Altair Turnkey and some DEC stuff cheap

Tothwolf tothwolf at
Thu Apr 9 10:14:29 CDT 2015

On Thu, 9 Apr 2015, Noel Chiappa wrote:

>    > From: Bill Degnan
>    > These are best for someone who has experience cleaning a "barn find"
>    > ...
>    > * items contains/contained a rodent nest.
> Those who missed out on this deal may find this sequel comforting.
> There was one aspect of this (which Bill alluded to somewhat eliptically 
> - perhaps out of delicacy, or perhaps he assumed that anyone who'd done 
> one of these would already realize the full implications :-), but which 
> didn't really impress itself upon me until I started the ride home - at 
> which point I started to get olfactory clues. Yep, some of you know what 
> I'm talking about.
> Animal urine.
> Of the three boxes, one (the '11/44' - it was actually just a BA11-K) 
> was totally sodden inside (those nests are basically giant sponges), and 
> one of the 11/34's was half-sodden. The thing about animal urine that's 
> really a problem is not the smell, or the mess - it's that it's 
> _incredibly_ corrosive.
> From the condition of a couple of the cards which had gotten the worst, 
> I think there was actually some galvanic activity between the copper 
> traces, and something else - maybe the iron in the chassis? Traces were 
> quite literally eaten right off the cards. You can see the trace heading 
> towards one of the gold-plated contact fingers, and then - poof! - it 
> disappears. Dozens of traces on those two cards have big gaps in them.
> Although now that I think about it, it couldn't have been galvanic 
> activity which dissolved the copper in the traces; if I remember my 
> inorganic chem correctly, iron is above copper on the galvanic activity 
> scale. But anyway,
> Also, totally amazingly, quite a few of the gold-plated contact fingers 
> also have damage! One is quite bad - although luckily I think there's a 
> patch left where the contact would be, so that can probably be saved. 
> Whatever was going on must have eaten the copper out from underneath, 
> and then the gold just washed away.
> So I think all those traces can be repaired, if there's ever a use for 
> that interface (an RH11). Just a lot of wires to solder in....
> The other problem is the backplanes. DEC boxes put the backplanes at the 
> bottom, so these nests were resting on the backplanes. Having cleaned 
> them off (well, stage 1 cleaning), I _think_ that, amazingly enough, the 
> contact pins are OK. (Now that I think about it, they are tin-plated - 
> so there's the other end of the galvanic activity. Ah, well, better to 
> eat the traces than the contact pins - those would be almost 
> _impossible_ to repair.)
> The real problem is that there's 'grup' (a Dave Clark neologism) in the 
> thin space between the plastic contact pin housing blocks and the PCB. 
> Needless to say, one can't take the PCB off to get in there...
> So my plan of action is to stick them in water for a couple of days, and 
> then use a water jet to try and get down in the thin gap between the 
> contact blocks and the PCB, to clean it out.
> Does this sound OK? I can't think of a reason why immersing a backplane 
> in fresh water for a couple of days would do it any harm, but maybe I'm 
> missing something?

My usual cleaning process for such stuff is to give it a bath in simple 
green (either the 1:10 I keep mixed up in spray bottles or 50/50 in a 
bucket if the rodent mess is /really/ bad), scrub lightly with a small 
nylon bristle brush, and rise. Once clean of the rodent mess, scrub at the 
corrosion again with a baking soda and water paste mix and rinse again 
with clean water. The cleaning process might well remove some loose 
copper, but such traces are going to already be beyond salvage anyway.

There /is/ actually a source for replacement gold fingers (and copper 
trace material), but that sort of stuff can get expensive if you need to 
replace a lot of them. You might try contacting 
and see if they have any replacement gold fingers the correct width.

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