Cargo Cult Time
June 3, 2005 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Please help me identify two bits of odd electronics which have made their way into my hands.

Exhibit A: The self-described Field Tester. It's about 6 feet tall, 300 lbs, and has an empty space for (presumably) a CRT and a panel with all sorts of odd toggle switches and things about parity, sectors, and drives. Non-functional. There are wheels on the bottom.

Exhibit B: The Thermolator. A plaque on the back reads: "Thermolator Corp. Glendale, Calif." It has one toggle switch which turns it on or off. When on, a turbine inside spins and it gets a bit warm and hums ominously. Inside (not visible in the photos) are printed circuit boards and the aforementioned turbine.

What the hell are these things?
posted by IshmaelGraves to Technology (15 answers total)
no idea. where did you get them? any make on the field tester? what makes the thermolator warm - is there an electric element heater inside? does it have any kind of connection at the back for fastening things to the airflow? what's the round thing on the front? what's behind the square windows?
if you open the thermalator up and get a circuit board out, you might find something printed on it. ditto with any contents in the field tester.
the thermolator looks wonderful. i wonder if it's a piece of geek art? ;o)
("things about parity, sectors and drives" means it's connected with computers, obviously)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:33 PM on June 3, 2005

thermolators--some kind of heat transfer thing--for machinery so they don't overheat?, i guess.
posted by amberglow at 5:33 PM on June 3, 2005

My best guess is that both pieces of equipment were used in computer mainframe testing. The first looks like a tester from the bad old days when computers ran on vacuum tubes, the 2nd is probably something to heat them up or cool them down, since the old computers were very sensitive to heat and cooling technology was primitive.
posted by SpecialK at 5:37 PM on June 3, 2005

if that's the case, there shouldn't be any solid state electronics on the circuit boards in them (or, at least, very few - no ics). you could check that.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:40 PM on June 3, 2005

The field tester has no make; it just says 'field tester.' It was on the side of the road near the trash in front of a neighbor's house (I've never met the neighbor). The writing on the front makes me think perhaps it was used to work on/test old giant hard drives, when they were a couple feet tall, but I could be wildly mistaken.

The thermolator has no connections aside from the power cord. It does have venting along the sides. The round silver thing on the front doesn't seem to serve any purpose except heat diffusion (it's open). Inside there's what looks like a plain old electric motor attached to the turbine-ish thing. I was misremembering the circuit boards — there is nothing like that in there. I've uploaded some more photos of its innards. The thermolator was given to me at an antique store when the owner moved shop — he had no idea what it was either.

Amberglow, I'd found that page but it doesn't seem like quite the same sort of device — mine doesn't have any sort of pump that I can see and doesn't appear made to handle liquid, nor does it have any external connections to hook up to other machinery.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:54 PM on June 3, 2005

looks like some kind of element in the "horn" of the fan. so i guess it's a source of warm air. seems kind of fancy for a heater, though.

in the picture of the thermolator contents, is that the fan at the top of the picture? what's the box at the bottom? be careful opening things up if you're not used to electronics. is it just a transformer?

a 50s/60s hot air blower? humph.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:09 PM on June 3, 2005

Yes, the top of the first picture is the back of the fan. The box is the one shown on-end in the second picture, with the heating element in it.

I'd think it were a heater if it heated better, and also if it had any sort of thermostat or way to set it other than "on" and "off."
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:18 PM on June 3, 2005

so the hot air blows into that box, which vents down onto the closed base? it doesn't even blow hot air out directly? how odd. still, looks way cool.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:24 PM on June 3, 2005

Might help if you could post a couple of pictures where the text on the field tester panel were legible.

The thermolator thingie is bizarre. Is the chrome disk an air intake? As andrew cooke says, seems strange to go to all the trouble of pulling in air and then not blow it out directly. How powerful is that turbine?
posted by Galvatron at 7:05 PM on June 3, 2005

maybe something hooks into that chrome disk? the thick black hose inside makes me think it had to connect somehow.

it really is beautifully designed on the outside.
posted by amberglow at 7:30 PM on June 3, 2005

That big coil inside the thermolator's exhaust box ("Guts From The Top") looks like a heating coil to me, and the thing it's wired in series with ("Ass-End of Guts" - the thing bolted to the side of the exhaust box) looks a lot like thermal protection switches / thermostats I've seen. So my guess is it's a device intended to blow hot air into something. The switch might be a thermostat, in which case it's a device to blow air of a specific temperature; or it could be a thermal fuse, in which case it's just there as a safety cutoff.

(you can tell it's the exhaust end of the thermolator because centrifugal blowers only work one way)
posted by hattifattener at 9:44 PM on June 3, 2005

Well, much as I would like to be considered the Thermalator, it looks like the real Thermolator might be a "heat transfer product" for regulating water temperature. It seems to have some medical applications.
posted by tss at 7:05 AM on June 4, 2005

The Thermolator's exhaust grille looks more purposeful than decorative. If I had to guess, I'd say the thermolator sat on a table with the grilles and switch facing upwards, and a squarish "thing to be thermolated" was placed on (or in) the rectangle pattern.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:35 AM on June 4, 2005

The pattern is too big for a single vacuum tube though....
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:45 AM on June 4, 2005

I just posted to alt.folklore.computers. Someone there might know.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:18 AM on June 4, 2005

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