View from the
All I was looking for as I surfed eBay last summer was a Mac with an LC slot for my "new" Apple IIe card. I already had access to several such machines at school, but wanted one of my own and one that didn't have the slot already filled with an Ethernet card. The idea was to make use of some of the excellent old Apple II software we have at school without having to set up a complete Apple II workstation.
I do lots of eBay searches for words like "Daystar," "IIfx," and occasionally "NuBus." It's a good way to find bargains in older Mac hardware. One of my favorite search words is "lot!" Often, for the price of one or two of an item, one can find a bunch of them. My wife doesn't refer to the extras as junk, but she does sigh a lot.
When I saw the posting for a "Lot of 12 - Macintosh LCIII - 8/160," I suspected I'd found a true bargain. I also felt fairly sure that the final bid wouldn't exceed the initial bid of $30 by too awfully much. While the LC III is a very usable and durable Mac, their age, relatively slow speed, and the current abundant supply of them keep prices quite reasonable on the auction circuit.
I also noticed that the seller was just a few hours up the road in Marion, Indiana--a fellow Hoosier Mac freak. He even had an ".edu" email suffix, which told me he was involved in some way in education.
I quickly contacted the seller via email and it turned out that he also had keyboards, mice, and monitors for the machines for an incredibly reasonable price. But the real clincher on all of it was that he could get the stuff to Indianapolis for pickup, thus avoiding some serious shipping charges on the monitors.
While I appreciate the stability and longevity of the LC III, I'm certainly not into running a classroom with exclusively antique computers. But I had a plan in mind for where all of those LC IIIs could go, if I could just pull it all together.
My affinity for the LC III goes back to one being my first Mac at school. Since I didn't know any better, I simply pushed that machine to do everything it could without regard to RAM and chip speed limitations! It still serves us in my classroom, running System 7.6.1 and maxed out at 36 MB of RAM with a 500 MB hard drive, a 14" monitor, Ethernet, and an external CD-ROM drive. While it can't run some of the newer, flashier software, the venerable machine has been one of the most stable of all of the Macs in my classroom. It's also beginning to show its age. Sometime in the next month or so, it will move to the role of backup (or parts donor) and be replaced by a Performa 575 running System 8.1, 68 MB RAM, a 1 gig hard drive, and a full 33 MHz 68040 chip.
After settling all the particulars for the deal, we met on an overcast Saturday morning in Indianapolis. The seller had bundled his wife, family, and all the computer gear into his van for the sale and a day of shopping in the big city. There wasn't much spare room for them. We hastily bagged and transferred all the stuff in about 40 trash bags. I tarped the back of our pickup truck as best I could. While we drove through an occasional shower, the equipment traveled well. There was some water in the bed of the truck when I backed it up to the house and removed the tarp, but only one bag had a trace of moisture in it.
When I unloaded the truck and transferred the equipment to my second story Mac hideaway, I found that my sunroom computer workshop was becoming overrun with vintage Macs. It was a good thing that I had somewhere for these units to go.
I quickly set about testing the CPU's and found that every one of them had survived the trip and would boot up. I was only too aware of the fact that the going in price might only be the beginning of my expenses on these machines. In any such group, weak monitors, faulty PRAM batteries, dead floppy drives, and the like can quickly eat you up. While the original eBay listing had said the machines were configured with 8 MB of RAM, some of them turned out to be running 12 megs. One even had 20 MB! They looked to be an excellent set of Macs.
Cleanup of the machines was a bit time consuming, but not terribly difficult. These LC IIIs had come from a lab where the machines didn't suffer a lot of abuse. I took each CPU to the garage for a thorough cleaning with a compressor, followed by a gentle dusting of the components with a camel's hair brush. Since the top cover of an LC III is completely removable and carries no electrical components, I used a strong spray cleaner and a sponge and brush to remove pencil marks, scuffs, and the remains of various labels. The monitor cases also were washed, but a bit more gently.
Having completed the preliminaries, the real work of the task still lay ahead of me. My plan, quickly approved by my building administrator, was to provide each of my full and part-time special ed students with a take-home computer! Each computer would carry a variety of software, including a word processor, graphics tools, math and reading programs, and some wonderful freeware games.
I've previously written of our extensive use in the classroom of computerized spelling drill and practice tests. Since we've saved all of our test for several years, it was easy enough to place the necessary files for a full school year of spelling on each student's computer.
While I did the file transfers on the first two machines at school from our Mac file and print server, I found it easier to set up the machines one or two at a time at home. I used an extra Mac IIfx as a file server and an Ethernet crossover cable to connect the machines and transfer a ghost file I'd assembled.
While it might be a bit of smoke and mirrors, we got around some software licensing issues by making the machines "loaners" so we could employ some of our school's site licenses. Each machine actually does spend up to two weeks at school for burn-in and student training. The first thing the kids want to know is how to change the desktop pattern!
By Thanksgiving, I will have delivered all twelve of the original LC IIIs to the homes of students. We'll have covered all of our sixth through fourth grade full and part-time students. I've already acquired ten more LC IIIs, keyboards, larger hard drives, and some monitors to complete the project. Our second and third graders have been patiently waiting, as they knew their turn had to eventually come around. By Christmas, all should have a take-home unit.
Before you get the wrong idea, my pockets really aren't that deep. The original 12 LC III systems only cost $300. The seller actually threw in two extra machines to cover any failures that might occur. I foolishly sold two of the systems on eBay to help defray the initial expenses. I've also sold the Ethernet cards from each of the machines to help balance the computer budget.
The second set of ten machines has been another matter. The going in price with shipping was just $10 each, but the machines lacked hard drives and hard drive brackets. While the first set of twelve LC IIIs were complete systems, I had to buy and scrounge drives, brackets, mice and keyboards for for the second group. Unfortunately, monitors weigh in at around 30 pounds and have been a bit tougher to find cheap and close to home (to lesson shipping charges).
While this project is a work in progress, my teaching assistant and I have already seen noticeable improvement in spelling scores amongst those students who have already received their computers. There have also been tales of bombs, lost files, and one mouse cord chewed in half by a puppy!
More than anything else, this project has been a blessing to me. I really wrestled with whether to post a column on it or not. I've seen kids who had no reasonable chance of having any computer in the foreseeable future simply light up with the joy of receiving a seven year old 25 MHz computer with a 160 MB hard drive, 8-12 MB of RAM, and a 14" monitor! Even the students who do have access to a computer at home have been thrilled with the take-home units.
This story obviously isn't done. There's far more than simple spelling drills that can be done with these machines. I entitled this piece "Part 1," as I suspect there may be a future chapter or two in the saga.
In the meantime, more information on Macintosh LC IIIs can be had at:
Click here for A Gaggle of LC IIIs: Part 2.
Odd thoughts while shaving between paragraphs:
I had the temerity last month to begin a new season of View from the Classroom with the piece Making Schools Better? It has to do with the current education bashing feeding frenzy that was so encouraged by the recent presidential race. Most of you probably never saw it because I expressed some views not in keeping with the views of much of the Mac web. While many Mac sites carried their own clearly political messages, links to the column were not carried by those posting their own political editorials. My thanks to Tom McKenna of the G3 AIO Stop Shop and Ladd Morse of MacSurfer.com for their sense of fair play in carrying the only links posted to the column last month on the Mac web.
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©2000 Steven L. Wood