and ran the job and it was repaired.
With a flourish I presented them with a billable call of one hour for
them to sign. Ordinarily I would
have done it for free and taken the chance of discovery if they had been nicer
I was working at the same tire company when my boss called asking if I
would like a transfer to Phoenix Arizona.
I said that I would like that, he said could you be there Monday
morning, ‘it was Friday afternoon*
I said “yes.” If he had said could you be there tomorrow morning I would
have said yes also.
My wife and I were visiting Tucson when my father-in-law expressed
displeasure at being a one customer water company, the customer was without a
meter so he let the water run all the time.
Changing rates or adding a meter involved a great deal of expensive
hearings and legal work as required by the state. I suggested that since the city of Tucson was buying outlying
water companies he should sell his to the city. He said that it may not be worth much. I replied “are you getting rich from your $1.50 a month?”
Sometime later he sent me a clipping from the Tucson paper. “City
buys water company for $1.00 dollar.”
Phoenix Arizona IBM office we had a good crew for the most part.
When I first arrived one of the field managers was Clarence.
Later he transferred to the parts manager position, in charge of
ordering and motioning the parts room. Clarence
was the first person in the office to purchase a VW beetle.
He often bragged about the great gas mileage it got, 39 mpg.
One day some of our fun-loving technicians told Clarence that if he did
a certain thing that he would get even better mileage.
Clarence could be counted on to fall for almost anything provided you
told the story with a straight face. He
did the indicated thing and one of several men involved started putting extra
gas in his tank. They would look
at how many miles he had driven then measure the depth of the gas in the tank
then they would know how much gas to add to the tank.
( They made a table to keep track of miles versus gallons. )
Some of the zany things they had him do was to place exactly three
turns of number eight copper wire around the end of the exhaust pipe, one half
inch from the end. All of the
things they had him do were just as unlikely to have any change on the actual
mileage for the VW. However
because they were adding gas it appeared as if it was actually happing.
As the apparent mileage rose Clearance would constantly brag about it.
Most everyone there knew the true reason but went along with the
charade. After the mileage rose
to 390 mpg they were running out of things to suggest, they all decided to end
the farce with a bang. Someone
told him one more thing that would double whatever mileage you were now
getting. He did it and they
stopped adding gas. He was
devastated he went back and redid everything that he had done before.
Nothing helped, he took it to the VW dealer telling them that his
mileage had a drastic drop. When
he said that it was only getting 39 mpg the VW service manager said that was
typical. Clarence insisted that
it had been up to 390. Of course
the VW service manager knew nothing about the joke.
So far as I knew Clarence never did know what really happened.
About that time IBM initiated computer control of parts management.
It was not error free and some great Bobo*s happened before some of the worst bugs were
ironed out. So Clarence therefore
was not too surprised when he got a late afternoon teletype message stating
that twelve each of a certain part was arriving early the next morning by air
freight and please review your need for this part as it depletes our entire
stock. He was busy at the time
and did not have time to look up what that part was.
Two of the field managers had looked through the entire parts book to
find the most expensive assembly they could find.
I remember that amount because I had just gone in debt to buy a new
house for $12,750.00 and that was the sane cost as that assembly a 407
analyzer. I was aware that they
were doing that. I was standing
at the parts window getting some parts when he finally found the part and the
price in a catalog. I think you
could have heard the scream blocks away meanwhile ( out of the corner of my
eye ) I could see the two
managers silently in hysterics literally collapsed on the floor.
The part assemblies and crates were heavy and if they were actually
shipped by air the shipping and return costs would be very high.
In Phoenix a new field manager bragged that he did not need to give any
of his Technicians a raise. Another
field manager encouraged the men to work overtime without putting it on their
timecard so the office expenses would look better.
Just northwest of Phoenix out in the desert was a restaurant called
‘Pinnacle Peak Patio*
a steakhouse. The place had fixed benches on tables with oilcloths for
There main feature was steak a big 32 oz steak, a salad, and a baked
potato. If you arrived with a tie
they would take scissors and cut it off.
If you wished they would the place it on the wall or on rafters along
with your business card. A order
of a steak well done most likely got you a crusty old boot that must have been
lying in the hot sun for decades.
The local Phoenix IBM office sponsored a regional managers meeting.
That night they were all taken out to Pinnacle Peak for supper.
They wore their tie*s
of course, ‘they were from IBM weren*t they.*
All of their tie*s were promptly cut off, one man only had that one
tie with him. He arrived at the
next day*s meeting with the remainder in a bow knot ragged
All IBM offices were rated on how many machines they maintained for the
number of men they had. I learned that our Phoenix office was running from a
huge handicap. There was no
allowance for travel time to and from customers. A service call to the Indian
Nation at the place where ( Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah the
met, ) from
the Phoenix office involved a total of nine hours of travel time not including
fixing anything. In down town New
York City there were many single large buildings that each had more machines
in them than all of Arizona. Traveling
from floor to floor there was a fair distance and for a C.E., and to travel to
another building was a major traumatic trip.
In Phoenix shortly after I arrived I went to a wholesale grocery
warehouse. There was a intermittent 407 problem that seemed totally impossible
if you knew the machine it can’t fail that way, other Phoenix C.E.*s had failed.
I repaired it. They were
looking for a more complex and nearly impossible failure.
In California I had the same problem and nearly died before I found the
simple problem and I would never forget it.
I decided to pull a Glen Abel and pretend I was analyzing it in real
time as I drew diagrams in the air and occasionally erasing some small part
till I finally announced this could only be one thing wrong, it was feeding
two cards at a time and only was reading only the holes that matched in both
cards. Of course that was the
problem. With that the complex
problem became simple. I quickly
made a quick and easy adjustment and that repaired it, I told him to look for
damaged cards which and there were plenty, and from that time he believed that
I could walk on water.
Prior to the time that I went to 1401 school I was working in the
Phoenix telephone company on a 084 sorter watching one, then two, and finally
four, men working on a 1401 computer. When
I finished the sorter I walked over to see what was causing so much concern as
a problem. They showed me a noise
spike with the oscilloscope on a computer D.C. voltage in the CPU.
It only happened when the card punch was running. The
oscilloscope had the spike displayed on channel one.
Each of the four Technician had attempted to use ‘his formula’ for
finding the noise timing for the punch. None
worked. I said “why do that the
hard way?” I was asked “Do
you know a easier way?” I said
“As long as you have it on the oscilloscope you have it made.”
That dual trace scope had a zero to plus 5 volt output under the base
that started when the trace started with the noise spike.
I took a times 1 ( one ) probe and connected one end to the gate
output the other end to the low voltage input on the dynamic timer on the
punch. The timer lit up and we
grabbed the print looked at the timings.
We found a circuit breaker that ended it*s
contact at the same time. We then
looked at the print and found that C.B. was operating 12 large 12 position
relays in parallel, a very inductive load.
There was a spike suppression on that line shown on the print.
I pointed to the suppression circuit and said that is probably bad.
One of the C.E.*s looked there and said
“There is a broken wire on the capacitor. He soldered it back and the spike was gone.
Total time for me was about eight minutes. I did not know the 1401 but
I did know my scope. My approach
to the problem was from an entirely different direction and much faster.
We had a small office newspaper written by and for people in IBM in
Phoenix. They were always asking for articles for the paper.
One issue I wrote a fun article based on actually getting a defective
special fuse from stock. In the article I told about the episode of getting it and I
decided to build a test circuit to test all of the remaining fuse*s in stock. The
tester was using the building AC voltage.
By design the fictitious test circuit would blow the fuse.
My article went on to say “as I was testing the larger fuse*s
with the test circuit all of the lights went out and I had to go home.”
( Blew house breaker. )
I almost felt guilty as I had never been involved in any of the gags on
Clarence, till one day I had an inspiration, I had ordered a modification kit
for one of my machines, however the factory had twice before sent me the wrong
kit. It was near lunch time as I
passed by the parts room I saw on Clarence*s
desk a box. It was what I was looking for.
I saw that it was my order so I carefully opened the package from the
bottom so as not to disturb the mailing label on the top.
This time it was the correct kit.
I then went outside to the lunch wagon and bought a sandwich, a orange
and a bottle of pop. Taking the contents of the package and placing them in a
brown paper sack I put the lunch in the box and I carefully resealed the
bottom so that substitution would not easily show.
I waited till Clarence came back from lunch, then walked by his office
and pretended to see the box for the first time. I said I hope that is my kit and I hope it is correct this
time. He said “It is, open it
here and not at the customers.” I
opened the box from the top and gave him the packing slip.
I looked inside and said “they got it right this time.”
I reached inside the box tore open the sandwich paper I and started
eating my lunch. Clarence was
devastated I wanted to look at him but I had all I could manage to do not to
fall on the floor laughing. I picked up the paper sack with the kit in it and went out to
my car. Another man knew what was
happening and was working on a machine in a place where he could watch him.
The back room had windows high up near the ceiling.
Clarence stood on a table and watched me drive away.
When I arrived at the customer*s
location I called the man that was watching.
When he heard my voice he started laughing so much that it was five
minutes before he could make sense and describe what happened after I drove
IBM was very involved with the employees conduct.
So when two of the service technicians told the service manager that
one of the IBM men was responsible for getting one of the keypunch operators
pregnant at one of our customers he promptly ca1l the man in and confronted
him with the information. The manager asked if it were really true.
The C.E. admitted that it
was a true statement, the story was true as far as it went, but there was the
rest of the story, she was his wife. The
C.E. and the manager reversed the joke, the man said to the men that pulled
the joke that ha had been fired.
Over lunch several bank Data processing managers were talking about
their problems sorting checks with MICR coding on them.
One man had a GE sorter at his account.
He was complaining about the many rejects due to poor printing on the
documents. One manager told him
to bring all of his rejects over and he would sort them on his IBM 1419
Magnetic Check Sorter. They were
all sorted without a single reject.
the New System
When the MICR check data format first came out a customer in a bank in
a large Texas city opened a account and asked for a large quantity of deposit
slips. Prior to the new system
banks always had many deposit slips on the counters so customers were
expecting to see them there because they had always been there before.
They were removed when the new system started.
However the unknown man would go around to the branch banks and leave
several of his MICR encoded deposit slips on the counter. They
were then used by customers that were not yet conditioned to the new system.
They were deposited to his account.
Just in time he closed out his account as he withdrew the rather large
amount now in his account. The last that I had heard he was never found.
A friend learning that I worked for IBM was telling me his problems.
He had just moved to Phoenix from another state.
His mail was being forwarded to him there.
One account kept sending his bill to his old address and by the time it
caught up to him it was overdue. He
always filled the change of address on the back then checked the box on the
front indicating the change [X].
This had gone on for some time and he was getting exasperated. He asked me what could he do.
I took the punched card bill to work and double punched the account
number field with a row of nine’s he then wrote in big red letters “Now
that I have you attention please change my address to: It was some time before
I saw him again. I said “How is
your billing going.” He said
the very next billing came to his new address.
The computer stopped cold with the additional punches in a numeric
field and the operator had to look at it closely to see why it stopped.
With IBM and later with Sorbus I had a customer that always said what
he thought was the failing part on his machine.
The fact that he was always wrong did not deter him.
I finally started discounting his diagnosis till one day I thought what
if he is right someday, I wont be able to repair it.
So I always checked his theory first after that.
He had a 100% wrong average for as long as I knew him.
After one occasion like that I said I can go home as soon as I verify
that part is OK? He said “if it
is fixed .“ I said “what you
said was wrong I know that won’t cause this problem.”
Later he started teaching a class at the local state university on data
processing and programing 402's. One
day I was at the back of the class working on a 519. He was always asking me how to wire a machine for some new
function. On my next visit that
would be included in the lab for the students.
The day’s project was seemingly very simple, but it included a back
circuit that caused strange things to happen.
I caught his eye and motioned to him ‘shame on you.’
Shortly there were students competing their initial wiring.
It did strange things. There
were groups of students having discussions with lost expressions on their
faces. For those of you who have
been there the project was to add one, two and finally three asterisks before
each level counter printouts using the same typebars.
He finally said “attention by now you have figured out that today’s
assignment was not as simple as it first looked. You have had your first back circuit. When I gave the assignment the IBM Technician back there
signaled to me ‘shame on you’ here is how you do it, showing the wiring
setup ( on a overhead projector ) that I had drawn for him last
week.” Later I told him that
“I was planning to sign up for his class, I could think of some great
questions to ask in class.” He
replied “Howard I would not allow you in my class for anything.
We can if we are sure they know the subject to give the student an
instant credit. If I see your
name as a student that will happen.” I
called him “chicken.”
The material that we today know as super glue, originally was called
Eastman 910 and sold at $27.00 for a small bottle. It was generally unknown because of it*s high cost, IBM had a part number for it.
I went shopping with my wife Joan.
I had a busy week so far and I was tired.
I decided to set down on a bench while she explored a adjacent store.
I started watching a woman at a nearby long counter. Sometimes when she was at the other end a customer would pick
up an item and leave some money. She
would then ring up any money she found there not knowing what was purchased.
I took a dime and applied a drop of the 910 to it and placed it where
others were leaving their coins. When
she returned she attempted to pick up the dime but it would not cooperate and
remained firmly attached to the glass counter.
She made several try*s without success till she finally started trying
to ignore it. I could see her
glancing at it when no one was there, she kept trying to pick it up. Later a man from another part of the store came over and he
was also unsuccessful at picking it up. I
went with my wife to look at something at another nearby establishment.
I went by the counter on the way back and the dime was still there.
The next day I was in the neighborhood and stopped by and saw that it
was gone. I imagined that I got
many dollars of fun watching the antics of the people trying to remove that
In the office I heard a Technician talking on the phone to someone and
he mentioned a 805. I asked him
if he wanted me to take that call. He
said “yes if you know anything about it.”
The machine had a number of problems and some useful functions were no
longer working. I put it in good
shape. Later I got a nice letter
from the professor that was working on testing at the county college system.
One school system called for quick service on their 805, please send
Howard over quickly. When they
found that I was on vacation they said send him over when he returns.
I was working in a big plant at 43 rd Ave and West Van Buren St. in
Phoenix that extruded a hot cylinder of aluminum into various shapes from a
huge hydraulic press. I was
working on a 514 gear box that attempted suicide and almost succeeded.
I had replaced some gears and was in the process of reassembling it.
There were several things that must be correct all at the same time for
the timing to be correct. So far
I could only get most of the at the same time and that was not good enough. As I was standing there in frustration. Up walked a well dressed man and gave me his name and said
“Hi I am running for governor” as he unexpectedly grabbed my very greasy
hand. By then it was too late to
explain so I just watched the expression change on his face as he walked away
wiping his hand with a handkerchief. I
was partly in control because I did not laugh, at least out loud. I did not plan to vote for him anyhow.
On the way back to the office from this aluminum processing plant at
the S/W corner of 43 rd Ave and West Van Buren St.
I stopped at an intersection at 23 rd. ave and Van Buren St.
I was several cars behind one other Technician that had been at the
same location. Back at the office
he said “Boy did you see the traffic jam at 23 Rd. Ave. and Van
Buren thinking back I did not remember a jam there and I said so.
Days later we were side by side at the same intersection and back at
the office he remarked again about the big traffic jam.
Again I said that I did not see a jam.
He said “Howard, you were right next to how could not see it.”
I said “I saw some cars there but I did not see a traffic jam.”
Then I explained that I was from Los Angeles area and those few cars
did not constitute a traffic jam for me.
Many things we see are relative.
That same Technician had a problem at home. His wife had a beautiful flowering plant in the front yard.
The problem was a big neighborhood dog would every day at nearly the
same time stop there and raise his leg and mark HIS territory.
They had done everything they could think of to discourage the animal
all to no avail. He was ruining
the plant. Chasing, throwing
rocks, spraying with a garden hose nothing worked.
I offered a suggestion, I had a D.C. power supply that would produce
over 495 volts dc. I said get a
small piece of metal screen and hang it from a dry strings in front of the
plant. “Take the plus output
from the power supply and connect the wire to the screen.
Ground the power supply base and keep the ground area wet in front of
the flower. He was watching the
dog as he made the approach to make his daily marking. As soon as he started he let out a scream, ran across the
yard dragging his privates on the grass and ran flat out back down the street
toward the direction that he arrived from.
The power supply was placed in the same way the next day, just in case.
The dog walked down the street at his usual time but he stopped at the
edge of the propriety he looked both ways then crossed over to the other side
and continued down that side. After
several days the screen and high voltage power supply was removed.
To the best of their knowledge that dog did not return.
One day I was working at the Phoenix City Data processing room. They
had a problem with a 407 with a bill feed. A 407 could be trouble enough, but
when you added a bill feed ( A mechanism for printing water bills on
punched cards ) things could really get sticky.
The Technician “Don” that knew that machine was over at the
telephone company working on a newly installed 047 that he knew very little
about. I called him and arranged
to trade places with him. We
passed each other and waved midway between accounts.
I told the lady at the telephone company that I knew something about
this machine and she was happy. The
047 would hang up part way through a job.
( Payroll data from their Glendale plant. ) After some time
stepping the machine through it*s
job and writing the action down on a strip of adding machine paper I informed
her that was a normal operation given the control panel wiring and the data on
the tape. She immediately started fussing as she informed me that the
same job had been running in Denver for the last three and one half years
without a single hang-up.
I had made a red mark on the paper tape by the guide where the tape
stopped. I said that” a hangup
required two special codes in a exact order.
A code for absent sick followed by a code for absent jury duty.
No other combination would make it halt.” She still held to the fact
that the one in Denver had not stopped. I
suggested that she transmit a tape copy to Denver and have them run it through
their machine. After about a week had passed and I had heard nothing from
her I stopped by and asked how did that tape copy run in Denver.
She said that they had actually mailed the original tape to Denver and
it hung-up exactly on my red mark. I
said “now do you believe me?* She said as she looked down “yes I do.”
The two codes stopping the machine were unique and did not happen
often. It had happened on the
first run in Phoenix.
Years later I had the same now well worn 047 hang-up again this time it
was from much use. The lady operating the machine said that she had checked
the manual for that problem and found the data on operational hang up in the
book but this was not the same. In
the book was my exact wording on the previous lock-up.
I said yes I found that problem years ago this one is from actual worn
The training they gave a new operator at the telephone company often
was just enough for this one job and no more.
I was getting a drink from the cooler and I overheard a lady giving
instructions to someone first day new. Later
I stopped by and asked the new operator “what are you doing?”
The trainee repeated her instructions word for word.
“What do you call what you are doing” I asked. She replied citing
her previous information to me. I
asked “What do you call this machine?” Looking closer at the machine she
finally found the name “a collator.”
One day at the telephone company I was working on a intermittent
problem on a 084 sorter. I was gathering data in my mind and often the
operator Lois would come by and ask “Howard
how much longer will it be.” I would reply “I don*t
know yet as I have not found the problem.”
Then she would talk about something else ( her date last night
) and I would loose all the information I had gathered.
I then started over gathering the same data.
This happened several times and I was
I getting a little miffed. The
last time she asked the question I thought quickly that I would give a
nonsense answer so she would know the answer had no proper reply till I had
found the problem. I answered
“about 3 1 / 2 inches” she
looked funny and walked away. Without
an interruptions I soon found and repaired the sorter.
I then went over another location to work on a mark sense problem on a
519. Mary, one of the ladies
there when she saw me was in hysterics laughing.
I said “all right what is so funny?”
She replied “what you told Lois about 3 1 / 2 inches.” I did not think about how that had sounded till then, I only
know that it kept Lois away till I found the problem. My intentions were to give a nonsense answer implying that
the question had no answer till I knew what the problem was.
That also explained why when I would catch the eye of one of the women
working there she would burst out laughing.
Everyone there had by then heard the story by then.
Weeks later I was in on Saturday to repair a 101 and the young operator
( who only worked weekends ) said “Howard how long will. . . .“
then she stopped and was turning very red in the face.
I said to myself “she has also heard the story.”
I learned a good lesson there at the telephone company quite by
accident. I was telling another
Technician a joke in a very noisy room. One
lady working there who was about twenty feet away almost fell off her chair
when I got to the punch line, and I know that she could not actually hear me.
Later after asking some questions I found out that she taught lip
reading. The lesson ‘Be careful what you say.’
A new trainee just back from school was working on a keypunch and I was
offering him advice on the repair. As
he progressed I was handing him the next tool that he needed.
He remarked “how did you know that I needed that tool next?”
Is aid “I have been there before.”
I offered him the tool in my right hand, he said “that is not the one
I wanted. “ I held out my left hand with another tool which he took.
He had a strange look on his face because it was not working correctly.
He took the original tool and that worked.
He said “I don’t think I will ever get the hang of this.”
I gave him encouragement because he was learning fast. He went on to be a top Technician for the office.
The Phoenix IBM Data processing service manager was recounting
something that happened at an un-named IBM account.
There were a number of reoccurring call on some of their machines and
were still not working correctly. Finally
the Data processing manager who
was very exasperated yelled at the IBM dispatcher and said “get these
blasted machines or you will find them rammed up your xxx.
The salesman arrived there and demanded an apology.
The Data processing Manager called the dispatcher and said “Is this
the lady that I spoke to before?” She
said “Yes sir it is.” He said
“Then brace yourself honey because they are on the way.”
Waving his hand every machine was stopped and turned off.
Then a large group men came in and moved all of their machines and
equipment out to their loading dock. He
told the sales man do what you want with them.
IBM said that they had a contract for rental. His reply “You were the ones that violated that contract
because they do not work.”
At a large Phoenix based bank their main computer was a G. E. and their
check sorter was made in Belgium. It was 65 foot long and it used large moving
plastic jackets to hold the documents. It
had 25 pockets and was much slower that the IBM 1419 check sorter.
In addition it would not read the data along the bottom of the check so
it must be entered by keyboard and written on a magnetic tape along the top of
Finally that bank got an low end model IBM 1401.
On the day it arrived another Technician and I were doing the
installation. We had some minor
problems that were related to shipping and assembly.
We had already repaired them. Later
a technician from the Belgium machines came by and said “I hear that you are
having problems.” I said “Yes
but they have been fixed and the customer is doing some rush job ( pointing
to several finished printouts on a stool, at least three finished jobs )
and he won’t let us back in to replace the covers.”
The C. E was amazed. I then told him that this computer was three
separate boxes a ( 1401 ) CPU, a ( 1403 ) printer, and a card
reader and card punch ( 1402 ) in the same box.
I then told him that each unit had been assembled in a different place
and plant and never been together till today.
Each unit was delivered at different times by different trucks.
That really blew him away, he said that the machines from Belgium
needed to be disassembled and re-aligned in Phoenix because there had never
been an actual working installation before and the machines direct from the
factory would not work reliably.
The entire computer room and the general area had a raised floor.
This allowed for circulation of refrigerated air. The area under their
main computer was closed off from the rest of the building.
Most computer rooms forced cool air in the room under the floor and
return in other overhead vents. Their
computer room was the opposite, the return was under the floor. The cool air
would enter the machine and be drawn back to the cooling coils.
This caused a problem with the highspeed printer.
The volume of air entering the machine caused the paper trying to exit
to face the in-rushing stream of air. To
make it work there was a clip on clothes pin holding a cover open just enough
to reduce the incoming velocity of the air.
It would not work without the clothes pin.
That printer usually had a wavy line of characters sometimes it was so
bad that it was difficult to read. I saw a man adjusting the print line using
a tool that changed the resistance of a pot.
The hammer driver was a vacuum tube a 2D2 a thyratron In
less than an hour it was back to a wavy line again as the characteristics of
the tube changed minutely with temperature.
The location for that building was selected because it was directly on
the border between the service areas of two power utility companies.
Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project, both provided electric
power for Phoenix. In case one utility had a failure the building would
automatically switch to the other line or to it’s own huge UPS system.
I got to know the building maintenance man.
Once he showed me the air handler for the building.
It had a humidifier and a huge electrostatic air filter.
He blew cigaret smoke into the filter and it flashed bright blue.
The humidifier had a thin
stream of water that was projected into a focused very high power ultrasonic
beam. The stream appeared to
vanish as the intense sound broke it to vapor.
The same man made a mascot for the center.
It was a robot that sat on the front desk.
It could move around and it had a speaker and mike built in for an
intercom. The middle of the robot*s
chest had a number of blinking lights on it.
I gave him the circuit for the blinking lights.
One day an computer operator pointer to three men, engineers from the
Phoenix computer plant printing massive amounts of paper on the IBM 1401.
He said that had a bet as to how long it would take before the line was
wavy. Occasionally they would
look at their wrist watches or the big clock on the wall.
I said to the operator “they should be looking at a calender
instead.” He agreed.
In the computer room there worked a programer that had an advanced
amateur radio license. He had a
written a program that would make their big computer into a Morse code device,
it would send code to a speaker and you would then press the keyboard key for
that character. The program could
run in the background without disturbing the main job.
I said “That must be the most expensive code practice oscillator in
town.” He agreed. That same
machine had a speaker that sounded out as the machine did it*s
thing. The programers and
operators could tell from the sound whenever it had a problem and where the
problem probably was, they would all jump up at the same time and start
In the same computer room was another radio amateur, he was a snob and
he would often make a statement to me and say this is true isn*t it. The
statement was always false or nearly false.
One day we were talking about the process of adjusting a radio antenna
to a given frequency and about the standing wave ratio.
He made some outlandish statement and said this is true isn*t it? All
the times he attempted to trap me I always had the correct answer.
On one answer he laughed at me and with emphases said
“that-is-wrong.” On my next
visit I had a textbook with me and showed him that my answer was correct.
Before becoming an amateur he had a C.B. radio and license and he was
known to do outlandish things, like flush the toilet and place his open mike
down inside it. As a amateur he
was super prim and very proper. He
often mentioned his home-brew Knight Kit transceiver. Implying that he had home built it although he had never
actually said so. Many times as I
traveled around I mentally attempted to trap him, especially after he had
attempted to trap me.
Once his entire department was having a coffee break and before
everyone there he attempted to trap me again.
“ENOUGH” I SAID TO MYSELF )
I said to him “You sound like you have a amateur radio license.”
He said “Yes I do.” I
said “I bet you don*t have a store bought transceiver but a home built
one.” He agreed and proudly
said that “I do.” I continued
“Does it have a VFO [ Variable Frequency Oscillator.”
] He said that “it does.”
I asked “is it stable.” He
said that it was “very stable.” I
said that “I am happy to hear that because I built the VFO in your radio.” He was stunned and he said hesitantly “Walt built my
radio.” I replied “Yes I know
and I was over at his house when he said that the VFO needs to be well done
and I know you are very capable so would you like to build it. I am happy
to learn that I did a good job.” That
was the last time that he attempted to trap me.
I knew a lot more about him than he did about me.
The next morning I was having coffee there and one of his co-workers
was there and said “Howard I am glad that I was there when he had to admit
that he had not built that radio. We
did not think to ask him if he had actually built it himself.”
of the Day
The Arizona office did have had something that was different from most
other offices at that time, in the summer you could refrain from wearing your
coat and tie and wear a white open collar shirt. If you wore a shirt with a tie in the hot Phoenix or Tucson
summer you were considered to be from out of town, or eccentric or both.
I once went to the airport to pick up someone with IBM arriving from
Denver. I was standing on the
tarmac and I could see up in the plane. At
that time there was a very cold and windy snowstorm in Denver.
The temperature in Phoenix was well over 110̊f.
In the line of passengers in the plane getting ready to exit I could
see one man who without thinking was putting on his heavy top coat.
“It was freezing when I got on the plane.”
I thought this will be funny. With
his heavy coat on he took two steps on the roll up stairs, stopped and drew in
air twice with out exhaling. He
quickly took of his top coat as he started down the ramp. Halfway down he steps he stopped and took of his suit cost.
At the bottom of the stairs he took off his tie I only hope that he did
not take off much more before entering the terminal.
It was hard not to laugh.
and a 704
The IBM Phoenix and Tucson offices were manned on Saturday by a
rotating system of salesmen. On
one such day two men dresses in old clothes entered the Phoenix office and in
a forced drawl said “Is this where we go to buy a 704?”
The salesman cooly said “yes it is but do you know what one costs?”
One of the men said “The model that we want costs over $8,000,000.00
and here is a check for the first half.”
They were professors from the Tucson university and a grant had just
arrived to order the machine. The
paperwork had already been finished and they were waiting for the money to
arrive. The on duty salesman did
not know anything about it and was being put on.
A 704 was ordered by the Phoenix computer plant and the manuals were
always vanishing. Some years
later the Phoenix computer plant offered a computer amazingly like the 704.
Working for IBN and going to the Phoenix computer plant was like a
mission behind enemy lines. You
were the hated competitor but they needed your repair on IBM equipment used in
the plant. You needed to be
escorted everywhere for fear you may get some inside information.
( One escort said really you may see something copied from IBM. )
They had not yet gotten around to having me blindfolded ‘yet.’
As I registered I had to sign a non-disclosure card.
My late wife Joan was then working with the girl scouts and she was a
district manager. At the leaders
meetings she would hear the women talking about their husbands work.
Many had ties to the computer company in north Phoenix and my wife
would repeat to me what she heard at the meetings.
On one occasion she heard talk about getting water in the hydraulic
lines of the Gardner Denver wire wrap machines. The next time I was working there after repairing the
attached keypunch I innocently asked “Does anyone here know how the water
got in the hydraulics on this machine?”
All the plant workers froze and looked at each other with an accusing
expression on their faces. I
could see the unspoken expression floating around “Who told IBM about
that?” It was so much fun for me.
I told my wife to remember everything she could and repeat it to me so
I could make more comments. They
were always blown away by my knowledge of things that happened in their plant.
Like the failure on one of their computers during a Cape Canaveral
rocket launch. By their actions
they thought that somehow all of IBM knew all of the things that I talked
about. IBM as a company knew
nothing about all that it was just me.
On one call to the Gardner Denver repair I could tell that someone not
properly trained had been trying to repair it.
I kept up a running dialog as I repaired it seemingly without paying
much attention to what I was doing. A
top man in that department was watching and when I finished and it worked
perfectly he saw through what I had done and placed some sealing material on
the cover screws and said “No one but this man ( pointing to me ) is
to open that machine after this. My
suspensions were confirmed some one else had attempted a repair.
I had to enter the plant through the front lobby.
The receptionists there took delight in harassing the dreaded IBM guy.
I think that she thought that she was getting imaginary points for it.
Most of the time I went to their data processing department, it had an
phone extension number of 2222. I
often sat where I could watch her dial the rotary dial phone.
When she finally dialed their number someone would arrive in 90 seconds
or less for an escort, they were in a hurry for me to arrive to repair their
machine. Then I began to noticed
that she was waiting up to five minutes longer each time to dial them when I
came in. I wanted to take care of
it my own way so I kept quiet till the time was right.
Finally it was late Friday afternoon, it was payday and the call was
for the 088 collator which was necessary to do the payroll job.
This was the day. I signed in and took a standing position where I could easily
see the phone and her. She was
talking to a hansom young salesman. I
set an arbitrary time of 7 minutes for her to call.
She did not dial 2222 it the allotted time. I also had a call out at the airbase and the one here at the
computer company to complete before going home for the weekend.
After the time had expired I walked up to her desk handed her back the
visitors badge and remarked, “I have noticed that each time I come here I
must wait approximately five minutes longer than the time before.
Today I think the scheduled waiting time will be twenty five minutes
and I just do not have the time, so I will take another call so that I may
have the time to wait the full twenty five minutes here.”
She left her desk and followed me all the way out to my car in the
parking lot pleading for me to return. I
said “Sorry I just don*t have the time today for our fun game.”
When I arrived at the airbase I had a note to call from the Data
processing manager at the computer plant.
He asked, “what happened?” I
explained about the longer and longer time waiting in the lobby each time I
came in. After a short pause he
said I really need the 088. I said “I will be there as soon as I finish
here,” He then added “It wont happen again.”
When I returned the receptionist looked up at me and before I could
sign in she called 2222. By the time I had finished signing in someone was waiting at
the door to escort me there. That
was the last time I had to wait for a long time at the front desk.
I was able to take my problem and make it their problem.
She even dialed 2222 even I went to the Gardner Denver area, another
phone number altogether. I think
someone had explained things to her.
The air base had a open house and I took my wife there. We
stopped in at the data processing building.
There was a 2nd “ Lieutenant telling about the machines
and what they did. I was having a
hard time and Joan could see me in stress, outside she wanted to know why.
I said “The information on the last two machines he talked about were
reversed.” Right data wrong
On the east side of Phoenix was a large semiconductor plant.
The night operator started a job by placing a removable data disk on a
2311 drive. Before the job
completed it started getting read/write errors on the disk pack.
He moved the same pack to another drive.
Soon it also started having the same problem.
He took the backup disk and attempted to run it on the first drive.
Soon it was also having problems.
He then moved it to a third drive with the same results.
Then he decided to forger that job and do the next job on his list.
That pack went on the first drive.
The original problem was a head crash which damaged both the disk and
the drive head. This caused the
second pack on the first drive to be damaged.
Before he called his boss he had wiped out four jobs their backup and
six of the eight drives on the computer.
That type of thing is like an infection because it spreads.
A bad disk will ruin a head, while a bad head will ruin a disk.
That was his last night working in Phoenix in computers.
One customer had an order for a machine that would connect to a high
speed telephone line. It would
receive or transmit punched cards at a very fast pace. IBM shipped it early
but sent it to Los Angles for a national survey.
The program was on national TV and they would ask viewers to call a
local number and express an opinion on various subjects select [a] [b]
[c] or [d]. Operators
would punch cards with their opinions and then the data would be transmitted
to a central computer somewhere in New York City.
It was then sorted and collated then the results were announced later
on the same show. After the show
the machine was then re-packed and put on a train bound for Phoenix.
It was New Years day when the machine arrived in Phoenix.
The paper work was dropped off, but the machine stayed on the train. Without the paper work no one knew what to do with it or
where it belonged so they shipped it out to?.
It traveled around the country for weeks like a lost soul.
Finally IBM headquarters said to the railroad find it and ship it here
by air or pay for it. They
finally found it on a loading dock in a remote Montana railway station.
It had been shipped out many times to anywhere but here, due to no
paperwork. I estimated that it
traveled further to be installed than any other machine ever delivered within
the United States.
I was working on a sales change for a 521/604 combination at the phone
company when another Technician came up and said lets have lunch as he leaned
against the 604 front panel and the grounded overhead metal heat venting hood.
Both the 521 and 604 machines were turned off.
He yelled and was thrown back on the floor.
I asked “what happened?” He
said that he received a bad electrical shock when he touched both.
I measured the voltage from the frame of the 604 to the hood, it read
over 180 vac. Dragging a wire
from the 604 across the hood generated substantial sparks. All four of the 604*s
there had the same voltage from the frame to the hood*s.
I got the phone company floor manager and pointed out the problem out
to him. I pulled the plug out of
the socket on the machine that I was working on and the ground pin itself was
hot in the socket. The manager
said that they would continue to use the machines and warn their operators to
be careful and not touch the hood. I
called my boss and requested that he and someone that could take shorthand be
on the phone at the same time, he wondered why. I said that it was important
and time was of the essence. Shortly
we were ready and I explained, I stated my name, time, date, and location, and
that I had a problem with the electrical ground here at the phone company it
was hot with 180 vac. I said who
I had told about the problem and what his response was.
I said I wanted a witness as to time and who agreed to chance the
continued use in spite of the danger. They
both signed, time stamped, and dated it and explained that I had given them
the data over the phone. After
the explanation my boss agreed that I did the best and only thing that I could
have done. I had a neon bulb that
I used for service and it was connected to the hot ground pin.
About an hour later the problem suddenly vanished as the light from the
bulb went out, the ground was reestablished ten minutes later three men came
by saying that they heard that I had a problem.
I said that ten minutes ago it had gone away.
They reluctancy said that the big power transformer for the four
machines had a broken ground connection in the basement and that they had
Phoenix had a office manager with a bad attitude.
He was upset to the max for being sent to such a out-of-the-way and
unimportant place like Phoenix Arizona when he deserved some place like San
Francisco. He had said woe is the
person that causes him any problem that will reflect on him.
I had a large number of machines down at the phone company one day I
had attempted to call the IBM office requesting help but the IBM office phone
was down. Finally the floor
manager said to me “Don’t you think it is time to call for help.” I said “I have attempted several times but our office phone
is out of service as I smiled at him. Finally
I got through and got some help. After repairing the most important machines I went down to
the cafeteria for lunch. It was
3:45 in the afternoon. Our office
manager stopped by and said “It doesn’t look too good with so many
machines still down and you having a coffee break.”
I replied “this is not a coffee break I am having my late lunch.” He looked funny and turned away and left.
Later some one quoted him saying “I
felt that big” while holding his fingers close together.
I helped install a 4 k memory 1406 expansion on the 1401 at the
telephone company bringing their total memory up to 8 k.
It was core memory and the additional 4 k was in a separate box about
4' on a side. It had it*s
own power supply and a big cable to the main box.
It required modifying the computer so it knew what the total memory
The 1401 was a different bird, the data from a read operation from a
card always went into a fixed place in memory.
If you punched a card it punched data from a different fixed area in
memory. A print operation was the
same, data from a exact position in memory.
On machines with disk or tapes it was the same, to or from a given
fixed area. The first command on
the first card read in from any program was always the same thing.
You ran your program from a BCD Binary Coded Decimal
deck. The programing operation
required two passes to convert from the programming language to the BCD deck.
A small amount of memory could do a great deal because there was no
operating system. Care was
required because the core still had what was there when you powered the
machine down however long it was without power.
More than 18,000 1401's were produced.
The first projection for 1401 sales in IBM was for up to 500 units.
Most of the programs written for the 1401 were marvels of efficiency.
Later 360-xx machines had a optional 1401 emulator that allowed the new
machines to operate on the 1401 programs without the added cost of
One IBM 360 computer core memory had a unrepairable problem ( a
broken donut core ) at the U.S. government installation that kept
track of atomic weapons. The core
array was defective and was being replaced.
The old one was being carried out by IBM when security saw it and said
that you cannot remove that. They
had to purchase it so they could totally destroy it.
The 1401 memory had a special bit in memory that when set made that
position a command it was called a word mark.
The memory was very flexible and a data position could be as big as the
remaining memory. I once wrote a
short program that added a binary one to the lowest position in a huge word,
then checked for a overflow from the highest position. When it found a overflow it would print the word ‘END’
and stop. My best estimation for
the running time was about 6,000 years + / - 500 years for a 4 k machine, many
times more for a 8 or 16 k machine. No
one would let me run it to find out though.
In school as a joke in school we would sometimes place a special card
at the end of someone*s
program that would clear all of memory to blanks and halt the machine.
Early in my career in Phoenix I took a call at the food warehouse on a
weekend. I asked my oldest daughter if she would like to go along to see what
Daddy did for a living. The fix
was quick so I took her out in the warehouse to see the many things stored
there. One large cooled room had
CANDY lots of candy. More than
she had ever seen at one time in her entire life.
For weeks she would invite some friend in and ask me how much candy
there was in that room. I would
say much more than it wold take to fill this entire house from floor to
ceiling including every room and the garage.
They would always look around slowly and gape.
Fixing the complex machine was not as important to her as me knowing
where all that candy was.
One of my customers, the same food wholesale food warehouse in Phoenix
Arizona, ordered a new solid state machine called a 609. It was twice as fast
as the 604 it was replacing and much more reliable and it had much more
capacity than the previous machine that it was replacing, a tube type 604.
Since this was the first 609 in our state I was to be given advanced training
on the assembly line above and beyond what the school offered.
I drove in my VW from Phoenix to San Jose California for the class.
I had arranged to stay in Ridgecrest California with my brother-in-law
for the night. Many people had
said to me that driving a light vehicle like a VW was dangerous in case of a
collision. I was on a detour on
state highway 395 south of Ridgecrest California.
At the bottom of a steep hill I suddenly saw a full sized car in my
lane nearly floating on the sharp drop-off of the same hill.
I did a column right and took a short side out across the desert, a
very bumpy ride, I hit the door so hard when I did the turn that I had a
bruise on my hip. The quick response of the little car saved me from a head-on
collision. If I had been my other
car ‘a big station wagon’ I would not have had the quick response and we
would have hit head on at a high combined speed and THAT would have been
really dangerous, probably fatal.
Our 609 school instructor had a habit of repeating something twice
about a fact that was to be on a quiz question or on a machine bug.
One Friday just as we were preparing to leave for the weekend he said
that we should study a certain circuit. He
shortly repeated the statement so I was certain that we would have a test
question or a machine bug there. I
went over it carefully and thought that would be a nasty bug on a machine but
by studying it the symptoms it would be so revealing.
I was almost disappointed that there was no question and no bug on the
machine circuit that I had spent so much time studying that weekend.
Many times back home when I was stuck on a tough problem I wished that
I had the assistance of one of the workers on the assembly line to help me
because that was all they did was to work on that machine and they would so be
so sharp on it. When I was
assigned an extra two weeks working on the assembly line after the school I
was thrilled. I figured I
would be working with the experts that I had thought about so many times in
the past. The assembly line was
working around the clock building 609*s.
The debugging was a separate operation.
The first thing we did was to set the power supply voltages then
proceed to make it work. Once a
circuit was not working correctly so the man I was working with immediately
checked the basic machine wiring. There
was a wiring error and he made a change to correct it.
A internal machine wiring error was the last thing you checked in the
field. If it were wired wrong
most likely it would not have been out of the factory. In all my time in the field I only found one occasion when
the basic machine had an internal wiring error and that was on a 407.
We were working on one 609 machine that was nearing the completion of
assembly and testing. Normally it
would have been shipped out that night and another machine would be in it*s
place the next morning.
When I arrived at work the next morning the old machine was still there
with a nasty problem on it. The
people working on it were all of the top men on the line plus the two
designers, they were huddled in a small group.
It took me some time to break into the talk to ask what was the holdup?
They described the symptoms to me and they perfectly matched the ones
that I had studied weeks before. Knowing
what the problem may be, and by using the single cycle feature I stepped
through the program. There was
the bug that I had studied on before. I
turned the machine off and replaced one logic card.
When I stepped the machine through the test there was no failure so I
hit run. The test was designed so
that if there were no failures it would run continuously. It continued to run
and the sound it made caused the
entire group to turn their heads around ( as one ) to look at
me standing alone by the machine. They
hurried over to ask what was the problem.
I told them what the problem was and what card I had replaced, not
mentioning my intense study of that very circuit weeks before.
They thought that I had figured it out on the spot and I did nothing to
change that belief.
I also found other problems that were in the nature of field problems.
They had no idea of what to do to find a defective mechanical part. ( Hardly
ever happened. ) I determined
then that in the field you thought about a failing machine “this machine was
working before so now something has failed, worn, or become misadjusted” the
factory people thought “we have just finished putting it together and it
does not work, we must have put it together wrong.”
I never wanted to have the help of a line worker again.
One problem was a typical wire contact relay problem that was common in
the field, it had them stumped. Another
was a machine was running without a drive belt cover, the cable harness to the
display board was rubbing on the belt and it had worn about 1/3 through and
was cutting more wires so the problem appeared to be getting worse, as the
belt destroyed more wires in the cable. The
test man looked strange when I pointed to the problem.
The fellow that I was helping on the line did however show me some neat
tricks using an dual trace oscilloscope that later helped me in other
The manager of the line was running some tests on some machines in a
nearby room, after my finding the weird problem he said that one of the
machines that had an excellent record would be for me in Phoenix.
I got the task of making it match our order.
I then put my initials on the frame.
After making a 609 machine work we did a vibration test because the
small signal diodes on the logic boards were sensitive to a light shock and
many did not survive shipment to the field.
We used a plastic ‘V’ shaped tool on a vibrator that shocked
every board one at a time. We
would while the machine was running the diagnostics vibrate each board.
Some diodes were so sensitive that any shock anywhere on the machine
would cause a failure. After
replacing the most sensitive ones them we would then find about twenty or more
other boards that failed with a direct shock.
Later when the same machine was delivered in Phoenix, the data
processing manager called to say that his machine was ready for installation.
When I arrived I leaned on the machine and I said I am ready to install
it, where is it? He said “you
are leaning on it.” I stood
back and said “I have never seen anything like this before, this is not what
I went to school on.” Poor man
he almost had an heart attack, he really looked stressed.
I finally admitted that I knew this machine and even pointed to my
initials on the frame. He relaxed
. . .some.
Later they had a Honeywell drum type printer on a medium sized
Honeywell computer. There had
been a series of problems on the printer so to reduce the time for further
adjustments they left the cover off of the area where there were making their
adjustments. At the end of the
print drum was a bright tubular lamp shining through a focusing device then
through a scanning disk. The
light then hit some photo cells. That
told the logic what position the print drum was and what printable character
was next. Many problems had been
taken care of but there was an very intermittent failure still on the printer.
It would get a false error condition and stop printing.
Their Technician was out of the room and I was working on a nearby
keypunch. Just as I glanced at the machine I saw the cause of the
remaining problem. When the
Technician returned I could see that look on his face that I have had so many
times myself. I felt sorry for
him and I said “For a coke I will tell you what caused this failure.”
He agreed and after he bought it he said what is it.
I pointed toward the ceiling and said.
“See that big moth up there, I saw it fly between the lamp and the
scanning wheel and then the error happened.
Put the cover back on and I think it will be ok.”
He did and it was.
The Data processing manager was the same man that had earlier called in
a request for service on his 088 collator.
I stopped by without previously notifying dispatch.
As I walked in the door behind him I heard him calling for IBM service.
I walked out to return in exactly 90 seconds and apologizing for the
long delay because there was a train across the tracks down the street.
His right arm was outstretched with a pen in it.
He was stunned, I repaired the machine, a simple problem then called
dispatch telling that I had repaired his machine.
As I left I noticed that he had his right arm was still in the same
position and a very puzzled look on his face.
The 088 collator had some great built in service aids along with a
troubleshooting guide. I used the
book and the aids to successfully repair that machine. Over time I was the only one that took calls on that type of
collator. I never did get to go
to school on that machine.
In Rochester for 1401 school we had a class divided between guys from a
warmer climate and some from the local area.
As luck would have it the ones from a warmer climate sat up front in
the school room. We would set the
up front thermostat for our comfort and the heaters being at the back of the
room near the windows almost cooked the men in the back row.
One of our lab machines had a unknown CPU problem.
A faulty signal came from somewhere, the path to the source it divided
so many times that it was hard to trace it back to the beginning, it was a
huge or circuit. I
had used a card extender tracing a problem on a 609 by removing leads or
crossing them, and I used the same approach on the 1401.
After some time I found the faulty card that was causing the problem
and replaced it, so we got back another machine in lab.
There was a heated argument over the exact process on how something
worked in the 1401 CPU. One day I
was having lunch with a local Technician and I reached for something like a
mild ( to me ) steak sauce. The
local Technician said be careful with that stuff it is pure fire and will burn
your mouth. I had used it before
and by Arizona standards it was mild. To
have some fun I got him arguing about how the 1401 did that thing, taking the
opposite view that he had in class. After
some time I was going on so much that he was almost mad.
I then grabbed the sauce and liberally covered my food with it while
making a point. ( More than I really wanted .)
He said nothing, but he watched me for a reaction from the hot steak
sauce. To me it was good
but not HOT! He spent the rest on
the meal waiting for some reaction from me with the hot material.
I was enjoying watching and thinking what would he do if he had
something really HOT by my standard. I
have had some ketchup in Arizona that was much hotter.
In Rochester is the Main Mayo Clinic office. When I walked down town I had to go past the main entrance.
I was surprised the see that the recent freezing rain was being removed
from their sidewalk by embedded heating coils.
There was a power generating plant overlooking a small artificial lake.
Late one cold evening I could see some ducks swimming in the mostly
frozen pond. The warm water from
the cooling tower kept a small area ice free.
I went to Rochester Minnesota for a school on a later model test
scoring machine a 1230. It was
different in that it used a long piano wire as memory and it read data by
photo cells. It also printed the
score on the form. The piano wire
was twisted in a long spiral with a transducer on one end and a pickup coil on
the other end. The transduced
would give the wire a quick twist and the distortion would travel down the
length of the wire and be sensed at the other end then rewritten back into the
wire if required. At any one time
there were hundreds of distortions traveling down the wire.
I have seen the face of a CRT, little ferrite donuts, a piano wire,
tubes, and transistors used as machine memory.
Just before Christmas my father-in-law who had just been elected to the
Tucson Arizona City Council stopped by on his way to California to visit Joan*s brother. The
Tucson IBM water billing system had a series of major problems and the new
mayor gave him the task of straightening it out. He asked questions of various people there in Tucson and
everyone had referred him to someone else.
Finally when he was referred back to the original man and he knew he
was getting the runaround. He
asked me what he should do. I
said “knowing IBM they will know what the problem is.”
I said that” I will arrange a meeting for you with someone in IBM
that knows what the problem is.”
I went to the head DP salesman the next day and asked him what he knew
water billing problem. He said
“why do you think I have been going to Tucson so often?”
In my position as a tech I did not know what he had been going there. However I told him “My father-in-law is a city councilman
in Tucson and he was given the assignment by the new Tucson mayor do what it
takes to fix it. He was getting
the runaround there.” I said
that “on his way back from California he would like to meet with you or
someone else and find out what is wrong.”
He swallowed hard and said “there is a chance I will have a good
Christmas after all.” He went
on to say that he had been, without success, trying to find the correct person
in the new administration to talk to and in effect he was going to walk in the
front door. Later my father-in-law was told all the problems had been
corrected and the best thing was to hang in there. The IBM sales staff were thinking that the account would be
thrown out and they were worried.
The virtual machine was announced about this time.
That is a terminal was in effect a full complete computer to the user.
You could program, feed data, print, and store information as though it
was a complete machine. The joke
traveling around was that it was serviced by a virtual Technician
A Phoenix IBM typewriter salesman built a tube type Knight Kit stereo.
He then built a set of excellent speakers
that were then called “sweet 16 speaker*s.”
All worked well except when he attempted to play a phonograph record he
would get nothing but a very loud low frequency hum. He asked around for someone to repair or to trouble shoot it.
Finally he asked me to take a look at it.
I connected the amplifier to my home Acoustic Research AR3 that has
exceptional sounding including great base, and played a record.
It sounded great, no hum. I
took the amp apart and checked it against the construction plans.
There was a joint that had not been soldered but that was not the
problem. After several trips back
and forth for the amplifier I took a scope over to his house because it would
not fail at my house and it would not work at his house.
Sure enough there was the hum. I
felt very uneasy about the sound that I heard but I could not put my finger on
the problem. The radio and TV
inputs worked great and they used 98.5% of the circuitry in the amplifier.
His setup was nice looking also, he had two rows of cinder blocks with
a hollow door bridging them. I
looked at everything think of but nothing helped.
Finally as I was leaning against the horizontal door with the loud hum
sounding. I could feel the door
vibrating strongly. I felt really
stupid then, the reason for the previous uneasy feeling was the hum frequency.
If it was an amp problem it should have been either 60 or 120 cycles
depending where the problem was. This
was something altogether different. The
speakers caused the door to move, that movement caused the needle to move that
amplified causing the speakers to sound.
The natural weight of it and the door stiffness caused a resonant fixed
frequency not unlike a big tuning fork. I
turned the amplifier off then I moved the turntable down on the rug on the
floor, turned the amp back on and began playing a record loudly.
It was noise free, and it sounded great.
Everyone there looked at me like I had used black magic on it.
“What did you do” they all asked. I said “you saw me didn*t
you?” I returned the turntable
former place and the problem returned. I
told them to “feel the table” when it was making the noise.
I still needed to explain what was happening.
That was why it would not fail at my house and would not work at his.
He moved the turntable directly over one of the ends where the cinder
blocks were. It worked great
Late one might I woke up with a way to make the adjustments less
critical on the expensive sort head on a 084 sorter. The next morning I put a
sorter head that had become unusable due to wear, back on a machine after I
had made the change. It ran
without a problem. If the read
head adjustment was too far to one side you had problem number one, too far to
the other side and you had problem number two.
As the device wore the space without failure grew closer together and
the adjustment was harder to accomplish.
Finally you had both types of failures intermittently and the unit
needed replacement or rebuilding. My
change was moving one plug in wire one space to the right.
That widened the good operating area and allowed the older worn unit to
Walking in downtown Phoenix I could see ahead of me a little bird was
going in and out of a radiator on a pickup truck. When I got closer I could see why. The truck had gone through a swarm of bugs and the bird was
going in and getting a beak full of warm bugs from the radiator then setting
on the bumper to eat them. He
would then sing at his good fortune and repeat the trip.
( SAGE ) 047 contract
In the early days the company was known as Management
Assistance Incorporated or simply MAI.
All following references will
use Sorbus. While working for ( MAI ) Sorbus in Phoenix we bid
for and got the contract for service on two IBM 047 card/tape punch that were
located at the Arizona SAGE building west of Glendale Arizona at Luke Air
Force Base. The building was a
large cement cube building without windows, next door was a huge refrigeration
and power plant, because the tube type computer would operate for only about
eight minutes if the cooling failed.
machines would accept a punched paper tape from their teletype with
information about the weather and convert the data to punched cards.
The cards would then be fed into the big SAGE computer.
Because the installation was a top security place I had to fill out a
long security questionnaire, shortly some of my friends said that someone from
the federal government was asking questions about me. I knew that it was about my SAGE clearance.
After due time Sorbus got the first call for service.
I drove up to the gate and went to the guard house telling the guard
that I was from Sorbus and I was here to service a machine, giving him the
phone extension and the person requesting the service.
The guard inspected my tool case for whatever.
In a few minutes a Second Lieutenant arrived to escort me to the
The Lieutenant was on my left as we entered the building and the
building elevator was to our right. Being
closer I stepped over to the elevator and pressed the call button.
The Lieutenant looked surprised that I knew we were going on the
elevator. At that moment my
suspension were confirmed, he was from security and for all that he knew I had
never been in this building before. I
decided to really give him something worry about.
Inside the elevator I reached over in front of him and pressed the
bottom for the third floor. He
looked even more amazed. As we
got off the elevator we started walking down the maze of halls to the room
where the machine was located, at each turn I would step ahead of him and make
the turn to a new direction if needed, in fact I was leading him.
His expression grew more astounded with each turn.
I was having a hard time keeping a straight face and to engage in small
talk. Finally we arrived in a
large room that had a curtained area over on one side, I walked up to the
curtain and moved it aside revealing the two machines.
I then looked at the Lieutenant. He
was red faced and he looked as though he was about to explode.
Taking some mercy on him I said “I bet you are wondering how come I
knew the way to this place.” Somewhat relieved he said that he was wondering about it.
I said “You are from security aren*t you.” He
said “is it that obvious?” I
said “the only that it could be more obvious would be for you to have it
written on your forehead.” We
both laughed then I said “when I worked for IBM I installed these very
machines and serviced them, and I am here with Sorbus because I am the only
one in Arizona that really knows anything about them.”
“Because of that Sorbus now has the contract for service.” Just for
fun I asked him if he had ever been down on the floor where the mainframe was
located or have you ever sat in the commanders chair and operated the master
consol to simulate firing a missile?.”
He looked shocked and said “my security clearance does not include
those areas.” I said that “I had been down there and done that.”
Failing to mention that was before IBM who built the computer turned it
over to the USAF. I did not
believe that he could be more shocked till I said “have you ever been down
in the catacombs below the computer where the cold air is ducted to the vacuum
tubes of the mainframe computer.” He said “I did not know there was anything down there.”
I replied “You are worried about me as a security risk when I know
more about this place than you do.” I
did not continue because I was afraid that he was on the verge of a real
stroke, he looked so stressed.
I looked in the IBM activity log on the machine and discovered that the
trouble I was called to repair had about ten previous service calls and it
still was not repaired. It took
me about twenty minutes to discover the cause and repair the problem by an
minor adjustment on the mechanical read head.
It was a problem that I had never seen before.
Being the main technician for the 047 resulted in a one very usual
call. The IBM Service Bureau had
a 047 that did some jobs for an outside customers.
On one job the requirements had changed and the 047 needed to be
reprogrammed to accommodate the different data format.
They put in a service call for me to do the programing for them.
It was strange to be billing a IBM company.
I received a package from Sorbus company headquarters that contained a
test for basic electronics. Since
I did not take a test when I started, I was initially peeved at this late date
they wanted me to take such a test. I
was busy for all that day and it was the next morning before I read the letter
that accompanied the test. They
wanted me to check their new test for errors.
I made some recommendations that were included in the final test.
I was called to go to Los Angeles again for a 084 sorter that was
having a great deal of problems. I
was busy rebuilding and adjusting it. Across
the isle was a IBM Technician. He
apparently was a very new man. He
was working on a 088 collator. It
was obvious that he knew little or nothing about it. On several attempts I tried to strike up a conversation with
him. It was very clear that he
did not wish to converse with some one from nasty old Sorbus.
When he was away from the machine I looked at the diagnostic aides and
the open print and I wrote down the numbers
relays that could cause the failure.
( It was easier and faster to clean the four relays than to find the
exact one failing. ) I wrote the four relay numbers on a card.
Suddenly the IBM man looked relieved and hurried over to someone that
had just arrived. It was Glen
Little a friend of mine from my days in Southgate.
Now a supervisor. The man was telling him his problem when I walked up.
Glen and I shook hands, then we talked of old times and I asked about
many of the old gang in Southgate. The
new man looked surprised that his boss knew me and would even talk to me.
I kept the conversation going as long as possible till the Technician
finally interrupted with a request for assistance with the 088 problem.
Then I spoke up and handed Glen the card with the numbers of the four
relays and said if you have your man clean these relays it will likely repair
the machine. It did.
If the man had reacted better I would have given him the card so he
could have done it himself. I
felt sorry for him, . . a little, . . . well not really.
Sorbus was selected as the national service agents for a smart terminal
made by a company in Benton Harbor Michigan.
It was programable and versatile.
Sorbus had six men in school in my class. The instructors were good and on our last day we were to
spend the entire day troubleshooting various machine bugs. Just before the noon break our instructor said that we had
gone through his full set of problems and he had nothing else.
He said that he was impressed with the Sorbus people.
At this school it was my first time for using a microwave oven.
The vending machines there had frozen sweet rolls.
Once on a short break a very good looking woman walked by just as I was
ready to punch the time button and I hit the adjacent one for too much cooking
time. It was so hot that I was
unable to eat it on the short break, I ate it later.
When the first machine arrived in Phoenix I was attempting to install
it, all worked well except for the on line tests. The phone company had a representative there installing the
modem. I called the technical
department in Benton Harbor and they ran a test. They told me the local modem was bad and I was to have the
modem replaced. The phone company
technician claimed that it was working ok.
I insisted that he replace it, he did and to his amazement it worked
fine. We had three machines in
Arizona two in Phoenix and one in a Federal Prison east of Phoenix and south
of Safford Arizona.
Normally the terminals in Las Vegas were serviced from Los Angeles.
Once I got a call to go there because the man in Los Angeles was
unavailable and there was an urgent call for service.
That was the time when airport security was first being implemented.
For the nature of the problem a oscilloscope was required so I took my
Tektronix 454 scope. The Phoenix
airport had many oscilloscopes coming and going so it would be something
normal. However ‘Las Vegas?’
Maybe and maybe not. As we exited
the plane in Las Vegas one well dressed man was almost running, I thought he
must be late for something. However
as he got to the first slot machine his carry-on baggage slid up to the
machine. He had a fist full of
coins to feed the machine. Before
I had gone out of site he had placed five bets in it.
The place that I was going was to a construction site, they were
building the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
The actual work was by local sub-contractors but the main builder
contractor was a company from out of state.
It was Friday, pay day and the printer was down.
The man running the place was worried because the employees would all
be eligible for overtime if the pay checks were late. He told me what the Technician from Los Angles had adjusted
on his last trip there. I said
that I thought that was only a symptom and not the actual problem.
After I had used my scope and did some fine adjustments for what I
thought was the error, the man said you are correct because it now sounds
right. I waited as he printed the
payroll without error. He then
gave me a ride back to the airport.
As I was working on the printer I was rehearsing my explanation of the
thing I was carrying, a oscilloscope, and no it was not an infernal device but
a valuable tool. While walking up
to the gate I was going over my very logical story one last time.
As I approached the inspection area the man in my lane said from about
twenty foot away ah a Tektronix 454 oscilloscope.
Walking up to him and standing nose to nose I said loudly “You have
just ruined my entire day. I had
a great story as to why this was not an infernal device but a valuable service
tool.” He replied “I am an unemployed electronic technician and
there have been days that I thought my scope was an infernal device.
But I recognize it.” I
said “the least you could do is to listen to my story that I spent so much
time rehearsing.” He said loudly “I do not want listen to your dumb story so
get on your way.” We were
playing off each other as though we had prepared and rehearsed a skit. The nearby armed guard was looking at us with a strange
expression on his face ready to intervene.
I continued on to my plane and as I turned a corner and I looked back
the inspector was shaking with laughter and leaning against a wall for
downtown Phoenix extension of a state data processing department had a
keypunch in a older building on south Central in Phoenix. Before the machine was installed I visited the place and said
that a three prong outlet was required for the machine for safety reasons.
On delivery I set up the machine and left.
Later that day I got a call saying that when the operator touched both
her older model IBM typewriter and the keypunch she got an electrical shock.
This had never happened before and the only thing that had changed was
adding the keypunch, therefore that was the problem.
I knew what the problem was before I arrived. But I attempted to let her discover what was happening.
I took out my VOM and measured 68 volts AC between her typewriter and
the new keypunch. I engaged in
some playacting with a puzzled look on my face.
With ths same VOM I measured for voltage from the keypunch to the
portion of the window frame with rust and no paint..
Zero reading, I said funny! Then
the VOM from her old two wire typewriter to the same window frame we had the
68 volts AC. This time the
keypunch was not involved. Still
with a look of puzzlement on my face, she pipes up with “You know I think it
is my machine that is hot and not the punch.
I said “By golly I think you got it.”
Before the keypunch was there was nothing grounded near her old
machine. She was happy that she
had discovered the problem before I did.
The place they took the cards was to a new Sorbus account.
They had about twenty keypunches and verifiers
along with a 552 interpreter and
a 083 sorter. The place had been
doing business before using Sperry machines with round holes.
The new machines were very different and took some time getting up to
speed. They did not quite
understand the concept of a program card.
The cards were printed on a 552 interpreter on upper and lower lines to
get all of the information required. The
instructions for printing was to change the control panel along with the
upper/lower line manual control knob. Once
the sequence was out and a old time operator insisted that there was a machine
malfunction. It took some time to
finally get her to change only one of the two things.
She said no one was supposed to change only one.
The printing machine was a 1004 by Sperry. It could read both
formats 90 column ( 45 top and 45 bottom row ) And Hollerith format.
One day there was a old job that needed to be rerun but their round
hole sorter was now gone with only the 083 left.
I had seen one reading round hole cards before but I did not note the
details. I had them to punch a card with the numbers and alphabet on
it. That night I wrote a
procedure for using the 083 to sort the old deck.
It was not entirely correct because the order was reversed, a tiny
modification in the procedure corrected that.
In IBM I was the leading west coast service technician for a punched
card sorter called an 084. It reliably sorted punched cards at a rate of 2000
cards a minute. The trip up to
Portland was very different, on takeoff from Phoenix the pilot had a very
British accent as he did his thing with the announcements.
I was thinking that some sort of exchange with BOAC was in progress.
The next stop was in Los Angeles, the same voice made the announcements
but this time with a deep French accent.
The passengers all froze in place till he was finished.
The same voice on leaving San Francisco was with a deep German accent.
Again all activity stopped with people in various poses as everyone
froze and listened. He also made
some jokes concerning the Phoenix minor league baseball team that was on the
plane. The flight attendant said
that she had talked to him about the voices, it was his way to get passenger
attention to his announcements, it worked.
Everyone was in a jovial mood on that flight.
The final destination was Seattle WA.
I wished to continue on the trip to hear his next rendition of the
announcements leaving Portland.
My first trip to the Pacific North West was to Beaverton just outside
Portland Oregon at the Tektronix plant. They
had a Sorbus 084 that had about reject around 50 cards on every pass on a sort
of about 10,000 or more cards. It
had several dozen repair calls from IBM Technician*s. I
was sent there to try to reduce that number of rejects.
I was there two days before the machine was working 100%, with no
rejects on my tests. While an
operator was running a exceptional large sort job I was treated to a trip
through the plant. I really
enjoyed that trip. It was my
first view of something that I had only heard of before, a storage scope.
The plant assemblers were working from a visual assembled part already
finished. As the machine was
finally completed only visual checks had been done.
The first active power on test was to the completed machine.
Before the first power on check a technician pre-set the power supply
voltages to a safe value with the adjustment pots.
On applying power he had voltmeters set at the vital places.
In seconds he had all power voltages set correctly. It was allowed to set for about five minutes then the power
supply voltages were set again. The
machine was then taken to a special fireproof room to allow the initial
changes to occur. After having
power on for at least 24 hours straight another technician did the final
adjustments. He would apply a
test signal and he would grab a tool and make a quick adjustment deep inside
the machine. I was amazed that he
did not look but he always hit the correct spot.
I think that he had done this before.
After all adjustments were complete the machine finally got it*s covers. It
was them packed with manuals and accessories and then shipped.
I wanted to pickup some replacement plastic parts for my home scope so
I got a ride over to the repair shop. They
had a motto on the wall “we can fix any scope.”
Along the same wall was a picture of a scope that was literally bent
double over some rigid pipe. I said “how did you make out on that one.”
He said “well almost anything.”
They said that the cost of the paperwork was more than the parts that I
got so no charge.
After my trips we arrived back at data processing to find not one card
rejected in the big job. They
were very happy. The manager
asked if I would do the same thing for their IBM machine because it made up to
five ( 5 ) rejects for each pass.
Ours was now working much better than theirs with no rejects. I was not certain that he was joking.
My next trip to the northwest was to the Boeing Plant in Seattle.
Sorbus got many of the IBM machines for service at the Boeing plant in Seattle
Washington but several of the 084*s
were having a large number of service calls.
Operating at such a fast rate some parts would wear so that the overall
operation would become erratic but not have a solid failure.
Sorbus called me to go to Seattle and overhaul and super tune the 084*s that had the greatest number of service calls and
hopefully reduce time spent on service. Both
Sorbus and IBM employees wore white shirts ties and a suit.
In a remote department of Boeing I was busy repairing a well worn
sorter. When I took a restroom
break I would pass through an area that had a large number of Sorbus key
punches and verifiers. I saw what
I took to be a IBM technician working on a Sorbus keypunch.
I could tell by the sound that it the machine made what the problem
was, basically a simple problem for a knowledge technician, but I did not
interfere with his efforts. He started before eight thirty in the morning and continued
till quitting time with the machine still not repaired, I was beginning to
wonder. He was back the next day
still working on the same machine and the same problem. I figured since I was basically a stranger in town I could
ask him some questions without arousing too much concern. I said “This looks like a very complicated device, how in
the world do they train you for repairing it, where do they start?”
He replied “I don*t know because I have not been to school yet.”
I was stunned but I gave them the benefit of any doubt and thought he
was just working on the machine to get some basic pre-school experience with
it. Then as I thought more about
it I realized that there were some IBM machines in there and just
( Unthinkable ). After
he had gone home for the day I looked at the log that every machine contained.
He had billed six hours each for two consecutive days on a simple ten
minute problem, he had finally repaired it naming the correct problem. Because I was waiting for a ride back to the office I started
looking through some more logs of our machines only to find entry after entry
from this same man for many consecutive hours of service, for ‘billable
time.’ I wrote down as many
entries as I had time for. And
all this from a man who admitted to me that he had not yet been to school. I could have bitten one of my steel tools in two I was so
Unknown to me the Sorbus manager for Seattle, ‘who also was a
newcomer also’ had talked to the data processing department manager next
door saying that if they had a problem on one of their Sorbus sorters they
were not to call IBM but to contact me next door.
Later he saw an IBM technician walk up to a Sorbus 084 and write a
service call and have the operator sign the log.
After finishing his talk with the Data processing manager he asked the
operator what was the nature of the just completed call.
The operator said that there was nothing wrong with his machine, it was
just that at the end of the day many of the IBM technicians would round our
their time by writing out a billable call on one of our machines.
He copied the information down on the call and the name and serial
number of the IBM technician. Needless to say he was not a happy camper.
He was at a slow boil, just then I arrived back at the office with my
bombshell and he literally went hypersonic.
He then took a deep breath as he cooly called the local IBM office and
asked for the service manager. Then
he asked him if he would have a get acquainted lunch with him.
They arranged to have lunch the next day.
Our new manager and I looked through many old billings from IBM that
evening. The admittedly untrained
man had billed us for about 30 to 35 hours a week for the past several months
to Sorbus for his time. In effect
we were paying his salary and training him also.
The next day at the luncheon after getting acquainted and verifying
that the man that I had talked to really was untrained, he dropped the big
bombshell. “Why are we being
billed for so much of his time.” Presenting
the IBM invoices as proof. The
IBM manager was standing in the open without his pants or even his underwear. He did not have an explication for it nor could he explain
why his men were writing up service calls that were not actually done.
Sorbus tallied all of the billing from the untrained man and we
received a huge credit.
Several days later the Sorbus manager called me in his office and let
me read a letter from the Seattle IBM service manager. It was to all of the local IBM technicians.
It listed all of the errors that we caught and said after all the big
words and legal terms were removed it said if you do any of the following,
mentioning the errors and vaguely hinting at any other unethical activity, do
not bother coming in for your last check, we will mail it to you at home.
Every technician in the office had signed it.
The Sorbus manager said that the IBM man was either the worlds greatest
actor or he really did not know what was happening.
He said “I really do not believe that he knew that was happening.”
When I returned to Phoenix I received a thank you letter for the
rebuilding of the sorters and also for discovering the untrained IBM man that
was billing us. The total credit
from IBM more than covered all my costs for the trip, well over $6,000.00
dollars. I am certain that the
IBM company took careful note of such a large credit given to Sorbus and
While I was there in Seattle I got to visit part of a huge Boeing parts
plant. It was where every sheet
metal part of every airplane started. No
parts were connected to another part in that building.
It looked like chaos there because most of the plant was littered with
various sized pallets of assorted metal pieces.
When a part was needed a work order was created and the supply room
would then put the proper raw material on a pallet.
A forklift operator then picked up the pallet and deposited it anywhere
in the building that he could find a empty space.
The building had X and Y coordinates that were painted everywhere. The lift operator would then type on a terminal the work
order number and it*s
present X, Y, location. Some time
later a machinists would get the information for the work order and request
the pallet with the material on it. A
terminal would print the X Y location and data on the material on the pallet. It would type where to take it.
The lift operator would take it to a worker who would do his thing and
it was then placed somewhere again for further operation if needed.
Always being placed at any empty space in between operations.
The dual IBM 1440 computers that kept track of all this had removable
disk packs with all the current location of every pallet and work order. Each disk pack was duplicated in realtime.
If one computer had problems or required some maintenance, operation
would continue on the other one.
It was during this time that I joined the Phoenix police reserves.
In Phoenix a reserve officer has the same legal status as a regular ( payed
) officer. We receiver a yearly allowance of $150.00 dollars for uniform
replacement. We purchased our
first uniforms with our own money. Our
uniforms were the same as the regular officers except for the word reserve on
our ID tag and badges. The
training was the same and our responsibilities were similar. One thing I noticed, when you are driving a squad car you see
lots of courteous drivers.
Once a man from the vice squad came to a reserve meeting to ask for
volunteers. Most of his men were
young and were suspect for being undercover cops.
He said boy what a bunch of dirty old men. I volunteered and went to a bar in east Phoenix with a radio
wire waiting for a hooker to approach. So
many of them had been picked up by dirty older men then they were very leery.
No one approached me.
I had a very good friend that was a field technician for IBM.
He was interested in joining. After
completing the long training sessions he was planning to go out for his first
patrol and we were going together. I
stopped by where he was working. He
was working on a machine and told me that if I were to repair the tape drive
that was down we could make it on time. That
was strange here was a Sorbus tech repairing a IBM tape drive that I had never
seen the insides before. It had a
programed repair guide. He handed
it to me and said to repair it. Finally
I had to ask him help. He said
Howard you can certainly fix it with that guide.
It said what the problem was but I could not see the place to do the
repair. Finally he pointed to a panel and said it is on the other
side of that panel. It said a
hose was loose from a vacuum switch. I
replaced it by feel only.
I wrote an article for the Sorbus company newspaper outlining what the
reserves did. I included a
picture of me in a squad car using a microphone.
Early one morning I receiver a phone call from headquarters from the
editor of the company paper. She
asked many questions about the story. Did
I really carry a pistol? “Yes.”
Did I really drive a police cruiser?
“Yes.” Did I actually
give out traffic tickets? “Yes.” Did I
really go to court as an officer? “Yes.”
The story was duly printed in the company paper along with a editorial
on citizen involvement in government. The
next company school that I attended someone recognized me and many more
questions were asked.
Sorbus in Los Angeles was installing a Memorex / Sorbus disk drive.
The 2311 type disk drive had several large cables connected to it.
The power cord was connected from a three phase line power outlet on
the disk controller to a drive then the next machine was daisy-chained to the
first one, inside each drive the phase on the power was rotated one wire. The data cable went directly from the drive to the
controller. A separate control
cable also daisy-chained to the end drive and that had a terminator assembly.
After the hookup was complete and
the power was applied the IBM controller and the disk drive were
severely damaged. IBM quickly
blamed Sorbus and threats of lawsuits were flying around.
Later it was proven that the problem was one of the new cables that was
defective. Interestingly enough the offending cable was purchased from
than none other than IBM had their logo on it.
They quickly stopped threatening legal action and in the end reimbursed
Sorbus for the damage to their drive.
On IBM 2311 disk drives there was a power on activity that looked
impressive. A arm would swing out
with ten brushes on it. It would
wipe the disk surfaces, removing contaminates on the surface. A IBM engineer told me it’s true purpose was to allow the
machine settling time and become stable.
It made customers think the delay was on purpose.
On a school trip back to King of Prussia PA. ‘Sorbus headquarters.’
I was flying out of Phoenix when we were airborne the man next to me lit a
cigarette. I pointed out that we
were in the no smoking section. He
put it out and apologized. We
then started talking and he told me that he was overseeing the installation of
a new technology type of high voltage power line, zero crossing circuit
breaker for downtown Phoenix. I
asked some questions about the operation of the device.
He said “It sounds like you might understand how it works.
I replied that thought I did. Later
he asked me what I did. I
explained about Sorbus and what we did. He
said “Maybe you can help me with a problem that I have.
It seems that a man on the board of directors was studying the
conversion our accounting system to a modern machine system.
He said that our accounting system is so complex that he was studying
the machine accounting system so he could set it up himself. He kept no notes of what was happening. He died of a massive heart attack late one night.
He continued “The board of directors assigned me the conversion task
and there is a deadline fast approaching.”
He continued “I have asked IBM, Univac, and Honeywell for advice.
Each suggested that I turn the entire project over to them.
Can you offer any help?” After
thinking for a few seconds, I replied “In every good sized city there is an
organization called Data Processing Managers
Association or DPMA.
All of the good people are part of this group. Contact them and find out who is the best person in your home
town of Philadelphia. Hire the
best man that you can find, even if he already has a job. Offer whatever it takes to get him. I do not advise kidnaping
but anything short of that is advisable.
Then tell him from this data I need a report that looks like this.
You order whatever equipment you need to do that.
Then leave him alone to do so. He
will know what he needs to do the job.”
I continued “The man that was learning machine accounting most likely
would have failed because the best people know shortcuts that are not in any
book or taught in any school. Do
not interfere with him and you will have your good reports.”
He was quiet for the longest time, I looked over at him and he looked
as though he was sleeping.” Finally
he said in a quiet voice “That is the only advice that I have had that makes
any sense.” We exchanged
Later at another school there was a Sorbus man there from Philadelphia.
I asked him if he knew about that company.
He said “Yes it is one of our customers.”
“How did it start up” I asked.
He said that “it hit the ground running smoothly.”
I asked if they had a good data processing manager.”
He said he was one of the best that he had ever seen.
I was certain then that they had followed my advice.
When I was
working for IBM we were told never to answer questions or give advice on a
machine design problem at a plant like our competitor at the Phoenix computer
plant. The given reason was for
fear of a lawsuit in case they spent a great deal of money and it did not
work. We were always to refer the
question to the IBM engineering department for analysis.
Working for Sorbus there was no such restraints.
Over the years with Sorbus I helped there on any number of occasions.
If I had been eligible for suggestion awards, I could have made a good
deal of money.
There was a machine that inserted a large number of small ( 0.025”
) square pins in
( Known as dead bug boards because the chips were upside down from
normal use, ) The machine was
large and mostly hand built and it was extremely expensive, so buying a second
machine was too much for the budget, however it was the main bottleneck in the
plant. The machine actually ran
24/7/365, when the workers in that department had lunch breaks or any time off
there was a second crew that came in from a nearby department so as not to
stop operation even for their brief coffee break time or for lunch.
One day while watching it run I noticed something and remarked to the
foreman “was the operation hard wired?”
Meaning could it be changed He answered “no, it can be modified if
needed” I said that “if you were to make this simple change I believe it
would run faster.” He made a
note and about two months later the change was implemented.
The basic board with the square pins was the input for the Gardner Wire
wrap machines. Later I ask him
how much of an improvement has the change made.
He said” it was like making the day longer we still run it for three
shifts but now we are getting the production of four shifts each day or 1/3
more each day with the same number of machines and people, however they were
still having substitute workers come in on breaks and is still running
24/7/365.” The output from that
machine then to the Gardner Denver machine to be individualized into unique
On another occasion I made a internal wiring change to one of the
machines, a 521 attached to a 604 in one of the data processing rooms.
I then reprogrammed it for the added new ability, this allowed a
machine operation that previously had required the personal of the entire
department to once a week stop everything else and for an entire shift do
calculations by hand, calculations that went very slowly.
It was thereafter to be done entirely by machine with the modification
I had made, to the 521 and 604. One
of the machine operators turned it in as a suggestion and got an good award
for the idea. In IBM I would been fired if they knew that I did something
like that. The change saved five
people from working an entire shift and doing a tedious manual job, the 604
did it in less than one hour almost unattended.
In the same department I once remarked to the manager over coffee that
it was much too hot for the machinery in the data processing room.
He started cursing and I wondered what I has said wrong.
He said that the building had a maintenance department and they were
required to set all of the thermostats at the same temperature all over the
plant and that was that. This was
the only room in the plant that had several machines that had the old
technology of hot vacuum tubes. In
fact that room had many vacuum tubes and that they had were generating more
heat than any other department in the plant.
Telling the maintenance department that got them nothing.
If they turned the temperature lower the maintenance worker would feel
the coolness of the room and set the thermostat back to the preset
temperature. He finally placed
the thermostat in a locked box to prevent further tampering.
This had been going on for well over a year.
After some thought I said that we should move the 089 collator over
between the two side by side entry doors.
He said how inconvenient that would be to the card flow and he did not
think that it was a good idea. I
said it again, still no positive response.
The third time I said that he started to object again, then in mid
stride and after a short pause I saw a look of understanding.
He said “you are right,” he insisted that we leave our unfinished
coffee and immediately return back to the department.
He quickly had the machine moved to the new location.
The next time that I came in for a service call there the manager said
“Howard look at that thermostat.” It
looked like it always had and I said so.
He said “that is the third one that has been installed there since
you were here last.” The new
location of the collator was directly below the room thermostat. One end of the collator had a number of large vacuum tubes
that gave off a great deal of heat. The
wall thermostat felt the heat rising and that caused more cool air to enter
the room. The maintenance man
thought that somehow we had jimmied the thermostat and he replaced it several
The next time I came in that room there was some masking tape on the
floor with marks and numbers on it. I
was told that with the collator directly under the thermostat it was too cold
so they were experimenting with it by moving it back and forth.
They finally had found the proper spot for the desired room
temperature. The numbers on the
tape represented the temperature with the collator at that spot.
In effect the actual room thermostat was now the large machine and its
lateral position, possibly the worlds largest and most indirect room
thermostat at the time. The
calibration marking was on the masking tape.
The maintenance man would spend much time there looking at the wall
thermostat scratching his head trying to figure out what we had done to it to
make it behave so. He never associated the heat given off from the collator with
the change. I was wishing that I
could see him but our paths never crossed.
Weeks later the manager one noon asked if I had time for a steak dinner
on him. “What is the occasion” I asked he said “that everyone in the
room had made a collection for your lunch.” I said that “it was not
necessary” he said that “everyone was happy that the room was now
comfortable and they had won their ‘private war’ with the maintenance man
who had finally given up trying to figure out what happened.”
They all applauded me. I
was just trying to keep my machines working better.
Once while working on a keypunch attached to a Gardner Denver wire wrap
machine I felt a tap on my shoulder. I
turned to face a man who identified himself as a company engineer.
He said the he was assigned the project to make the five Gardner Denver
machines more reliable. He said that all his friends laughed at his misfortune
because it had been attempted more than once without success, they told him
that he had little or no chance to make a noticeable improvement. He had asked a lot of questions around the plant and often
heard that he should talk to someone called ‘Howard Oels,* “are you him.” I said “yes”. He asked
“do you have any ideas for improvement.”
I said “I think I have some, or at least one.”
He asked if I would share them with him. I said “yes but it will cost
you.” He looked concerned,. I
continued “you will be responsible for buying the coffee.”
He looked greatly relieved. I
said that “I would need to get some manuals from my car and I like my coffee
black with a little sugar.” As
planed we met at a table in the company cafeteria, my coffee was on the table
just as I liked it.
I explained that the keypunch read head was responsible for electric
pulses of fixed length that were responsible for operating some IBM type wire
contact relays inside the Gardner Denver machine. So by using some IBM technical manuals I demonstrated that
the punch delivered an impulse that at it’s very best was less than 80% of
the duration necessary to properly insure a reliable pick on a average new
relay, and how as the relay aged it took a longer pulse to operate it
reliably. Therefore some brand
new relays out of the box did not work. ( IBM used a simple relay
tester/adjuster to condition the relays for maximum speed and reliability )
I let him work out the details but I suggested that he build a pulse
extender that would deliver a longer pulse.
I said that a pulse of 150% of the minimum recommended length would be
a good place to start, just make it adjustable.
The next week I was at the same place.
One keypunch had a solid state extender circuit board already built and
installed. It was placed on the
machine combination with the worst maintenance record.
“We will try it on this machine for three months.
If we see any improvement we will add them to the remaining machines”
the operator said.
One week later I saw all of the other machines had the extender board
installed, and I asked “what about the three month test.”
The operator said “since the installation that machine it has not had
a single failure, so the boss said that the test period is over.”
They then made enough kits for all of their machines there and for
other like machines all over the world.
About a year later the same engineer came up to me and said that “he
had many accolades for his quick solution to an impossible problem.”
I said “that will cost you another cup of coffee” he promptly paid
up. He got all that help very
inexpensively, the price of two cups of coffee.
Prior to this the keypunches connected to the wire wrap machine needed
to be super tuned for maximum length pulse, for them to just work most of the
time. The extender would work
well even when it would not work as a keypunch after the pulse extenders were
installed they required much less maintenance time so my job became much
There was a toggle switch on the key punches that switched it from wire
wrap to a normal keypunch. It was
IBM*s policy that if it worked as a keypunch it was
adjusted as well as it needed to be. Most
of the time while working perfect as a keypunch it would fail on the Gardner
Denver machine. It needed to be
set at maximum contact length to operate the internal Gardner Denver relays.
There was a huge barrel almost full of replaced relays near the
machines. Most of the discarded
relays would now work after installation of the pulse extender.
They now had a lifetime supply of spare relays, another saving.
Sorbus sold a standard 024 keypunch for the Gardner Denver machines and
I did the modifications in my spare time, when there were no other calls.
It was to be used as a spare incase one keypunch was down.
During this time an IBM Technician was taking a call at the computer
plant, the plant guard noted that he had a beeper and said that he had to
leave it at the gate because no electronic devices could be brought into the
plant “for security reasons.” No
attempt at explaining what the device was
a receive only unit or what it did would help.
( It was an electronic device and that was that. )
This was during the time of the TV program series “( The Man from
U.N.C.L.E. ).” The
Technician took out his pin took the cap off and said into the end “They
took my beeper and I will need to be on my pin for now.”
The guard took it also after giving him a receipt, for his “radio
pen.” When the escort arrived
and they entered the hall and as soon as they were out of sight of the guard
house the Technician suddenly started laughing hysterically.
His escort did not see anything funny till the Technician explained the
reason and showed his escort the receipt for a radio pen.
For some time they both were hysterical and were leaning up against the
wall and each other. People
walking by wondered about their mental condition.
The guards were not engineers and had no technical background.
One day I was at the same plant, ( that was located on interstate
I-17 on the north side of
the city of Phoenix, ) I had just finished a early morning service call
there and I was headed south toward central Phoenix.
I was driving a VW bug and I was following close behind a big truck. Suddenly the truck ahead served sharply to the lane on the
right. My mind was working fast
and I thought if there is something that is dangerous or scary to a truck that
big it will certainly be a danger to ‘po little ole me’ so I followed the
swerve without knowing why it was necessary.
Part way through the maneuver I could see the reason.
There sliding down the center lane at a much slower pace was a large
citrus tree setting in a big mound of dirt.
I came within inches of it. ( It had just fallen off a trailer.
) If I had not started changing
lanes when I did I would have hit it and done a great deal of damage to my
car. Later that afternoon as I
was working on a routine problem on a machine at another customer. I was thinking of a imaginary talk with my insurance man.
He was saying “Mr Oels just where did you say this tree that you hit
was how fast were you and it traveling, and what were you drinking just before
the accident.” I burst out
laughing and everyone close to me wondered why.
Sorbus was servicing machines manufactured by other companies that
built machines that replaced some IBM built I/O machines. One was a high speed tape drive. ( A 729 replacement )
Another was a much faster 2311 type disk drive replacement made by
Memorex, it used voice coil movement in place of the hydraulic for IBM.
One customer had four of the tape drives. I had just finished repairing one drive at a service bureau.
The job the operator was doing was to read a customer*s
data tape onto the big disk and then sort the huge file, do a report then
write it back to another tape. About
9/10 of the way through reading the reel of tape the drive suddenly failed
again. The operator made some
rude remark about my repair as I looked at the drive again.
On the left side, supply vacuum column was a thin brown coating on the
sides. It was also on the read/write heads. I called that to the vocal operators attention and asked if
he knew what that was. He said
that he had no idea what it was. That
made two of us. Getting up nerve
I moved close and sniffed the soft brown material, much to my relief it was
peanut butter and not what I first thought it may have been.
Neither of us had the slightest idea how it got on the tail end of the
2400 foot tape. Normally I have a
vivid imagination, but this time I was totally stumped.
When I was at school for the tape drive the machine we had for
instruction had an intermittent problem.
For no apparent reason it would fall out of the ready condition and
only do so in mid afternoon. Once
I got to see it happen and was able to determine the cause. The machine was next to a second story window that was facing
east. In the late afternoon cars
driving by would cause the bright sunlight to reflect through the room window
from the car windshield. The light would shine through the tape in the tape
supply vacuum column onto a photocell. That
indicated that the tape was out of place and it would shut down.
It was fixed by lowering a window shade in the afternoon.
Sorbus got a large amount of Los Angeles County machines in one big
order. Many were in poor
condition and we were trying to upgrade them.
I was asked to go there to help. Some
were in deplorable looking condition also and many would just run but not very
well. I spent several weeks there
working in downtown LA.
The Sorbus Los Angles dispatcher once called me to ask “Did I know
anything about a 089 alpha collator. I
told her that I was trained on it. She
said that just across the street there was one down and would I go over and
work on it. Using the diagnostic
aids one relay was soon suspect. Cleaning
it cleared the problem and I returned to the previous location.
There I had a strange thing happen.
One young good looking operator was having a problem with her verifier.
She insisted that it was not doing what she had keyed in.
The verifier had a test switch that would stop 1 / 2 through a cycle if
an error was sensed. Then you
could analyze what happened. I
was watching her as an error occurred. She
had actually hit the key to her left of the correct one and I said so. I looked at the mechanics to confirm what I saw.
( It was possible to tell both the holes punched in the card and
what was keyed in. ) The operator and her boss landed on me like an avalanche, I
was stunned. The mechanics on the
machine showed that the key she claimed to have hit was the correct one and
showed that she had actually pressed the one next to it as I had previously
said. Neither would admit that
she had made the mistake and continued giving me a hard time.
Later a man operator there explained to me that the two women were
lovers and her boss was protecting her.
A large Phoenix bank had one of our super fast 2311 type disk drives.
It was the first drive on the string and had the computers operating system on
it. This made the entire computer
operate faster. As various
programs were used throughout the day they would first be copied from cards to
the disk to be run. Each day
during the noon hour the programs that were not currently active were removed
from the drive. This drive would
occasionally crash and the operating system needed to be rewritten back on the
disk from a tape. This had
happened multiple times.
To boot a 360-xx system you first dialed the reading device with four
hexadecimal switches on the lower right side of the front control panel, this
selected a device to read from. To
load a program you dialed the hex address of something that could read data
then push the boot switch. It
could be a tape drive, disk drive, card reader, or even a modem. For a boot operation the computer firmware would give a
single read command and move a block of data to a given location.
Then it would transfer command to that location for it’s next
instruction. I had received
several calls but the evidence had been destroyed by the time I arrived.
Finally I said to their Data Processing manager without the data on the
disk I really did not want to hear about it.
After a long frustrating time I was finally assured that the disk had
been kept intact for me to inspect. When
I arrived the disk pack was rewritten and in back in use.
I could have screamed. The manager found that the operator had used a
special program and had printed the raw data from the first head and first
sector on the printer ( the boot data ) it was all zeros without
any instructions on what to do next. On
that system a disk drive received write data from the controller through a
coaxal line from the disk controller and did not have the ability to create
The same computer room had a fairly new IBM device, a voice response
unit so that customers could call in to check their account information by
phone. The device had been given
a high priority interrupt so as to give the calling customers a fast response
time. That turned out to be the
problem. When the computer was
doing a vital task in the process of removing unused programs and a high
priority interrupt from the voice response unit occurred at a exact spot in
the software, it would it then loose some important information and then it
would be unable to continue. The
disk operating system on the drive was then corrupted.
The boot track was overwritten with zero*s
by a software command and the machine would then halt forcing them to rewrite
the entire operating system. Not my problem.
They finally locked out the voice response unit when old programs were
The same bank also had one of our tape drives. A tape controller could
control up to eight tape drives, this one has nine with a manual switch for
number nine. This computer had all eight drives but it had an additional IBM
switching device so that any one of three different computers in the room
could access any tape drive. Our drive was ordered with a seven track format (
Shades of the 1401 days.) and all the other eight had eight track
format. If it was selected the
seven track tape drive returned a signal to the controller that it was a seven
track drive. They wanted to be
able to switch quickly to the seven track drive machine without moving the big
cables. I modified the cable
hookup to have only a small toggle switch make the change.
Another time there I added a counter to their line printer to count the
number of sheets that were printed.
The IBM software was leased and if you did not get a new code for
paying your rent each month, the system would crash till payment was made and
a special short recovery program was run.
One operator mistakenly put in the wrong date and the system
immediately crashed. There was a
big flap and threats of lawsuits going around.
Later the software was modified so that it took several date entries
to cause it to crash.
One disk problem was a stinker, it was on a bigger system a model
360-70 and it was at a large bus headquarters.
I would look at a bad disk track and see the data amplitude fade to
zero on my oscilloscope then resume its full amplitude again.
No amount of diagnostic testing caused a failure.
It was possible to determine the individual channel and drive that it
was created on by doing some bit shifting.
I was stumped, finally I started working with a executive from the main
office across the street. He
finally agreed to let me have the huge and expensive ( rented for $375.00
an hour ) machine all of a Sunday if necessary.
I ran every disk diagnostic multiple times without a single failure.
So I started running the complete range of tests.
Everything ran fine and I was still in the dark.
Then out of boredom I began reading the minute details on the various
tests and what it was testing. Finally
I read something significant that may relate to my present
problem. It was for a test
for a halt-I/O command ( I did not know there was such a command )
That was a command that interrupted an Input/Output operation before it
was complete. Suddenly I realized
that could explain the pattern I saw on my oscilloscope. I said to Ken who was helping me that I know what the problem
was, and packed up my tools and went home.
The next day I met with the head programer to discuss my findings.
They did not use a programed halt-I/O command, but the machine can
issue one if it encountered a malfunction.
That computer was specially modified by another company to run with a
much faster internal clock than normal and sometimes it had an ROS check ( ROS
a system that decoded the proper activity to do for a given software command. )
There were several disk packs with the same type of data dropout.
I contacted the executive that was helping me and said that I needed to
know the exact time for at least one of the bad tracks that was written. Finally one bad pack was identified as to date and time it
had been written.
The 360-70 had a great tool for servicing. It had a built in micro processor that was able to check
every line and register and other important data instantly in case of an
error. So that if the machine was
able to run it could be restarted and you could look for something wrong at
your leisure. This system kept a
log that could be printed out and kept for future study.
On the exact time and date that pack was written there was a ROS check
error and a halt. The command
that was being executed at the time was a write to channel, ( a disk
channel. ) A disk write. The error caused the write operation to abort causing the
error in the data. The pack had
some new data being written along with the remaining old data that was being
overwritten. I had them set up a
test for testing all disk packs on a machine during the occasional ROS
I received a call from a fellow Sorbus Technician to come out to a
customer and help with a keypunch that was blowing the D.C. power supply fuze.
He said bring plenty of fuses because I have gone through a box
already. I told him “The only
fuse that we will need is the one we leave in the machine when we leave.
He said if you can do that I will buy your lunch.”
I used a substitute resistor for the fuse.
We found a nut in the contacts of a big relay. It was a good lunch.
I saw the 360-70 one day and the processor was busy but no I/O devices
were operating. I asked “what
is it doing?” The operator said that it was making sausage. A meat packing company was owned by the same company and the
many meat processing plants around the country would each day send in by a
high speed modem the meat products they had on hand at that plant plus the
local price of the various ingredients they may need to buy for the loose
mixture that is called sausage along with how much sausage they needed to make. The
computer would plot all of the possible mixture combinations and cost amounts
of the ingredients that could be called sausage and send back the formula for
that place and day that will give the lowest overall cost and thereby the best
Sorbus had a book that I had called the handy Captain Marvel decoder
book. I had just assumed that it
was originally from IBM and we just had a copy.
How wrong I was. I stopped
over at a big bank operations center one morning to talk with some of my
friends at IBM over morning coffee. Finally
one of the Technician*s
stood up and with a dejected look on his face said that he just had to go face
the customer about the very intermittent problem on a 360-70.
I said how much trouble can that be just look in the book.
“What book?” he inquired. I
shortly discovered that he did not know anything about the ‘book.*
I asked him for a number that I could call him and to have the all of
the error printouts ready. I went
to the bus company and called him. ( I did not want him to know where I
was. ) We went through
several printouts always coming back to a little used register that had
failed. We only went through five
of the over thirty reports and they all by taking different paths arrived at
the same place. He then ran a
special diagnostic test that could concentrate on any one register.
For the first time his diagnostics gave him an error, one about every
45 seconds. The third card he
replaced ended the errors and the 360-70 ran for some time without a error.
I saw him again the next morning, he walked up to me and with a smile
asked about that marvelous book that could tell what was wrong with a 360-70
because ‘no one*
in IBM knew anything about it. Not
even at the main maintenance help location.
I explained that Sorbus had such a book and it seemed to work well.
Three other times he asked me to help him in the same way.
The last time was a little different, I think he was talking to someone
at another location on another phone and he was relaying the information
between that spot and me because of the long delay in response.
It did fix that machine also. It
must have been frustrating to know that somewhere there was a book with so
many answers. I later found out
that the top IBM 360-70 Technician had left IBM and joined Sorbus and then he
had then written the book. Before
then I had left the book lying around in the open.
After that I realized it’s true value and kept it in a locked drawer
in a locked cabinet.
is the Problem
Generally the IBM people took delight when one of our add-on machines
caused machine problems and they could point it out. “( See! I told
you so )” Sorbus
published a pamphlet telling how some IBM problems caused our machines to look
bad. I found several times that a
problem that I had was described there.
On the 360 model 20 the IBM diagnostic with our disk drive always gave
the same error on every test run. One
of our customers once remarked about that error, which had been pointed out to
him by his IBM Technician. Fortunately
I was ready with the answer. It
was due to the fast disk operation and the IBM software. The software would issue a command to do a restore ( it
took a relative long time to complete the command ) then the software did
some internal house keeping, then it clear all interrupts then it would wait
for a completion signal interrupt from the disk drive. Our drive had already finished the task and did the interrupt
( which was then cleared ) since no new interrupt signal came the
program said that the task did not finish and reported it as an error. The customer was very happy with the answer.
The same IBM Technician that had put the question about the error in
the mind of my customer had some IBM disk drives at another place in Phoenix.
Since the IBM model of the 2311 was driven by hydraulic action there
was always a little leakage of fluid which would wind-up in a bottle in the
base of the machine, when the lower container was nearly full that would
indicate the upper supply tank for the oil was low and needed replenishment.
I some times would place some oil in the lower container making it look
like it had leaked from the operating arm above.
The Technician would look
puzzled when the upper tank and the lower bottle were both full. Where did all that oil come from? I never did tell him.
I went to Salt Lake City to work on a loaded 557 interpreter at the
headquarters of a large church. The
machine had tried self destruction. While
I was taking it apart to determine the broken/bent parts, a new man trained by
Sorbus was working on a 514 in the next room.
He had an unusual problem that was not explained in any manuals.
The first time I saw that symptom I was stumped for sometime. I asked the trainee to bring me the print.
I pointed to two circuit breakers in series and said that one or both
are out of time, so adjust them both as closely as you can and that trouble
will go away. Then you can then
work on the next problem. Later the account manager came by and asked how I was making
out on the 557. I pointed to a
pile of mangled parts and said that I have ordered them from IBM and this
being late Friday afternoon the regular Technician would be home and he would
finish it on Monday. I then
casually said that we had repaired that nasty problem on the 514.
He appeared stunned and said that problem has been on that machine for
well over two years and IBM had attempted to repair it several times.
He said “How does Sorbus know how to fix that problem when IBM does
not?” He was giving me the
chance to knock IBM. I said “I
cannot speak for IBM, but I have seen that problem before.”
Later Sorbus got the service contract for the account.
programmer and I were in east Phoenix and he wanted me to see the system of a
friend of his. His friend was good at both programing and technology, ( machine
design ). He gave me a
demonstration of something that stills blows my mind.
We asked him for a demonstration of the capabilities of his computer and
it*s software. That
was in the days of the eight inch floppies disk drives.
The programer called my attention to the background music that was
playing in overhead speakers. He
said that it was being generated in real time by software in his computer never
to repeat. To me it sounded great I
could listen to it all day. He then
inserted a ( 8 inch ) floppy disk and explained that it had the voice
details of his secretary as he loaded the information into the computer.
Next he placed another ( 8 inch ) disk with his voice data in the
machine. He and his secretary then
took turns talking into a mike and having the others person*s
voice come out of the speakers. The
computer did a realtime translation that was to my ears flawless.
He said that they had placed a phone call to her husband with him doing
the talking and her husband did not know that he was not talking to his wife.
The floppy had stored the analysis from the microphone saying various
words and with also with the voice under stress. There was a list of sounds needed for the translation to be
done. A short list for good sound
and a longer list for true replication.
The very fast and huge solid state memory ( at least for that time )
analyzed the tones coming in on the mike and substituted the equivalent sounds
for the other voice. He said that
it had defeated a voice-print machine. At
the time really fast memory chips were available in only l x l k configuration,
so his computer memory area was large and generated much heat.
I mentioned that I had built a floppy disk controller, a MUX and other
devices. He then started warming up
to me and invited me back any time I was in the area. I was very busy for some time till one day abut a year later
I had some time and was passing by the same place and decided to see what if
anything had happened there since then. The
inside of the place then looked different. It how was reconfigured with a long front desk and some
people working at various office tasks. I
said I would like to see the programer and the computer that plays music.
A lady at the desk said that there was no programer or computer that
matched my description, also there had never been one and she had been there for
over five years. I objected and about that time a big burley man with military
bearing came up and in a commanding voice repeated that there had never been
anyone there like the person or machine that I had described.
I then understood and agreed that I must have the wrong place.
When I drove away I was glad that my car was in a remote area of the
parking lot, I looked around but could see no visible cameras.
I drove off in the opposite direction that I had planed to do before. I
also drove slowly and doubled back several times.
I waited at a convenience store for about twenty minutes looking for
someone that may be following me. I
The percent chance that I was in the wrong building was 0.00 %.
The building was setting alone on the lot and it was turned slightly and
was very distinctive in design. I
wondered where the system was then and who now had it also what are it*s
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