seeking advice on moving PDP 11 and related gear

Sean Caron scaron at
Thu Jul 2 10:07:57 CDT 2015

I think there's a lot of good advice here ... as others have discussed, the
greatest consideration for you will likely be the weight and dimensions ...
the 11/34a is a "4-6U" machine but it is much heavier than any 4U machine
you will see nowadays, and the weight is not evenly distributed in the
chassis; it's mostly in the rear with the big transformers and capacitors
in the power supplies ... if I had to guess from dragging and carting mine
around, it's probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-200 lbs with a
full-ish board complement ... I can drag it and lift one side or the other,
but I can't really pick up the entire system by myself ... I don't have any
RLs but I suspect they are similar in form factor to the CDC Hawk
fixed+removable drives that I have seen and helped someone move; again;
these are at least "4U", "full-depth" devices that can each weigh a few
hundred pounds ... A lot of these older drives can have head locks for
shipping; if applicable; make sure that the heads are parked and locked and
I believe you'll want to ensure there is no pack in the drive while it's
being shipped.

Last summer, I did my largest ever equipment move which included a ROLM CBX
and two Harris D1200 PBXes. The ROLM was ~1 ton and probably the size of
two and a half DEC "low boy" racks conjoined; the Harris switches were in
more standard 19" ~42U racks but components were placed with a ridiculously
high CG ... maybe a half ton each ... Here's what I learned:

1. You will wish you could just pull up to a loading dock; you had a
liftgate truck or that the seller has a forklift on their end. Regardless
of how "low floor" the truck is, and depending on where the center of
gravity of the racks you are trying to load is, wheeling fully loaded racks
up a U-haul ramp can be very challenging ... The guy getting rid of the
switch and I just barely got the ROLM pushed up the ramp into the truck ...
we were sweating it pretty hard ... and he was a fairly experienced mover
of heavy gear and knew some special moving tricks ... I don't think we
could have done it without his knowledge (without two or three more guys to
help push, at least).

The guy with the Harris D1200s had a forklift on his end and it was
awesome! We got those two things in the back of the truck in no time flat.
Just lift em up and pull em in the back!

Try to conscript at least one ... two or three would be better ...
friend(s) ... to come along and help move, also taking into account the
abilities of the guy at the other end to be willing and/or able to help you
out ... thank goodness the guys I was working with were both, and it saved
my butt ... Do bring a few very stout wood blocks (i.e. chunks of 4x4) to
chock the rack mid-way up the ramp while you figure out what to do next,
catch your breath, regain your footing, etc :O Bring any moving tools you
might have that could help; a small winch, dollies, come-alongs, bottle
jack, plenty of strong rope, etc. Consider ahead of time what you might do
in the worst case; what if the wheels of the rack, don't fit within the
footprint of the ramp? What if the rack gets hung up on the "lips" on the
sides of the ramp while you're trying to push it up?

2. You can ease loading if you can break down the racks a little bit ...
but that takes time and a place to work, which the seller may not have
quite so much of at the moment you stop by to pick up; as well, for this to
be an option, you'll have to plan ahead to bring appropriate tools and some
mechanism for documenting equipment positions, cable connections and so on
... digital camera and a pen and paper will be a big help if you decide to
do this ... it can be worth it to plan ahead and pack a little bag to carry
in the cab of the truck with some basic electronics tools (N-in-one
screwdriver, a few pairs of pliers, dikes, maybe a small socket set; a
Sharpie), your digital camera, pad and paper if you do start to have to get
into disassembly to get the gear loaded.

3. I don't think it matters if you load from the front back, or load on the
sides; when I did my move; I had loose vintage computing equipment piled up
at the front of the truck, the ROLM was strapped to the left side of the
box and the two Harris switches were strapped to the right side of the box;
I piled up boxes of documentation binders and 25/50-pair cable coils in the
middle of the truck and between the bolus of stuff up front to "pad it
out"; IMO, the important thing is more that you position the racks where
you can get at least three or four ratcheting tie-downs around each rack to
points on the truck box; top bottom and middle; the more tie-downs the
better, and wind them up tight! You will not believe how much this stuff
can jump around in the back of a cheap U-haul with blown-out suspension
when you're winging it at 70 mph down the highway ... anything on slides,
or racks with doors, if you can lock them into position; do that; a few
rolls of strong packing tape can also help hold things in place, especially
rack doors where the lock keys have been lost ... When loaded, drive slow
and easy as you can ... leave LOTS of space between the vehicle in front of
you and take it easy on the turns! You don't want to slam on the brakes ...
that one ton rack behind you has a lot of kinetic energy ... this leads me
to ...

4. Be very mindful of delicate and hard-to-replace cables, especially, but
also smaller ancillary items (i.e. terminals/CRTs, disk packs, tapes, spare
boards, workstations, whatever) to position them where, if the racks do
start moving around, the smaller items are protected from crush and slice
damage ... the edges of the rack and the floor and sides of the truck form
a very effective shear or brake when brought together with great force... I
had the ROLM jump around on me a little bit in transit and it took out a
Sun monitor positioned nearby in the back of the truck! Maybe carry some of
the smaller, most fragile stuff up in the cab :O It can help to bring a
little "dunnage" in the form of some old cardboard boxes, bubble wrap,
styrofoam chunks, whatever if you've got some of that laying around from
recent eBay purchases or something (I like to keep this stuff and re-use

5. Bring lots of money for gas! Once you get a few tons in the back of that
truck, you will literally get 5 MPG or less ... :(

6. Unloading... don't let your extra manpower go until you've got the gear
off the truck! Unloading is a little easier than loading thanks to gravity
but the more people you've got on deck, the more controlled a fashion you
can get the racks off the truck. Consider dimensions ... I was just
unloading to my detached garage so no biggie for me ... or if you have a
walk-in basement ... but you may find some trouble fitting this stuff
through a standard residential door; if this is the case, it's nice to have
somewhere to keep the gear out of the elements while you break it down into
smaller chunks that you can "digest".

There are plenty of experienced guys here who have probably moved much
larger loads than I; once you're through with this thread, I think you'll
be in pretty good shape :O These little "expeditions" can be hard work but
also quite exciting and great fun.



On Thu, Jul 2, 2015 at 9:33 AM, Jerry Weiss <jsw at> wrote:

> > On Jul 2, 2015, at 7:48 AM, Noel Chiappa <jnc at>
> wrote:
> >
> >> From: devin davison
> >
> >> any precautions I can take to make sure this all gets back in one
> >> piece? Especially in relation to the RL drives
> >
> > Other people have covered most of this; my additional advice is to
> download
> > the RL01/RL02 manual, and read it thoroughly. It covers the process on
> how to
> > open an un-powered RL0x drive (it's not obvious/trivial), and how to
> lock the
> > heads for moving the drive.
> >
> >> From: Jerome H. Fine
> >
> >> make sure that a fast (emergency?) stop does not shift the load.
> >
> > True; stack all the stuff along the front wall of the truck enclosure,
> and
> > use shipping straps, etc, liberally.
> >
> >    Noel
> EK-RL012-UG-004_RL01_RL02_Disk_Subsystem_Users_Guide_Oct80.pdf
> has illustrations and instructions on how to unlock the head positioner.
> EK-TSV05-IN-001_TSV05_Installation_Guide_Sep82.pdf shows how a TS05
> tape drive may be access to pad the motors and other bits (if that is what
> you have).
> If you leave the large bits in the rack, don’t trust the normal slide
> latches to
> secure them.  I  would separately  bolt the 11/34  and RL drives chassis
> to the rack (from the back) or place a retaining straps around things to
> minimize vibration or chance the unit will start to slide.

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