The Death Of Surplus

I thought the surplus electronics market in Dallas was a byproduct of local manufacturing, after all we have some heavy hitters in our back yard: Texas Instruments, Maxim (Dallas Semiconductor), ST Micro (at one time), Diodes Incorporated. If we widen our radius to include Austin (3 hours down the road) we can make a much more impressive list by including: National Instruments, Freescale Semiconductor, better yet I’ll just insert the graphic I’m pulling data from right here:

Texas Electronics Map Source:

Granted, not all of these are companies that manufacture silicon, or even have manufacturing facilities here in Texas. That doesn’t necessarily matter for surplus to exist. Back to my point of where surplus originated. While I wasn’t completely wrong (these companies certainly have helped contribute to the surplus electronics market) the beginnings of surplus storefronts date back to World War II. Did anyone see that coming? Neither did I. However it does make sense, the US government would have had a large stock of “stuff” to get rid of at the end of the war.

Enter the sale of government surplus all over the nation, usually near air force bases. So this is how the more generalized concept of a surplus shop came to be in existence; mix in the domestic manufacturing of electronics in the 1970’s and we have electronics surplus shops aplenty.

My First Hand Experience

I didn’t really appreciate how valuable my local electronics shop was until watching Beers in Bunnie’s Workshop – Workshop Video #36. If you haven’t seen the video you only need to know that [Ian] of Dangerous Prototypes and [bunnie] of Andrew [bunnie] Huang are standing in [bunnie]s work-space in Singapore drinking beer and talking about the lab that is [bunnie]s life. You with me now? Okay, there is a point in the video where the two discuss the ability to run down the street and buy a connector as something only available in Singapore or Shenzhen. Let me briefly pause here to clarify that I’m not comparing my local electronics shop to the Shenzhen market or Sim Lim Tower in Singapore, only stating that I too can hold parts in-hand before purchasing them. I’m also not [brandon] of Dangerous Prototypes or Andrew [brandon] Huang, clearly.

I do however have an electronics selection at my disposal that is unmatched until you get to the west coast shops. I went on a bit of an adventure with the owner [Jim Tanner] of my local shop [Tanner Electronics] to take some pictures of the retail floor and a few behind the scenes (warehouse) shots that you can check out after the break.

Storefront Panorama

One of the Last Remaining

Tanner Electronics is one of only 3 surplus electronics shops that are still operating in Dallas. However, in the mid to late ’70s there were quite a few:

  • Off the shelf components
  • EPO (Houston location still in business)
  • Electronic Discount Sales (recently closed)
  • Rondure’s
  • Electrotex
  • BG Micro (still in business: online surplus)
  • Banner TV
  • Olson Electronics
  • Rockwell Outlet
  • Tucker Electronics (still in business: online sales of test equipment and manuals)
  • Crabtrees
  • Wilkinson Brothers
  • Wholesale Electronics
  • R&R Electronics
  • Tanner Electronics (still in business: retail storefront).

Another one that was quite popular was Charlie Wilson’s 15¢/lb surplus pile. I wasn’t aware that this type of thing was going on in Dallas, but it was exactly as it sounds. Charlie Wilson would rent a big truck, load it up with surplus electronics and dump it in a parking lot for customers to sift thru and pay by the pound.

There is also a sidewalk sale that still exists in Dallas and has been around since the early 70s. Every 1st Saturday of the month vendors meet in Downtown Dallas to sell what started out as ham gear in the early days but has devolved to a wide variety of items that you might see at a flea market. The majority of the vendors are selling electronics, but the errant perfume stand or name brand knock-off clothing peddler can be seen as well. The vendors start to set up their booths as early as 9pm the Friday before and will remain open until 2pm Saturday. I’ve made more than one trip downtown in the middle of the night. The most memorable was the time I went for a backup server and it started raining as I was carrying it to the car. So now it’s 4am and I’m running thru downtown Dallas with a 2U Dell PowerEdge (okay maybe it wasn’t a stride that was visually pleasing, but it was all the effort I could make with a machine that size in-tow). Yeah, you can buy a server at 4am under a bridge in Dallas no problem, given it’s the 1st Saturday of the month and you have cash money.

Shopping Surplus

surplus electronics
[Jim Tanner] in his warehouse trolling everyone that has ever asked for SMD parts, to which he always responds: “We don’t have ANY surface mount parts.”
Walking into one of these shops is very different from ordering parts online, as we all have become accustomed to. They are surplus shops, they only have surplus items for sale. What does that mean? That means you can buy any number of items that may not be available next time you come in the shop. In fact you could buy a motor or motor assembly and never be able to find one of them again. There’s a chance you might not ever find data on the motor either, I know what you’re thinking: “My Google-Fu is strong. I find parts and data no one else can.” Yep, I thought the same thing but the fact of the matter is that some of these parts are custom made for specific designs and even calling the manufacturer yields no data.

However, this system creates an advantage of equal magnitude. Surplus shops get parts and assemblies for extremely reduced prices which means we can buy them from the shop for orders of magnitude less than others are asking for the same item.

Texas Instruments also had regular auctions where you could pick up anything from components to motor assemblies to test equipment. The only thing you couldn’t find at these auctions was anything branded “Texas Instruments”.

Adapting to Survive

Obviously the domestic manufacturing of electronics has moved from continent to continent a few times since the ’70s. This puts shops that mainly dealt with surplus suppliers in grave danger of closing the doors. Things had to change as the surplus well dried up. Where you could previously only purchase values of resistors that had been sold to the shop as surplus, now you can buy any common value of resistor in a variety of power ratings as well as capacitors of common value in a variety of materials.

What started with filling in the resistor values to meet customer needs is now display cabinets and shelving dedicated to the hobbyists. Arduino and Raspberry Pi compatible bits and pieces can be found along with current issues of Makezine without looking too hard. However a keen eye will spot a row of boxes behind the microcontroller display marked “Z80A”, “Z80B”, “Z80 DMA”, “Z80 PIO”, “1 Meg D-RAM”. Which is but a few rows before original 7400 series can be found, not to be confused with 74LS, or 74HC, or 74HCT, or ALS or 4000 series CMOS which can all be found behind the counter in through hole packages and sold by the each.

Talkin’ Shop with the Old Timers

[Jim’s] doomsday stash = one tube of every TTL IC he’s ever come into contact with.
As a college senior in Electronics Engineering I get exposed to quite a bit of information on a daily basis, most of it I don’t commit to memory (my profs don’t read this, do they?). But at [Tanner’s] I am subjected to information from the old timers that is unparalleled. I’m not saying you should drop out and watch YouTube instead, but there is an education available thru shared experience that you won’t find in a classroom. If you don’t believe me go binge watch [Bil Herd] videos and tell me if it’s the same as reading a textbook. Or if you have a million hours to spare fire up [Dave Jones]’ YouTube channel and see how that compares to a circuits 101 course.

There is a reason the two aforementioned men have a nerd-cult following, they were around when you still had dataBOOKS and you couldn’t answer obscure questions with a quick “Okay Google…”. I only mention them because you’re sure to know who they are, but rest assured there are people of similar caliber near you. These veterans have committed an enormous amount of information to memory and its a resource we lost when the storefronts closed.

Surplus stores are fading away. But the biggest loss isn’t the availability of inventory, it’s the loss of culture. If you don’t know already where to find them in your area, start by looking for the local ham radio or retro computing club. If you can stoke the local talent in you area, sit them down and explore their cache memory after asking them: “Hey, what’s a curve tracer?”. Believe me, you’re in for a conversation you won’t soon forget.

147 thoughts on “The Death Of Surplus

  1. I always thought it would be neat to run a surplus electronics store, chat with the regulars about their various projects. No one seems to use analogue anymore. It’s all arduino this, raspi that, my beagle bone Pu-239 extraction, my armband tritium detector. Noone makes transistor based multivibrators anymore. What happened to the op amp?

        1. I would think that’s because the common tinkerer is still just common and to them they may not know a lot about the other aspects of electronics that require the use of say amplifying small signals for your own custom radio receiver. Also, that stuff isn’t mainstreamed to get people into it like arduino or rasppi is. I would also say that even a lot of the people that are doing a lot of stuff with small signal amplification and other things, don’t necessarily know all of what and why and how they are doing it. That’s also a huge learning curve as well compared to say turning on a few lights or making a servo turn for a project and really I know a lot of people knock the arduino and rasppi, I can’t say that I haven’t run into the limitations of using them, but they are just sometimes the simplest and best solution for a lot of stuff in our “digital” age. Really I think it just has a lot to do with learning how to use the stuff properly for the right job and with everything that’s out there, it will take you more than a lifetime. I know that there’s quite a bit of stuff that I don’t know about electronic components and I’ve been at for a few years now.

          1. In a way you are over-complicating this, the reason those get more attention is simply because they are ‘relatable’

            “Oh wow you fed your cat via remote, that’s so cool, I have a cat also I’d love to be able to do that!”

            “Oh so you amplified a fast signal that was really small and made it bigger.. neat.. I think?”

      1. Because you’d need a o-scope (function generator is optional but recommended) to be good at making analog projects without being a electronics grand wizard.
        And they’re either costly, used & old bulky models or some shitty small POS that’s only good for diagnostics of inductive sensors on machinery.

      2. Of course one with 802.11a WLAN integrated :-) But you are completely right. And the good thing about a (single) transistor: it does not need to be programmed. I prefer doing HW (also high frequency stuff) over SW.

    1. Guess what I was doing this morning? Creating a circuit that included…transistor-based multivibrators. And yes, I do have a few microcontrollers and even a RPi. But for this project it was simpler and cheaper to throw in a few transistors from my collection of them. :)

    2. Seriously sad to see this happen.. I grew up in the 60s, in San Diego, California and since my jr high school (Woodrow Wilson Jr Hi from ’63-’65) was about 2 1/2 miles from home, I’d take the bus in the morning going *to* school, but usually walk home with friends, and on the way was this treasure-trove of electronic stuff, a fairly small store by the name of Acro Sales. For anybody who lives in San Diego, this was on University Ave between 41st Street and where Interstate 15 now goes. My friends and I used to stop in at least once a week and poke around at all the wonderful stuff all the way from WWII comm gear, big and small vacumn tubes, and all sorts of other goodies that a bunch of “nerds from electric shop” (what a lot of the cool guys (jocks) called us) would drool over.. Once I got a bit older and got my drivers license, there were several other great places in downtown San Diego I’d visit periodically.

    3. In part it’s because they easily (keyword: Easy) solve stupid problems or design goals, and B. because they are cheap, cheap, CHEAP… I am an EE, but I DO appreciate the ease I can proto something using a COTS part. However, I can and do still build analog devices, that admittedly cost upwards of 10x the Ardu / Raspi / Beagle projects…

    4. Nobody?

      I just built a transistor based bi-stable multivibrator a couple of days ago. It’s for a ‘dog robot’ for my daughter. I wanted an easy way to wag the tail back and forth that was a simple on/off while the microcontroler is busy doing other things. I wanted a simple pin on / pin off control, not keeping the micro busy ‘saying’ Left Right Left Right… My plan… multi-vibrator connected to H-bridge.

      I have a few other projects to finish first but I am dreaming of a car computer project. Raspi + RTL-SDR for the radio, I also want to make the Raspi control my ham radio (FT-8900) b/c my dash has no real room for it. Currently I have the detachable faceplate dangling from my A/C vent. It’s ugly, it’s awkward, it sucks! I want my car-puter to emulate the faceplate and only occupy the 1-din radio spot.

      I want to include GPS. I want the carputer to have a GPS unit with external, antenna for faster, more reliable aquisition than my phone but I want it to send the positonal data to my phone so that I can still us the phone for navigating since phone apps include real time traffic updates.

      I want to play Pandora on the carputer using Pianobar, tethered to the phone for internet. I actually do pay for Pandora, the point isn’t to eliminate ads, it’s because Pandora’s own app is bloaty and makes my phone slow.

      Why am I writing about this in response to you? I also want it to receive bluetooth audio and have an aux-in. That means.. multiple audio sources. I have to build a mixer. Actually.. two mixers b/c I want two sets of speakers, the normal 4 stereo speakers fed by one 4-channel amplifier plus a second par of communications speakers. Communications speakers are optimized for voice, not music so things like ham radio or even talk radio will sound better through them. So… that means I have a fairly complex mixer to build, mostly an analog project using…. OP-AMPs! Granted.. I will use I2C pots instead of the standard analog shafts.

      Eventually I want to add a downconverter to receive shortwave and HF ham too. (another analog project). I have seen some decent sounding music stations out of Europe on Youtube that were digital shortwave stations. They were digital and actually sounded good, not the traditional low bandwidth AM stuff. I don’t know if it is possible to receive anything like that in North America from a car but if it is that might be kind of cool so I want to try.

      The tough part though, I must admit will not be analog. It’s going to take a lot of coding. I don’t want something that looks like a desktop computer implanted into my dash. I will be using this thing while driving FCOL! I want to write an interface that looks/feels more like a car radio using a combination of small touch screen, rotary encoders and push buttons. I still have a lot of software to learn to make that happen.

        1. Before they closed, they were going to have to find a new space to lease, I think in May or June 2020. But then coronavirus hit and they had to shut down for a few weeks, and I guess their plans to move got cancelled. It was a nice place to grab a quick part, or even better, discover some box of cheap stuff that would inspire you to build something. Kind of like browsing the shelves of a library vs. searching the online catalog. There’s stuff you’ll find browsing that will never come to your attention by searching alone.

  2. The saddest to me is when rising real estate prices forced out the great stores on Canal Street in NYC – [in the mid-late 70’s]. I used to make the pilgrimage from Long Island to NYC via bus and subway to wander thru the stores with a few dollars i my pockets and drool over the parts available.
    My start in digital logic was fueled by a set of hand-built boards that someone had prototyped 2n404 transistor logic on, that I copied and used for my own designs. I even managed to make a trip to Cortland street, just as it was being developed as the World Trade Center, and found a store that was located inside the subway station.
    Ah, those were the sweet days of my youth.

    1. I’ll take a second on that one. Because I did the same thing, except it was from Westchester County. I still visit the area, but there’s only one shop left, and its managed by a capable guy, who puts up with the idiot owner’s idiot sons. Not too long ago I bought a bundle of logic from them, they had no idea what the heck it was.

    2. The best place in NYC back in the 70’s, 80’s and possibly 90’s was Trans Am Electronics on Canal Street in Manhattan. They sold (pre-scrambled) HBO microwave TV kits and tuned them after you assembled the kit. The guys who worked there were cool – as were the people who shopped there. Bernhard Goetz (Subway Vigilante) used to shop there too.

      1. Holy cow I never thought I’d hear the name Trans Am Electronics ever again. I used to buy up all of their large TO-3 three type heat sinks and big Transformers suitable for audio amplifiers’ power supplies. I was a high school senior at Bronx Science then and had friends who lived a couple of blocks North on Houston street. They used to have a big red button on the counter with a little sign that said “don’t press me” connected to a huge horn which inevitably got pressed a million times a day but never stopped making me laugh. Guy eventually took it down because people were pressing it all day long. I really miss those days.

      1. Surplus and stores like this are going the way of the Dodo. It is just overwhelming looking at the Nortex page. I am going over all the variety of surplus and cool looking parts. This also goes for parts pulls that are thrown into the mix, which are great too! Gotta say that I am sure there are people out there ready to toss an old panel from a radio station or something they are demolishing that goes right to the scrap yard. Also, as for the wonderful collection on that site… The wrong person gets ahold of that collection most of it will become SCRAP. Makes me upset any day. I am a scavenger!! An online store cannot even substitute actually rummaging all the panel meters that are in a box at the Nortex shop and similar sites. Shops like this were of course a honey-hole for interesting finds.

        It is sad and also annoying to see this happen. I can get lost for hours in collections / surplus like this! It is a shame…. At a young age, I became inspired in electronics wanting to learn how CRT TVs worked and it lead on my intrest from there. I would read books and ask questions to learn how they worked. Eventually I got it. But as far as my life and rekindling this dying hobby, I could write a book on how it all came about still to this day. Cutting to the chase: Later on in my life of discovery and experimentation I was interested in PCs and computer parts. I had my mom find a friend of hers, Earl that repaired and serviced arcade and vending machines. You can see where this went from here. He was not a surplus store, but he had surplus / junk that he decided on donating to me me. He used to go to swap meets and ham shows to get parts for his work and to tinker on. As for what he did, is gave me a grab of goodies to “tear apart”. The first haul had a Trash 80 with monitor and printer among other odd parts! Later on he gave me a broad selection of surplus parts, cases, and his part pulls I stripped down to the last resistor! I wish I had left a lot of the items together, but ya know…. I have much of this stuff yet.

      2. Nortex was amazing. I think it was the only thing keeping the owner alive. Picked up lots of parts that were in their original boxes. I loaded up and had a list of all the parts I had with the prices on the side for him to tally up. He just looked at my list and pushed the calculator in my direction. Basically…make an offer.

  3. Great article, [Brandon]. Can’t say I’ve ever had any surplus electronics vendors in my area. But BG Micro is one of the first places I ever mail ordered from, way back when they ran ads in Radio Electronics. And their printed paper catalogs were always kept for future orders. Along with a couple of other mail order surplus places, they fueled all my early electronics experimentation.

    I can only imagine what it would have been like to actually go to one of these stores and browse everything in person, including items in too small a quantity to ever make it into a paper catalog. Yet I still understand what you mean by loss of culture.

    But times are changing, brick and mortar are going by the wayside. Gotta adapt or eventually die. Perhaps a few can find ways to persist. I’d imagine a surplus place located close to a hackerspace, or maybe even co-located with one, would be mutually advantageous. I’ve seen one local example of a family-owned business thriving through a similar alliance, where the previous owner failed.

  4. Oh well… I’ve just realized last weekend that the last electronics surplus shop in Munich I was aware of was closed down recently. I headed there to get a selection of DIN connectors for my growing collection of retro computers, and.. the shops’ gone. I guess it’s gonna be turned into arabic jewelry store or Turkish hairdresser saloon as the other ones were, too.

      1. I go there and love to spend hours just browsing the shelves. Sadly it is to far away to use as a daily resource only a weekly one. I like to see the parts and actually touch the switches vs looking online.

  5. When I was young (early 20s), I had the privilege of working at a surplus store in Manchester NH called ESS. I was too young at the time to know how valuable that place really was.
    As far as I know, it’s still in business, though it has moved to a smaller place and is no longer the Disneyland of amazing goodies it used to be, from what I hear.

      1. Still there, but don’t expect any useful test or electronics manufacturing equipment – not a single soldering station in sight; ditto for scopes, bench meters, frequency counters, etc. They did have shelf after shelf of controllers for various scientific apparatuses with said apparatus/devices nowhere to be seen. There’s a decent selection of motors, steppers, and hydraulic actuators…and basic things like case fans.

        1. All their good stuff goes on Ebay these days….you have to search for stuff sold by ESSSURPLUS. Good news is that if you’re local, they’re happy to do local pickup, which saves a bundle on shipping costs.

    1. I’ve been going to ESS for years. I teach engineering at a school down the road and am always looking for project materials (electrical, pneumatic, etc.) and organization and storage stuff. My Father’s day gift 10 years ago was a force press from ESS – my fellow teachers still use it. The surplus stuff is always a bargain. I always talk with them about projects my students are doing. I buy as much mechanical stuff as electronic. I got a simple balancing micro-ammeter and connected it to a coil. I spin a magnet next to the coil and students see the needle “alternating” between positive and negative. It is one step that I use to teach generators. The panel meter was $4. 2 weeks ago I got 2 mechanical devices that both included a 4 axis manipulator on a slide base. I use the manipulators to focus on objects with my USB microscope that has minimal adjustments. It was $30 total. A pneumatic cylinder might be $5 instead of what they charge for official robot parts. The folks who work there are great. Most of the time, ESS surplus stuff is cheaper than the MIT Tag Sale. There is also a second hand store a little down the street called Thrifty’s with household stuff and musical instruments and tools. There is also a place called R and R Public Wholesalers with mostly new cheap stuff including lots of tools – similar in quality to Harbor Freight. And lastly, the New Hampshire State Surplus Store in Concord NH is open on Mondays with state surplus and all the tools and knives confiscated from people at airports. I picked up an old electro-mechanical calculator today for $5 as well as a few more tools.

      What I’d really like is a list of all surplus stores within a few hours of me – Santa?

    1. I know what you mean. When I moved into Richardson years back there were 3 electronic stores near me, and several more across DFW. 2 were in walking distance from my house. By the time I moved out, only Tanner’s was left that I know of. Where I live now, there is an electronics shop about an hour north of me but they are far more expensive and have a worse selection than Tanners ever did.

      It’s also sad to hear that the first Saturday sale is getting worse. Back around 2000 I used to by all kinds of CISCO equipment there for pennies on the dollar while local companies were upgrading so I could use it to learn on and get my CCNA. One time I managed to pick up a set of Siemens PLCs that I used to teach myself ladder logic and control. The whole thing was just a wonderland for me back then.

      I still remember desperatly making my way over to Tanners the weekend before my design project was due in college because I had set my main control board down on a metal bench while powered up and needed to replace the parts that blew from the short.

  6. Just this weekend I was telling my son that we’re stopping by Tanner’s the next time we visit Grandma so he can start a junk drawer for his nascent projects (which are of the 2AA, switch, LED, and battery stage).

    I grew up in Dallas, and didn’t discover Tanner’s ’til my first job out of high school. Driving Beltline to Irving via 35 every day took me right by there, so a significant chunk of my paycheck wound up supporting them (and my junk drawer). Austin no longer has any surplus shops since M.C. Howards closed, and I recently used up my last part I bought from them (a Harris
    CD54HC244 that drives WS2812s like a boss).

    It goes without saying that I miss the First Saturday sale. Where else could you trade a 10mW He-Ne laser pulled from a copier for a box of old HP calculators?

    1. Also, I seem to recall someone trying to start a hobby electronics shop in Austin. They had a booth in the 2015 SXSWCreate tent and I think planned to open this year at The Domain.

    2. R.I.P. M.C. Howard Electronics and Mel Howard. Very impressive selection of new-old-stock parts, including several desirable analog synth ICs like the LM566, NE571, CA3080, and various matched transistor pairs. Everything was priced at the counter, from a few cents to a few bucks, depending on Mel’s mood which you could gauge by the amount of cigarette smoke in the store (very incorrect by Austin standards). Too many scores to recall, including a lifetime buy of Model M keyboards at $2/ea.

      Austin used to have a bunch of these places, supporting the local technology industry. Cheers for Tinkertronics/Bantam Electronics; Wholesale Electronics, which carried the excellent Dick Smith books for young enthusiasts; Electrotex; and Altex before they moved and left their entire parts inventory in a huge dumpster. I don’t think we’ll see this type of store again. There’s no way to compete with online vendors; Mouser and Allied orders arrive here overnight with ground shipping, with eBay filling most of the surplus gaps. I miss the treasure hunt and the fun of casual browsing, but today we’re living in a real golden age of price and selection.

    3. Just to clarify: First Saturday is still going on monthly! I went this weekend and had to be physically restrained from buying some giant Pioneer plasma monitors for next to nothing, and a stack of blade servers that were cheaper than a Raspberry Pi. It’s super cheap to set up a table when it comes time to thin the project list, as well. I did buy some server flight cases for $5/ea, and had to lash them to the roof rack of the car since they wouldn’t fit in the trunk.

    1. I was hoping someone would mention SkyCraft! Used to go there all the time with my dad as a kid. I go every once and a while now, it’s great if you need something right now, otherwise it is sometimes hard to justify going there and spending the money on a single item (like a solid state relay I wanted to prototype with) when I can go online and get a couple for the same price but new.

      1. I live and work within two-three miles of SkyCraft and go there all the time. They can be pricey when compared to the internet, but if they have what I want I get to walk out with it that day which is always great. The people who work there are really nice and have even gone out of their way to wish my son “Happy Birthday” which they never had to do. My son’s grown up going there with me very regularly (well, he’s only 4) and I hope it sparks his creativity as much as it has mine.

  7. I worked at Edlie Electronics for a while in the mid ’80’s. I’ll tell you, it had it’s pros and cons. I’m glad I did it though. Now I’m just a customer of the few survivors still around.

    1. Oh it’s much more — I remember when I was kid I fried a very hard-to-find RamFactor card in my Apple // because of some carelessness (computers should ideally be off when you’re messing with their innards — lesson learned.) Anyway, the guy at EPO actually repaired the fried components with stuff they had in-store and that board still works today decades later. I miss that place. :D

    1. Yep, I went by about a month ago for a look around and they were closed, even the Gorilla was gone! Tragic, their website says they may open again but I don’t know, and even if they do they’ll probably be somewhere in Bramaladesh, man this city is changing.

      1. I’m very sorry to see that the Steeles location closed too, I went there frequently and it was the closest analog for the Tanner Electronics mentioned in the article that I have found in the GTA.

    2. Yup, Active Surplus was pretty awesome. I scored some stuff at 60% off, about two days before they finally closed.

      There’s a place out our way (West Toronto) called A-1 ( They have a decent stock of most basic electronic parts, but what makes them worth the occasional visit is the racks and racks and racks of actual surplus equipment and stuff. Very little of it is priced, so it’s a bit of a game to haggle it down to what you want to pay. My recent scores there include a broken Kikusui lab power supply for $25 that just required a capacitor, fuse and diode to fix. Another great find was the chassis of an early 60s aviation RDF receiver that contained miniature tubes and mica capacitors.

    3. Noooooooooo!!!!

      I only got there about every couple of years, when I could steal an hour when I had other business in TO. :-( Always wished I lived closer so I could swoop the deals regularly. Lost a National Treasure.

  8. In SoCal, Apex Electronics gets all the hype. However, take a visit to All Electronics in Van Nuys instead. Amazing shop that always get crazy new (old) stuff in. One time there was a box just labelled “lasers”. I find different cool stuff every time I go, and they have all the bins of standard components by the handful as well. Much of their core stock is also sold online at , but you gotta go in person for the really good stuff. The staff are all awesome too. I build a lot of different weird things, and I have never not found what I needed in person at All Electronics. I’m unaffiliated- just a fan that feels this place lives in the shadow of Apex and doesn’t get its due.

  9. If you’re in NY’s capital district, head over to Trojan Electronics in Troy. They don’t stock as much as they used to, but there’s a *lot* of vintage surplus there, and they stock common tools and components, as well as really nice Hammond project enclosures.

  10. we had quite a few in the UK as well. the most famous was/is bull elecronics in brighton. i think they still going. they famously upset the army once by selling stuff that wasn’t supposed to go to the public. like tank gunsite rangefinders and missile guide wires. i used to go to an auction near cambridge once a month,till i had 2 sheds full of stuff . my best buy was a pallet of scintillation counters i got about 2 weeks before Chernobyl blew up. just about paid for the rent on the sheds for a while. i still have some of the stuff i brought back in the 80’s suppose i ought to get rid of some of it ,being as i haven’t done much with it for 25 years.ap0rt from the variac. that has seen a lot of service. the brushes have finally worn out though.

  11. MHZ Electronics in Phoenix AZ was my goto in the ’70s. They had all the surplus from Honeywell and Motorola that was manufacturing in the valley back then. Lots of military and other wonderful misc items from around the area. Nuts and Volts magazine in the day featured a lot of surplus vendors (before the internet). Bought a lot of unique and one of a kind items from the magazine vendors.

    1. You must have missed Honeywell surplus in South Phoenix, during the 70’s there was some sort of government tax program that gave manufacturers tax breaks for investing in redevelopment in depressed area’s. That ended in the 90’s I think Honeywell dumped the business, which may still be there with a different owner. There was TriTek, I helped a friend pickup a teletype from them for a computer he was building. My favorite on Grand ave (I think it was called) Rocket Surplus. It was a metal building lit with one light bulb, the owner would had you a flashlight so you could wander in the back, looking at 55 gallon drums filled with Motorola 2N2222’s and other assorted bits. There was a couple other surplus shops. The owner of MHz had a brother that ran one on the south side and there was another in Mesa that I believe still is in business but not selling surplus, more as a distributor. And if you were really into it, in the summer was the Hamfest at Fort Tuthill near flagstaff. It was a good time for electronics hobbyists back then

      1. Just for others who are searching like myself:

        Apache Reclamation and Electronics (ARE) are still in business – for now. They are located on 3rd Street and Apache, right next to the I-10 truck extension just east of the Durango Loop. They downsized their location several years back, but they still run the main warehouse, filled to the rafters with everything. Ask for Danny or Debra – they’ll give you some good deals.

        They used to have an outdoor area; some of that is still there – but nothing like it used to be. Phoenix made them “clean it up” – so they ended up moving a whole mess of it to a junkyard over just west of 35th Avenue and Buckeye Road – not really too far from their warehouse, actually. It’s 10+ acres of junk-o-rama to explore (wear your worst clothes, bring a wagon or something to haul with, maybe some tools, plus plenty of water, gloves, closed-toe shoes, etc – this is not for children, it is a real junkyard).

        Beyond those two places, plus Electronic Goldmine (online), I usually wait around and visit the annual hamfests that are held in the valley (and beyond, if you want to drive). Lots of old-timers selling anything and everything. Last one I went to I grabbed a couple of bags of TO-220 parts for $4.00 each – each has well over 400 or so parts in it, everything from diodes, to transistors/mosfets, voltage regs, etc).

    1. I wonder if thats the same Gateway Electronics store that was/may still be in San Diego? I lived there till 1996, when I moved to Las Vegas, and my geeky friends and I used to hit a store called “Gateway Electronics” up in Kearney Mesa… It had everything you could imagine, electronics-wise…

  12. Meh! You’re all newbies! In Dallas, Crabtrees Electronics had 15 cent/lb. sales 4-5 times a year for years! (Tanners came along decades later.) My electronics shop was a lot of repaired Crabtree junk and a dozen Heathkits I built for my lawyer dad. It was my entire electronics education. My job title 30 years later when I left work at SMU was Senior Electronic Engineer, thanks to Crabtrees and Heathkit. The world of surplus electronics can be an education in itself!.

  13. I think the high point for surplus came in the late 1960’s (though I have a soft spot for being able to buy a Norden Bomb Sight from a magazine ad in the 50’s and 60’s. Wish I had more in my piggy bank at the time). There was a change in the tax status of big company “Think Tanks” and they are shut down one after the other. A lot of the gear was bought under government research contracts and HAD to be surplused at pennies on the dollar. Boeing Research was a heck of an outfit and the stuff that filtered through Boeing Surplus at that time was amazing. Flight tst and research instrumentation of all types, from 14 channel analog tape recorders, or I should say record/reproduce – the big 1 inch tapes you see in the background in movies from the 60’s. 8 to 10 pen paper recorders to make hard copy during testing, Tek scopes of all types including high speed with Polaroid cameras attached and everything to go with, lock-in amplifiers, choppers, miles of fine co-axial cable and connectors, even a time-of-flight mass spectrometer a friend of mine bought.

    The research library was sold off thin books 50 cents and thick books a dollar. I picked up a bunch of space craft dynamics stuff.

    The same was happening at company research labs across the country. Incredible low mileage research gear was basically going by the pound or to anyone who could load it in a truck. The researches were also laid off and many wound up in academia giving the colleges in the 70’s and 80’s a wonderful injection of no nonsense real-world scientists and engineers. These were Skunk Works types and I don’t think the schools have ever achieved that level since.

    The tax policy that ended the company think tanks was tragic. I think Hughs Research in Malibu was one of the few that continued on due to people like Robert Forward. These were not like SRI, which is a joke in comparison

    There was also military surplus. The Navy had a sale every Saturday with huge bins of small sealed packages with AN numbers on them and sold by the pound – 25 cents a pound!. The mad rush was like Christmas every Saturday morning.

    So, that is my assertion about the high point of surplus. I should mention the Haltek/Halted and others in Silicon Valley were pretty amazing in the 1980’s but they knew what their stuff was worth. There were occasional bargains as well as things with goop on them that would make you break out in hives on the way home.

      1. I was reminded of my professors in physics and engineering, who were all pulled into military researcher in WWII or nuclear physics and electronics for the Cold War. One was Czech forced to work for the NAZI’s. What caused this recall is the contrast with the MIT Media Lab video a while back – I confess I skipped forward through lots of it – that was so foppish and ill focused. Though come to think of it, it should not be a surprise to anyone here that the Media Lab is not where the best brains at MIT go. In research circles it is likened to Carl Sagan’s wing at Cornell. They used to say at Cornell that the dumb physicists were encouraged to go into astrophysics and the ones who couldn’t handle that went to Sagan’s planetary science.

  14. Fully half of my entertainment growing up was poring through the American Science & Surplus print catalog. They’re still around and have a few physical stores too:

    Tanner’s is probably the best in the category of “Electronics parts stores that have piped-in Christian music in Dallas.”

  15. Here in Southern California two of my favorites are Orvac Electronics and Ford Electronics. I’ve driven up to Van Nuys to see All Electronics, and like the other posters said, it’s a really neat place to visit in person.

    I worked at Orvac for a few years right out of high school and it was an amazing first job to have! The amount of knowledge flowing in and out of that store was unbelievable. I was able to learn a TON about basic electronics just by listening to customers describing their projects.

    It’s truly a shame to see these places drying up or moving away from the surplus business to focus on “low voltage” or contractors vs. hobbyists.

  16. Blame the internet. I can get stuff SHIPPED for 1/2 the price the remaining electronics surplus stores can sell at. Hell I just got 250 orange LED’s for $3.00 shipped. no they are not uniform in brightness but I really dont care.

    The electronic surplus place I still have in my town still has stock from 1992 that I remember doing inventory on when I worked there. They dont have any modern anything, so I am always having to order online anyways. And their idea of new parts is NTE and JimPak blister pack parts they bought by the truckload back 30 years ago and are still trying to sell at full retail.

  17. Used to wander into Radar Electronics’ surplus sections often enough at 11-16y/o that they (and even some of their regular customers) knew me by name… asked about the latest projects, etc… That place was a great wealth of inspiration and source of the soldering-station and many other tools I’ve used for nearly 20 years(?!). Still making nearly daily use of stuff I bought there, like an exceedingly generous “100ft” spool of 30 gauge wire used for point-to-point connections on most of my prototypes and one-off projects, antistatic parts-bags, and more.
    Shopping online is fun and all, but I agree it’s nothing quite like looking at the stuff on and off the shelf. And having access to nearly any 7400/4000/linear chip just a few blocks from your home was much better than waiting for delivery (and the cost of shipping!). Nevermind, they knew enough to say ‘sorry we don’t have that one in stock, but let’s check the book and find another that’ll work for your project…’
    Oh the memories…

  18. There’s a good place out here in flyover country. The Reuseum. Online prices are often crazy high. Best to walk in and haggle a bit.

    Surplus motors are an odd thing. They may be 100% identical to an off the shelf production item but the manufacturer buying them insisted on a unique designation, simply so that they’d be the sole source for grossly overpriced service spares.

    I picked up a couple of RINO right angle drives for cheap off eBay earlier this year, the company dumped their old stock after changing name and logo or being bought or merged with another company. $700+ gizmos for $35. Plans are for one to drive a tool changer on a CNC converted JET 9×20 lathe and the other should see use for a 4th axis on a ProLIGHT PLM 2000 CNC bed mill. The steppers on them are pretty obviously stock items but have a model number somewhat different from any other VEXTA motor. I’ll have to use some kind of sensors to close the loop on them due to the gear ratio that no multiple of 200 steps evenly divides with.

  19. Any of you old guys know anything about vintage Entertron Smart-Pak PLCs? I picked up one of their earliest 6 in, 6 out models from 1992. Hand written date of 10/92-188 in sharpie on the board, a typed and hand cut lable on the firmware chip SMART-PAK Ver 3.24, ENTERTRON SMART-PAK and the in and out and scan LEDs on the silkscreen are the only identifying marks. The other two screw blocks, 6 and 3 positions, are not labled at all. I assume they are for power and serial comm but how to connect?

    The Entertron site has no info on their products this old. they only show newer ones that have the expansion .1″ header and other stuff.

    I’m thinking it might be useful to run the tool changer on the lathe.

  20. Tanner Electronics is my candy shoppe! Set aside their super-knowledgeable team and top-notch customer service… I could still easily spend hours drooling over the huge selection and outstanding products. Every time I step foot in a Radio Shack, I can’t help but scoff at the tiny DIY section and the king’s ransom they’re asking for the stuff. Tanner is the destination for makers in DFW.

  21. ‘What I miss most about the local surplus store is the nexus of people who would come in searching for parts that would never come together anywhere else–Music Row audio engineers, retired technicians from early TV days and radio in the ’50s, old Signal Corps men. I worked at Javanco in the years before the business plan turned to reselling computer components, and the boss had started his career putting together a luggable that he was trying to get a manufacturer interested in, until the KayPro line hit. Kaypros were blue/gray, his was tan/brown, IIRC, although his used the same type of universal instrument case. Rows and rows of old tube test gear in the basement, in an area called “THE DUNGEON”. After I left it moved to a smaller place, and went on to be most-all computer and new stuff before it folded in 99 or so. Friends of mine who are in a better position financially to “make it happen”, talk on and off about starting a surplus store in “It City”, Nashville TN. There are a bunch of players on the field in the world of surplus, and it’s hard for the brick-and-mortar stores to run as lean as the mail-order folks, especially ones on foreign shores. Jan was competing to get stuff lower than Computer Shopper prices, so he could sell it at only slightly above, and moving it out fast enough to get the latest, because people start griping if you have the next-to-last generation in stock at last generation prices. You are forever getting boned: on a load of bad hard drives from a surplus dealer in Cincinnati that won’t return your calls, or an industry hardware switch or price drop means you are suddenly getting undersold on your case of fax cards or whatever in a front page ad in the Computer Shopper. Now you can get components from China cheaper than you pay postage across the country for those same components domestically Fry’s Could pull it off in TN, but they’d have to stake and stock a lonely outpost away from their other interests, some place a bit out of town off the main drag where the monthly rental wouldn’t set the bottom line on fire.

          1. There was a components/parts shop, not surplus iirc, I can’t recall the name, on Cherry Street off McGavock near downtown. I remember getting an audio board for a TV from there.

    1. Mendelson’s is amazing. The Website doesn’t begin to do it justice. Need a pole-top transformer, some end mills for your lathe, 7 different stepper motors, and an artificial horizon for an aircraft? One stop shop.

  22. If we are going to keep these places open for business we need to know they exist, then we need to shop and buy things from them. A national website of surplus store locations with info on things they offer for sale would probably help.

  23. This was such a great article. Growing in on Long Island, I had a store near me called Edlie Electronics. Certainly had a good selection compared to only sourcing locally from Radio Shack in the 1990’s, when ordering by catalog was a pain pre internet. Over time, parts bins of “NOS” and a section of used T7M and ham gear turned into more 45 records and crappy tape players, but there were alot of dollars spent on 2N2222 in metal cans, 80/20 solder (for real men not afraid of cancer) and all sorts of other fun stuff. The best part was arguing with the owner on mis-marked items or quantity discounts.

    1. Yeah I remember in the late 1970s at the register they had 2n2222’s, 2n107s,and their NPN opposite which I think were called 2n170s. I bought my first cassette recorder there for $19.99. The catalog was kind of like a ransom note but lots of fun for a kid-to-teen.

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