The Barn Find IBM 360 Comes Home

It’s a story that may be familiar to many of us, that of bidding on an item in an online auction and discovering once we go to pick it up that we’ve bought a bit more than we’d bargained for. We told you earlier in the year about the trio of Brits who bought an IBM System/360 mainframe computer from the mid 1960s off of a seller in Germany, only to find in the long-abandoned machine room that they’d bought not just one but two 360s, and a System/370 to boot. Their van was nowhere near big enough for all three machines plus a mountain of cabling, documentation, and period storage media, so they moved it to a hastily-rented storage unit and returned home to work out what on earth to do next.

Now we’ve received an email from the trio with some good news; not only have they managed to bring their hoard of vintage big iron computing back home, but also they’ve found a home for it in the rather unusual surroundings of a former top-secret UK Government signals intelligence station. With the help of a friendly specialist IT relocation company they unleashed it from their temporary storage and into the truck for the UK. It’s a tale of careful packing and plenty of wrapped pallets, as we begin to glimpse the true extent of the collection as you can see in the video below the break, because not only have they secured all the hardware but they also have a huge quantity of punched cards and disk packs. The prospect of a software archaeology peek into how a 1960s mainframe was used by its original customer is a particularly interesting one, as it’s likely those media contain an ossified snapshot of its inner workings.

We’re hoping to follow this project as it evolves, and see (we hope) a room full of abandoned junk transformed into a facsimile of a typical 1960s business computing setup. If you’d like to catch up, read our original coverage of the find.

Continue reading “The Barn Find IBM 360 Comes Home”

How Hard Can It Be To Buy A Computer In Germany And Get It Back Home To The UK?

Some of the best adventures in the world of hardware hacking start in the pub. For three volunteers at the National Museum Of Computing in the UK, [Adam Bradley], [Chris Blackburn], and [Peter Vaughan], theirs started over a pint with an eBay listing for an old computer in Germany. No problem you might think, we’re well used to international parcel shipping. This computer wasn’t a crusty old Commodore 64 though, instead it was a room-sized IBM System/360 Model 20 from the 1960s, complete with the full array of peripherals and what seemed to be a lot of documentation and software media. It would need a Mercedes Sprinter, a large van, to shift it, but that seemed feasible. With a bit of frantic bidding they secured the auction, and set off for Germany to view their purchase.

Arriving at the machine’s location they found a little bit more than they had expected. In an abandoned building on a side street in Nuremburg there was an intact machine room full of the IBM computer cabinets over a false floor with all the machine cabling in place, and the only usable access was through a street door which hadn’t been opened in decades and which was obstructed by the false floor itself. To cap it all they found they’d bought not one but two System/360s, and also unexpectedly a 1970s System/370 Model 125. Clearly this was more than a job for a quick in-and-out with a Sprinter.

What followed became a lengthy saga of repeated trips, van hire, constructing ramps, and moving heavy computer parts to a hastily rented storage unit. Decabling a computer of this size is no easy task at the best of times, and these cables had spent many decades in a neglected machine room. It’s a fascinating read, and a very well-documented one with plenty of photos. The machines now sit in their storage units awaiting a return to the UK, and the trio are soliciting any help they can find to make that happen. So if you happen to own a European haulage company with spare capacity on your Germany — UK route or if you can help them in any way, donate or get in touch with them. We think this project has much more to offer, so we’ll be following their progress with interest.

These three intrepid computer hunters were brought together at The National Museum Of Computing at Bletchley, UK. If you find yourself within range it is an essential place to visit, we did so in 2016.