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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Thar's gold in them thar computers!

Well, at least there used to be. About 12 yrs ago when I was living in the Atlanta area my GF at the time's father owned a computer salvage business in Alabama and he wanted me to come and take it over. We would be partners at first until he was ready to retire and then me and his daughter would take it over fully after a couple of years. The business was amazingly easy and there was a lot of money involved in parting out computers for scrap metal.

Now, I'm not talking about desktop PC's here, the type of computers we salvaged were generally built by IBM in the very late '60's and all thru the '70's and '80's. These were huge mainframe computers that everyone has seen in countless motion pictures and TV shows. You know the ones with the big reel to reel tape drives and such. These things were monsters weighing upwards of 3,000 lbs and stood about 6 ft tall and up to 6 ft wide and 3 to 4 ft deep. Massive high quality steel doors and steel frameworks inside the cabinets that held thousands of high quality circuit boards and processors, some were even water cooled and needed an accessory machine with air conditioners and huge radiators to keep them cooled down! Hard drives that had 10 and 12 inch diameter discs with big industrial electric motors to spin them up, hard drives that were bigger than a large microwave oven and were housed in aircraft quality aluminum castings. Very high quality materials used throughout.

And GOLD, lots and lots of gold, solid gold pins and connectors, heavy gold plated copper electrical connectors and cables that were made of very high quality gold plated copper that interconnected each machine through holes in the floor under each machine. Even the thousands of small circuit boards inside each machine could be smelted down to retrieve a considerable amount of gold. There were also many exotic metals on some of the boards like tantalum alloys and platinum and other precious metals used in transistors which we also salvaged out and sold separately to metal refinerys. Huge roomfulls of these machines could be found at data processing centers, hospitals, military installations and utility companies that needed to keep track of hundreds of thousands of peoples accounts. Everything that we stripped out of these machines was sold with virtually no waste except for the plastics and glass.

The steel we sold by the 10,000 lb truckload, the aluminum would usually be brought to a scrapyard and sold in lots of 3 to 4,000 lbs at a time and the copper was separated from the insulation on the cables and torn out of electrical windings and sold for about a $1.00 a lb. We had 3 large trucks and a couple of forklifts to haul this stuff where ever it needed to go.

And the most amazing part about all of this was that these machines were still working! Machines that sold for upwards of a quarter million dollars apiece when they were new and first installed were now being scrapped. But, they were being phased out with newer faster machines that took up only a fraction of the space that these monsters once occupied. We were an IBM approved salvage operation, in that they could rest assured that we would completely dismantle them for scrap and not resale them to third world countries for profit. I suppose for proprietary reasons that IBM wanted these machines completely off the market and I suppose that some may have had classified technology used in their construction.

I was involved directly with the operations for about a year and her father started making changes to passing the ownership of the company over to us, he was dragging his feet and kept putting us off on his retirement. And then out of the blue, their son that had showed no previous interest in the company whatsoever was released from a jail sentence unexpectedly and now decided he wanted a piece of the action. He was a good for nothing lazy and dumbass fucker that I could not stand to be around and now we were supposed to split the company profits equally. I saw the handwriting on the wall and got the hell out right away. I knew that if I stayed I would have been stuck with 100% of the work and only 50% of the profits if I had to work with the stupid redneck, lazy, good for nothing moron with an ugly criminal record. The bad part was that I didn't have anything in writing from the father on who would get ownership. I waited till we made one particulary good haul from this data processing center in south Atlanta, pocketed my cut and then said see ya's! and sayonara mothafucka!!

I'm pretty sure now that all of those computers are long gone, back in the days when we were doing it the supply was starting to get a bit slim and hard to find. It was one of those deals where you knew there wasn't a long term future in it so it wasn't a huge loss.