The Big Iron Holocaust ...About the time gold was selling for upwards of $800 an ounce, many if not most of the early IBM computers were lost to scrap dealers. This was a time when people were collecting soda pop and beer cans to recycle for charity or pocket change, recycling was all the rage. We are talking about computers designed and built at a time when gold was near $35 per ounce and computers sold for millions of dollars. No one was sure how long they would have to last, so play it safe and gold plate everything! These Systems were designed to last a lifetime or three, in controlled environments. The few remaining systems in the world are a tribute to the technology that went into them. The fact of the matter is that most went to the recyclers after a very short life cycle.
Turning Big Iron to Gold ...There is little wonder the recyclers were overjoyed to scrap the early Big Iron Computers. Some of the larger Systems had several pounds of reclaimable gold, not ounces but pounds! And steel, they got the name Big Iron for a reason, there was close to a small Pinto or Chevette in recyclable steel in the average CPU with a storage frame or two. When the price of gold went through the roof, manufacturing methods changed, gold was replaced in all but the most critical connections where a very thin gold plating method was adopted. Alas it was too late for the System 360's and their predecessors. The entire System 360 generation of computers went to the ovens. This genocide in the name of Gold, has made the last few bits and pieces that have survived have become very collectable.
In an archeological dig of my Cave, I came across some IBM System 360 collectables I had saved from the recyclers back in the late 70's. That was a period in time when I was working as an independent Field engineer for leasing companies. It was my job to upgrade/downgrade IBM 370 computers and turn them back over to IBM for service. Have Scope will travel, fly in, take control, do what needed to be done, turn it back over to the local IBM CE to maintain, leave a silver bullet business card and head for the airport, 465 scope and Xlite tool case in tow, picking up parts from airline counters. It was a fun time to be working as a mavrick in the world of computers. It was at that time, I, along with several other field engineers, were offered the chance of a lifetime, to bust up a warehouse full of old System 360's for scrap.
Memories of a Heavy Metal weekend ...The idea of taking hammer, axe and tools, to bust up million dollar computers, and getting paid overtime to do it, was too good a deal to pass up! The job was simple, All Gold bearing parts and cards went into one dumpster, aluminum and steel and other recycleables into the other dumpster. A fun time was had by all! We we were done we loaded up a few souvenirs and headed home with a great story to tell. The little rice burner I was driving at the time could not hold much, but somehow I stuffed a 360/65 front and a set of mastheads in the back as mementos of the job. Considering, two mastheads sold on ebay in April/May 2005 both selling for $500 or more, I truly wish I had a bigger car at the time and had saved a few extras for my collection.
On monday morning, I made it a point to corner my boss and inquire as to just how much gold is there in those systems to warrant having a team of Field Engineers on overtime rate at that, bust up scrap ?
He did not know for sure how much gold was in the dumpster the client took away. He did know that they were very concerned that nothing was overlooked. After that all the 360's were set aside until "The" truck came to take them off to be scrapped. I always figured that after melting down the ones we busted up, "they" decided that it was better to crush and burn them, than to take them apart for the gold, how much gold could there be to loose. It was 30 years latter that I found out that I was correct but for the wrong reason.
There have been many rumors regarding the true amount of gold that was used in the production of The Big Iron computers. I was lucky to have located the fine gentleman who stoked the west coast furnaces with most of the big iron located up and down the West coast and had trucks picking up systems on cross country runs. It turns out that the stories of the legendary LA scrap dealer that had the GSA contract to scrap the big iron was true. This dealer in true beurocratic style kept meticulous records of the gold yields based on Model number and in some cases serial number range. I have gone over some of his notes with him and until a chart is made I can only summarize here.
IBM Big Iron computers were designed and built around a standard card cage and backplane that the SLT cards plugged into. It turns out that a good rule of thumb to estimate the amount of gold recoverable for any given system was to count the number of card cages and divide by 2. This would give you the minimum number of ounces you can expect with normal loss. This rule was for CPUs and favored the scrapper in practice. It turns out that the 2075 CPU at NASA had 153 card cages in 6 cabinets and yielded 66 oz of gold when it was melted down. A 2065 was about half of that at an average of around 33 oz. The baby of the 360 line the 2020 gave up from 4 to 6 oz. of gold in the end. The 2030 the workhorse of the line had between 8 and 9 oz. and depending on options could go as high as 10 oz provided their serial number was below 12,000. 2050's with serial numbers over 11,300 and 2030's with serial numbers over 12,000 are low yield machines and were estimated using the 370 charts.
Items like these can be found on ebay from time to time.