Ants, Dirt, Rain, And The Commodore 64 That Wouldn’t Quit

Some electronics gear is built for the roughest conditions. With rugged steel cases, weatherproof gaskets, and cables passing through sealed glands, these machines are built to take the worst that Mother Nature can throw at them, shrugging off dust, mud, rain, and ice. Consumer-grade computers from the start of the home PC era, however, are decidedly not such machines.

Built to a price point and liable to succumb to a spilled Mountain Dew, few machines from that era that received any kind of abuse lived to tell the tale. Not so this plucky Commodore 64C, which survived decades exposed to the elements. As [Adrian Black] relates in the video below, this machine was on a scrap heap in an Oregon field, piled there along with other goodies by one of those “pickers” that reality TV loves so much. The machine was a disaster. It hadn’t been soaked in oil, but it was loaded with pine needles and an ant colony. The worst part, though, was the rust. The RF shielding had corroded into powder in some places, leaving reddish rust stains all over the place. Undeterred, [Adrian] gave the machine a good bath, first in water, then in isopropanol. Liberal applications of Deoxit helped with header connections, enough to see that the machine miraculously booted. It took some finagling, especially with the 6526 I/O controller, but [Adrian] was eventually able to get everything on the motherboard working, even the sound chip.

Whether this machine survived due to good engineering or good luck is debatable, but it’s a treat to see it come back to life. We hope a full restoration is in the works, not least as a way to make up for the decades of neglect.

Thanks for the tip, [Katie].

30 thoughts on “Ants, Dirt, Rain, And The Commodore 64 That Wouldn’t Quit

    1. Good point. Sadly, Jack Tramiel took some bad decisions on how to manage his star product and the same for the new developments. In any case, it seems that these machines will be with us for a long time.

    1. Decades ago I found an old tube radio in a dump, I cleaned out the detritus, super-glued the cracked Bakelite case, replaced the line cord, one tube, and gave the case a coat of shoe polish. It worked fine for years. Last month I replaced a failed 12SK7 in it.

  1. “Built to a price point and liable to succumb to a spilled Mountain Dew, few machines from that era that received any kind of abuse lived to tell the tale.”

    We build closer to the engineering and manufacturing edge these days. Works, but less forgiving.

    1. +100

      It’s a miracle that some of these cheap laptops being cranked out work at all, or even stay constructed. Smartphones are black magic all together. We are creeping closer to the boundary of material failure on plastic latches/hinges that hold electronics together. I just wish we could get some more screws.

      1. It’s not even the “cheap” or “low-end” hardware that’s at failure’s edge: flash memory, high speed gigabit transmission, wireless transmission, etc. All of those have an *incredibly* high intrinsic failure rate – they’re just compensated for with error correction and software. Hence the reason why pretty much nothing fails gracefully anymore: they seem to work fine up until the point where the error correction stops being able to handle it, and then “poof”, everything goes boom.

      2. ” I just wish we could get some more screws.”
        I had an unwritten rule of thumb when I worked on TV’s, “The more screws you need to remove to access it, the cheaper it was built.”

  2. It may work today but I can’t believe it is long for this world. I bet that rust will spread right through a trace somewhere before long even if it is stored in ideal conditions now.

    I wonder how hard it would be to make a new PCB. Most of the chips do appear to be socketed.

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