Polishing off a printer with a flourish revealed not to be best practice

Tech's pride in his work fed a hungry mechanical monster

Who, Me? Welcome once again, dear reader, to Who, Me? – the Reg's Monday morning pick-me-up that aims to cushion your entry to the working week by sharing stories of fellow readers' narrow escapes from their own errors.

This particular Monday we are once again hearing from "Edgar" who has regaled us before with tales of his time working for a well-known purveyor of adding machines. Evidently the devices are a rich vein of entertaining stories – or perhaps Edgar is a bit of a klutz. Little from column A, little from column B …

At any rate, this particular anecdote comes from a time when Edgar had been with the firm for about four years. At the time, a number of big banks were upgrading from standard adding machines and installing specialized banking terminals.

These were complicated beasts bolted to punch card readers and line printers, and were built tough to handle the demanding applications of the time. As with much of what counted as "big tech" back then (we're talking mid-1970s) they were also rather well-designed and could even be described as beautiful to look at.

So Edgar took a certain degree of pride in the way he handled and installed these machines, as well he might.

Edgar was sent to one of the big banks which had installed 20 of the banking terminals, but was frustrated by struggles when asking the machines to print. He described the staffing of the room where the machines were located as containing "20 odd women" though tragically he did not specify in his email exactly how odd they were. We are left to our imaginations.

Our hero set about his work under the women's watchful gaze, and was proud of himself when he quickly diagnosed the problem as originating with the decoder – "an electro-mechanical contrivance which drove the print head."

He removed the cover on the machine and repaired the fault. All that remained was to give it a bit of a polish with the cloth he had handy, run a test print, and replace the cover.

The test print went well – "sounded as crisp as a pound note," says Edgar – and that was when delusions of grandeur took over.

"There," he said to the operator, "a brilliant job well done" – and tossed his polishing cloth with a flourish into his toolbag.

Except that he missed the toolbag, and sent the cloth flying into the teeth of the printer, where it got caught in a belt and pulley, making "an awful screech," and destroyed the decoder he had just repaired.

Rather sheepishly, then, he had to call back to HQ and report that no, the decoder could not be fixed, and a new one would have to be supplied.

Presumably he also needed a new polishing cloth.

Have you ever let your pride in a job well done get the better of you? Shown off for an appreciative audience, only to have it all go wrong? Tell us about it in an email to Who, Me? and we'll make you (anonymously) famous. ®

More about

More about

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like