The Elliott 903 takes a step closer to restoration

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It is rarely quiet at TNMOC, certainly not when we have volunteers and visitors around. But from time to time you hear a special kind of sound, one that is perhaps filled with a little excitement and expectation. Today was one of those days.

For some time a small group of volunteers have been working on an Elliott 903 that required a lot of restoration. They are often busy with the machine but today I noticed an air of satisfaction.

The Elliott was ‘alive’ and able to do some simple operations; subtracting threes I think? Not just noises you see, but flashing lights too with the team looking on in less than quiet satisfaction.

Not that the Elliott was fully dressed, oh no; just her insides performed today since her chassis, panels and top need a lot of work before being anywhere near to being presented to our discerning visitors. But today the team deserve praise as they have brought back to life a computer from 1965 and it looks good that one day the Elliott 903 (fully dressed), will take its place in the Museum alongside the Elliott 803 as a fully working computer.

Produced by Elliott Automation, the 903 is a desk sized general purpose transistor based computer intended for use in science, industry and education sectors.

With an 18 bit word, the computer boasted 8,192 word internal core store; but had a total capacity of 65,636 words. Equipped with a 250cps paper tape reader and 110 cps paper tape punch, the Elliott could address up to 2,048 peripheral devices!

Apart from a future role as a star of the Museum, an Elliott 903 once appeared in a film called ‘Phase IV’ (1974).

The 903 arrived at our Museum on November 20th 2010 in 4 vehicles. Previously it had lodged in different ‘homes’ but recently suffered due to a roof leak and the beginnings of rust.

Safely in its new home in H Block TNMOC, the work began.

A team of three; Terry, Oliver and Peter looked over the collection of parts carefully and as they sipped their tea, they all agreed that there was ‘no doubt’ that they could get the machine working again.

Every part was to be photographed and placed on an inventory, including individual cables and the logic boards.

Rust and physical damage was assessed carefully and all the paper tapes and manuals needed cataloguing.

Fortunately the Museum had another 903 rack that was a useful source of parts but even so the CPU rack took about three weeks of work cleaning the 76 cards in it, locating and repairing faults. Work continued inspecting, testing, repairing and more testing!

By late March much had been achieved including checking the mains distribution and a fellow volunteer, Graham, worked some electrolysis ‘magic’ on some rusty parts.

With clear optimism, the Elliott’s chassis, side panels and top were brought from our extra storage building back to the H Block workshop today. As I helped lift and pull the parts back to workshop (yes, I get all the technical jobs to do!), I had to admire the skill, patience and experience of the guys working on these and many other machines around TNMOC. With the amazing collection at the Museum, the volunteers are the co-stars. Together they make the Museum a fine collection worthy of any visitor and I urge you to come and see some of their work.

TNMOC is always looking for more volunteers. Not everyone can restore an Elliott 903 but we need others to help tell our visitors about this machine and others around the Museum. Why not come and see us and talk over how you might be able to give a little time and help us keep this fantastic collection alive and open to the public.

The Elliott 903 team will soon turn their attention to the chassis, panels and top before re-assembling the machine back to its former glory. I hope to be able to update you in the near future with progress and of course inform you when the Elliott 903 is ready to receive her guests.

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