Restoring a Viatron System 21 keyboard

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

06 Sep 2017, 23:23

I recently acquired a Viatron System 21 computer. This computer was used for creating/storing and printing punched cards. Consider it as a word processor but with punched cards as output. While this computer didn't have a punch card built in, it had a device that would sit on top of the keyboard and punch the keys for you, among other forms of input and output.

Anyhow, I showed a picture of the keyboard but since it will need pretty extensive restoration, I figured I'd add a thread in case anyone was curious. Here's what it looked like when I got it.
Viatron System 21 - keyboard as received.JPG
Viatron System 21 - keyboard as received
Viatron System 21 - keyboard as received.JPG (300.82 KiB) Viewed 1766 times
I was concerned these key caps may be engraved so I'd have issues restoring these depending on the condition and exactly what was on the surface. Polishing these key caps might damage them permanently if the damage was extensive. Thankfully, it's not too bad. There is a chalky surface on the key caps. I believe it's caused by extensive fading. You can use a fingernail to scrape off the chalk. Here's a close-up pic of the key caps.
Viatron System 21 - Dirty key caps.JPG
Viatron System 21 - Dirty key caps
Viatron System 21 - Dirty key caps.JPG (251.41 KiB) Viewed 1766 times
Here they are after soaking in water and polishing them with plastic polish. They still need more work but they are visible. On top of this, I am very fortunate that these key caps are double shots.

Front of key caps:
Viatron System 21 - cleaned key caps.JPG
Viatron System 21 - cleaned key caps
Viatron System 21 - cleaned key caps.JPG (237.2 KiB) Viewed 1766 times
Back of key caps:
Viatron System 21 - key cap back.JPG
Viatron System 21 - key cap back
Viatron System 21 - key cap back.JPG (343.09 KiB) Viewed 1766 times
I was able to find the schematics of the Viatron System 21 online and the keyboard is definitely optical. I pointed to a page on the wiki but this is earlier than that patent so it's different. I'll have to confirm the patent but this patent is not from Viatron. Viatron does, however, have a number of patents that were used in this computer. More on that later.

Here's a quick pick of behind the key caps:
Viatron System 21 - dirty key switches.JPG
Viatron System 21 - dirty key switches
Viatron System 21 - dirty key switches.JPG (449.99 KiB) Viewed 1766 times
Lastly (for now), I think this might be the heaviest keyboard ever for the size and form factor. It must be forged out of a block of steel. It actually shocked me when I tried to lift it. Model M, look out, his will break a foot if you drop it; and not from very high.
Viatron System 21 - weight of keyboard (without cable).JPG
Viatron System 21 - weight of keyboard (without cable)
Viatron System 21 - weight of keyboard (without cable).JPG (353.41 KiB) Viewed 1766 times
More pics to come when I get to this. I have a whole computer to restore.

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Daniel Beardsmore

06 Sep 2017, 23:35

9 kg?! I guess now we have heavy light …

At least the keycaps are salvageable.

Maybe one day someone can explain the point of light beam sensing, unless yours has far more light channels and some way to get 2KRO out of it.

Engicoder

07 Sep 2017, 15:07

Fantastic! I am glad they cleaned up reasonably well. Looks like it has an interesting font on it as well as 3 sets of legends. I look forward to following its restoration.

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Chyros

07 Sep 2017, 15:42

Holy fuckballs, that thing is heavier than the Chyron Aircraft Carrier Oo .

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

07 Sep 2017, 15:58

Here's a quick pic of the terminal. All 130+ lbs of it. It's all made of steel as is the internals of the keyboard (not plastic like the Collimation Optical Encoder keyboard). The only plastic part on the device is the plastic surround around the monitor. Even the back cover is steel.
Viatron System 21 Intelligent terminal.jpg
Viatron System 21 Intelligent terminal.jpg (64.23 KiB) Viewed 1693 times

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seebart
Offtopicthority Instigator

07 Sep 2017, 16:39

Impressive indeed. Nice to see those keycaps aren't damaged.

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

08 Sep 2017, 14:05

After two days of soaking, the key caps have come out perfect. I will take pics once I put them on but the keyboard mechanism will need work.

I have not yet had a chance to open the keyboard but the keyboard mechanism appears to be a lot like a typewriter with metal "key shafts" of some type hinging on the top of the keyboard. There was some form of cover that almost seems like deteriorated tar paper between the keys and the keyboard mechanism and this will need cleaning. I am guessing that since this keyboard uses optical light sensors, this may have been a barrier to stop the light that is produced on one side of the keyboard so that the sensors on the other side can pick up the beams better.

I have schematics of the keyboard and even the key caps (found that odd) but I have to scan those. There are schematics on the internet for this computer but they don't appear to be complete.

Here's an interesting tidbit that I found in the documentation. I cringe when I see this.
key cap replacement.jpg
Key cap replacement technique
key cap replacement.jpg (97.65 KiB) Viewed 1619 times

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seebart
Offtopicthority Instigator

08 Sep 2017, 15:00

Well obviously they recomend the "brute" approach to keycap pulling. :o :roll:

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pixelheresy

08 Sep 2017, 15:20

Yeah, that graphic is cringeworthy.

The polished up caps look cool! Can't wait to see the final product!

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

08 Sep 2017, 23:25

Here are some quick pics of the keyboard mechanism as I got it. What I thought was tar paper is actually thin foam that has deteriorated very badly. If I didn't see a small protected portion that was still intact, I wouldn't have a clue what it was. It was not a light shield (which is good) but it might have been a slight damper for the keys?

I wonder if the white stuff on the key caps is some form of outgassing byproduct? Chyros?

Here are the pics. I believe the light generation is on the left and the optical sensors are on the right. The top is a hinge for the key shafts. Because of the sticky foam, I don't know what this feels like yet.
Viatron System 21 - keyboard mechanism as received.JPG
Viatron System 21 - keyboard mechanism as received
Viatron System 21 - keyboard mechanism as received.JPG (347.95 KiB) Viewed 1569 times
Viatron System 21 - keyboard mechanism profile.JPG
Viatron System 21 - keyboard mechanism profile
Viatron System 21 - keyboard mechanism profile.JPG (301.36 KiB) Viewed 1569 times
Viatron System 21 - keyboard deteriorated foam.JPG
Viatron System 21 - keyboard deteriorated foam
Viatron System 21 - keyboard deteriorated foam.JPG (329.83 KiB) Viewed 1569 times

Engicoder

09 Sep 2017, 00:22

Amazing number of parts! Taking that apart will require some careful notes. I hope you used the keycap puller recommended in Service Step 9 :)

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Daniel Beardsmore

09 Sep 2017, 00:34

That diagram …

HuBandiT

09 Sep 2017, 17:30

snuci wrote: It was not a light shield (which is good) but it might have been a slight damper for the keys?
Dust/dirt protection?
snuci wrote: I wonder if the white stuff on the key caps is some form of outgassing byproduct?
Looks like limescale or salt deposits; from vapour of hard water if stored in a damp/humid place, or salty air near a sea/ocean? I had such once on a terminal keyboard with shiny caps when a careless relative stored it outdoors for a few years. Or if it was used/stored in/near a printing house, could be chalk dust/particles (used for surface treating some kinds of paper).
Last edited by HuBandiT on 09 Sep 2017, 17:51, edited 1 time in total.

HuBandiT

09 Sep 2017, 17:45

pixelheresy wrote: Yeah, that graphic is cringeworthy.


Oh, c'mon guys... look how that keycap side contour accommodates and smoothes into the jaws of those pliers... why else do you think keycap sides were contoured like this? those keycaps were made for this... this is how they want to be handled... finally an exciting change for them from the boring gentle caressing by soft and careful human fingers... :twisted: (Sorry, I just saw a perfectly working Linotype machine (a mechanical marvel and beauty) being destroyed in a scrapyard and it stuck with me.)

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Daniel Beardsmore

09 Sep 2017, 17:56

I wasn't aware that salt typically evaporated — can you really have salty air? Same thing with limescale — it gets left behind when water evaporates, so can it actually be left as a deposit from vapour?

HuBandiT

09 Sep 2017, 21:57

Daniel Beardsmore wrote: I wasn't aware that salt typically evaporated — can you really have salty air?


If you can smell it in the air - and in my experience you can, near oceans -, I would say it is in the air. My guess is in this case it doesn't get there through actual evaporation (phase change in the physical sense), but instead through mechanical means of nebulization through the wave action of water against shore/rocks. See: Sea spray

Daniel Beardsmore wrote: Same thing with limescale — it gets left behind when water evaporates, so can it actually be left as a deposit from vapour?


Through the same means as sea spray (mechanical nebulization)? E.g. there's lots of public hot water bathhouses here built upon natural thermal mineral water fountains; those usually continuously have an atmosphere inside where you can feel the minerals in the air by smell.

I guess some industrial plants could be similar (think the era of this computer - before all-ecompassing OSHA and all-climatized control rooms). (e.g. printing houses with chalk deposits)

Outdoor storage could also have facilitated similar processes.

If the computer in question happened to be in such an environment, that could explain the deposits. One way to check this hypothesis is to see whether there is a noticeable concentration difference between areas exposed and areas originally protected under the dust barrier.

Why it is not visible on other parts of the computer then? - I am asking myself. Maybe the surface differences? Shiny metal paint and glass on the CRT vs the plastic of the keys made it not adhere to the first, only to the latter? Or maybe from those surfaces it could be easily wiped down from, but not from the keys?

User avatar
snuci
Vintage computer guy

09 Sep 2017, 22:20

This item was from Detroit, Michigan; not along any coasts. It is, however, an industrial area but I don't know the method of storage so I can't determine if that was a factor other but I can say that the rest of the computer is rust free barring a few minor spots. The paint is flaking off in some spots but I'm not sue that is related. If the substance on the key caps was salt, the keyboard mechanism would have been rusted and seized as it's composition is almost completely metal. The substance also would have quickly dissolved in water. This stuff didn't. I had soaked the key caps in water and Spray Nine (a cleanser). If it were related to plastics, there is also the plastic surround of the monitor but that was completely clean. I guess it will remain a mystery.

Back to the restoration:

During this process, I didn't have a reference for the key caps like I usually do. The keyboard at the Computer History Museum is not detailed enough to read the key caps so I had to scrape off and clean up at the the key tops so I could make out the legends for replacement when cleaned.

Here is a couple of pics. More to come later on or tomorrow as I am now done. These are definitely unique legends.

Before cleaning:
Viatron System 21 - key legends for reference after cleaning.JPG
Viatron System 21 - key legends for reference after cleaning
Viatron System 21 - key legends for reference after cleaning.JPG (398.21 KiB) Viewed 1370 times
After cleaning:
Attachments
Viatron System 21 - keyboard cleaned.JPG
Viatron System 21 - keyboard cleaned
Viatron System 21 - keyboard cleaned.JPG (258.61 KiB) Viewed 1363 times
Last edited by snuci on 09 Sep 2017, 22:25, edited 1 time in total.

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Daniel Beardsmore

09 Sep 2017, 22:24

Brony keys!

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

09 Sep 2017, 22:39

Daniel Beardsmore wrote: Brony keys!
Not sure what that means. Is that a key cap manufacturer or a My Little Pony reference (I Googled and found the latter)?

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Daniel Beardsmore

09 Sep 2017, 22:52

I'll just sit back and await the headdesk moment …

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

10 Sep 2017, 00:45

Here are some pictures of the internals while I was cleaning it up. The deteriorated foam had eaten into the paint so after I scraped and chipped the hardened foam off, I touched up the key shafts. There was also a toffee-like sticky substance that is visible in the pre-restoration pictures that was making the key shafts stick that also had to be removed. This was a real challenge but it did clean up for the most part.

You can see the light channels under the key shafts. Depending on the key pressed, the light coming from the left side would be blocked by the unique fingers per key shaft so that the optical sensors on the right would see the unblocked light and determine what key was pressed. The light channels are also forged metal so this definitely adds to the weight. I have not yet found an appropriate patent for this but the light and optical sensor boards are made by Viatron so I don't believe this is a third-party keyboard.

Here are some select pics:
Viatron System 21 - pre-restoration keyboard mechanism profile.JPG
Viatron System 21 - pre-restoration keyboard mechanism profile
Viatron System 21 - pre-restoration keyboard mechanism profile.JPG (294.9 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - pre-restoration sticky toffee-like substance.JPG
Viatron System 21 - pre-restoration sticky toffee-like substance
Viatron System 21 - pre-restoration sticky toffee-like substance.JPG (496.76 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - profile of metal key shafts.JPG
Viatron System 21 - profile of metal key shafts
Viatron System 21 - profile of metal key shafts.JPG (233.86 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - upper leaf spring for keyshaft return action.JPG
Viatron System 21 - upper leaf spring for keyshaft return action
Viatron System 21 - upper leaf spring for keyshaft return action.JPG (379.61 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - lower leaf spring for return action of key shaft.JPG
Viatron System 21 - lower leaf spring for return action of key shaft
Viatron System 21 - lower leaf spring for return action of key shaft.JPG (409.67 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - left side light source for light channels.JPG
Viatron System 21 - left side light source for light channels
Viatron System 21 - left side light source for light channels.JPG (400.63 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - light channels with seperators from right to left .JPG
Viatron System 21 - light channels with separators from right to left
Viatron System 21 - light channels with seperators from right to left .JPG (371.76 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - right side optical sensor board head-on.JPG
Viatron System 21 - right side optical sensor board head-on
Viatron System 21 - right side optical sensor board head-on.JPG (283.6 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - right side optical sensor.JPG
Viatron System 21 - right side optical sensor
Viatron System 21 - right side optical sensor.JPG (305.47 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - post-restoration keyboard mechanism .JPG
Viatron System 21 - post-restoration keyboard mechanism
Viatron System 21 - post-restoration keyboard mechanism .JPG (347.91 KiB) Viewed 1327 times
Viatron System 21 - restored keyboard.JPG
Viatron System 21 - restored keyboard
Viatron System 21 - restored keyboard.JPG (238.53 KiB) Viewed 1327 times

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Sangdrax

10 Sep 2017, 05:11

I took apart a busted Selectric II recently and this really is built a lot like a typewriter. The levers and mounts looked almost exactly like that. Used a comb spring for the levers exactly like that. Had that sheet of foam under the keys, which I think was a kind of contamination shield more than anything. There is so much grease in these mechanisms, you can see why they wanted to keep as much dirt and crap out as possible. Probably the gunk you were dealing with was old hardened grease. Either that or rotted foam. It tends to liquify after thirty or forty years.

Gorgeous board though, and very interesting. Looking forward to more of what you find on how it works.

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

23 Nov 2017, 13:18

Added a picture to illustrate lights on one end of the keyboard actually lit up.
Viatron System 21 - Keyboard lights.jpg
Viatron System 21 - Keyboard lights
Viatron System 21 - Keyboard lights.jpg (317.2 KiB) Viewed 1151 times

Engicoder

23 Nov 2017, 15:21

That looks amazing. Seems like a shame that its hidden inside the case. This really cleaned up so well!!

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DustGod
Yet another IBM snob

28 Nov 2017, 14:24

This is beautiful! Great work!

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OldIsNew

28 Nov 2017, 14:33

Very nice! Awesome board - that looks about as mechanical as it gets!

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gkubed

28 Nov 2017, 17:18

Wow, it is super cool actually seeing the lights working correctly. I didn't expect that to happen. That plastic polished worked wonders on those keycaps. I may have missed it, but is there a name for the mount on this particular set of keys? Am I correct in thinking these could be replaced with other keycaps from keyboards with similar arms? Not that you intend to, of course. Awesome restoration.

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snuci
Vintage computer guy

28 Nov 2017, 18:43

gkubed wrote: I may have missed it, but is there a name for the mount on this particular set of keys? Am I correct in thinking these could be replaced with other keycaps from keyboards with similar arms?
I don't know the name of this specific mount but I am fairly certain these would be interchangeable with IBM beamspring key caps or Selectric typewriters.

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mecano

07 Dec 2017, 19:09

Wow didn't see this until you posted back in the other cap restoration thread.
These caps are a beauty! A great restoration it is.

codemonkeymike

07 Dec 2017, 23:23

snuci wrote:
gkubed wrote: I may have missed it, but is there a name for the mount on this particular set of keys? Am I correct in thinking these could be replaced with other keycaps from keyboards with similar arms?
I don't know the name of this specific mount but I am fairly certain these would be interchangeable with IBM beamspring key caps or Selectric typewriters.
Not sure the mount type was ever named, I guess it would be something like "Flat Metal Typewriter Mount" or "Flat Metal IBM Mount". FVTM (Flat Vertical Typewriter Mount) IDK just spit-balling now.

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