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My IBM Career and Some Thoughts Along the Way

I joined IBM on June 17,1963. I actually had the job two months before graduation. My starting pay was $425.00 a month. The manager of the local IBM office, Jim Foxworthy, interviewed me for the job. Jim was Jeff Foxworthy's dad. It is easy to see where Jeff got his personality and wit. Jim always had a joke to tell.

It was a great relief to know there was a good job waiting after graduation. I was broke! My wife was pregnant and had been fired from her job because of it. I was working in a grocery store making just enough to put food on the table. We were living in my sister's basement by her good graces for free.

I had almost taken an offer from Sandia Labs because the pay was better but the job required a move to New Mexico and there was no money for the move. RCA offered me a job working in a tracking station in Australia too. That sounded exciting but later I found out it was one of the most remote and boring places in the world to be. Western Electric also made an offer but the pay was not enough. $285.00 a month. I learned that my job title would be 'Customer Engineer' but had no idea what the job was really about.

What is a Customer Engineer?

IBM, over the years, has changed the title given to their service personnel several times. I have been called Customer Engineer, Field Engineer, Customer Service Representative, Support Specialist and Area Specialist among others that I will not mention. To the customers, we were usually just the IBM repairmen unless we screwed up. Then we were that 'damn IBM guy’. In general, our job was to keep the customers happy. That involved keeping the machines maintained (PM), fixing them promptly when they broke and maintaining a good relationship with the customer employees and management. We were required to wear a suit and tie with a white shirt at all times. It was tough (and expensive) when working on machines covered with oil, ink and card dust to maintain the IBM decorum.

Imagine a mechanic that gets service calls from a 'dispatch' office, drives to the customer's location in his personal car dressed in a suit and tie, talks with the customer about the problem, diagnoses the problem, fixes it on site, writes up what he did, accounts for all parts used, cleans up the work area, explains to the customer what he did to fix the problem and sometimes attends a customer meeting with management to explain all of the circumstances surrounding the problem and why it wont happen again (hopefully) and why it took so long to get there and fix it even though he was there within thirty minutes. Also, there is a good likelihood he had an emergency callout the night before and was up most of the night.

Well, you say,’ Why stay in a job so demanding?’ The pay was good, the benefits were great and there was a great deal of satisfaction in knowing I could and did fix some of the more complex machines ever manufactured.

Basic School in Endicott, NY 1963

402 Accounting Machine
IBM Tabulators
IBM Keypunch
IBM 519 Card Punch
IBM Collators
IBM Sorters
IBM Tabulators
IBM Interpreters
IBM Calculators (Not taught in basic school)

The above links provided with permission of Frank da Cruz / / Columbia University Computing History

These machines were considered the 'basic' IBM machines at the time and the installation and maintenance was taught to all basic students. One exception was the 402 accounting machine. Some basic students were taught the 'flagship' 407 accounting machine instead. I was never officially trained on the 407 but was assigned to maintain them in my 'territory' anyway. A CE's (Customer Engineer's) territory consisted officially of enough installed machines to make up a 160 hour month using average maintenance times. CE's were supposed to be 'trained' on all machines assigned to them for maintenance. It never really worked out that way though.

One of my classmates from Southern Tech, Wayne Hall, went to IBM basic school with me and we shared a third floor walk up apartment. There was no air conditioning, it was summer and it was HOT. Endicott was an IBM town and lots of IBMers went there for training. The landlords knew exactly how much per diem the students were paid. While there, IBM increased the per diem from $6.00 per day to $7.00 a day. Wow, I thought, three meals a day and maybe an extra call home. Not to be. The landlord jacked up the rent and took it all. He was also conveniently 'out of town' when it came time for us to leave and get the deposit back. We left dishes in the sink and the place generally in a mess...

My oldest daughter was born while I was in basic school in Endicott. I did not have a telephone so the school manager drove over and gave me the news. He then took me to the school and allowed me to use the IBM telephone to call my wife. There was no offer to allow me to come home and I stayed six more weeks. I never forgot that and it was always a dark episode in my IBM career.

When I returned from basic school IBM assigned the Southern Bell account to me along with an experienced CE. Their primary data processing machine was the 519 reproducing punch. However their 519s had a feature not even mentioned in school, the mark sense feature. At that time all long distance calls were made by calling the operator and asking to be connected. The operator used IBM cards and a number two pencil to mark the number and customer information. The cards were later read by the 519 and cards punched with the mark sense information. The punched cards then were used to ultimately bill the customer for the long distance call. It worked well but the 519s required daily servicing to remove the build up of carbon from the marks. I looked like I had been working in a coal mine after spending a day there. We found that IBM number six lubricating oil was the most effective hand cleaner for the task. The experienced CE used mineral spirits soaked IBM cards to clean the card path. It worked but was not sanctioned by IBM as it was a severe fire hazard.. Someone had to make a run to the parts center every week to restock the number six oil and mineral spirits cache.

My First 'Overtime' Machine

IBM 557 Card Interpreting Printer

The IBM 557 was a mechanical monstrosity that, when running, sounded like a hay baler; hence the nickname. I was assigned three of these machines at the Georgia Department of Labor accounting department in 1964. They were used to print unemployment checks on card stock. This was the first IBM machine on which I was assigned as 'support'. This meant that I was sent to assist other CE's when they had a tough 'bug'. This along with the 557's in my own territory caused me to accumulate a bit of overtime for the first time in my IBM career.

IBM 1401 Data Processing System

I was not trained to service the 1401 but did have some in my accounts. The Georgia Department of Labor had one of the big ones. It had 16K of core memory and six tape drives! It was IBM's 'bread and butter' machine during this time frame.

One of my customers, Dixie Bearings, bought a used 1401 and used their people to move, unload and place the machine in their building. The forks on their lift were too short to reach under the mainframe so someone had a bright idea. Why not extend the forks with a couple of 2" X 8" boards? They did, the boards broke and the forks skewered the mainframe as it fell on it's side. It was a total loss! After that any machines delivered to them were located by the movers.

IBM 1620 Data Processing System

I was never trained on the 1620 either but I remember servicing tab equipment at the Georgia Highway Department and watching the blinking lights on their 1620. They used it to calculate 'cut and fill' for the engineering of the interstate highway system in Georgia.

IBM hired some college graduates in the 60's that were put in an 'accelerated management' program. One was assigned to follow me around for a while to 'learn the ropes'. It was immediately apparent that he had no mechanical skills but was really great with the lady keypunch operators! I was doing preventative maintenance one day while he was shadowing me. The old 24 keypunches had a reduction drive gear box that required a yearly oil change. There was no drain so the gearbox had to be removed to empty it. I usually disposed of the oil by dumping card chips (chads to you in Florida) in a trash can and pouring the oil over them. This was well before EPA regulations. I handed a gearbox to him and said "Put the oil in some chips in the trashcan." He did. Trouble is he put the chips in the oil first. It took a while to get all of the chips out of the gearbox!

Where Were You When President Kennedy Was Assassinated?

I know where I was. I was waiting on an elevator at Decatur Federal Savings and Loan on my way to an 83-sorter call. Someone said they had just heard on the car radio that the president had been shot. I smiled because I thought it was a joke. By the time I got downstairs to the machine room someone had confirmed it. Everyone gathered around the radio to hear the latest. It was truly a sad day for the country and me.

The System 360 Announcement

When the IBM 360 was announced in April 1964, an employee announcement meeting was held in all IBM locations. Everyone knew it was going to be a major announcement. I was working that morning on an IBM 056 verifier at the Atlanta City Hall. I asked the supervisor if it would be OK for me to leave, attend the IBM meeting then return and complete fixing the machine. She said, "Fine, go ahead.” So I left went to the meeting, which I missed anyway by being delayed in traffic and returned to fix the machine. In the meantime the supervisors boss came by and saw the machine not fixed and got angry. The supervisor said nothing about our conversation. Her boss called my manager and I came very close to losing my job because my manager said I had used poor judgment. I did miss my next raise. I said nothing about the supervisor's consent. She had kids to feed too.

System 360 Basic Training Rochester, Minn. 1965

IBM 2401 Tape Drive
IBM 2540 Card Reader
IBM 1403 Printer

I was selected to be trained on the input/output machines for the newly announced IBM System/360 family of processors and was sent to Rochester, Minnesota for school in the fall of 1965. The IBM 1403 printer, 2540 card reader/punch, 2401 tape drive and 2821 control unit were among the machines taught.

IBM always required us to share a motel room or apartment while away in school to save them money. My roommate in Rochester was a unique individual. He drove an open top Jeep from Charleston, SC. to Rochester. Since I had flown up and IBM would not reimburse me for a rental car, he was my ride to school each day. Talk about bundling up! The owner finally threw him out of the motel when he was caught bringing 'women' in covertly. He and the owner’s son used an unrented motel room for their escapades...

While there, I was confronted with the coldest weather that I had ever experienced. This ole southern boy had to buy a 'Minnesota' coat to survive. I still have that coat... it was worn only one other time, during the blizzard of 1993 when I plowed the neighborhood driveways and streets with my antique John Deere.

My First Processor Training

IBM 2311 Disk Drive
IBM 2030 Processor

In the spring of 1966 IBM sent me to Washington, DC for training on the System 360 Model 30 (2030 machine type) and the 2841/2311-disk subsystem. I arrived in the midst of a rare blizzard in DC. It was here that I discovered that Volkswagens do not like to be driven over curbs. It bends the heck out of the front end. Three of us decided we wanted some pizza and went looking. Someone yelled there it is and I wheeled into the lot. Unfortunately not at the driveway but over a curb that had been obscured by the plowed snow. Believe it or not, I later backed over a parking lot concrete tire stop and straightened the alignment!

I took a callout one night to assist a CE in Dalton, Georgia that had a 2030 down. Production at one of the largest carpet manufacturing plants in the world was stopped because of the outage. I managed to scope the problem down fairly quickly to a bad clock driver in a channel. Trouble was there was no spare SLT card on site. The nearest part was one hundred miles away in Atlanta. I searched through the logic manuals and found a similar SLT card that had an unused logic circuit. Using a wire wrap tool and about ten feet of number thirty wire, I replaced the bad circuit with the unused circuit and got the machine and the production line back up. It ran that way until the weeked service window. Imagine a machine running so slowly that ten nanoseconds extra delay in a clock circuit has no effect. My PC runs two and a half cycles per nanosecond!

Further System 360 Training

IBM 2040 Processor
IBM 2314 Disk Drive
IBM 2321 Data Cell Drive
IBM 2321 Detail

In the fall of 1966 I was sent to Poughkeepsie, NY for training on the IBM 2040 processor, 2314 disk subsystem and 2321 'noodle snatcher'. The 2321 was said to use all of the latest technologies available at the time in pneumatics, hydraulics, electronics and mechanical. The 2321 became my second machine to be assigned as 'support'. I bought my first 'real' new car, a 1968 Dodge Dart, with overtime generated by working on the 2321. I was assigned one at Allstate Insurance and two at Atlanta Gas Light Company. The Allstate machine ran pretty well but the Gas Company machines had lots of problems mainly because the customer backed up the entire bin each night. That wore the machine prematurely. They sold both machines to South Carolina Gas. I went there several times to assist. Couldn't get away from them!

There was a one-day gap between the close of 2314 school and the start of the 2321 training. I asked if I could informally take the 1410 emulator course for the 2040 processor that day. My customer, Western Electric, only ran 1410 emulator on their 2040 so I wanted to at least be able to speak the language of word marks, group marks, etc. He reluctantly agreed. I did not have a car and asked if I could take the books with me and study at the motel. Another reluctant OK. Guess what. There was a LOUD pounding on my motel door while I was studying the next day. Who but the instructor checking up on me... They could not believe anyone would have enough gumption to study without supervision...Never forgot that episode either.

I had several 2040 systems assigned to me and became fairly proficient servicing them. It was, for it's time, a respectable machine. It used half word core storage memory with a 2.5 microsecond cycle time and had a 625 nanosecond basic machine cycle. Thus it took four machine cycles to fetch or store two bytes of data. The PC I am typing on is approximately 3000 times as fast! The machine was controlled by microcode that was stored in 'TROS"' (transformer read only storage). All of the System 360 instructions and IO control was implemented in microcode. Some machines had a second 'TROS' gate that could store microcode to emulate a 1410, 7010 or 1401 processor. Western Electric never ran their 2040 in native 360 mode. It always was their second 1410. To make changes to the microcode one had to disassemble the TROS by removing a 'TROS module' that contained 128 tapes. Each tape had two control words with sixty bits each. The tape to be updated was removed by disconnecting it's four leads and a new tape inserted in it's place. The tape was prepunched if received via an Engineering Change. If not, one had to carefully punch out copper lands with a leather punch and hope you did not make a mistake. One wrong punch and you had start over! Current was sent down a word line and if a bit was not punched the current induced a voltage on the sense line because of the common ferrite core. TROS was also used in the 2020 processor and 2841/2314 DASD (disk) control units. When the CE needed to run tests on the 2841 it was necessary to remove a TROS module and install a CE module. It was just a bit more involved than inserting a floppy disk! There was no concurrent maintenance. Any significant failure brought the system down and the CE was called. The CE had the machine until it was repaired. Life magazine ran an article on the marvels of modern computers in 1966 and featured the TROS technology as leading edge.

2040 systems were still in use in the late seventies. I took an assist trip to New Orleans and fixed one belonging to the Marine Corp in, I believe, 1979! They were using it as a remote terminal in a network. I was surprised that my memory of the machine was still good enough to find the trouble since it had been five years since I had seen a 2040. It had a shorted net.. (eg. two tiny copper lands on the back plane were shorted). I suspect it had something to do with the salt air environment. I must have impressed the IBM management there. They asked me to come back several times after that to help fix or install machines. I took my wife with me on one assist trip there that coincided with the New Orleans Worlds Fair. It was ironic that the better I was at repairing machines the more I had to travel away from home.

Where Were You When Man First Landed on the Moon?

I know where I was. I was walking across the parking deck at the IBM parts center on my way to pick up a part. It was a Saturday and I was working call coverage. It was another unforgettable moment.

IBM System 370

IBM 3145 Processor

In the summer of 1971 I went to Chicago, IL. for training on the IBM System 370 Model 145 (3145). The 3145 was the first IBM machine to use solid-state monolithic memory throughout. The 360 series had used magnetic core memory. The timing could not have been worse. I had just started building a house. By saving per diem pay I was able to come home often enough to check on the contractor's progress and work on the house weekends. However, the time in Chicago was one of my more enjoyable training assignments. It was nice weather and I found an apartment not far from North Beach near the Playboy headquarters all within walking distance of the IBM school. My roommate was a guy from Missouri named Don Haney. Don was one of those rare people that I could confide in and feel comfortable that what was said would go no further. He had a bad limp caused by an accidental gun shot wound. About a dozen guys from the class decided to go out to dinner at George Diamonds Steak House one night. He and I were unable to keep up with the others as we walked down State Street. A couple of goons tried to block our way for whatever reason. Don stopped and gave them a serious stare... they backed away and we went on and enjoyed our steak. He was a great person and I wish I had been able to visit with him and his family after the school was over. I never saw him again, however.

There was one incident in the classroom while in 3145 school that has stuck in my mind vividly ever since. It comes across my thoughts often. The instructor was going over as I remember, ALU operation and I was reading the passage from the manual while he was talking. All of a sudden there was a WHACK on my desk and he shouted 'We do not tolerate sleeping in the class!’ I just sat there dumbfounded and said nothing while there was nervous laughter from the others in the class. I have often wondered what would have happened if I had taken up for myself. Would I have been fired? Would the instructor have been fired? Would nothing have happened? Don't know, but I have fantasized about flinging a book his way or worse for years. Most of the instructors I had were good people that tried to do a good job but a few were real A** h**es. The job was considered a stepping-stone to management not a career so their management ability was scrutinized more than their teaching ability. I never did get the highest marks in an IBM school. I was quiet and laid back and just did my best. When it was time for the rubber to meet the road however, I usually managed to keep IBM management happy.

IBM management had the bright idea along about 1970 to use CEs that had shown their ability to fix tough bugs as Area Designated Specialist. That meant that the area management could call on these ADS CEs to assist on their designated machines all over the Southeastern USA and when they were not on an assist call they would have their own territory of customers to support. I was selected to be an ADS on the 3145 processor. Some months I was traveling more than I was at home. Ultimately my absence from home was to have a negative effect on my family and was a contributor to my divorce in 1980. IBM awarded an IBM Means Service award to a select few outstanding performers each year. I was awarded five IBM Means Service Awards over the years. Guess what the 'prize' was. You guessed it.. a mandatory week long trip to an 'Awards Conference' somewhere far away from home and they would not pay the expenses to take the wife along.

I was sent to St Croix in the US Virgin Islands to assist Henry Armstrong, the local IBM rep in July of 1972. He had a 3145 at the Hess Oil refinery that was the pits. I later learned that it was unfixable. It had factory production flaws that required replacement of the entire machine. Anyway, Henry was a great host and took me on a grand tour of the island to places tourist would never see or be brave enough to go. Everyone seemed to know him wherever he went. I guess he was somewhat of a celebrity since he was a native and had a good paying job. I was planning on a two-week assignment there, but it was interrupted by a call from my boss calling me home... My father was in the hospital and was not expected to live. I rushed home and was able to speak with him before he died. Henry was another one of those good people that I had the pleasure of meeting but never saw again.

Later, I was assigned to a 3145 support center in Endicott,NY. The center was used to address the problems experienced in the field caused by the manufacturing problems. I was scheduled on the graveyard shift along with a line technician from Boston. What an experience! Along about four AM, when my mental capacity was lowest, my speech reverted to the North Georgia backwoods dialect that I grew up speaking. The tech, being a true Bostonian, would put Norm Abram to shame. We joked about needing an interpreter!

I rented a HUGE American Motors Matador car for the three months in Endicott. It was winter and there was scarcely a day that some form of precipitation did not fall. I never bothered to wash the car and it accumulated enough dirt and grime to put a tank on maneuvers to shame. While I was out buying groceries one evening, someone backed into the driver door and put a 'significant' crease in it. When I returned the car the crease was totally hidden by the dirt!

IBM 'midlife kicker' the IBM 370-148

IBM 3148 Processor
IBM 3420 Tape Drive
IBM 3330 Disk Drive

I went to Endicott, NY for support training on the enhanced 3145, the 3148, in 1973. The 3148 was basically a 3145 with enhanced memory, virtual memory capability and a CRT for the operator station instead of lights and a printer/keyboard. I was awarded a branch office 'attaboy award' once for leading a team that installed an upgrade on a 3148 from 512K memory to one megabytes in one weekend! I was an Area Designated Specialist on the 3148 also.

One of my assist trips on the 3148 was to a customer in Mississippi that built the 'Big Red Machine' that was used to unload an entire logging truck in one pass. The local CE met me at the airport and as we were traveling to the site he gave me a history of the problem. This was a time that management said go and the problem was not discussed with the CE before the trip. Many of the assist trips were like that.. purely to impress on the customer that IBM was doing all they could including bringing in help from 'out of town'. The problem the CE described sounded exactly like a problem that I had fixed on one of my own machines a month or so earlier that was caused by a 'cold flow' in backplane wiring around a pin. 'Cold flows' were caused by the backplane automatic wiring machine at the plant pulling a wire too tight. The insulation would 'cold flow' and after a few months (or years) would short to an intervening pin. When we got to the account the customer was using the system. The CE asked if we could open the logic gates to inspect some wiring and they said OK... but don't bring the system down. We opened the logic gate, the system crashed, I pulled the cold flow off of the pin , closed the gate and gave the machine back to the customer. They didn't believe it was fixed so I stayed a day extra and toured the manufacturing facilities. That 'BIG RED Machine' was very impressive.

Another assist trip to Mississippi was interesting as well. I was met at a small airport some distance from the customer by a freshly promoted black field manager. This was at a time when lynching and other assaults were still going on there. A black guy and a white guy in the same car meant only one thing to the rednecks, northern civil rights workers. We traveled sixty miles or so at night on two lane back roads to reach the account. I can empathize with our troups riding around in Humvees in Iraq. Nothing happened but for years every time that manager and I met we shook hands and joked about that trip.

I was sent to Fort Myres, Florida on an assist trip once that came very close to being my last anything. I can't claim a fix because it was a team effort. I relieved another CE and worked all night and part of the next day and went to a motel to catch a few hours sleep before going back to work. I never got any sleep. The housekeeper kept banging on the door to clean the room and motel management wanted me out for the tourists that had reservations for the weekend. The local management called the room and told me the machine was fixed so I took a cab to the airport and caught the first plane available to Atlanta. That flight was the worst I have ever had by far. There was a major front moving across the southeast with thunderstorms and tornados being reported all along the front. I wore my seat belt the whole trip. The attendants never got out of their seats either. Needless to say I did not sleep. When the plane finally landed after much delay in Atlanta there was a strange hush in the waiting area. I asked a ticket agent what happened and she said that there had been a plane crash in New Hope, Georgia. Later I learned that the engines had stalled when going through a hail storm. The pilot had attempted a dead stick landing in a DC9 on a two lane hilly highway near my home. About a dozen people on the ground and half of the passengers and crew died. As I left the airport and pulled onto I285 the rain was coming down so hard it was like being in ocean surf. Suddenly the car in front of me started going round and round but apparently was not slowing down! It is called hydroplaning. The car left the roadway but by some miracle stayed on all four wheels. The driver got out, shook out his pants and went on his way! At least the excitement kept me awake for the drive home. I was never so glad to be home in my life!

There were two times, however, that I did fall asleep while driving home. Both times I had worked twenty-four hours or more straight. On one occasion I woke up in the ditch on the left side of a two lane road. The other time I drove two miles past my exit on I20. A car pulled alomg side me and the driver blew the horn to wake me.

The 3800 Laser Printer

IBM 3800 Printer

The 3800 printer is one of those machines that you have to know to appreciate. The technology that makes it work is amazing. It uses technology borrowed from Xerox (they sued IBM for patient infringement) but the key innovations were invented by IBM engineers and scientists. When it works it is impressive even now. Some are still in use around the world. I was trained on the 3800 late in the product cycle because I was assigned to second shift and was required to be 3800 trained. It was never one of my favorites because of the filthy environment it creates. Picture mounds of paper dust mixed with black toner. Sometimes one could actually make out the shape of the machine. Just kidding, but it was dirty. There was even talk of OSHA workplace issues. Nothing ever came of it. IBM said that if a person ingested some toner it would be "flushed out of the lungs by normal action of the cilia inside the air passages" and no harm would be done.... That is a quote from the required annual safety course.

3158 Training

IBM 3158 Processor

One of my customers replaced their 3148 with a used 3158 so IBM sent me off to be trained on the 3158. It was the first of the 'real' mainframes that I was trained on. It had an AP (Attached Processor) and a separate processor for the I/O channels. It was, by today's standards, a slow machine with a 112-nanosecond cycle (about 9 mHz) but was respectable by the standards of the day.

IBM 3031 Processor

The 3031 was another of IBM's 'midlife kicker' machines. It was a 3158 AP with new covers, nothing less, nothing more. IBM did this a lot to provide a sales kick. I went to Washington,DC for 3031 training. Since I was trained on the 3158 I did pretty well in the school and was patting myself on the back for a good showing. The instructors asked for volunteers to do some troubleshooting of simulated 'bugs' to test the course ciriculum. I voluntered and started on my machine. I had an hour to fix it but got absolutely nowhere! I hung my head and was leaving to catch my plane home when the instructor pulled me aside and whispered “You were working on the wrong logic gate.” Talk about being deflated!

3033 Training

IBM 3033 Processor
"The Big One": IBM's 3033

I was a "two week wonder" on the 3033. I was trained well on in the product cycle after all of the 'support' training slots had been used. One of my customers bought a used one. I installed it without any help. Just didn't tell anybody what I was doing... It was an interesting machine, big and impressive.

3081 Training

IBM 3081 Processor
IBM 3350 Disk Drive

I went to Kingston, NY in 1982 two months for 3081 training. It was summer and I found an apartment in Woodstock, the town famous for the rock festival. I spent the weekends hiking in the mountains around Woodstock. It kept me occupied and out of trouble. I will never forget the day when out hiking, I came upon a small herd of deer grazing. I walked right up and could have touched them. No fear at all. It was a strange feeling like being transported into one of those idyllic paintings you see on Christmas cards.


IBM 3084 Processor

The 3084 was a multiprocessor version of the 3081 containing four processors. It was large and filled a big space in a computer room. I suppose I can claim support status for the 3084. My local office thought so anyway. Much of the internal data flow and control of the 308X and the succeeding 3090/9021 can be recognized in todays microprocessors. There is nothing new under the sun.... just smaller and faster.

1986 Area Designated Support for the 3090

IBM 3090 Processor
IBM 9021 Processor

Where Were You When the Shuttle Challenger Exploded?

I know where I was. I was at C&S bank in downtown Atlanta working on site coverage and was on my way out of the CE room to fix a 3800 printer.

The 3090 and the 9021 follow on were the last IBM mainframes that I supported. I spent many months in Poughkeepsie, NY and Kingston, NY in training and special projects associated with the announcement and support of these systems. I was fortunate in that I got to know, to a degree, how they actually worked not just how to replace parts and fix them with the 'maintenance package'. The systems had gotten so complex by this time that it was impractical to train field personnel on the 'how it works' of the machines. It was costly and since the machines failed so seldom, the training would be forgotten by the time it was needed. I helped develop the field maintenance package to guide servicers step by step to a timely fix.

In the late 80's I was assigned to observe a memory upgrade on a 3090 by a small company from New England. The company brought their engineer and three of the officers down for the upgrade. It went well and I certified the machine as serviceable after the upgrade. The memory upgrade was one of the first, if not the first, sale by a company called EMC. They later pretty much cornered the mainframe disk drive market.

1989 Promoted to Support Specialist

The 'Support Specialist' title means that one does not 'carry' a territory of machines to service but supports those CE's that do. It was actually a break for me because I had been maintaining a territory AND supporting others for years. The support role in reality became a weekend work assignment followed by planning the next weekend's assignment. A visiting manager once asked what I did. I replied 'I work weekends and plan the weekends all week.' Almost all of the upgrades and maintenance was done Saturday night from midnight to eight AM often with strict deadlines to have the machine up and running. Pressure is not the word! I got pretty good at planning major upgrades and as a result was invited to go to Poughkeepsie to work with Service Planning developing a training course on the 'Team Leader' concept and even helped teach a few classes.

Retirement 1993

IBM had drifted into hard times by 1993 and to reduce expenses offered many employees a separation package. I accepted the 'package' and retired from IBM in June of 1993. However, IBM decided that I could be of some further use and asked me to return as a contract employee. I accepted and worked until 2002 as a contract and supplemental employee. My after retirement assignment was totally different from my preretirement job. I worked in a local support center for a while but gradually drifted into a programming job that proved to be both rewarding and challenging. I made use of some of the mainframe VM/REXX programming skills that I had learned as a support person on the 3090 mainframe and wrote a parts reconciliation application for the IBM parts division in Mechanicsburg, Pa. The good thing about it, I was allowed to do most of the work at home and telecommute. I only met the people I worked for once in Raleigh, NC when I attended a meeting to discuss the replacement scenario. I was kept on to support the application until it was replaced by a PC based Visual Basic application in 2001. By 2002 the hours that I worked had been reduced drastically so in effect retirement just kind of sneaked up on me. My wife still works so I tell folks that I am retired and she is supporting me...

Link to a friends recollections

My friend Van Gardner has some vignettes here.Van's Memoires

Where Were You When the Terrorist Hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

I know where I was. I was in my doctor’s office having an annual physical. As I left the examining room to go down the hall to have some blood drawn, I heard a TV in one of the offices. I looked in and saw the first building burning. I got home just in time to turn on the TV and see the second plane hit. I have to admit that day affected me in a way that I will never be the same as before. It really hurt me deep down inside. Life goes on, however and we must be ever vigilant. Our freedom is not free.

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There's a thrill in store for all
For we're about to toast
The corporation that we represent.
We're here to cheer each pioneer
And also proudly boast,
Of that man of men
Our friend and guiding hand
The name of T.J. Watson means
A courage none can stem
And we feel honored to be
Here to toast the IBM.


Ever onward! Ever onward!
That's the spirit that has brought us fame.
We're big but bigger we will be,
We can't fail for all can see,
That to serve humanity
Has been our aim.
Our products now are known In every zone.
Our reputation sparkles Like a gem.
We've fought our way through
And new fields we're sure to conquer, too,
For the ever onward IBM!

Ever onward! Ever onward!
We're bound for the top To never fall,
Right here and now we thankfully
Pledge sincerest loyalty
To the corporation
That's the best of all
Our leaders we revere
And while we're here,
Let's show the world just what
We think of them!
So let us sing men - sing men
Once or twice, then sing again
For the ever onward IBM!


Words by Fred W Tippe

Music by Vitterio Glannini

Lift up our proud and loyal voices,
Sing out in accents strong and true,
With hearts and hands to you devoted,
And inspiration ever new;
Your ties of friendship cannot sever,
Your glory time will never stem,
We will toast a name that lives forever,
Hail to the I.B.M.

Our voices swell in admiration;
Of T. J. Watson proudly sing;
He'll ever be our inspiration,
To him our voices loudly ring;
The I.B.M. will sing the praises,
Of him who brought us world acclaim,
As the volume of our chorus raises,
Hail to his honored name.

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