Steve Lampen Sings a Hymn to Junk
     

Dear readers, it is confession time: I am hooked on junk.

Not just any junk, mind you, but technological junk. I am a founding member of “Tech Junk Lovers Anonymous.” Except, of course, I am now no longer anonymous.

For a long time there was a store just north of the Oakland airport called Mike Quinn’s. Mike “wheeled and dealed,” buying and selling old technology.

Let’s face it, old junk is cool. © iStockphoto/narvikk

Old doesn’t mean “bad,” and I was a really good customer, especially when I was chief engineer at nearby KJAZ(FM). And when I moved the station (with pretty close to zero budget), you would not believe what I scrounged from Mike Quinn’s to make it all work.

Oooh

Behind the counter you’d find quite a cast of characters, the lead being “Vinnie.” Don’t remember his last name but his knowledge of electronics and of the junk in his store was encyclopedic.

I found Quinn’s way back in 1969 when a friend told me he needed a magnetic core memory (boy, that dates me!) and we drove there. Those magnetic cores were rumored to be made by housewives on their kitchen tables to make some extra “pin money.” (They sure looked like it.) Even in 1969, this was yesterday’s technology.

I recall a day years later when Vinnie and I walked in his outside lot, which was filled with rusting racks and detritus. He pointed out a particular rack, one of a bunch the store had just purchased. The front of the rack bore the hand-lettered word “Dkystraflex.”

I knew instantly from my movie background that here was the hand-built computer John Dykstra had used for the “go motion” camera control on the original “Star Wars.” Without this, George Lucas could not have done that epochal film. The equipment allowed him to do all those amazing shots of spaceships careening through space. Today, of course, such effects are all CGI, drawn with a computer.

It was a monster; it was a mess. It clearly was the one and only Dkystraflex. So here was breakthrough technology of 1977 sitting in a junkyard, with nobody even interested.It brought a tear to my eye.

Vinnie preserved the panel with “Dykstraflex” printed on it. The rest, sadly, was just more junk.

After I was lured from engineering into sales I would still occasionally visit Quinn’s, but one day I pulled up to find that the Oakland Airport had expanded its rental car area, prompting the store to move. A sad day. I visited the new location but it wasn’t the same; and they didn’t last long after the move.

What’s yours?

Yet in my travels for Belden I have found other places that were very much like Quinn’s.

One of them is Skycraft Parts & Surplus on West Fairbanks in the Florida community of Winter Park, near Orlando. Since my travels often take me to that area, I usually steer my rental car over and wander the aisles. More often than not I bring home a tool or some cool devices. They describe themselves as a self-service surplus sales outlet that sells to the public and businesses, including “hobbyists, model builders, audiophiles, artists and the do-it-yourself electronic enthusiast.” Go check them out if you’re visiting Orlando or live nearby.

Skycraft carries a lot of “surplus” Belden cable. When I first went there, I think the company name on my shirt scared them. But no, I wasn’t there to shut them down. I wanted to tell them that the descriptions they’d been using were incomplete or wrong. I wanted them to sell more, not less. It wouldn’t be the first time that some surplus cable introduced a customer to my products, who then went to a real distributor to get more.

If you have a favorite electronic junk store of your own, tell me about it. Maybe in a year or two, we can provide a list to other readers.

I love junk!

Steve Lampen is multimedia technology managerproduct line manager — entertainment products for Belden. His book “The Audio-Video Cable Installer’s Pocket Guide” is published by McGraw-Hill. Reach him at steve.lampen@belden.com.


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Comment List:

Nice article Steve. Just checking if there was any known aisle in one of LA's streets that catered to geeks from this region.
By vaibhav on 1/4/2012

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