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
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
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.
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
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.
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 email@example.com.