In my last post, I mentioned that I had rearranged my basement computer room to make room for a new addition to the Byte Cellar. Well, my latest acquisition finally arrived: a TRS-80 Model 4, my first Tandy / Radio Shack computer.
My first memories of the Model 4 are from way back in the summer of ’83. There was a Radio Shack in the mall my mom used to frequently drag me to when I was but an 11 year old geek. This one day, this particular Radio Shack had setup a computer display in front of the store, out in the mall. I sat down at a Model III and fiddled with it a bit. I was using a TI-99/4A at the time and recall really liking that Model III. I asked the woman running the display all about it. She mentioned that the Model 4 was about to be released and that, if I was going to jump, it would be better to wait. Well, I wasn’t about to jump on anything, but it was the first time I’d heard mention of the Model 4.
A big part of why I wanted that TRS-80 is because its form-factor always, to me, represented the image of just what a computer should look like. Its design is perfect, for what it is — screen, drives, keyboard all in just the right place. I wanted to sit in its presence and feel its keyboard and bask in the glow of its 12-inch monochrome CRT. So I bid and won the eBay auction and in the mail it went. And that’s where the adventure began.
This unit was shipped to me by way of the U.S. Postal Service. I’ve often said that J. R. R. Tolkien’s immortal classic The Lord of the Rings could have been a lot shorter if it had simply been decided at the council of Elrond that the ring would be shipped to Morder by way of the USPS. There is no question that it would have been utterly destroyed. So, as you may have guessed, damage ensued.
Upon initial power-up, I discovered two problems: several keys were not registering and the system was not recognizing its floppy drives. Upon opening the case, the cause of the problems were quickly apparent. Jostling during shipping caused the floppy drive controller’s power cable to come loose. Quickly remedied. A look at the bottom of the keyboard, however, revealed a more complex problem. It seems that somewhere along the line a postal worker dropped the package from the top of a mail truck…or something like the same; something caused the TRSDOS document binders to impact the keyboard hard enough to thrust the mid-keyboard support peg through the keyboard’s PCB. It wasn’t pretty. Happily, soldering three bridge lines to the proper key contacts got the keyboard back in working order.
As regular readers will have already guessed, the first thing I did was to set up the Model 4 as a text terminal to my Mac Pro. Omniterm Plus, a hand-made null modem cable and a few magic words in the OS X terminal was all it took. Using vintage machines in this way gives me such a great excuse to finger their keyboards regularly. Some people are serial killers — I’m a serial terminaler, it seems, as this is my fourth such project (one, two, three).
That said, moving through the various TRSDOS and CP/M apps I’ve got on hand is most interesting. I’m expecting to have much fun with this machine in the coming months.
Have a look at my photo gallery as well as the “TRS-80 Love” Flickr group I setup.
I started out on one of these.
It was far from new when I got my hands on it, so the fancy looking transparent mini-tape drive didn’t work and everything had to be done from good old cassettes instead.
My dad had literally cut and pasted the manual (as recommended) to update it from whatever earlier version it was written for. Crazy. And from there I learned BASIC … oh and how to type in the first place!
Should still be in its box in their attic actually.
Oh, the Wikipedia corrects me:
It was a Model 1, just like the picture. The buzzing, decidedly nasty, power supply very much included.
Went on to a VIC-20 afterwards (neither were new as this would have been well into the 80’s) which blew it away with sound and colour, but the TRS-80 did at least have its own monitor so you didn’t have to swipe the TV.
I owned a Color Computer with 16K of RAM (You know… the one with the chiclet-style keyboard). A guy in school told me never to leave a floppy in the Model III’s drive while powering the system off. I didn’t believe him so I tried it. I guess I shouldn’t have done it with MY ONLY WORKING FLOPPY DISK. It had all my code for my programming class on it. It blew away sector 0 or something… Not good…
Good times, though…
Congratulations on your new Model 4! I also have always felt that the design was the perfect example of how a computer should look. I think that one of the great things about the TRS-80 is their durability. My two Model 4D’s are still in as good condition as the day we bought them, which I can’t say about a lot of other hardware of the same vintage.
Blake, that is so cool! I’ve always liked TRS-80s too. My family owned a TRS-80 CoCo (the original with the chicklet keys, not one of the newer ones), and I used a Model III or 4 in high school.
Blake – I have a trs80 and manual that was never used – been sitting in my closet for 20 some years – I was going to trash it but saw your site and thought I would post this to see if anyone wanted it – raleigh nc – Thanks Raymond
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