Stories from a dock worker at Coleco: Dan Weaver


Several days ago I wrote about a short documentary produced by the University of Hartford.   After I posted to my Facebook page, a gentleman name Dan Weaver commented that he worked at Coleco on the loading docks.   I reached out and he filled me in on some stories, photos, and a magazine article that he would like to share with the rest of you.  So, I will let him tell you about his time at Coleco.

“I worked at Coleco in Amsterdam, NY from 1978-1983. I started out as a night watchman, then cleaned offices for awhile and then became the receiving clerk in Building 6.  I was then promoted to Receiver.  On the receiving dock, we unloaded parts and toys that were manufactured elsewhere for Coleco.  Some of the trailers came from overseas and a customs officer had to be present when they were opened up.

After unloading the trucks, we had to count everything to make sure we weren’t getting ripped off.  Then we placed move tickets on the pallets, and fork lift operators moved the goods to the appropriate warehouse.  Sometimes the material was moved directly to the assembly lines, which took up most of the space in the six story building. When Coleco was booming, suppliers couldn’t always keep up with Coleco’s demand for parts. Occasionally, an assembly line was idle because the parts hadn’t arrived. Bosses would get nervous and hound us to make sure the parts got to the assembly line as soon as they arrived.

When Coleco was booming, the receiving bays would be full and tractor trailers would be lined up on Park Street waiting to get in.  Truck drivers would be upset with the delay. I had to go out and calm them down.  I also would have to talk drivers with a full load into letting a trailer with only a few pallets unload first so he could get going.

Sometimes we would have to allow a driver to jump the line because he had parts that the assembly lines were waiting for.

The receiving dock was hot and humid in the summer and cold in the winter.  Our pens would freeze in the winter and we would have to go into the office to get another one while that one thawed out.

Many people think only of the ColecoVision, ADAM computer and Cabbage Patch Dolls when they think of Coleco, but Coleco made many other toys.  They made pinball machines, hand held video games, air hockey games, miniature pool tables, tricycles, wading pools and above ground swimming pools.  Coleco always made a profit from its pools and tricycles, but they sold those lines off to concentrate on the ColecoVision and ADAM computer.  To this day, I can remember the advertising ditty for the Mr. Turtle Pool which went like this:

The Mr. Turtle pool.

The Mr. Turtle pool.

Just jump right in

and go for a swim

in the Mr. Turtle pool.

Coleco allowed employees to sign out toys for the weekend. I remember taking home one of their miniature arcade games, Donkey Kong, and having fun with it.  When we returned on Monday, we returned the game and filled out an evaluation report on it.  A few employees stole games.  There were stories about employees tossing Cabbage Patch dolls out windows to accomplices below.  The game cartridges for ColecoVision and ADAM were small and easy to pocket.  It was much harder to steal a game system or computer.  One employee didn’t steal games, but he presented a forged death certificate so he could get bereavement leave.  He was caught and fired.  Most of the employees, however, were honest and hardworking.

Occasionally, there were accidents.  Right before I started working, a young man put his head inside a blow-mold machine, and it closed on him.  After that, a few employees said the place was haunted by the “headless houseman.”  On another occasion, an employee drove a forklift into the elevator.  Unfortunately, the elevator was on a different floor, and the forklift operator dropped down the shaft to his death.

I remember there being trouble with the power supply for the ColecoVision and ADAM.  They constantly overheated.  They were made in Haiti and an engineer was sent down there to straighten things out.  The engineering and planning departments were located right behind the receiving office so we got to know some of them.

The Greenbergs treated employees well.  They were Jewish, while almost all of their employees were Christians.  They made sure we got two days off every Christmas.  One year, they gave every employee a turkey for Thanksgiving.  They paid fair wages, paid for virtually all our healthcare, gave us two weeks vacation, had a tuition reimbursement program and there were opportunities for advancement.  We were also unionized.

It seems to me that when Coleco sold off their profitable tricycle and pool lines, it was not a good move.  Tricycles and pools may not be exciting, but there is a perennial need for both.  Other toys are faddish.

Coleco was on top of the world in the late 70s and early 80s when I worked there. The place was really jumping.  They were the biggest employer in the county.  People came from 30 and 40 miles away to work there.  Many small businesses in Amsterdam relied on Coleco.  When the company folded, it left a huge hole in the city.  Coleco helped fill the gap when the carpet mills moved out of Amsterdam.  When Coleco went bust, there was no company to takes its place.  Amsterdam has never recovered from Coleco’s bankruptcy.”

Dan collected some Coleco products since leaving the company, here are some photos.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dan Weaver was also kind enough to scan a magazine called Mohawk Valley USA, published by the Noteworthy Corporation.  I converted it to a PDF and rescanned it as a horizontal jpeg image to give  you options on how you want to view it.  The issue is from late 1982 and the author discusses the local history, how good the times are for Coleco and its ColecoVision console.  There are some great photos of the ColecoVision assembly line in the article.

Mohawk Valley USA Winter 1982 PDF

Click to enlarge

This is last part cracks me up.  It’s a story from Dan that he wrote for the Amsterdam Recorder.  It’s about the Cabbage Patch Kids.

It must have been 1982 or early 1983 when a wooden crate from China arrived at the receiving dock of Coleco Industries’ Building 6 on Park Street in Amsterdam, NY. It was unusual to receive a wooden crate.  Almost everything arrived in cardboard boxes which would rub against each other on the long sea voyage and deposit a layer of cardboard particles on the floors of the shipping containers.

A wooden crate meant something important was inside.  Eddie Bubniak and I cut the steel bands and proceeded to take the crate apart with a crowbar.  When we finally opened it, we looked at each other and laughed, and I said one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said, “Who is going to buy an ugly thing like that?”

The ugly thing, of course, was a Cabbage Patch Kid.  What we held in our hands was the prototype of the mass produced version of the Cabbage Patch Doll.  The Cabbage Patch Doll had until then been made by hand and sold for over $100 each.  The mass produced Cabbage Patch Kid would sell for less than half that.

The Kid maintained most of the features of the Doll.  Each was unique, had a name, birth certificate, adoption papers and the doll’s creator’s name, Xavier Roberts, on its rear end.  An added bonus was that Coleco would send the Cabbage Patch Kid a birthday card every year.

Apparently, the doll was so ugly it was cute.  Its appeal and skillful marketing created such a demand that supply could not meet it during the Christmas season of 1983. Coleco became one of Santa’s busiest workshops that year.  The need for employees was so great that elves were bused in from other counties.

Coleco employees and Park Hill residents fought over parking spaces.  The biggest fights, however, were among customers in retail stores.  A woman in a Zayre’s store in Wilkes-Barre, PA had her leg crushed by customers scrambling for a doll.  A video of the event shows the store manager wielding a baseball bat.  5000 people rioted over the Kids in a Charleston, WV department store.

Retailers who couldn’t get enough dolls offered $50 each for them, then sold them for $60.  Family and friends pressured Coleco employees to get them a Cabbage Patch Kid.  Coleco opened a retail store on West Main Street in Amsterdam. Everyday, a slow moving line snaked out of the door and down the street.  Coleco flew the dolls to the United States in Boeing 747s to meet the demand.

According to babylandgeneral.com, by the end of 1983, Coleco had sold 3 million Cabbage Patch Kids. During that year, “The Cabbage Patch Kids Toys go on record as the most successful new doll introduction in the history of the toy industry.  In December, they are featured on the cover of Newsweek.”

Coleco sold 20 million dolls for a total of $540 million in sales in 1984, up from $65 million in 1983.  Coleco’s employment peaked in 1984 at an all time high of 5,000 employees, the same peak the carpet industry reached decades earlier.  Amsterdam’s factories kept Botch’s Lunch, Phelp’s Lunch and the Beeline lunch in business, along with a couple of Park Hill gin mills and the “Roach Coach” that came around at lunch time.

Amsterdam was doing well in the mid 1980s, in spite of its declining population and long gone carpet mills. Its future looked bright.  But all of that was about to end. Coleco’s bankruptcy in 1988, connected in part to the Cabbage Patch Kids, contributed to Amsterdam’s decline.

According to a 1988 NY Times article,“Sales of the dolls soared to a phenomenal $600 million in 1985, when Coleco’s earnings peaked at $64 million, then plunged to $250 million in 1986 as the company lost $111 million.  The company lost another $105 million last year when it was too slow to adjust as Cabbage Patch sales dropped again, to $125 million.”

According to Gary Jacobson, a toy market analyst, what killed Coleco besides it losses from the Adam computer, was “Coleco finally came unhinged when it was seduced into overexpansion by the winsomely ugly Cabbage Patch dolls.”  Industry analyst, Laurie Lively, opined, “The company did not wisely use the profits from the Cabbage Patch dolls to diversify.”

Coleco is gone.  Although not as popular as they once were, the Cabbage Patch dolls are still being made.  Time magazine lists them as one of the 100 hottest toys, and one of the top ten toy crazes, of all time.

These days Dan can be found at his book store in Amsterdam, New York called The Book Hound.  Please visit his Facebook page and give it a Like and hey, if you’re in the neighborhood, drop in the store.  I’m sure he has plenty of books that will fit your taste!  Thank you Dan Weaver for your time, stories, photos and scans!

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“Babydolls to Benefactors: The Coleco Story”


While crawling around the world wide web searching for information about the Coleco ADAM computer, some lost nugget of undiscovered information I hope to dig up, I came across a recently published documentary about Coleco which was produced by the University of Hartford.  It’s very well edited and includes an interview with Arnold Greenberg.  Of course, the subject of my favorite computer came up.  His reasoning as to why it failed may not be the same reasoning why many of us think it failed, but there is some truth in what he is saying.

Regardless, do yourself a favor and watch the video.  It’s only 14 minutes long, which, for the enthusiast like me, is much too short, but for academics looking into what Coleco was, it’s the perfect length.

Letter to Santa & printer woes


Earlier this year I was having some printer issues with my Coleco ADAM computer.  It seems some soldering needs to be done to put some loose stuff back in place on the motherboard inside the printer.  I, being a bit busy and sadly without an iron, realized I had a working printer thanks to Paul Thurrott, a tech writer who gave me his Coleco ADAM.  Once I got everything back in order I took the opportunity to write to Santa for some things I want.  Here’s the video.

Coleco ADAM user profile: William Hicks


Williams Hicks, who most of us call Milli, is what I call a “super-fan” of the ADAM computer.  He doesn’t just use it, he makes games and hardware for this rare system.  On Milli’s YouTube page, you can find his videos on how to repair ADAM computers, revisit old computer magazines and look at some software.  He also has a Store for those necessary ADAM components.  Milli is also working on an ADAM archive which he needs the community to get involved.  He even has his own Coleco ADAM blog.  Lets get to know Milli.

When did you get your first ADAM?

I got my first Adam in 1989.  I was living in Anchorage Alaska and I got the basic system at a garage sale. I then ordered a disk drive, from a company in Michigan I believe, one of the great lake states, but even with that I couldn’t do much.  No local stores supported the Adam and I couldn’t really find software listings in magazines; I only had the single Smart Basic DDP and a copy of Disk Manager.  Eventually the data pack failed from me leaving it sitting on the system when I turned it on (true story, so here is one person it happened to) and I sold the system but I kept the disk drive.  After selling it I went back to using the Atari 8 bit systems that I was really fond of and the following year I had BBS running on an Atari 800 with an 810 drive, an Indus drive that allowed you to daisy chain other drives which I plugged into the drive mechanism in the Adam Disk and used it minus controller board.

In 2015 while on a 500 mile bicycle ride through New England I saw an ad on eBay for a complete system and I told my, at the time, fiance, that I always wanted to get another one.  He surprised me the following month by getting me it for my birthday.  This is still the system I use today, he is 2 years gone but the Adam is still here.

Was it your first computer?

No, back in 1983 when I was in 11th grade I purchased a Timex Sinclair 1000 (the US version of the ZX81 sold in the UK) at the local K-Mart for $99 and the 16k ram pack for another $49.  I also brought a cheap tape deck at the same time and had a complete working system!

This was by no means my first foray into the world of computers; I had been using a number of systems in school that included Apple ][+’s, time share terminals and Commodore Pet’s.  So in a way, the Timex Sinclair 1000 was a step down!

One thing I didn’t get for my Timex Sinclair 1000 was a TV!  So to use it I had to use the family TV or borrow a portable TV from my grand parents!  Over the next year or so the Timex Sinclair 1000 got used less and less because of this and eventually I got rid of it and moved on.

I have literally had over 200 different types of computers in the last 35 years.  The majority of them have been 8 bit.  I will say though, I have never had an Atari ST or an Amiga, on principal.

Did you get schooling on programming?

Depends on your definition of schooling.  Does ditching every class in high school for a semester so I could sit in the home economics department (with the home ec teachers blessing cause she had no clue how to use them) and program on their Apple ][+ considered schooling?  If so then yes, else it comes from actually spending 2 or 3 hours a day almost every day for 20 years just programming for programming sake.  I can program in dozens of Basic dialects, C++, Perl, PHP, Pascal, Z80, 6502, and *86 assembly and many other obscure languages like C–, Visual Dialog Script, Citedel Scripts (a BBS system for CP/M) and more.  Am well versed in the various ROM’s on the 8 bit systems, CP/M, MP/M, MS-DOS and Windows.  In my Windows 3 days I used to write 80286 assembly code to work natively with Windows – that was fun writing programs that are only 2 or 3kb in size when others 100’s of KB or more at the time.  I wrote my first shareware game called OctoTile in assembly for MS-DOS and Windows which I uploaded to AOL in 96.  One person sent me a check, $9.

Are your electronics skills self taught?

Yes, I heat up things and hope they stick.  I can deduce issues, R & R (repair and replace) but I am not a very skilled solderer.  I think repairing computers is not knowing how to repair electronics as much as knowing how the computer works and being able to deduce what can be wrong.  A TV repairman can fix a bad solder joint but can he determine why you get garbage characters on the screen?

Does your interest in vintage computing relate to your career or job?

I have been self-employed since 1997, at first designing websites but for the past 13 years I have been heavily into writing code for psychological testing online using Perl and PHP.  This gives me a lot of free time to pursue my hobbies, such as the Adam.  I can honestly say I have been very lucky to have worked myself to a position where I work an hour or 2 a week and make a very good income.  When I first started I worked 16, 20 hours a day but now I can relax.

You’re working on a power supply to replace the ADAM’s printer, when will it be ready to ship?

I will have the finished model ready by mid-September and if all goes as designed I will be able to ship by end of September.  I have to stop thinking of things to add onto it, ie feature creep.

Are you working on any other hardware or software products?

Hardware I am still working on AViD (Adam Virtual Drive) that lets you plug an Adam Net cable into a PC and it will be seen on the Adam as a disk drive, though the project has evolved into CAPE (Coleco Adam Peripheral Emulator) along the lines of the Atari APE.  Once I am able to get the bugs worked out of communicating at the non standard 62,500 baud that the Adam uses and the standard USB port does not support.  With CAPE you would be able to plug a PC into a bare bones Adam, no printer, no data or disk drives, just a keyboard, and have a full system with printer, 2 data drives and 2 disk drives. These would be emulated by the PC.  Of course you would need a power supply to do this, which I happily can provide.

Outside of the ADAM, what other computer systems fascinate you?

The Timex Sinclair 1000 for its simplicity and the way it forces you to really know what you are doing to get anything out of it.  I also love CP/M systems for their power and the fact that you can know everything about them. This is something you can no longer do with computers, you can not approach them from a programming stand point as an individual programmer with the confidence that you know everything the system will do when you program it.

When you’re not rescuing retro tech, how do you spend your time?

Working on my home in Western PA and bicycling.  In 2010 I quit smoking after 26 years and 2 1/2 packs a day.  To help me get over it I would get on my bike and ride around the block.  8 years later I have ridden over 10,000 miles on bicycle through all of New England and lost 75lbs doing it.  I also enjoy reading SCI-FI and alternate history books.  Harry Turtledove, John Haldeman and Larry Niven are 3 of my favorite authors.

What would you like to say to fellow ADAM computer owners?

This is easy.  Take any and all of the Colecovision cartridges you have and put them away where you can’t see them.  Then put in a Smart Basic tape, disk or image, or if you do not have it, Smart Logo or CP/M with even the built-in ASM.  Then using the manual and / or the internet, write a program.  Start out with Hello World and work from there. Try to make a tic tac toe game, a number guessing game, a simple demo.  Do something to feel how you have power over the computer, that when you sit in front of the keyboard you are “god”.  What you say matters, and if it doesn’t work, there is always the reset button.  And when you are done – take a picture of it and post it online. These days we have the ability to share everything with people who have the same interests.  The Adam and other 8 bit computers give you the ability to understand and actually control technology, don’t use them for entertainment, use them to empower yourself, to increase your knowledge of the computer world we live in.

Peanut Butter contest to win a Coleco ADAM computer?


Every once in a while I will go on Twitter and type “Coleco ADAM” in their search to see what people are discussing when it comes to this computer.  As you may have guessed, it’s usually negative and those making those negative comments almost always never owned an ADAM.  Once in a blue moon, a tweet regarding the ADAM takes me by surprise.  One such tweet is from user Geoff Wozniak.

A contest to win an ADAM involving a peanut butter jar?  When I asked him about this, he responded with:

So now I ask you, the ADAMites, do you know anything about this contest? Do you have some details you can share with the rest of us?  If so, please tell us in the comment section below for others to read.  Thanks!

Coleco introduces ADAM software lines: press release, brochure scans


A few days ago I came across a photo that had me asking questions.  Shortly after, James Notini contacted me.  He sent some documentation which I’m sure fans of the ADAM computer will find interesting.  The first is a Coleco Introduces ADAM Software Lines discussing the 170 software titles coming to the system.   They include video games in this, but it’s clear that some programs never made it to the system.

Mr. Notini also included scans of a few pages of a brochure of the software included in “Home Information Management”  which relates to my post about the photo and mysterious product.   Some of the products discussed came to market and some of those had their product name changed.

 

 

 

 

 

What is that thing in this Coleco ADAM photo?


I came across a photo on Getty Images that I have never seen before.  It appears that Coleco’s CEO Arnold Greenberg is showing off the Coleco ADAM computer at a trade show.  In the background of the image, sitting on a shelf is a package with the ADAM logo.  If I was willing to pay a huge amount of money, I could download a very large image which would most likely reveal what that item is.  I’m not willing to pay that.  If you know that ADAM item, let me know in the comments below.  Thanks!

EDIT: I was looking at this photo some more and you can see that the console is one of the prototype/mock-ups we seen in publicity shots.  The tape drive doors and lack of eject button on top is what drew me to that conclusion.  Perhaps those doors do work or maybe the tape drives are just for show, but still has the built-in word processor.  I want my hands on those prototype models even if they are just empty shells.