Scrapping and re-use (was Re: Talking of old IBM systems)

allison ajp166 at
Thu Mar 25 10:57:22 CDT 2010

Ethan Dicks wrote:
> On 3/25/10, Rod Smallwood <rodsmallwood at> wrote:
>> Although I was working at DEC at the time I do not remember anything about
>> scrapped boards being resold.
I Worked for DEC from 83 to 93..  Located in MLO, PKO mostly
as in Maynard.

PMR was one of the locations an employee could go and buy scrap after they
moved it from the mill.  It moved from the mill for a reason.  Seems 
sold was often discards (material not being used) and not scrap.  However
the move also allowed tracking what was sold and who was buying.

I built my first 11/23 from salvage and still have it.  It's configuration
was as field service would say, unsupportable, as nothing was meant
to go together that way but could and did.

> You were working in the UK, were you not?  The stories I was hearing
> were told to me at a DECUS in the late 1980s in Anaheim, presumably
> about activities in the States.
>> If they were in systems on Field Service
>> contracts the ECO levels and where they had them, serial numbers would give
>> them away. Even in those far off days systems were quite well documented.
> Certainly.  There was also a lot of "self-maintenance" at the time, at
> least in the US.  If folks could not afford DEC Field Service, there
> were third-party vendors galore to turn to for board-level spares.
> When the company was doing well, most of our big machines were under
> contract, but over time, more and more were allowed to lapse until I
> was doing maintenance for 95% of what broke, just as an example.
> Any items from this stream were already gray-market before they hit
> the streets.  My understanding is that the arrangement was discovered
> when the occasional naive customer attempted to get service for
> something from DEC and the numbers didn't check out, so in the end the
> system "worked", even if there was a gap for a time.
>> If they were not under warranty and not under FS contract they would not
>> have been considered DEC's problem. If they were manufacturing rejects they
>> would have had the gold edge connectors cut off.
> There would have been plenty of salvageable stuff even if 100% of the
> Qbus and Unibus boards had the fingers cut off before leaving the Mill
> (though it's entirely possible the scrappers were originally cutting
> those off themselves for gold recovery - it would have depended
> entirely on the arrangements negotiated).   Back in the early-to-mid
> 1980s, intact system boards would have had a high potential resale
> value, but practically any DEC part was bought and sold by third-party
> vendors.  Someone just took advantage of a situation, which was
> corrected by shoving all the material through teeth that let nothing
> bigger than a large postage stamp through.

That happened way later.  The reason salvage was moved out of the mill
was there were a few bad apples refurbishing junk for sale and not one
or two and the other was a bunch caught arranging for good material
to end up as "salvage".  Right after that salvage sales stopped completely.
That was around 1986.

Over they years there were stories and what I'd heard more first hand
from a friend in security.  Seems over the years you would get someone
that thought they figured out how to get material for resale and would
persue it.  Usually they got caught or if not a few got move away from
access and the problem would go away, and later they would too.

The other was the true salvage market where used and junked systems
were sold and outfit would break them up and sell the pieces or feed
the second sourced spares market.  Often the parts/modules were
out of rev or worse bad.  DEC did try to control that by making salvagers
work under contract that they would destroy or reduce to small
pieces unusable for remaking systems.

This had two major effects. It made it harder for people that were making
personal systems to find usable parts inexpensively or even new from DEC.
The other was systems that would be considered rare or scarce that got
into that system plain disappeared as trash.
> But as you say, you were there and I wasn't, so the story is hardly
> incontrovertible.  It was already hearsay when I heard it 20ish years
> ago.
> -ethan
Some of it was never easy to ascertain what the details were or if true
and some was known to be true.  in the end theft, greed and corporate
CYA resulted in a lot of material we'd gladly pay for then and now
being scrapped.


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