I like old computers, and in particular I like Kaypros. I like Kaypros because they’re iconic, durable, and relatively speaking, very cheap compared to more popular collectibles from Commodore, Apple, etc. These were sold as business computers, so they run few games - and consequently aren’t collected by gen-Xers and older millenials getting all nostalgic. These computers do however run CP/M and consequently some of the very best word processing software ever made (WordStar, Perfect Writer, Palantir) and the keyboards are high quality, making typing on them pretty enjoyable and easy.
I have three Kaypros. An early model II, a “New2" and a model I, from 1982, 1984, and 1986 respectively this covers the whole span of years when Kaypro was a successful company (they never turned a profit again after ‘86 and were bankrupt in ‘89). The II has a serial number in the 8XXX range. Relatively early. Chip dates place it around August, 1982. But if you’re collecting, you always want something even older. I’ve been looking for a very early machine, in the 5XXX range or early for years. These very early models differ from the later ones in some very noticeable ways, and they’re rather hard to find. I’ve looked, bid, offered on a few over the past ten years, but never got lucky.
Until just last week, when a model II with the second lowest serial number I’ve seen popped up on ebay, with a modest BIN. Now it’s at my house. And let me tell you - this was the dirtiest computer I have ever seen. It smelled like wet dogs and stale cigarettes. And it was even dirtier on the inside than the outside.
And when I plugged it in? It didn’t work. The power light came on, the disk drives turned, but the screen? Nothing. Just a faint green glow. I pulled out my floppy drive cleaning disk and cleaned the A drive (the cleaning pad came out with a brown ring on it). I inserted a boot disk and the machine booted up but still nothing on the screen. I connected a printer, and could print the disk directory, but still nothing on the screen.
I decided to swap the main board into the working KII. This revealed a big surprise.
I got a prompt screen. But not the regular prompt screen. A personalized one. For Ezra Shapiro. I had one of those weird moments - I had heard this name before somewhere. But from what? Google to the rescue!
Ezra Shapiro wrote for Byte Magazine, and a few others in the 80s. And importantly, before he became a journalist, he worked for Non Linear Systems, makers of the Kaypro. Additionally, I noted that the ROM chips had hand written labels, and they were signed by David Thompson. Thompson ran the publication Micro Cornucopia from 1981 until 1990. He was modding computers and teaching others how to do the same, all the way back in ‘81. Thompson is still around, today he’s a therapist. Shapiro though - I can’t find any trace of the guy. He has fallen off the planet. I asked the seller if they knew anything about the provenance of the computer, and he said he found the computer when he was helping a friend move in rural California.
In any event, it seems the problem with the computer was in the CRT circuitry. Nothing looked obviously blowed up, but it was so full of dirt and nicotine it’d be hard to tell. I transfered a CRT from a junk Kaypro into this one and:
It almost works. Getting some garbage characters o the screen, which is probably dead RAM (screen area is memory mapped). Anyway, this is really cool because had I won any of those other auctions, I’d have had a really cool old computer - but with this one I’ve got a really cool piece of history with a connection to the company that goes beyond just being made there.
edit to add pics of the two old Kaypros:
The older one is the one with the vertical drives, they only made them that was for a few months before switching to the horizontal configuration.