Compass Technical Services – We spent a year there one month!


Compass Technical's armory stuffed collection - before the Grinnell tornado hit

Compass Technical’s armory stuffed collection – before the Grinnell tornado hit

September 11, 2001 was a date no American will ever forget. I personally embarked on a treasure hunt just a month after the disaster and the destination was Paterson, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from NYC and the smoldering Twin Towers. It was a shocking environment relative to my home turf, Omaha, Nebraska. I made a deal to buy Compass Technical Services, a surplus business and small manufacturer of military equipment. The volume of a National Guard Armory, wall to wall, 2.5 floors. Loading started late October and we departed when my packing team mutinied on Thanksgiving Day. We had packed 29 semi-trucks over the month. One a day. Each maxed out to about 40,000 pounds. So the story goes.



Communication Speed in my 57 years


When I was a teen I landed my first amateur radio ticket. WD0FDE. My FCC license to transmit on specific frequencies. The modes I used were phone / talking, CW / Morse code and teletype. Typical transmit speed was about 66 words per minute on the teletype and 10 wpm on the code key. In the 80’s I dabbled in packet radio which operated around 1200 bits per second. Then along came the Internet and ham communications took the back seat to a whole new world. I haven’t had a decent station set up since about 1981. Now I have 10 acres, component 1. Next I need personal time. Different story.

Trying to keep it simple and not confuse bits and bytes, my dial up modem for the Mac was 56k. That gave way to DSL at around 300k. As long as our service provider didn’t bottleneck in high traffic times, this speed was adequate for many years. New software, websites with more images and streaming video kept pushing me to acquire faster Internet speed. Today, in our Mastercraft Building, a building in Omaha that has about 90 suites for rent to entrepreneurs and creatives of all stripes, we have a program in place whereby a local service provider guarantees 1 gig bandwidth up and down speed to each a every tenant in the building for the price of dsl. Why I mention this here is because it’s a topic on everyone’s mind. Almost everyone interfaces with a computer, or wifi, every day. The speed of that connection can be the difference of an instant transfer where the connection was invisible, as in the 1G service, or a foot tapping bottle necked connection that takes forever.

The raw amount of data transferred in a typical minute of online surfing, when compared to my 66 WPM teletype, is staggering. The cost to my data transfer in 1975 was free, less the cost of my station. Today, in relative terms, what you get for your money, 1G (per second!) of bandwidth is almost free. It is nearly impossible to fill up a 1G fiber. Imagine being able to upload or download with no restriction in performance. Unfortunately, the rest of the Internet is not able to handle this speed, yet, so the bottleneck is there, it’s simply down the road.


Rotary Spark Gap Generator – Tesla Comes to Life

Rotary Spark Gap Generator

One advantage we have at Surplus Sales is an enormous warehouse. We can use it to store any number of big, bulky pieces of equipment… to a point. Waiting for the “demand” pendulum to swing back in its direction, creating a market for an otherwise outdated device, can take eons. One such delightful component is our Spark Gap Generator. In our current inventory are 50 new in the crate CG-35ABE Modulators. Better known as the heart of the APS-20 Radar System. The APS-20 was one of the first commercially marketed radar systems in WWII. It was made by GE and was the cutting edge technology that helped win the war. An integral component to the modulator was a Spark Gap Generator. It applied high voltage repetitive switching to a magnetron. In turn the mag pulsed a 10 Ghz rf signal towards an object via a directional antenna. Then they turned off the transmitter to try and hear an echo in the receiver. Radar is a different discussion.

So the Rotary Spark Gap Generator can be removed from our CG-35ABE Modulator and reutilized in a Tesla coil to excite the primary coil. I have seen several articles on the construction of a rotary spark gap but they are all low quality, unstable solutions. The US Government spent 10’s of thousands of 1940’s dollars on these GE generators. They are built like the quintessential tank. Tungsten pins, rock solid rotor to reduce jitter and mechanical stresses to mention a few of the attributes. Everything is 115vac, 60Hz as well.

From a builder’s perspective, I always want to use the highest quality parts I can find, and then afford. To that end we offer the spark gap two ways. Either installed in the CG35ABE modulator, along with lots of other cool parts like induction voltage regulator (motorized variac), which can either accommodate high or low line voltage or speed up/slow down the spark gap motor. Also included are a large .05uF capacitor and inductor in the spiffy cabinet. The entire assembly comes in a wood crate, nailed shut in 1944, and weighing in at 1460 pounds. We will also sell the spark gap à la carte because we can sell the cabinet and other parts separately. Provided you can handle the weight and space, the whole enchilada makes a fabulous Tesla building base. Mention you read our blog and receive an additional 30% discount off of the full assembly, (EQP) CG35ABEAPS20.


Fistell’s Electronics – Soup to Nuts to 200 Pallets


Side Door to Fistells

Twelve years ago Surplus Sales was contacted by Howard Fistell at Fistell’s Electronics in Denver to possibly buy a lot of T-Bar relays they had in excess. That verbal deal on the phone set into motion our own version of a Pickers operation. Howard promised that if we made the 500-mile trip to Denver, and consummated the relay deal, that I would have an opportunity to cherry pick the warehouse. Not just any old warehouse. A lifetime collection of electronic parts that had started gathering when his father created the business some half century earlier. Howard convinced me to come. I did, and was not sorry.

As the story was told, Fistell’s was one of the very first Master Distributors for RCA vacuum tubes in the country. As the years passed, many new manufacturers were added to the distributorship. Most of this inventory is brand new, US made, vintage, prime parts! A proud dad and three children proceeded to build one of the biggest collections of prime, now vintage, electronic components I have ever seen. And I have seen a lot in my 40 years in this surplus world. I made that initial trip in 2002 and filled up two trucks with what I would say was the cream of the Fistell crop. In the following ten years Howard contacted me several times, trying to lure me back to buy more. Perhaps the whole operation. I couldn’t even imagine. It took both of us many years to put together a plan that could eventually end up in a deal for the whole business. Once we had a framework, I headed out with a light crew, tools, packing supplies and 50 pallets.


Big photo, left, looking out from counter to showroom; top right, classic vintage microphones in glass cabinet; random test equipment; bottom right, the full length of the mile long counter was crowned with 2 shelves of mint classic table top radios.


Front of building

Fistell’s was established in 1936, 77 years ago! The building is located at 1001 Bannock in downtown Denver. If you had ever been to Fistell’s you know it was three floors and packed to the gills with mandatory, narrow walking paths only. Literally packed to the ceiling with no room to even turn around. It took a couple of days to get a grasp of what was there and then, as Howard soon persuaded me, when I thought I had seen everything, under the surface, in every pile, were more treasures. Howard’s ability to convince me that I could not possibly see everything until it was packed and loaded ended up closing the gap between what he wanted and I was willing to pay. Finally, a deal was struck and I instantly went into hyper move mode.


Cigar Time!

I got onto the phone to Omaha and set into motion a larger crew, more supplies and additional clothes for the landing party. It was going to be a couple of weeks of dawn to dusk work to sort, pack and load this collection. We added a dozen temp workers and replaced them one by one as they reached their physical limits.

The building was built in the 19th century and had an elevator that had been there since day 1. The lift mechanism was a chain hoist hooked the middle of the car. As it moved slowly between floors, the car bumped sides of the building. No guide rails here. The owners would allow only one person to operate this relic, Mark Fistell, Howard’s brother. So we worked our schedule around his when it came to the transfer of boxes from the second floor and basement to the dock area on the main floor. Moving material from the basement to the ground floor was hampered. Some number of years ago a modification was made. A ramp was used to move horses to the stable in the basement. When the building use changed, out came the ramp. When we started, the dock area was so jam-packed we had to bring in a 20-yard container. It was filled during the day and by night, the back alley came to life. Scavengers picked through every morsel, taking most of it. By morning we could fill it again. 10 times. Most of this back room treasure was tossed to create a staging area that we could build pallets in. That’s not to say what we had to toss was junk, it was lower grade that had to be cut loose for the sake of our sanity. Slow but sure, on the fourth day, we had our first semi-load. 26 pallets. By days end it was headed back to Omaha. Nine 53-foot trailers would be sent back in the next 2 weeks to wait for our return.


Typical aisles. This one looking to back of store on first floor. Far back room is the loading dock area we had to gut to start the operation.

This was the soup. Display that is. Found buried in the warehouse. A 50’s era Heinz Soup diner display. The can opener was still factory wrapped!

What was cool about this deal is that I was familiar with almost everything in the building. Many of the hottest items we had stocked at one time and sold out of. So, at the least, this would make a perfect restock for merchandise we knew we could sell. 50-60 years of electronics was soon to be discovered and packed, carefully, for the trip back to Omaha. Howard, or Howizard as he lovingly refers to himself, explained that at some point in the 1960’s he wanted to diverge into solid-state electronics but his dad had no taste for such foolishness. So he essentially went out on his own, moved to a different building, and started Fistell’s Micro Electronics. In the next 50 years Howard became the foremost expert on anything solid state. He had probably handled every IC, transistor and diode ever devised and, at the end of the day, had about 1

“The hair on my neck still stands up when I think about what waits for us in these boxes”

full semi truck of excellent, prime inventory to add to this deal we put together. It was the addition of this material that convinced me to take a chance. In this collection you will find anywhere from a handful to a box full, of each part number, of the widest assortment of solid state I have ever seen. And, at the risk of repeating myself, yes, in my 40 years of hunting surplus. The hair on my neck still stands up when I think about what waits for us in these boxes. Yes, as absurd as it sounds, we have sorted only about 2% of this material. The deal hit at a very bad time and we had a backlog of other projects to finish before this inventory process could start. So every day we look at 200 pallets stacked 8’ high of Fistell treasure sitting in every aisle of our warehouse just waiting. That’s about 25,600 cubic feet or a quarter million pounds.

Fistell in Storage

From memory I will go through what I know to be in this load so that you might anticipate what will be filtering onto our website. In no particular order: a complete vacuum tube assortment; Amphenol tube sockets and accessories x 10,000; solid state as complete as anyone can imagine; millions of name brand rf and audio connectors like Amphenol, Switchcraft and Kings; picture tubes and CRTs; a complete collection of phonograph needles and cartridges; mike stands and accessories; a truck load of speakers; (don’t laugh) eight track tape players including a thousand factory new 8 track tapes; museum quality table top radios; vintage test equipment like tube testers; high voltage transformers; projection lamps; panel lamps; wall transformers;

Wall Chargers at Fistell's

Wall Chargers at Fistell’s

quality hand tools (new stock); a full room of antique radio and TV replacement parts; the usual assortments of relays, switches, wire; panel meters; we took only the best of their 1000 pc collection of vintage phonographs and stereo amplifiers; antique telephones and accessories; wonderful high voltage caps of all kinds; builders boxes and cabinets; a full distributor level fuse assortment; and much, much more. Keep an eye on our website and this material will be surfacing.