I spent Memorial Day working with memory of a different type –
electronic. My father had an old 286 which he continued to use, despite
having a new computer and my warnings to the contrary. In his defense, we
did try transferring the files to the new computer via sneakernet. While
the old DOS programs would run on his machine, they wouldn’t print using the
Windows drivers. Also, the only way to open them in another word processor
was to first open them in the DOS app, then print them to a file. That was
goint to be extremely tedious and time consuming given the number of files he
has. So, the files never got transferred to the new computer, and Dad kept
using the old one.
The old 286 finally died about six months ago, and I was asked to see if I
could recover the nearly 300 sermon outlines he had on it. Today I look at
the electronic viscera covering my office floor with the satisfaction of a
mission accomplished. Here’s the tale of the road to recovery…
Symptons – computer asks for a battery for the BIOS. The computer will
not boot for anything. Opening the computer reveals no battery whatsoever,
so I’m left with the fact that the error itself is in error, and I’ve got to
figure this one out from scratch. I finally got the BIOS setup screen to
come up. None of the devices were recognized, so I had to manually
configure the BIOS. This was easier said than done, because the
indications on the hard drive were also not correct. I managed to get the
settings all wrong, and while the computer would now boot to the initial ROM
disk, it wouldn’t see anything else, including floppies. I tried to find
the correct settings on the web, but there was no reference to a “Scott”
computer (I’m sure it was some generic box) and Western Digital had nothing for
drives as old as this one.
I figured the drive was still OK, so I tried getting it to work in several
other configurations. First I tried connecting it to my desktop. No
dice. My computer wouldn’t recognize the drive. I then put it
in another old HP 286. Still nothing. I tried a somewhat less older
486 with no different results. My last attempt involved putting the drive
in a drive enclosure and connecting it via USB. While I got several
machines to recognize the connections, there was nothing to indicate that
it was actually finding the drive. The data remained hidden.
I passed the whole computer off to my nephew, Chip. He kept it for
about two months and tried a couple of things, but nothing worked. As a
last resort, I took the drive to Computer Clinic here in Greenville. They
couldn’t get the data off, either, but I had them give me a copy of any
diagnostics they got from the drive.
That brings us to today. I left the guts of the computer spread over my
floor, but reattached and booted the machine. It took awhile to figure how
to get back to the BIOS setup, but I was finally there. I tried several
combinations of numbers from the diagnostic sheet, and was finally able to input
the correct number of heads, cylinders, etc, and was able to get the drive
boot. I began copying files to my laptop via good old fashioned floppy
So now I’ve got these files on my laptop, but still no way to convert or
print them. Several web companyies offered conversion for a nice price –
$10 per file. Given the number of files, that would have broken me.
The problem was eventually solved by a little application called Quick View
Plus, which would let you view legacy word processing documents. You can’t
edit, but you can print or copy and paste to another application.
I have carved the data from this old PC and burned it onto two CDs, and I
think I can finally toss this carcass away.