Ed Harris was a kindred spirit and a fellow collector. Like many of us at
Digital Press, Ed spent a lot of his free time collecting, sorting, and playing
games. Ed’s personal love was the TI 99/4A, but this story could just have
easily been about the Atari 2600, the NES, or whatever your favorite console is.
This story isn’t about Texas Instruments computers; it’s about a universal
passion for collecting that we can all relate to. Ed was a lot like me and a lot
like all of us, which makes it kind of sad that that the first time I saw Ed’s
massive game collection was a couple of months after his death.
|This is just
some of the Texas Instruments items I was given by Ed's brother
Bill. We ate on TV trays for a couple of days after this photo was
In June of 2004 my game collection and I were featured in an AP News article
that appeared in hundreds of newspapers and on even more websites across the
globe. The moment that article appeared, I began receiving dozens of phone calls
and e-mails from both old friends and new acquaintances. Some tried buying
things from me, some tried selling me things, and some just called to let me
know they had seen me in the paper. In fact, just this past week I received a
letter from a lady I’ve never met who saw the article in her local newspaper,
clipped it out, looked up my address on the Internet and mailed the article to
me. These are the things I had in mind when my phone rang on the evening of July
Earlier that day, I had driven from Yukon, Oklahoma to Hutchinson, Kansas to
pick up an arcade game. After eleven hours on the road round trip, my final task
of the day was to unload the game and move it into my game room. A friend and I
had just finished doing that when my phone rang. Fully exhausted and somewhat
cranky, I answered the phone.
The caller introduced himself as Bill and asked to speak with “Robert” (a dead
giveaway that whoever was calling didn’t know me personally -- it’s “Rob”). He
then asked if I was the same Rob O’Hara that had recently appeared in the
newspaper with my game collection. When I said it was, he immediately launched
into a long story about his brother Ed and how much he loved videogames. After a
couple of sentences, Bill asked me if I had time for a story and I told him
rather curtly, “not really.” I explained to him that I was right in the middle
of moving a 300lb arcade game into my game room. He said he understood, and
urged me to call him back when I had some free time.
After I hung up, my friend and I tossed out possible scenarios. Bill sounded
pretty old to me on the phone. Did he want money? Did he want me to donate a
game to his church? Did he need something fixed? Did he want something priced?
Did he want something sold on eBay? We kicked around all the possibilities we
could think of. I put off calling Bill back for a couple of hours, fearing the
worst. Around 9PM, I went ahead and called him back.
The first thing Bill told me was that he was really glad I had returned his
call. Then, he began tell me about his brother, Ed.
Ed died on May 1st of leukemia at the age of 83. In the early 1980’s, Ed fell in
love with the TI 99/4A personal computer – so much so, that he bought one from a
personal contact of his who worked at Texas Instruments the minute he heard
about it. Then he bought another. And another. And another. Pretty soon, Ed had
so many Texas Instruments computers that he didn’t know what to do with them
all. Bill told me he would occasionally buy them and send them to family
members. Once Ed bought a Texas Instruments computer for his sister and sent her
a bill for the money along with the computer. Bill told me she had sent him a
check but had never even opened the computer. For years, Ed scoured thrift
stores and garage sales, looking for TI 99/4A games, programs and random parts,
constantly working on building his collection.
In early 2004, Ed was diagnosed with leukemia and was given three months to
live. One of the things Bill and Ed discussed before his death was what to do
with Ed’s rather large TI 99/4A collection. Initially, Ed’s plan was to donate
all of it back to the thrift stores he had collected so much of it from. The
problem the two of them found (as many of us have also discovered) was that many
of the things he considered treasures were not as highly regarded by others.
Bill told me at one point the two of them had checked TI 99/4A prices on eBay.
Ed was disappointed to see several computers listed for only a dollar or two,
most with no bids. Ed’s backup plan was to pass his collection on to his
grandkids, but in a world of 128 bit game consoles they simply weren’t
interested in the older, classic hardware. Bill said that the two of them even
tracked down a former member of a national TI user’s group. They weren’t
interested in the collection either.
Before Ed passed away, the final agreement between the brothers was to find
someone who would appreciate Ed’s computer collection and simply give it to them
for free. Bill had been on the search for that person when his sister ran across
the AP article that I had been featured in. Based on that article, Bill and his
sister decided that I was the person that would inherit Ed’s collection. As luck
would have it, it turned out Bill lived about five miles from me. Although I
offered to come pick the computers up, he insisted on delivering them. We agreed
to meet at my house the following day at 6PM.
True to his word, the following day at precisely 6PM my doorbell rang. On my
front porch stood Bill, and older man dressed in casual slacks and a white
sleeveless t-shirt like my grandpa used to wear. We made small talk for a moment
in the doorway before heading out to his car to carry in the goods.
|These are just
a few of the sealed games that came in the collection. Texas
Instruments worked hard to balance their software releases between
games, applications, and educational programs.
Bill handed me a box of assorted games, while he carried in three complete TI
99/4A’s – a complete silver one in the box, a complete white one still new in
the box (unopened), and a silver one which was obviously regularly used by Ed.
As I began to thank him, Bill said, “Wait – there’s more.”
I followed Bill back out to his car. In the back seat were two or three paper
grocery bags filled with wires, connectors, joysticks and parts. Next to those
sat plastic grocery bags stuffed with assorted odds and ends. We each grabbed
several sacks and made our way into the house. We tossed everything onto the
kitchen table, which now housed a fairly substantial pile of Texas Instrument
computer odds and ends.
“Thanks for …” I began to say, but Bill interrupted me. “There’s more,” he said.
Back to the car we went. Bill’s trunk was filled with Xerox boxes full of
cartridges, cassettes, cassette players, speech modules, and all kinds of stuff.
After a couple more trips, we had moved the entire collection into my kitchen.
Boxes and bags filled the entire top of my table. More boxes sat on the floor,
next to the table.
I stood there, dumbfounded, looking at the pile of hardware that was now
covering my entire kitchen table. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but
I still wasn’t sure which I had just received.
While talking about Ed’s collection, Bill told me that whenever his brother
would see anything TI 99/4A related in a thrift store or flea market, he would
pick it up “just in case someone else needed it.” I laughed, and then Bill said,
“Funny, isn’t it?”
“Kind of,” I said. “It’s funny because I do the exact same thing, just with
different stuff. I always feel like it’s my responsibility to ‘rescue’ items
from those kinds of places. Every time I see a cheap Atari 2600 I’ll buy it with
the intention of giving it away to someone who wants one. I have a stack of
Genesis units just in case someone ever wants one.”
“What do the people say when you give them one?” Bill asked.
“That’s just it. They never want it. I have half a dozen Atari 2600’s sitting
out in the garage that I can’t give away, and I still buy them because … well,
it’s kind of hard to explain …” I said.
I noticed Bill was looking at me with a comforted but confused smile. I could
tell that Bill never quite understood Ed’s infatuation with collecting Texas
Instruments computers, but I think he began to realize that even though I had
never met him, I did. Whatever he thought, I’m pretty sure he felt that he had
found the right guy to pass the collection down to.
Bill and I made chatted for a few more minutes before he said finally goodbye
and left for home. I waited a few hours to even begin looking through the
mountain of sacks, boxes and piles of treasure. The amount of hardware I had
been given was overwhelming. After my wife and son went to bed, I began going
through every container, sorting, labeling, inventorying and photographing the
In one box I found five or six copies of the game Alpiner. Another held five
copies of the not-so-popular cartridge, “Addition and Subtraction Level 2”. In
all, there ended up being over a hundred loose carts, and at least fifty that
were unopened, still new in their boxes. Two grocery sacks held ten cassette
recorders – two labeled as “good”, four marked “bad”, and four not labeled at
all. There were books. There were manuals. There were magazines and there were
newsletters. There were at least three boxes of joysticks still new in the box,
and three or four more pair of opened ones. A leather pouch held over 100 loose
were also notes; lots and lots of handwritten notes, stashed away in the bottom
of one of the boxes, including handmade lists of all his games written multiple
times. Some pages held bits of BASIC programs. Others cataloged which cassette
tapes held which programs.
To be perfectly honest it seemed wrong to be digging through all this stuff. I
felt like I was raiding a man’s private collection. It made me wonder what
someone was going to think about me after I’m dead and they’re forced to sort
through my collection. Will all my arcade games be kept, sold, given away or
turned into firewood? Some of my console copiers cost me hundreds of dollars –
what if no one even knows what they’re used for or how to operate them after I’m
When I began writing this article, I didn’t know how it was going to end. To be
honest, the original ending was a bit depressing. As I stood in my garage
looking at Ed’s Texas Instruments collection, I realized it was already
beginning to collect dust as it sat there stacked directly next to the Atari
2600’s I couldn’t get rid of either. It kind of bothered me that the final
resting place for Ed’s years of collecting was going to be a corner of my
garage, hidden away in cardboard boxes and grocery sacks. I didn’t want to sell
it and I didn’t want to keep it, I just didn’t know what the hell to do with it!
But then, something pretty cool happened. I met k8track, who was looking for
some TI 99/4A game manuals. And wouldn’t you know, I just happened to have them,
so I gave them to him. For free. And you know what? It felt right. I told my
story to Phosphor Dot Fossils, who said there were some common TI carts he was
looking for – and you know what? I have those too, and he’s getting them at OKGE
this year. That feels right too; and more than that, it feels like what Ed would
One by one, I’ve begun finding homes for Ed’s treasures, giving small items to
people who will truly appreciate them. Instead of trying to find one single
person to “unload” Ed’s collection on to, I’ve begun looking for specific homes
for each item.
Suddenly, my calling (at least with this project) seems to have emerged. While
both Ed and Bill’s Texas Instruments missions are now over, my journey seems to
be just beginning.