Well, where to start! The last few weeks have consisted primarily of anticipation, excitement, and towards the end, utter exhaustion. But finally, FINALLY, the IBM is home!
It all started after our friend John Oates at the register shared our plight as detailed in our last blog post (see here). This was read by a chap in Melbourne, Australia called Kevin Silk, who then saw a LinkedIn post by a chap called Dan Apperley and left a comment:
I had no idea any of this was going on until the following day when I received a call in my office just after 9am. The caller introduced himself as Dan and said he was from a company called Sunspeed. Dan told me that he had read the blog, read about our troubles finding a haulier, and that he and Sunspeed could help! Of course, I was very interested so I sent Dan an email with a list of all of the items, along with their dimensions and weights. He confirmed that they’d be able to help, and because they recognised the importance of the project and how much they liked it, they were kindly willing to do it at a significant discount which was covered completely by the crowd funding donations.
Now, one thing we were particularly concerned about when moving the machines was rough handling, improper loading leading to damage, and undue shock and vibrations from the moving vehicle. The major reason we were so happy to hear from Sunspeed is that they are a speciality IT relocation company who are used to dealing with large, heavy, delicate pieces of equipment. Dan from Sunspeed said:
“We were made aware of the project on LinkedIn by a follower of the Blog. Upon reading about the issues being experienced trying to find a large enough vehicle with a tail-lift capable of handling the weight, I knew we could help. We’re really pleased we could help out and be a part of this amazing story to recover such a rare piece of IT history. Well done to Adam and the team! I think we’ll now have to change our marketing to: Whether you need to move a single server, an entire Data Centre or recover an extremely rare and sensitive IBM 360 Machine from Germany before Brexit, then Sunspeed is here to help!”
So, we set about putting a date in the diary, booked some flights, hotels, and a rental car, and the big wait started.
Now, in some of the past posts we’ve dropped a couple of hints that we were going to be hosting the machine in a former Mi6 building. Creslow Park, formerly known as Creslow Transmission Station, was built in the 1940’s as a remote shortwave radio transmission facility, operated by HMGCC at Hanslope Park. It is located in a hidden location in rural Buckinghamshire. Around 1990 a state-of-the-art transmission facility was built on the site and it is believed it was used for around 18 months prior to being mothballed. Documents found on the site suggest the building and its systems were being actively maintained until around 1996 after which the Government locked the doors and eventually sold the whole site to a local farmer.
This is probably where I should introduce somebody else to the blog, and that person is Chris Wilkie. I’ve known Chris for quite a long time, originally through his car building forum LocostBuilders, and then we later met again when he volunteered at TNMoC. Chris is a close friend of mine, and somebody who’s going to be instrumental in this blog post.
Chris Wilkie has owned the lease on the Creslow Park site for around three years. He is working on complete modernisation of the transmission building to use as a modern data centre and is generously allowing us to take up a corner of the former transmitter hall in order to set up and work on the IBM. The site represents the perfect backdrop for our work and it will be fantastic to see both projects evolving together. Incidentally, Chris is looking for an anchor tenant for the facility so if anyone reading has a requirement for highly secure and discreet data centre space, or even if you just fancy the idea of hosting a personal server in a former MI6 top secret facility, please drop him a line and say we sent you. His email address can be found at www.creslowpark.com.
Chris W. (as he will now be referred to) had kindly offered to join us in Germany for the packing and loading and so we booked him a flight out as well. What I perhaps hadn’t mentioned to him was that the flight was at 7:35 from London Stansted which necessitated his arrival at my house at 4am! Despite this, we agreed the time and put a plan together.
So, this is the story of how you ship a 1960’s IBM across Europe.
As described above, Chris W. arrived at my house bright and early at 03:50. We loaded our cases into my car and headed for the airport. You might say it was a little chilly when we arrived:
We headed in, cleared security with no issues, and got ourselves a Burger King. Shortly thereafter we boarded our flight and after a short nap we arrived in Nuremberg, which pleasantly was slightly warmer than the UK! We headed over to the Rental car desk and I picked up my rental for the next couple of days, a Kia Venga. I had booked a Golf, and I’m not sure one would call this equivalent, but it was cheap so one mustn’t grumble.
We then set off for our favourite German hardware store, Bauhaus, where we picked up the essentials, and then drove up to Fürth. Once we’d regained access to the building, we were greeted by what we’d left there on the last visit:
This was also Chris W’s first glimpse of the system, as per his tweet:
We didn’t waste much time in getting stuck in. We firstly removed the pallet containing all of the punched cards I rescued from the loft on the last visit and quickly wrapped them, primarily to keep them on the pallet safely but also to protect them against the risk of rain during loading/unloading.
Following this, we decided to collect the loose panels, power supplies, and machine cables and put them all on a pallet. This didn’t quite go to plan though as once we’d loaded them we realised that the pallet didn’t quite fit through the door!
Still, we unloaded the pallet and stacked the stuff outside to sort out later. The next job was to deal with the plethora of disk packs we had scattered around the room from our hasty unloading last time. These packs aren’t particularly easy to transport as they have a prominent handle and thus they don’t stack very well. We obviously didn’t want to damage the cases as they protect the packs which are very likely to still be readable and anyway they are in and of themselves historical artefacts. So with that in mind, we came up with a lash up solution to solve the problem and keep everything safe:
We also acquired some spares including a card cage complete with backplane and some cards, along with a number of large and rather heavy (2x 80kg) power supplies. We loaded these on another pallet and wrapped them as well.
We then took one of the semi-empty machine frames we had acquired on the emergency rescue, and made use of the space inside it by filling it with small panels and cables. We then we wrapped the whole thing. We took the two pallets and one of the punched card readers upstairs where we’d reorganised the space a bit to squeeze them all in. This left us with more room downstairs to fill with more pallets.
We then headed back downstairs and re-packed the cables and spare panels onto a different pallet which actually fitted through the door and then put the pallets in the downstairs storage; they only JUST fitted, and with a bit of shuffling about we managed to shut the door.
With that done, we locked up and headed to check in to our hotel. Our hotel of choice this time was the Franconia City Hotel. We primarily booked this hotel because it reviewed extremely well and was very modestly priced whilst boasting an excellent location in the heart of Nuremberg. It also happened to be directly opposite a multi-story car park which was perfect for somewhere to dump the rental car. Having checked in the 3 rooms (including picking up Chris Blackburns keys for his later arrival), we asked the hotelier where a good nearby bar was. We wanted to stay in the local area as Günter Hiller, our friend from the Auction House, was due to meet us for dinner and a catch up. She said that the only bar nearby was an English pub. Oh great, we’ve flown all the way to Germany to visit an English pub; still could be worse! We trotted down to the pub. Luckily they did server German beer, so all was not lost!
Shortly after, I noticed that I’d received an email from Rachel at Sunspeed to tell me that there had been a slight delay on the journey and the truck was held up on the autobahn at Eschweiler (near Aachen) due to a rather nasty accident:
Luckily, nobody was hurt, and as we had live tracking of the truck through Movolytics provided by Sunspeed, we could see where the truck was. We figured that they’d be a few hours late, which wasn’t the end of the world as we had a whole day to play with.
After Chris W. and I sank about 4 pints each, Chris Blackburn arrived and we ordered him a beer. Shortly thereafter, Günter arrived and we all had a good catch up:
We then headed out for dinner at a nearby restaurant. I’ve often described my love for Germanic cuisine on this blog and so I won’t continue to extol its virtues here, but needless to say we had an absolutely delicious meal, followed by more beers and then bed.
The following day, we got up bright and early and headed over to MyStorage for around 06:30. I was keen to get all of the equipment from the basement moved upstairs and have it ready for Sunspeed to load. This desire was compounded by the apparent delay from the day prior having a potential impact on the 16:00 delivery time penciled in for the next day. I wasn’t particularly keen on unloading this stuff in the dark when it arrived back in the UK, so we set to work getting it all up to the ground floor:
Now, due to the delay we thought the truck would arrive at around 11am rather than the previous estimate of 9am. We checked the tracker and saw that the truck was actually quite close. I was just about to head out to pick up a McDonalds breakfast for everyone when the truck pulled into the car park at 09:20! I met the chaps, Paul and Jamie from Sunspeed, and showed them to the loading bay. We were keen to get started loading, but we were all still rather hungry, so Chris W. headed off to pick up McDonalds for all of us whilst Jamie and Paul got started with the loading:
Boy had these chaps come prepared! We knew we’d hired the right professionals at this point. They had tonnes of bubble wrap and pallet wrap, along with these fantastic cardboard corner pieces for the machines. They also had this fantastic plastic sheeting to go down on the difficult and uneven surfaces which made life a lot easier. Their plan was to wrap every machine in bubble wrap, and then wrap it in pallet wrap to keep everything safe before strapping it into the truck. This was much more than we were expecting so we were throughly impressed!
Just then, Chris W. returned with McDonalds breakfast for everyone:
We all had a bite to eat as we were rather peckish, and then Jamie and Paul got on with the loading:
We did our best to help by wrapping some machines, but the 3 of us couldn’t keep up with the pace of the professionals; they would do two machines to our every one! Still, we had a good go, and soon enough the truck was getting quite full:
About this time, Günter arrived! Günter had been at an appointment in the morning, but had come along to help us load up and to see the IBM off to its new home.
Now, when I’d originally been discussing the move with Dan, he’d said that they’d probably send their new truck over to give it a bit of a run-in, but at the last minute they had to change to one of their other fleet as they needed the newer truck for something else.
It turned out that this was rather a blessing in disguise as the newer truck was around 2ft shorter than the one they’d sent, and lets just say space was at a premium!
By the time all was said and done, we were right at the end of the truck, so if they’d sent the shorter truck we might have had to get creative!
After loading, we had a bit of a chat, and despite my best efforts at persuading them, I wasn’t allowed to drive the truck home. I did however get to sit in the cab, which just made me want to buy one (I mean, it would be useful and totally justifiable as a personal expense, right? RIGHT?)
After the truck departed, Chris Blackburn and I headed to reception to hand back the keys to the units and to close our account with MyStorage. FYI, if you ever need to store anything in Fürth, I can throughly recommend MyStorage; particularly as all of the staff speak fluent English, which is a lot more than we can say about our German!
Having sorted everything out, we headed back to the hotel to get our heads down for a few hours. We had about 3 hours of sleep, had a shower, and headed out to the bar and to dinner to celebrate; we made sure we didn’t go too hard on the beer though as we had to be up incredibly early again to catch our 07:15 flight back to Stansted.
After our ridiculously early start, early morning flight, and a quick nap, I received notification that the truck was in the UK much earlier than thought! We presumed they’d arrive on site at 16:00, but at 13:00 they pulled in through the gates! Luckily Chris W. and one of his guys (and a very good friend of ours, Clinton Thomas), had spent the Monday before clearing plenty of space for us in the Machine hall:
So with the space clear we were fully prepared to receive the machine!
The chaps from Sunspeed put down that fantastic plastic sheeting again to protect the wheels and provide a smooth surface across the door lip (I need to buy some of that!), and then we all got to work unloading.
Soon enough, the unloading was complete. All of this, with only one casualty. The keen eyed reader might notice the larger machine, the 370/125, sitting at a slight angle. Now, the first time we moved this we found a few ball bearings lying around afterwards, but we couldn’t figure out where they’d come from; it turns out, they’d come from one of the casters on this. Yes, a wheel fell off during unloading. No problem though, it moved easy enough on 3 wheels and no damage was done, and these wheels are many years old and have likely seen many rough moves; they’re on the service list and we’ll be replacing this caster ASAP.
Heres a time lapse video of the unloading:
and one of the unwrapping:
and heres a photo dump of the whole process as well:
At that point, we were pretty tired and so we called it a day. We’ll be heading back soon to start cleaning and cataloguing the machines to determine exactly what the specifications and state of them are. Needless to say, we’re all terribly excited to get our teeth stuck into the project!
We can’t thank everybody enough for all their help on this project. First and foremost, to our donors who made this move possible. We sincerely hope you all continue to enjoy reading the blog and sending us messages! To Sunspeed and all the team, for all their help and professionalism in moving the machine; without them this would have been a much more difficult undertaking. They did an absolutely sterling job. To Günter, for all of his amazing help from start to finish, and for his friendship; without him removing the machine from the building in the first place would have proved a much, much more difficult task. To Chris Wilkie of Creslow Park, not only for his help moving the machine but also for his enthusiasm and willing to host our machine at his fantastically interesting facility. And finally, to John Oates at The Register, Jenny List at Hackaday, everybody who shared the articles and blog on Slashdot, and everybody else in the media who’s put the story out there and driven traffic to our website. There are too many of you to list here, but we really do appreciate all of your help!
We’ll undoubtably have some updates for you soon, but for now I think I can safely say we’re all going to bed!