The Early Nerd Years: Enumclaw Computer Center

During the period of time between July of 1985 and April of 1986 I worked at the Enumclaw Computer Center.  I was not successful at it but it kept me from starving.  There were two things wrong with this scenario, neither of which helped :
  1. It was in Enumclaw, Washington.
  2. It was 1986, a time when you could knock on 50 doors in a town and would be lucky if you found one that had a computer.
Although I would have much rather hired on as an inside salesperson (being the geek that I am) I was hired on as an outside salesperson, which meant I knocked on the doors of businesses all day.  It was my job to sell computers to businesses.  How many did I sell during my stint there?  Zero.

There were several reasons for this, and among them were:
  1. Computers were expensive.
  2. Computers came in many "flavors".
  3. Nobody needed one.
When I say computers came in lots of different flavors, I mean it.  At that time the computer industry was still shaking itself out.  This was back in the day of MS-DOS version 1 or 2, and Microsoft was "just another company" in the industry.  Most of the different computer companies' products ran different operating systems, each declaring theirs to be the best. IBM was the standard in office environments at that time, but there were a few others running the Microsoft operating system.  Some computer companies back then ran an alternate operating system called C/PM.  Apple was sold primarily to schools back then, and they also had their own OS.  There were many competing computer companies aimed more toward the home user, again each having their own version of an operating system, like Texas Instruments, Commodore, Atari, and others.

For the most part, none of these companies' software would run on anyone else's computers.

Although we had a few different products at the Enumclaw Computer Center, our "specialty" if you will was Kaypro computers.  These were transportable (notice I didn't say portable) computers that were built like tanks.  Click the picture on the left to see what they looked like.  If you really want a laugh, click the brochure on the right and read that--Especially the part describing the monitor!  Sorry it's not a great quality scan, but I found it on the web--What do you expect?  On the lower left is a brochure I found describing the amazing replacement to the Kaypro II--The Kaypro 4.  Can you say wowsa?

Enumclaw Computer Center was almost doomed to failure in my opinion.  The owner treated it as more of a hobby than a business.  He was a "higher up" within the Washington Education Association at the time and really didn't need the money--I think it was more of a hobby than anything else.  I think the majority of their daily income came from the office manager lady.  She spent most of her day making copies for other businesses.  Can you imagine?  That was a time when only the biggest stores or businesses seemed to have copy machines!

While I never sold a computer, I did keep businesses in the surrounding areas taken care of in other areas, like printer ribbons and other supplies, but there was no money in that.  Lucky for me, the boss had me on a minimum wage so I wouldn't starve.  If nothing else, I got the word out that we existed and were there to serve them any way we could.  The business never found their identity.  They never figured out (nor did the industry) what kind of computers they were actually going to sell, and that was another problem.  Add to that: Computers were both expensive and quickly obsolete.  Did a store want to invest a lot of money in a product that was going to sit on display for 6 months?  It would have been obsolete before then.  Things were changing that fast back then.

Working there was also my first brush with a real geek.  I have no idea what his name was (nor does it matter) but we had a kid in high school that did our tech work.  He would show up after school, put on his static-discharge wrist strap, and disappear into the back.  He was even complete with braces.  How can you beat that?  I was sort of in awe of him as I recall... Here was a kid that knew the insides of computers!  He made me feel insignificant without even doing anything.

We had a small room in the place that had the computers (all Kaypros) lined up.  It was the place where people could sit down and test drive the new machines to their hearts content.  Because all the Kaypros there had so many apps on the load disk you really could try out several aspects of what they could do:  Word processing, spreadsheet, etc.  They also hosted beginning computer user classes there once a month for people that wanted to see what this "new computer thing" was all about.  During the Christmas I worked there, I gave my parents each a class for a gift.  I was poor then, and it was about all I could come up with.  They did go, and they seemed to have fun.

Yeah, that was an interesting time.  A "thriving" computer store with an owner that popped in whenever he found time from his real job, one high-school techie, one outside salesman, and one full-time inside employee that made copies all day.