Photos of The Black Hole

The Black Hole

Last May, my brother and I went on a week-long roadtrip across the US.  Ambling down the highway in a very large moving truck, we travelled from California to Texas by way of  Tuscon, Socorro, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, and quite a few rest stops, gas stations, and fast food restaurants in between.

Intoxicated by the chile verde, we spent considerable time in New Mexico, a state that neither of us had visited before.  One of the highlights of our visit to the Land of Enchantment was a side trip to Los Alamos, birthplace of the atomic bomb and home of two major attractions for any electronics geek:

Los Alamos National Labs

Sadly, armed guards prevented us from taking a close look at the Los Alamos National Labs.  Actually, the museum is pretty decent, and includes scale models of Fat Man and Little Boy, some exhibits about radioactivity and nuclear weapons, and a short film about the history of the labs.

Fat Man

The Black Hole

The Los Alamos Sales Company, aka The Black Hole, is a surplus store started in 1951 by the late ‘Atomic’ Ed Grothus, a former LANL machinist turned peace activist.

I have never seen a more fascinating collection of electronic test equipment, laboratory glassware, chunks of machined aluminum, LN2 dewars, bell jars, dusty old databooks, and just plain weird stuff.   Good news: most of it is for sale, although there are very few price tags around and some items are probably in the “if you have to ask…” category.

A controversial Los Alamos institution, it has even been the subject of a documentary, although I haven’t managed to track down a copy (yet).

Here are some photos to give you a taste of what it’s like to wander around The Black Hole:

A geiger counter near the front door clicks away in response to some radioactive source nearby.
Eberline Geiger Counter

One of several aisles of surplus test equipment. You name it, it’s here.

Mmm…  Organic Plutonium!
Organic Plutonium

Anadex CF-300R Timer with gorgeous nixie display.
Anadex Timer Model CF-300R

Racks of vintage test equipment.  Scopes, counters, power supplies, etc.
Racks and electronic test equipment

Period datasheet for the Fairchild uA741 operational amplifier.
uA741 original datasheet

Pan Am hard hat.
Pan Am Helmet

Oscilloscope with permanently attached scope camera.  This is the same setup you see in the pictures of atomic bomb test shacks in books such as How To Photograph an Atomic Bomb, by Peter Kuran.
Scopes with cameras

Honestly, the pictures capture only 1% of what you’ll find here – you have to actually visit to appreciate this place. Oh, and budget an hour or two minimum.  If you enjoy looking at dual trace oscilloscopes and dusty cold war relics as much as I do, you’ll need an afternoon to really do it justice.  If you want to see more, check out my Bradbury Science Museum and The Black Hole albums on Flickr.

By the way, The Black Hole is listed on the Surplus Electronics page of the MightyOhm Wiki.  Is there a surplus electronics store in your city?  Add it to the wiki!

5 thoughts on “Photos of The Black Hole”

  1. Hello Jeffy, if you are still looking for Sharp LCD’s 4L-U4EB I have them available these are new still in the factory packaging…Please advise if you still need these or please forward to whomever was looking for these displays…Thank you,

    Bart taylor
    603-772-7122 ext 223

    1. Bart –

      Thanks for the reply – I found the displays locally and have them tucked away for another project. If I need more I’ll contact you. Thanks!

  2. Ed got most of his stuff at LANL surplus sales that were held every week for a number of years. I don’t think they exist anymore. LANL employees would place many items out on pallets prior to the sale and sometimes mark prices on them. A rope barrier was strung preventing access to the items until exactly 12:00 noon, at which point someone would drop the rope and the race began. Ed and usually a few people that worked for him would always be the first in line, running around frantically with black markers writing “SOLD” and their initials on almost everything. They didn’t care what it was, they just bought everything they could. My grandfather and I (who passed away in December) often went to these sales when I was young. Grandpa was interested mostly in scrap metal for his live-steam locomotive building hobby, so we were in less of a hurry. Los Alamos isn’t what it used be.

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