1950s Super Computer Found in Basement, Your Grandpa’s Cooler Than My Grandpa

Pssst, this will be the most remarkable thing you see today. A German Redditor (c wizz) made the discovery of their lifetime when they stumbled upon an incredibly rare LGP-30 computer in their grandfather's basement. So rare that there were only ever 45 manufactured in Europe.

The Original Poster (OP) also found several DEC PDP-8/e computers and a Flexowriter typewriter-style console. Many Redditors weighed in on the OP's discovery. Here's what the OP and spectators had to say.

The LGP-30

LGP-30 computer
Image Credit: Redditor c wizz

“Your grandpa is cooler than my grandpa.” Someone said what many of us were thinking, “I wonder how many users of this vintage computer sub ever saw an LGP-30 in the wild. For me, it's sure a first.” Another shared, “Amazing find. The most vintage computing I've seen on this sub. I didn't know about the LGP-30, so this has been educational.”

“First made in 1956 – I didn't realize computers could be so compact then. That LGP-30 is an outrageous find. It looks like the terminal is a rebadged Friden Flexowriter. And the Paper tape unit is embedded in the top of that cabinet, probably also Friden?” A third user eagerly asked.

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LGP-30 Restoration

Image Credit: Redditor c wizz

Another confirmed, “Now that is a sight I have not seen since I was 14. I programmed the LGP-30 using machine language punched into paper tape using the 5-bit code of the attached Friden Flexowriter!!!! 1964 it was. Let me warn you.”

“Do not power up the LGP-30 until you are 100% certain the memory drum, motor, and heads are in good condition, and everything is at room temperature. The clearance between the drum and the read/write heads was very small. Any temperature difference or a possible misalignment after decades of storage will cause the drum to be stripped.”

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LGP-30 Appreciation

Image Credit: Redditor c wizz

“The control panel modifications to the LGP-30 are intriguing,” shared one. “The switch below the CRT and the small group of six buttons were not part of the original design. It'd be interesting to see the wiring. These computers continued to be sold and leased well into the early 60s after they were obsolete. By that point, they were (relatively) inexpensive.”

“My LGP-30 was used for Civil Engineering work. The panels show various handwritten serial numbers on the interior, including parts from a NASA installation.”

LGP-30 Long-Term Restoration

inside LGP-30 computer
Image Credit: Redditor c wizz

One Redditor volunteered, “Owner of an LGP-30 here, undergoing long-term restoration. One thing to be very careful of is the drum. The spacing between the heads and the oxide surface is extremely tight, and with age, the heads can make contact due to expansion. If the drum turns at all in this condition, you're SOL.”

“My preferred method before moving the machine was to cut the v-belt and extract the drum. Then very carefully, space all head mounting bars off the surface with washers. Only then did I dial them all in individually using brass shim stock. It is advisable to go through the massive power supply before power-up. The EU version is a different design than the US spec.”

LGP-30 Preservation

Image Credit: Redditor c wizz

“That LGP-30 should be given to a museum that can take good care of it and maybe restore it to working condition. It looks complete, even with the paper tape read/writer. Those PDP-8s could be good for some retro computing enthusiast videos,” one said. Many agreed with the sentiment of the LGP-30 going to a museum. One even joked by quoting Indiana Jones, “It belongs in a museum!”

The OP agreed, “It would truly be awesome if someone could get this thing operational again! I found a museum in Germany (where I'm from) that has a working LGP-30. I think I'll reach out to them.” After speaking with the OP, they want to find someone to help get this LGP-30 functional again.

PDP-8e Computers

Image Credit: Redditor c wizz

“What's better than finding a PDP-8e in the basement? Finding two PDP-8es in the basement!” One person exclaimed. While the consensus was this was one of the rare instances when the PDP-8e was the least impressive part of the find. Someone added, “Wow, you're sitting on a goldmine. Those 8E's can fetch four figures of your local western currency.”

Final Thoughts and Hacker Folklore

Image Credit: Redditor c wizz

The OP informed, “The only thing I know is that my grandfather used it for civil engineering calculations in the 60s. And he was one of only a handful in the country that privately owned such a computer. Also, I found a binder with documentation on the ACT-III compiler and memory layout. And there are some instructions on transferring code written for the LGP-30 to the PDP8\E.”

Again, the OP is looking for help with making the LGP-30 functional. The LGP-30 cost around USD 47,000 in 1955, adjusted for today's prices, is $520,521.49. An increase of $473,521.49 over 67 years.

Lastly, someone announced, “I can't believe nobody's shared the Story of Mel yet! He programmed the LGP-30.” The Story of Mel is an archetypical hacker piece of computer programming folklore written by Ed Nather. It is about Nather's colleague, Librascope programmer Melvin Kaye.

Kaye was assigned to port a Blackjack program from the LGP-30 to the newer Royal McBee system, the RPC-4000. Later, Ed Nather was tasked with finding a bug in said software. That's when he discovered Kaye used self-modifying code to process elements of an array and had coded an infinite loop to take advantage of the overflow. 

We hope you enjoyed this Reddit discussion about this historical find in grandpa's basement.

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