Generating New Makerfaire Fun

The surplus store in my area carries a collection of old electronics gear, in addition to a gazillion other things. Many of these units include an impressive array of knobs, dials, switches, and indicator lights. I have spent an inappropriate amount of time daydreaming about the fancy toy I could turn one of those units into while in the store shopping for heat shrink tubing or whatever. The problem is that the owners price these obsolete units like they were still useful—usually in the hundreds of dollars.

But I finally scored this one for much less than that.


It’s a radio signal generator built for the Navy in the 1950s. Since it looks like a prop you would see in a Sci-Fi movie from the 50s or 60s, my plan is to make it work like it would have in Sci-Fi land. In other words, keep the knobs and dials but have them run blinking lights video clips and sound effects reminiscent of those movies. I hope it will be a hit at Makerfaires of the future.

The first stage was tear down. This proved quite entertaining in it’s own right. This piece of equipment was clearly built at high cost to be used and serviced by people with minimal training in a hostile environment. It’s made from dense anodized aluminum. Every knob has two set screws holding it in place. Every nut is a lock nut. The vacuum tubes were both sleeved and caged. There was wire wrap every inch or so on the harness. It weighed about 40 lbs. Everything comes apart–nothing is glued or otherwise sealed. It even has the schematic riveted to the inside of the outer case.

Here are some photos of the tear down into major components. I offered the tubes and other major parts on Ebay but there were no takers. So they went into the bin. The front panel, its support, and the outer case will provide ample opportunities to add modern micros, video screens, blinky lights, and powered speakers.