I feel like writing out a "Kick Me" sign and sticking it on my own back. Why? Well, I've been complaining for ages that there's nowhere local where I can go to purchase electronic components, but I've just been introduced to the most amazing electronics shop right here in town.
But, before we go there, first let me set the scene... When I was a young lad of about 12-ish (living in Sheffield, England), I would eagerly await the monthly arrival of the latest and greatest issue of Practical Electronics, which was the UK's premier electronic hobbyist magazine at that time.
Starting at the beginning of each month, every day after school you would find me in the Newsagent's shop at the bottom of our road saying "Is it here yet?" And, when my copy of the magazine did eventually arrive, I'd sit on the wall outside the newsagent's skimming through it to see what delights were in store. Being young and without much in the way of funds, one of my favorite articles was called "Take 20" because each of these projects required 20 or fewer components and cost 20 shillings or less (see also my blog on Pounds, Shillings, and Pence).
My next step was to hop on a No. 17 or No. 24 bus and head about five miles down Abbeydale Road to the nearest electronics supply shop. This was called Bardwells and it was located in a backstreet behind the old Abbeydale cinema.
Although it was only a tiny store, Bardwells was a magical place for me. In addition to the new components (transistors, resistors, capacitors, and jelly-bean integrated circuits) they kept behind the counter, there were always piles of cardboard boxes lying around on the floor jam-packed with interesting "stuff" like rotary selector relays from antique telephone exchanges. I used to love that shop.
I remember that there were lots of Bardwell-type stores in those days, along with radio television repair shops and electronic appliance (toasters, washing machines, etc.) repair shops. I also recall that, like doctors, television repair men would be happy to come round to your house and sort things out on the spot. The thing was that, in those days of yore, it was a lot cheaper to fix things than it was to buy new ones. By comparison, if something breaks these days, we just throw it out and purchase something that's bigger, better, and – typically – costs less than the original.
But we digress... In 1990 I moved to Huntsville, Alabama, USA. Since then I've continued to be involved in numerous electronic hobby projects, but it's grown harder and harder to find the parts locally. These days, of course, I can always order things over the Internet, but that really isn’t "quite the same thing" if you know what I mean.
There used to be an electronic parts store in downtown Huntsville on Clinton Avenue (sadly I forget its name), but that closed down ages ago. Then, just a few weeks ago as I pen these words, my chum Rick Curl dropped by my office. Rick lives in Birmingham, Alabama, but he occasionally comes up to Huntsville to pick up circuit boards or something, and if he's passing by he drops in for a cup of coffee and to say "Hi." Anyway, I mentioned to Rick that I was looking for a certain electronic part, and he told me I should visit a place called Mock Electronics located downtown on Memorial Parkway.
Unfortunately, there's always a plethora of things to do and too little time to do them all in. Thus, it wasn't until a few days ago that I finally managed to visit Mock Electronics. OMG!!! I could not believe my eyes. For an electronics hobbyist, this is like a dream come true. Now, admittedly Mock Electronics takes a little finding, because it doesn’t face the main road. Also, it's located in a rather nondescript building as shown below:
Some people might not like the outside appearance of this store, but for me it was great. I'm not looking for a modern facade like a Fry's Electronics
store, because all they typically have is new things. What I want is somewhere that has stuff you simply cannot find anywhere else, and Mock Electronics
more than fits the bill.
Inside, Mock Electronics
is huge (well, it's huge for an electronic part store, and it's absolutely humongous compared to Bardwells, which was so small you had to walk out backwards in order to turn around). As you enter the store, you are presented with row after row of shelves and racks containing all sorts of interesting things.
But that's just the half of it, because when you approach the massive L-shaped service counter at the far end of the store, you realize that there's a magical world of mystery behind the counter in the form of narrow walkways between numerous shelves jam-packed with myriad little drawers and boxes containing a treasure trove of antique and modern components.
Goodness only knows what delights are hidden back there. I do know that I showed them the Radiation Suitcase
prop I'm building featuring three antique faceted light covers
, and the lady who owns the store disappeared into the gloom and returned with the compatible base sockets. These would have made my life so much easier had I known that such a thing existed, but unfortunately I'd already glued my light covers into the case (bummer).
There's also a corner of the store that's devoted to old pieces of equipment, some of which are labeled, while others are left to the observer to guess as to their original functions.
While I was in the store, I remembered to ask if they had any vacuum tubes. Of course, they immediately responded that they had shelves of the little rascals, but then I explained that I didn’t actually want working tubes – instead, I was looking for failed tubes that I can use to give interesting effects to hobby pieces (vacuum tubes can look AMAZING if you light them from underneath using tri-colored LEDs and you dynamically vary the colors using a microcontroller).
In some respects, finding broken vacuum tubes can be harder than finding their working counterparts, because it typically doesn’t take long for failed tubes to find their way into the trash. Also, I would hate to use working tubes for something frivolous like my hobby projects. But the folks Mock Electronics did not let me down – they sold be an entire bag of failed vacuum tubes for just a few dollars.
But wait, there's more, because I then saw the most amazing vacuum tube spring-mounted in a metal transportation rack. I don’t know what this tube was originally intended for, but I'm guessing something like a very high-power amplifier. Just to provide you with a sense of scale, I stood a 12" wooden ruler leaning against the front-left part of the transportation rack as shown below:
The four-way spring assemblies holding the bottom and top of the tube to the metal frame allowed it to be transported without being jerked or vibrated to pieces. I simply couldn’t help myself. I had to have this for my collection, and it now has pride of place in my office.
Last but not least, I discovered a rack of antique magazines and manuals from yesteryear. For $5 I purchased the November 1953 issue of Radio & Television News
as shown below. Magazines were very different in those days; this one is about 3/8" thick and is bursting with interesting articles that provide an incredible "window" through which the reader can peer back and see what the people of the time thought was so amazing and cool.
I also discovered that Mock Electronics
used to have a "sister store" in nearby Decatur, but that establishment recently closed down and they are currently in the process of moving all sorts of "goodies" to the main store. All I can say is that you can expect to see a lot more of me visiting Mock Electronics
in the weeks, months, and years to come!
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