Rescue of Four Phase Systems mini-computer from Tampa (long)

From: Vintage Computer Festival <>
Date: Thu Mar 1 13:48:43 2001

The rescue of a very obscure 70s era mini-computer was accomplished last
Thursday and Friday. It had been sitting in a storage shed on a forsaken
piece of property in Tampa, Florida, for at least 15 years, quite possibly
20. Although it wasn't exposed to the elements, the humidity, termites
and rats did a number on the machine. I was told of the machine by a man
related to the person who used to own the property, but has been passed
away now for several years. The property was tied up in probate, and he
invited me to just come and take the machine whenever I wanted.

The machine was made by Four Phase Systems, somewhere in the 1972-73
timeframe. Four Phase Systems was a company that ran out of Santa Clara,
California, from the late-60s through the 80s. I believe they were
eventually bought out by Motorola. One of the biggest technological
achievements of Four Phase was in producing a sort of microprocessor
before Intel, in the 1968-1969 timeframe. It was called the AL1 and was
intended to be a general purpose CPU for mini-computer systems. I don't
have many details on it yet but I'm awaiting more literature. I became
aware of it from my research during VCF 2.0, when I was promoting the
unveiling of Ray Holt's F14 CADC "microprocessor".

I don't know if the AL1 has all the elements of a "microprocessor" as
defined by the base standard, which is the Intel 4004. But one professor
at North Carolina State University wrote a paper arguing that FPS could
have called it a microprocessor, but chose not to. He's sending me a copy
of the paper he wrote and I'll report further when I receive it.

The rescue was not without its challenges. Louis and his wife met me at
the airport and we drove over to the site. It was a dark storage shed
cluttered with junk. We immediately set about pulling out the computer
hardware. Luckily, it was all in racks on rollers, but we still had to
roll it out onto dirt to get it onto the truck. The machines were filthy,
having been infested with rat's nests. We didn't realize the extent of it
until we got them to Louis' warehouse. Louis had made a couple prior
visits to investigate the site and to round up various bits of
documentation. Some of the manuals were almost complete destroyed by
termites. They looked simply water damaged until you opened them up,
where you would find that they were almost completely eaten out by
termites (with still live termites running around inside). Fortunately, a
lot of the documentation did survive in relatively good shape. We grabbed
up all the docs worth saving and stuffed them into two big garbage bags.
I'll have to sort through them (and hopefully not introduce a horrible
strain of termites to the California environment :) Some of the manuals
that survived included schematics of the various boards that comprise the

We loaded everything up onto the truck within the limits of the sunlight
we had. We then drove it over to Louis' warehouse. The next morning we
palletized everything for shipping. We had a 5' tall 19" rack for the
CPU, another for the tape drive, and then a 3' tall cabinet that housed a
removeable platter hard drive. We also got a smaller Xerox 800 word
processing machine. All the racks had a tremendous amount of shredded
paper, Spanish moss, and other undesirable elements from the rat's nests.
One nest even contained the remains of one of its previous inhabitants.
Luckily, Louis' shop had an air compressor. We tried to blow everything
out as thoroughly as possible.

Here are the pictures of the machine:

CPU card cage

CPU Front Panel (front cover removed)

CPU (left) and tape drive

This picture shows the grime and yuck that was inside the hard drive
unit. A lot of the mess was the decayed sound-dampening foam lining the

This picture shows the rat's nest inside the Xerox 800 unit:'s%20Nest.jpg

I didn't take any pictures of the terminals, but we saved four out of the
8 or 9 that were there. We also found an old Televideo all-in-one CP/M
machine inside the house on the property.

We put the CPU and tape drive on one pallet, and the hard drive on
another. I left the Xerox 800 behind, for now. Louis is holding it for
me until I can determine if it is significant enough to save. The reason
I left it is because it is fairly rusted inside. I don't like to trash
anything, but the circumstances being that it was very rusted and I didn't
want to fill another pallet, I decided to leave it until I could research
it further to determine if it is worth saving. It looks like it might be
some predecessor of the Xerox 820 computer, as it has the same color
scheme and badge. Or it may be related to the 8010 in some odd way. I'm
not sure. But if someone has information on this machine I'd certainly
appreciate you sharing it. It had a typewriter attached by a thick cable,
and two digital cassette drives on the front. If anyone has any info on
this machine then please let me know. If it ends up being worth saving,
Louis will ship it out to me. If not, Louis will dumpster it.

I shoved the rest of the terminals, keyboards and documentation inside the
open space of the cabinets, first wrapping them in cardboard to give them
some cushioning. Everything was very snug. We wrapped the machines in
cardboard and then Louis banded them. Everything was tight.

We had a guy from the business next door load everything onto the U-Haul
we rented with a forklift. If we'd thought about it, we could have gotten
by without the U-Haul, since we originally were going to use pallets that
would not have fit inside Louis' pickup. But we ended up using very
narrow pallets. Oh well. Something to keep in mind for next time.

We drove the pallets out to Forward Air in Tampa for shipping.
( Forward Air is a favorite shipper amongst
arcade game collectors (and myself) because it is so cheap. They charge
USD$0.20/lbs from Tampa to San Francisco (rates vary depending on distance
and other factors). The only drawback is that you must haul your pallets
to and from their depots, which are located throughout the US (check their
website for locations). But it's entirely worth it. The pallets weighed
way more than we anticipated: 1,377 pounds total! I was thinking, based
on the weight estimates I initially got, that it would cost me only around
$120 to ship. It ended up being $294. Still, not bad for almost 3/4 of a

I will have more information about the machine once I retrieve it from
Forward Air's depot in San Francisco either today or tomorrow. I'll have
a chance to look over everything over the weekend.

I'd like to profusely thank Louis Schulman and his wife for their help
with this project. I certainly would have had extraordinary difficulty
trying to do this whole thing without his help.

While we're on the topic of Louis, I would just like to give a plug to his
business, Island Wood Works. He makes fantastic outdoor wood furniture.
This is real quality stuff. You folks in Florida (and just about anywhere
for that matter...they've shipped furniture to places all over the
country, including the San Diego Zoo) should definitely give Louis a call
and buy some furniture from him. His number is 727/572.1119, or find him
on the web at He's in Clearwater.

Thanks, Louis!!!

Lessons learned:

I planned well in advance for this adventure. You all might remember me
posting a message back in January asking for assistance on this project. I
got a few responses (thanks, all), but Louis was right in the Tampa area,
had a truck, the facilities to palletize everything, and a keen sense of
adventure, so it worked out perfectly.

I checked where everything was in advance (the nearest U-Haul location,
the location of Forward Air, the hotel I'd be staying in, etc.) from
MapQuest which helped me get an idea of the geography and how much
driving/hauling would be involved.

It was very, very helpful having Louis pre-field the site and try to
determine how much everything weighed so I could estimate the shipping
costs for my budget. This, it turns out, is more difficult to estimate
than one might think. We thought each rack weighed only a couple hundred
pounds but it turns out each must've weighed 400-500 each.

U-Haul is always a fricken nightmare. Just trying to get them to answer
the phone is a challenge. I've used them many times before, but I'm
pretty well aware of what goes on inside U-Haul because they were a client
of the last company I worked for, and I've visited their coporate HQ.
The place is a mess. Still, it is the only game in town, and the best
value (as long as the truck doesn't break down :) It cost $42 to rent a
10' truck, but only for the 4 hours they allowed us to keep it (their
rentals are not "daily", but they still charge you the full 24 hour rate).
Don't get me started on how much I hate U-Haul, but as I said, they are
the only game in town unless you want to shell out a hundred bucks to use
a truck for a day with a company like Ryder or something.

Forward Air is a great company to use for shipping large loads of old
computers. I used them before on a haul of Xerox 6085 "Daybreaks" from
Raleigh, North Carolina, and that went well. Be aware that Forward Air
does have a reputation for dropping things and damaging them. I hope my
machine arrived OK, but I won't know until I go get it. I'll report on it
once I do. Still, the value can't be beat.

Always give yourself enough leeway in terms of time. Everything went as
well for us as it could have, and so we actually finished quicker than I
originally scheduled. I planned to leave on Saturday morning for Fort
Lauderdale, but ended up taking off at 4pm on Friday instead. Retrieving
the computers only took about 2 hours. Palletizing everything took about
4 hours. We did this leisurely. If we'd have rushed we probably could
have done it all in 2 hours.

This was a very fun project. Every serious big iron collector should do
at least one long distance haul like this. Even you guys who only collect
micros should try something like this once. It always makes for good
stories to share with other collectors.


Sellam Ismail Vintage Computer Festival
International Man of Intrigue and Danger
Received on Thu Mar 01 2001 - 13:48:43 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Oct 10 2014 - 23:34:02 BST