Saga of the Mac IIvx and the Miniature Horses

Old Macs hold many charms, for both their original owners and Macintosh collectors. However it’s risky to run your business on decades old computer technology. A recent combination of a working Mac IIvx, an electrical storm with nearby lightning strikes, and a subsequent flashing question mark at startup were all the ingredients needed for a Vintage Mac Crisis.

miniature-horseThe IIvx had lovingly been in use for over two decades by its original owner, keeping track of her farm which breeds miniature Falabella horses. The Mac held years worth of business, breeding and medical records, and the system hadn’t been backed up in over five years. Some panicked calls and emails followed, could I help save the Mac and the data?

I received the system a few days later, blew out lots of dust, and removed the hard drive. In an external SCSI enclosure I found that the drive spun up – a good sign – but that was about it. It wouldn’t mount on the desktop, and no volumes could be found.

The versatile SCSIProbe desk accessory showed the disk showing up as a device, but without any logical volumes. This is where the user data lies, so it meant the disk directory was damaged, possibly unrecoverable.

I tried to fix via everything I had: Disk First Aid, Drive Setup, Norton Utilities (several versions), DiskWarrior, APS PowerTools, repeatedly rebooting with drive connected, trying the drive on a second Macintosh, etc., etc..

After two hours I was ready to recommend a drive recovery service. I decided to try one final reboot using the old Anubus Mounter utility and its option to force-mount volumes at startup. Restart and this time I heard some extra drive activity from the disk. Then voila! – the volume appeared on the desktop. Wow! There’s usually only one chance at this, so I immediately copied all data to my work drive. I’m amazed it worked.

It was now nearly midnight, so I called it a night. The next day the drive again wouldn’t mount on any system. It had shown one last burst of life to save the Miniature Horses. Very poetic – and extremely lucky!

Having a copy of the files was the most important thing. The next request was could I get the IIvx working again? Using my PowerBook Wallstreet running Mac OS 9 I formatted another old SCSI hard drive as HFS standard. The included Drive Setup does not support these ancient disks, so I used APS PowerTools instead (I always liked that software). Once formatted I copied over the IIvx data and original System 7.5, reinstalled in the old system, and rebooted.

Chime, happy Mac face, disk activity, then Bing Bong Bang Bong – the Chimes of Death. Single tones during startup mean a hardware problem on these old Macs. I switched off and repeated several times, pulled the battery, reset the PRAM, no help. I pulled the added RAM in case that had gone bad and just used the motherboard memory, same problem. Something else had failed on the IIvx, just replacing the drive would not be enough.

My client was disappointed but understanding. We switched the job at this point to data conversion.

The important data was in two programs, an old application called Address Book (not the Mac OS X version) and Microsoft Works 2.0. I was able to convert everything to MS Excel .xls and MS Word .doc formats, but not easily. The Address Book data could be exported as tab-separated text files, and then imported into Excel. The MS Works data proved trickier, very few other programs can read this. Eventually I found that the amazingly useful MacLinkPlus can read these legacy files and save them as Word or tab-separated text files. From there I could manually convert to Excel again, and get all the data returned in useable formats compatible with modern Macs.

My client is very relieved, and now well aware of the need to keep regular backups and use newer computers for important business operations. But their love for old Macs is still strong, and they are going to find another Mac II to get working again on the farm.

How’s that for brand loyalty?


Leave a Reply