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Watching milk-measuring calibration sparks interest

By Neal McChristy

Friden 130It's no exaggeration: If you want to know anything about '60s and '70s-era calculators, all you have to do is visit The Old Calculator Web Museum.

Rick Bensene, a computer systems/network technologist who lives near Oregon City, Ore., has put together a site that covers everything from the HP-01 wrist-worn calculator watch to the Anita C/VIII, the first all-electronic calculator with red "Nixie" tubes in them. For those in or out of the numbers, it's a tour through the genius of modern antique calculators and their making.

"I truly just love this technology," says Bensene, 41, " and I want to preserve it and some day, I want to have the means to have a brick-and-mortar museum to publicly exhibit it."

He credits his godmother, who owned a dairy tank calibration service, with his first fascination with the calculator. At the Web site for the Friden Model STW,

he gives this account:

HP 9100B"A machine identical to this has a special place in my personal history. Back in the early '60's, when I was just a child living in Seattle, Washington (my birthplace), one of our neighbors owned a business which involved use of a calculator to generate dairy tank calibration charts. My parents were very good friends with these neighbors, and in fact, they were named my Godparents when I was born. The calculator that was used to grind through the interpolation process to generate these dairy tank charts was a Friden STW. My Godmother would take the worksheets generated by her husband in the field and use the Friden to perform the math necessary to generate a final chart giving the total number of pounds of milk in the tank based upon a 'dipstick' reading. When my Mom had errands to do, my Godmother would regularly babysit me and my little brother. Many times, during the time she was watching us, my 'Auntie', as I called her, would be hammering away at the Friden, working on generating the charts. To this day I can still vividly remember the spinning numbers and wonderful mechanical noises that machine made in operation. I credit the time spent watching her operate that machine to sparking an interest in mathematics and numbers that set the stage for my career working with computers."
WangsBensene said his collection started 25 years ago, and he was initially interested in handheld calculators. He had the advantage, he said, of beginning before older calculators became expensive.

There are three main criteria that determines the desirability of the machine, mainly from the '60s or early '70s, he said. One is the type of display technology, and a CRT is a rare one. Others with "nixie"-type displays, are marked with digits and glow under high voltage. Another criterion is those calculators with all-transistor technology and the absence of integrated circuits, such as the Friden 130. He says some of the pioneers of miniaturization include the Friden 130, HP 9100B, and the Wang 360.

But in addition to the machines, part of the attraction of the antique pastime always includes the people involved. Bensene says he receives e-mails from such places as Sweden and Russia in addition to domestic national contacts, about his collection. "That's the point I like most about it," he said, "is the communication with the people."

Editor's note: All photos are courtesy of Rick Bensene and The Old Calculator Web Museum. To contact Rick Bensene by e-mail at, click here.

Web site: The Old Calculator Web Museum

Related Yesterday's Office articles:
"Snake Winds Past Hometown of Calculator Collector"
" 'Mr. Calculator' is Guru of Collecting Electronic Calculators"

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