Rescued From The Scrap Bin

Occasionally someone bounces a piece of test gear off the floor in a moment of foolishness. Sometimes an instrument is blown up real good in an electrical mishap and then left on a shelf and forgotten. Years worth of dust blankets entire racks of vintage equipment throughout the factory. There are rooms here filled with antique test gear dating back to the late 1950s that nobody has a practical use for anymore. On slow nights I frequently walk through areas loaded halfway to the ceiling with outdated instruments, and I wonder when was the last time they were actually powered up. It’s interesting to think about who the final technician or engineer was that used each piece of test equipment to complete a task. I make guesses about what kind of jobs these old workhorses were used for and have a good time doing it.

In my spare time I try to troubleshoot and repair our vintage test gear because I’m a huge geek. Electronics is more than just a way to make a living. Electronics is also one of my hobbies. The stuff I really dig is pre-1970s units that had nixie tubes in the front panel display. But, if there is a cool piece of non-nixie tube vintage gear that I discover has been tossed into a scrap bin I will sometimes snag that in the hopes of refurbishing it. The Bossman is well aware of my tinkering. It is important to me to let him know what totally geeked out bullshit I am up to at any given moment. Honesty is key. In cases where I have successfully breathed life back into an ancient junked instrument I asked my immediate management team for permission to take it home. The answer has always been “yes.”

I have a makeshift electronics lab at home where I build a variety of fairly complex kits. I also repair quite a bit of electronic music gear for my stoner pals. Stoners do some ridiculous shit to their expensive synths and mixers like dump cheap canned beers into them while the power is connected. Usually ends up shorting everything out. They leave synths stacked on top of mixer heatsinks so they get fried, and often bounce their gear off of the ground. Needless to say I usually have plenty of stuff to fix. That’s cool. It keeps me busy in the garage geekin’ out. I accept payment in Red Hook ESB or Lagunitas IPA for my time.

Earlier this year one of our product lines that was forced into obsolescence received a management email instructing technicians to throw out all of their remaining test bed units, scrap PC boards, tooling, etc. Perfectly useable gear was chucked and when I heard about it after the fact it made me cringe. So, I mentioned to lead technicians in our department that if a similar situation ever happened again in the future come see me first. Hopefully I would be able to save some cool shit from ending up in the county landfill.

One guy was grilling me something fierce after I made that specific request at work. Why did I want some old crummy junked RF box? What was I going to do with an instrument like that? Why do you care? Basically I have collected enough vintage test and measurement items from eBay and other outside sources that I could really use stuff to troubleshoot equipment at home. My comments seemed to register with this one veteran tech. He nodded without saying anything and walked away. That was nearly six months ago. I completely forgot about the conversation with him.

Tonight at work that same lead technician stopped by my workbench. He pointed to a nearby cart and he said, “You see that box over there?”

I glanced over to my right. On top of a rollaway table plunked square in the middle there was a beat up Sig Gen with no outer cover installed. It’s skeletal aluminum frame appeared worn but in decent enough shape. I replied, “Yeah, sure. You need it buttoned up or something?” I assumed it was a warranty unit.

“It’s yours. I built it out of 100% scrap boards and microcircuits for you. It went through the entire test process so it is fully calibrated. All the software options are enabled, too. The box is loaded.”

My jaw dropped. Besides saying thank you to the technician like a dozen times I couldn’t believe it. The model was definitely obsolete but still, it was killer. Ham radio guys would give their left nut to get their hands on something like this. It was too fucking cool. I told dude I’d buy him a bottle of good champagne for his time and effort soon. But then I got to thinking. How in the hell was I going to get something this badass off-site without getting into trouble?

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~ by factorypeasant on June 5, 2007.

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