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TI-99/4 Origins: Employee Interviews

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My Friend Brett Clark: TI-99/4A Production Tech


Way back in the late 1970s I had this friend and fellow Detroit News paperboy colleague named Brett Clark. One day Brett enthusiastically led me to Radio Shack to see the TRS-80 Model I. This was my first encounter with a microcomputer. I’ll never forget that day...life altering.


We parted ways forever -so it seemed- in 1980 when my Dad’s employer moved our family from Michigan to Arlington, Texas.


Many years later (around 1993) Brett was working for TI in Sherman Texas, and decided to look us up. He located my Dad at his workplace — LTV Aerospace. Dad gave Brett my number. We’ve been in contact on-and-off ever since.


We “shared” some IBM PC games In the mid 1990s, and then kind of lost touch when I got busy in the Air Force, and Brett moved to Allentown, PA.


Brett recently visited my family in Phoenix where I was happy to discover his unusual TI-99/4 background! It was pretty cool to talk about his experiences in Lubbock.


Here’s some of the things we discussed:


Q: How did you get a job at age 20 working as a tech on the Lubbock, Texas, TI-99/4A production line?


A: “My degree was a 2 year tech degree from a school named RETS which eventually changed its name to NIT. A Detroit area tech school. In December of 1982 TI sent Lubbock recruiters to our school as did IBM, Poughkeepsie.


I first passed the technical IBM interview, and was told to expect phase two of the interview with IBM in January, 1983. IBM accepted 25% of the phase two applicants.


The TI recruiter asked me during his interview, “How quickly can you get to Lubbock, Texas?” I don't remember being asked any technical questions in my TI interview. My IBM interview was all technical. I went with TI because they were first to offer actual sure thing employment.”


Note: TI-99/4A production was apparently at full speed so by this time they were scouring the country searching for a significant number of techs to deal with production irregularities.


Q: How quickly did you get to Lubbock?


A: “Two weeks! They paid to haul my P.O.S. car down there. I told them it’d be cheaper to just give me the money it cost to move the car but they insisted on moving my car. I was twenty so who was I to disagree?”


Q: Can you describe the TI-99/4A line?


A: “The TI plant in Lubbock was a facility that had a long straight hallway called a spine with huge rooms called modules which were areas they could manufacture in, each one larger than a gym. They each had a letter A, B, C ...


Module A was where the 99/8 was. Originally it was where the field returns were repaired, they moved that to another building in Lubbock.


Module B...not sure what it was. Could have been Speak n Spells for all I knew.


Module C was the auto insert area where they put in the caps, resistors, and inductors.


Modules D & E were 99/4A lines. I worked in Module E.





Q: What did you do on the TI-99/4 line?


A: “I worked in 2 different spots on the manufacturing line, power-up and final test. Power up was the initial powering of the board

after hand stuff, flow, soldier and inspect.


All the devices except the DRAM and caps, resistors, and inductors were stuffed by hand. After hand stuff it went through a flow solder machine and then a washer which removed flux.


The near-finished boards then went down a belt where people had a certain section to inspect for backward devices and solder shorts and it was fixed there.”


Q: Please list the top problems you encountered with end of line failed 99/4 units.


A: “The two most common failures were chip in backwards and solder shorts. Inspect was supposed to catch them and often didn't. I “fixed” up to 100 units in one eight-hour shift. Once inspect was complete, a person powered it up, if the logo screen did not come up, it went to 2 techs, I was one of them.”


Q: So what other things contributed to a failure to boot?


A: “Backwards parts, solder shorts, a pin bent under or unsoldered, followed by a short, then bad just a bad component. One tidbit: The TMS9900 processor had a TI fab(s) and an AMI fab. The AMI didn't have a big TI logo on it. The quality of the AMI was poor.”


Q: Where was the 9900 fab?


A: “I don't know where TI fab'd the TMS9900.


Q: What can you tell me about your working schedule?


A: “First shift worked 8 hrs with a 30 minute lunch. 7AM to 3:30PM. They stop the belts and gave a 6 minute gap for shift change. I worked 3:36PM to 12:06PM. 3rd shift started at 12:12PM. They did not take a lunch and worked <40 hrs.”


Q: Did you work on QI beige TI-99/4As?


A: “Yes. The beige model was just a cost reduction, no silver bezel. Unfortunately that was the only cost reduction.”


Q: Was there a training program to prepare you for dealing with production irregularities?


A: “They had you shadow experienced guys, some were nice and helpful, a couple were dicks that belittled you like you were stupid. It was basically, “Here...see if you can fix this.”


Q: How did this job help you in your career?


A: “I know being a tech made me a better engineer.”


Note: Brett studied at UT-Arlington while working for TI. He eventually earned a degree from UTA (also my alma mater) in Electrical Engineering. He’s had a very long and prosperous career doing things I can’t even pretend to understand: SOC design, storage solutions, etc. SOC stands for "System On A Chip", which are large, integrated chips which have multiple microprocessors, etc. He’s an active tech geek to this day.


Q: What was one of your most memorable experiences in Lubbock?


A: “It was an overall cool experience as I was able to see manufacturing that isn't done here [in the USA] anymore.”


Q: Did you take any photos of the Lubbock production facility? Where did they bury the rest of the 99/8s?


A: “I don't have any photos of either. I only saw the 99/8 line once, no clue where they ended up.”


Q: What did TI have you work on once the 99/4 line began to wind down?


A: “Near the end they had me repairing the power supply boards which was not enjoyable at all. I was lucky because they retained me and transferred me to Sherman, north of Dallas, after the 99/4 ended.”


Note: Brett has always been one of the hardest working guys around so there’s no doubt his retention at TI had little to do with luck.


Q: Did you do any TI-99/4A work after being transferred to Sherman?


A: “Yes! I installed many internal 32K mods for my friends. I put them in behind the GROM port.”


Brett will be back in November so let me know if y’all have any questions for him.





Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

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Fascinating! I'm curious where Brett ended up at in the Sherman site and how long he hung on there. :)


From a personal perspective, the piece with the Defense industry and also with the Transformer industry got really shaky in the 90s- there was a lot of shakeup from what i understand.

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Is the field opposite where they grow ferrite core memory?


post-31406-0-97273100-1556139995.png post-31406-0-95486100-1556140097.png


Edited by Stuart
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