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.
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.
One of several aisles of surplus test equipment. You name it, it’s here.
Mmm… Organic Plutonium!
Anadex CF-300R Timer with gorgeous nixie display.
Racks of vintage test equipment. Scopes, counters, power supplies, etc.
Period datasheet for the Fairchild uA741 operational amplifier.
Pan Am hard hat.
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.
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!