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Remembrances of vacuum tube days

mr__ed
Explorer
Explorer
As a young teenager, I developed a love for electronics which became a lifelong love affair. In those days vacuum tubes were the norm and solid state devices such as transistors weren't in usage then. I built many projects using vacuum tubes as a hobbyist during my teen years, such as ham radio equipment, stereo amplifiers and tuners and various pieces of test equipment, all employing vacuum tubes. I obtained some of the early transistors' back then and tried to experiment with them, but quit trying to learn how they worked since I was so involved with tubes. Of course, my position changed in time. Many products we use today wouldn't be possible or feasible without the advent of solid state devices.

I also remember my first portable radio, which employed miniature vacuum tubes. I recall 2 batteries were necessary, a size D "A" battery, which supplied power to the tube filaments. and a much larger "B" battery, around 70 to 90 volts, which supplied power for the tube plates. The radio performed pretty well, AM & FM, as I recall. I also remember when most drug stores had do-it-yourself tube checkers available for the public. They're real dinosaurs now and nonexistent!

The older I get (now 76) the more I look back to the good ol' days of my youth! ๐Ÿ™‚
Mr. Ed (fulltiming since 1987)
Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.

2007 Hitchhiker II LS Model 29.5 LKTG (sold)
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MrWizard
Moderator
Moderator
Mom had a Zenth Transocenanic , would set and listen to distant radio stations, sometimes I could pickup ham radio or aircraft or fire, swapping tubes for the tv was my introduction to electronics, then trying to assemble a transistor radio shortwave board kit,
two years electronics schooling after HIGH school, at the time IC's were getting wide spread attention ,
having been introduced a few years earlier,
A speaker from Texas Instruments came to electronics school and gave a presentation on digital ics, that was in 1967, my career in electronics led me to machinery where I became an industrial electronics service tech on cnc milling machinery, used heavily in aerospace mfg, installation and repair, that job required a lot of travel, my hobbies in electronics
Lead me to repairing many different radios, TVs amps, CB radios, car audio stereo etc..and eventually computers, my first was a Sinclair kit, programing then 3 different Commodore's Vic20 c64 the first Amiga 1000, lots of programming, hacking and game disc collecting copying trading, and authoring educational games for the vic20 c64 and radio shack color computer
Oh what years those were the 70s to 90s
Oops sorry to long winded, thanks for the stories and memories
I can explain it to you.
But I Can Not understand it for you !

....

Connected using T-Mobile Home internet and Visible Phone service
1997 F53 Bounder 36s

OkieGene wrote:
Whoa! There is a guy local to me with an interesting electronics business and he has multiple tube testers and piles of tubes. All new old stock.

Wow, that's cool. Maybe I should order spares for my jukebox!
2007 GMC 3500 dually ext. cab 4X4 LBZ Dmax/Allison - 2007 Pacific Coachworks Tango 306RLSS
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OkieGene
Explorer
Explorer
Whoa! There is a guy local to me with an interesting electronics business and he has multiple tube testers and piles of tubes. All new old stock.

ktmrfs
Explorer
Explorer
nice thing about the AM tube radios is that the "all american 5" design (5 tubes for battery power, 6 with AC) covered probably 99% of the AM radios and all mfg were so similar once you understood how one worked, you knew how all worked, and could fix any of them.

today I have a philco portable, A Zenith transoceanic portable AM & SW (portable in that they run on batteries or AC power) and philco AC powered radio. All use the same tubes, basically the same design. Even the battery packs for the Zenith and philco are almost identical. With todays batteries they will run about 500-700 hours on a home made battery pack of 6 D cells and 60 AA's (Or 10 9V but those only last maybe 100 hours). And not needing a rectifier they come on almost instantly with the fast heaters on the filaments.

The earliest "farm" AM radios had the 1.5V filaments in parallel rather than series and ran on a 1.5V "A" battery, those 1.5V batteries bigger than a beer can and a "B" battery of 90V. about the size of a 6 pack.

Grandfather had a nice "farm radio" they didn't get electric power till the 50's and he kept it around for winter storm power outages.

A eventually went away and the AA, AAA, C, D replaced them, B disapeared need to make those from either 9V or AA's.
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delwhjr
Explorer
Explorer
Started at a very young age by helping my grandfather and then my father repair electronics (TVs, radios and early HiFi rigs. I liked to build Dynaco stereos and loved my McIntosh stereo equipment. I still think the old tube type equipment has a better sound. I worked for many different electronics shops and went into teaching electronics after closing my own shop. I was always sought out by the local hobbyists to fix their Heathkits when they messed up. Eventually I got into computers and networking. When the students quit taking electronics classes(math was too hard :B), I changed to computers and networking classes. Retired from teaching at the Community college after teaching high school for many years.
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mr__ed
Explorer
Explorer
dangerbird wrote:
When I was little, my dad would let me take out and test the TV tubes at the drug store. He gave me a Hallicrafters S-20R shortwave receiver that I still have today. I will always remember the hot dust smell when the tubes heated up. That radio led me to an interest in electronics and I eventually got my ham radio license. I'm retired now and am still active in ham radio. I have restored several tube RF amplifiers, and other ham radio gear. I recently restored an old Tektronix RM-45A oscilloscope. It has NINETY tubes in it! Not so useful by today's standards but equipment like it put men on the moon. Tubes are hardly ancient technology. You use one everyday in your microwave. 73, de WG2E.


X2 on the microwave. I owned a business servicing radio frequency dielectric sealers used by the plastics industry. It was a good business, allowing me to retire early with a nice nest egg. Some of the machines I worked on put out 20 kw and more of RF near the cb radio frequency range. The oscillator tubes were very large and often ran with 10 KV and higher plate voltages, at several amps. Make one mistake and touch the wrong area inside the machine while running, and instant death! :E
Mr. Ed (fulltiming since 1987)
Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.

2007 Hitchhiker II LS Model 29.5 LKTG (sold)
2007 Dodge Ram 3500/6.7 CTD/QC/4X4/SB/SRW/6-speed man/Big Horn edition (sold)

NamMedevac_70
Explorer II
Explorer II
I am 74 and I barely remember tubes. So when did the last tube die (year???) and everything become modern day digital. Inquiring mind.

2_many_2
Explorer III
Explorer III
About 1990 I had a 62 Ford pickup, the radio had tubes in it. A few years later I sold it to a co-worker. After the sale, I asked him how the old truck was running. He said great, but the radio does not work.

I told him I replaced the speaker and the wires and it worked great. "Did you let it warm up?" :B :E

He was a few years older than me, but he had forgotten about that, needless to say, the radio still worked great after he waited the ten seconds it took for it to warm up!

As a kid I had lots of trips with Dad to the drug store to use the tube testing machine too :C

dangerbird
Explorer
Explorer
When I was little, my dad would let me take out and test the TV tubes at the drug store. He gave me a Hallicrafters S-20R shortwave receiver that I still have today. I will always remember the hot dust smell when the tubes heated up. That radio led me to an interest in electronics and I eventually got my ham radio license. I'm retired now and am still active in ham radio. I have restored several tube RF amplifiers, and other ham radio gear. I recently restored an old Tektronix RM-45A oscilloscope. It has NINETY tubes in it! Not so useful by today's standards but equipment like it put men on the moon. Tubes are hardly ancient technology. You use one everyday in your microwave. 73, de WG2E.

theoldwizard1
Explorer
Explorer
NRALIFR wrote:
I remember distinctly all the wires and vacuum tubes, knobs and flashing lights, the Selectric typwriters being used as consoles, and how the room smelled, the old round-reel tape drives, and the noise of the high speed impact printers.

The first computer that I was the "administrator" on was a VAX 11/780. It was a late 70s/early 80s "mini computer". 2 cabinets, each about the size of a refrigerator plus a third for I/O. Another refrigerator size cabinet for the 9 track open reel tape drive. Three 456 MB disk (over 1.2 GB!) fit in a cabinet the height of a 3 drawer file cabinet, but it was at least twice as deep.

theoldwizard1
Explorer
Explorer
By the time I was a teenager tubes had died ! (My EE prof said at the end of a lecture on FET transistor, "Tubes work the same way, just much higher voltage and they need a heater. Now you can fix old TVs"


Any of you old hams need to look up "software radio". UNBELIEVABLE !

AsheGuy
Explorer
Explorer
Wow, a lot of old timers here. ๐Ÿ™‚

I went to work for IBM in 1960 just at the vacuum tube to transistor technology change. Back then, a computer problem could be fixed by turning off the lights and looking for vacuum tubes with their filament out.

I worked for IBM 38 years before retirement during an amazing technology evolution. I often think about how my phone today has way more power and memory than a "mainframe" computer that took up a whole room.

In 1961, the IBM 7090 "mainframe" computer that was the top of the line of their new transistorized computers had 32K bytes of memory and that magnetic core memory alone took up a box larger than a typical refrigerator. I was one of the IBM crew that worked shifts around the clock to maintain this computer used by a Fort Worth, TX aircraft plant in their engineering/design department. Quite a different world.

82 years and counting...
David & Margaret - 2005 LTV 210B 3S
- Our Blog -

When I posted earlier in this thread I forgot about this old piece of history!

1955 Wurlitzer. Didn't work when I got it. I took it apart all over my living room floor and got it working again. I took all the tubes out and carefully cleaned them up.
To this day it still works, although it needs a drive belt.

Back in about 1983 or so, I traded a 1972 Austin Mini straight across for this gem.

All tube amplifier in it. When I crank it up, it has a very different sound than todays amps. It is very deep and rich sounding. It's a beauty. All original and unrestored.

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mr__ed
Explorer
Explorer
Old-Biscuit wrote:
Saturday afternoon Me & Dad would rremove the back cover on TV and pull the Vacuum Tubes then off to Rexall Drug store to check them out on their Machine.

If needing a new one would check the tube number then open the bottom cabinet of the machine and get a new matching tube.

Then we would go across the street to Woolworths for a Crรจme Soda at the counter

Back home...go thru our list of where the tubes went...install them and then turn on the TV and watch 'Get Smart', 'Maverick', Yancy Derringer' depending on how long we were in town

Other Saturdays ME & DAD would load up the Apache PU and haul yard thrash to the DUMP

Boy were those fun times....Me & DAD


Thanks for bringing up the topic. Fond memories!!


Nice story, Old Biscuit. I also recall one of my biggest undertakings, since you mentioned TVโ€™s. I also built a color TV from a kit, but my biggest project was building an electronic organ. The amplifier used tubes, but the tone generators were solid state.i learned to play keyboard on that instrument and eventually bought a large theater-type organ (fully assembled). When I became a full time RVer I needed to purchase a portable keyboard, which sounded great played through my Hi-fi system.
Mr. Ed (fulltiming since 1987)
Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.

2007 Hitchhiker II LS Model 29.5 LKTG (sold)
2007 Dodge Ram 3500/6.7 CTD/QC/4X4/SB/SRW/6-speed man/Big Horn edition (sold)

2oldman
Explorer
Explorer
In the mid 50s a relative had a tv going that had a kind of weird green tint to the picture. I remember asking him if that was a color tv. LOL
"If I'm wearing long pants, I'm too far north" - 2oldman