Adventures In Vintage Mac

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on transferring papers I wrote in college 15+ years ago from my collection of Mac-format backup disks to a modern format that I can use to transmit electronically to apply for graduate school.

The adventure began with a visit to my parents’ basement to rescue my first Mac from a non-life of quiet, damp darkness and being used as a litter box for mice. After some mild cussing and digging through a box of parts, I left my parents’ place armed with the LCII, the monitor that went with it, a chunky 1990s Apple keyboard, two mice (the electronic kind, not the fuzzies that so kindly left their excrement behind) and a Color StyleWriter 4100 with a power brick.

At home, a pair of busy weeks followed with the kids arguing a lot in the evenings, so the only restoration I was able to accomplish was cleaning off the mouse droppings, vacuuming the keyboard and chasing a few recalcitrant spiders out of the computer case. Finally a free day presented itself and I re-assembled all of the pieces carefully, discovered I’d forgotten to dig for the cable that connects the printer to the computer, shrugged and hit the ‘power’ button on the computer and monitor. Hope surged as the monitor flickered to life and the screen slowly painted the familiar gray background of pre-System 8 machines. And the dreaded unhappy Mac face popped up in the middle of my screen.

Next step, frantic search through a bunch of boxes and file folders for that old system boot disk I know I made yea these many years ago. No dice. Without a boot disk and after multiple attempts to re-boot, it seemed that the LCII was just not going to boot up.

I gave the project a rest for a few days, then poked around on eBay to see what I could find. Lo and behold, a seller had a fully functioning Quadra 630 available with System 7.5 and Word 6 for Mac installed and an ethernet card installed. I threw up my hands in celebration and clicked ‘bid’. An hour later, I’d secured the machine for about $60 including shipping across the country and I flipped off my laptop feeling very accomplished.

A week later, the Quadra arrived and I unpacked and set it up immediately, attaching it to the working LC monitor and waited eagerly to see what happened when I hit the power switch on the keyboard. Huzzah! Happy Mac Face! Now all I had to do was start popping floppies into the drive to check on the status of my ancient papers. Shortly I found most of my files safely intact on the backup disks and I saved them down to both floppy and the hard drive in Rich Text Format in anticipation of emailing them to myself and opening them on my PC. In the meantime, I also took a walk down memory lane, opening up files I haven’t clapped eyes on since at least 1998 when I stopped using my Mac 520c laptop.

The kids interrupted at this point and I stepped away from my desk for a few hours. When I came back to it, I clipped my ethernet cable from the cable modem into the ethernet port on the back of the Quadra and waited expectantly for something to happen. Apparently every computer customer service brain cell I used to have for supporting a Mac of this generation died sometime between birthing my kids and now, because of course, no connection magically appeared.

Cue looking through the Control Panels and applications to find things I used to be an expert at wrangling, like Kermit and Mac TCP/IP. The upshot is that it looks like a thing or two might be missing, but I should be able to download them from Apple’s archives … if I could download to a Mac format floppy that the Quadra can take. That’s where things stand today: I need to install some things on the machine to see if I can get it up on the internet. Another option is to update the PC Exchange software and see if I can save my RTF copies of my papers down to a PC format disk and pick up a USB floppy drive to transfer the papers to my Inspiron 6400.

For all the myriad small disappointments on this particular adventure, there’s something fun about doing this kind of troubleshooting again and trying to think outside the box to solve the problem. It’s like the old days, sitting in the basement of Seelye with an array of Macs and PCs, repairing disks for desperate School for Social Work students or miraculously unjamming the printer for stressed out seniors during finals.

Those were the days.

Along the way, here’s some useful sites I’ve found for assistance with vintage Mac file access:

  • Apple’s Archives – An extensive collection of software and supporting applications for old Apple versions downloadable for free.
  • Oakbog – Professional file transfer services and vintage Mac advice.
  • Vintage Mac Museum Blog – Run by Adam Rosen of Oakbog, the blog has many interesting articles about vintage Macs including tips for transferring files.
  • Low-End Macs Vintage Mac Pages – The site catalogs all older Macs and provides useful links and articles for troubleshooting a host of issues as well as transfer tips.

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