When real men had two floppies!

Larry 'n NassauToday we live in a world of inexpensive multi-terabyte hard drives but it wasn’t that long ago when hard drives were horribly expensive, measured in mere megabytes, and 10 Mb was considered monstrous.

But, before hard drives there were 5.25″ floppy discs that each held 360 Kb of data. If your floppy drive could handle it, you could buy high-density floppies with 1.2 Mb capacity.

The first IBM compatible PC I owned was a Tandy 1000A that I bought on sale at the Dayton Hamvention in 1985. It came with a color CRT monitor, dual HD 5.25″ floppies, 32 Mb of ram memory, keyboard (no mouse), and a dot matrix printer. I paid a little over $1,400 and that was a real bargain. Next day I had to go to Radio Shack and buy a $200 DMA plugin card to boost the memory up to 64 Kb and allow it to run most software programs. Wasn’t such a bargain after that! This was a purely DOS machine and it would be a decade before a workable version of Windows would put DOS to rest.

The Tandy 1000A made no provisions for installing a hard drive. The only solution was to buy an external drive or a plugin hard card from Radio Shack. Either was horribly expensive, somewhere north of $500 for a 5 or 10 Mb drive. Later I was able to find a used Western Digital 10 Mb hard card that I adapted to work in my PC. I paid slightly over $200 and felt blessed.

floppy discOne of my colleagues, who taught computer programming on Apple computers, told me I probably had the most complete and fastest home computer in our area. And, I probably did. I also spent a fortune in subsequent years trying to keep up my king of the hill status.

What brought all this back to my mind was running across a couple of receipts from 1986 for bulk 5.25″ floppy discs I purchased wholesale from Micro-Center in Columbus. I was attending a lot of hamfests (amateur radio flea markets) at that time, buying and selling used ham radio equipment. There was a growing demand for computers and computer accessories and I tapped into it. I began buying used systems, refurbishing them, and reselling systems to friends, relatives, and later the general public.

I was also one of the first to offer floppy discs at hamfests. Several times each month I’d drive to Columbus and pick up several thousand discs, labels, paper sleeves, and write protect tabs. I’d bundle these into packages of 25 for resale. The discs came with write protect tabs but the labels and sleeves were extra.

In June of 1986 I was paying .39 cents a disc and selling them for at least twice that amount. Like all things in technology, by October the wholesale price had dropped to .29 cents. I typically took a 1000 discs to each event and normally sold out.

Later I was selling the hard-shelled 3.5″ discs and a whole line of disc storage containers, various PC cables, ink ribbons for printers, and more. Still later I purchased the parts to make my own PC and from that eventually opened Fall Creek Computers, a company I ran  for almost 13 years before selling to one of my employees.

It’s been an amazing thing to have witnessed all the technological changes taken place in the computer business. The fastest and most expensive computer I ever built for resale wasn’t as inexpensive or as powerful as one of today’s least costly smartphones. However, the most recent desktop I assembled still keeps me running with big geeks.

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