Thursday, June 11, 2009

The fate of my father's PDP-11

One of the most common questions I received after my cleanup post of a few weeks ago was "I hope you kept the PDP-11." The simple answer is that I not only kept it, but immortalized it.
I started on this project in February as I was moving my parents from their house to Cloverwood. We began that week with the side goal of cleaning some of the items out of the house; that thought was quickly abandoned as we realized the level of effort that would be required. But we did bring the MINC-11 computer up from the basement, where it had been sitting since my father retired 20 years ago. I realized that an old PDP-11 was too good to lose, so I took the main boards from it: the CPU and the 64K memory board. My plan was to take these back to California, have these framed and then to present these to my father in a later trip.

Then, on one of my last days in Rochester in February, I happened to be at Pittsford Plaza and saw a Great Frameup store. It occurred to me that it would be easier to frame the two boards in Rochester... they did not need to transit to Caliifornia. So I dropped them off at the store, and told them that I'd email them some content to be engraved onto a plaque on the picture. So I too a picture of the computer and went back to California.

Once I returned home, I realized that a gold-colored plastic plate saying "MINC-11" would not have the same impact as the nameplate from the computer. So I asked my sister and her husband to take this off and take it to the store. Little did I appreciate that the nameplate was etched into the grill that was the full height of the unit (see the picture at the top of the blog): it was more than just the nameplate. Lisa dropped this off at the store, which called me to say "sorry... we can't handle this large a piece and don't have the tools to cut it." I resolved to deal with this when in Rochester in May for the cleanup.

I stopped into the store in May and appreciated the difficulty of the problem; the metal was almost 1/4 inch thick aluminum. A simple hacksaw would not do the job. But fate came to my rescue. My father had an oxyacetylene torch and arc welder that we planned to donate to the local vocational high school where he learned to weld. A metal shop would probaby have the tools I needed. And they did: a band saw with a 48 inch arm on it, grinders, etc. The teacher was more than happy to oblige and trimmed the grill from the nameplate.

From there, it was easy. I dropped the nameplate off at the store and they finished the job within 24 hours. We presented this to my dad on our last night in Rochester; he beamed with delight in the best smile I have seen from him in years. We came up with a way to honor some of the valuable equipment he preserved without taking up floorspace. The LSI-11/2 16-bit CPU board (which would count as .1 MIP I would guess) and the 64K memory board are now immortalized on the wall of my fathers room. Early computing lives on, although I do have problems think of computers whose architecture came out when I was in high school as "early computing." The 8080 and 8086 were brand new as this PDP-11 architecture was mature.


At 1:18 PM, Anonymous TR Pian said...

I believe your father worked at Eastman Kodak for many years. I know this is true when I saw the Minc PDP-11. He used this in his flash tube lab, that I saw when I arrived there in the early 1980s. I know where they lived in Brighton, off of Ellison Park. In any event please wish your parents well,.

Tom Pian


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