Things On My Desk: My Grandpa’s “Lemonaid Loader”

lemonaidloader.jpg

I made a passing reference to “Lemonaid Loaders” (although I spelled it incorrectly), an old mail-order gadget meant to fit in-line from a data cassette tape deck, somehow cleaning up the signal, making failed loads (very common on the TRS-80) less likely. My grandfather Wayne Lemons built them in his converted garage workshop in his home on U.S. Route 65 in Buffalo, Missouri. I even helped him build a few when I was a toddler until it became clear that skill with a soldering iron wasn’t part of his genetic legacy.

Gary Moore stumbled on that post I made and recalled it when he found an old Lemonaid Loader among the detritus of his TRS-80 (Model 1) stash. Being a gentleman, he sent it to me.

I’m so excited to have one, as after my grandfather died most of his workshop got parted out among the family (I have his TRS-80 4P luggable, while I’m told the Model 1 was donated to the Smithsonian, although now that I remember that it seems too odd to be true; I’m checking up on that). Nobody thought to save any of the Lemonaid Loaders at the time — there were just too many around to be thought of as valuable.

My grandfather was a huge inspiration, a man who gave me a love of technology, music, and the joy of being a recalcitrant bastard from the moment I could first think. He built the town’s first radio station by hand. He wrote the “Learn Electronics Through Troubleshooting” manual that was the Army’s basic electronics manual for years (much to the embarrassment of my uncle when he went to West Point). He received a letter from the first television station to broadcast in Kansas City when their transmitter went online; he was the only person they knew of in Southern Missouri who had a television — because he’d built one by hand. He was a writer, a cartoonist, and a musician with his own home recording studio decades before that became commonplace. He was a Radio Shack franchisee. (Nobody’s perfect.)

Most of the artifacts I have of his life were destroyed over the years through neglect and an unfortunate double-whammy of fires, so all I have left of his technical achievements are the textbooks he wrote and this Lemonaid Loader. Which is plenty. So thank you, Gary.

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14 Responses to Things On My Desk: My Grandpa’s “Lemonaid Loader”

  1. Joel Johnson says:

    LarryD: That’s crazy. How did you know my grandpa? (Is your last name “Davidson”?)

  2. PlushieSchwartz says:

    who gives a soldering iron to a toddler?! Well, in the US, that is. In other countries where they make our stuff, I suppose it’s ok.

  3. Not a Doktor says:

    That’s pretty neat. So the Loader itself, can it be used for other things?

  4. Halloween Jack says:

    I think that you win the Cool Grandpa award.

  5. LarryD says:

    Wow… never thought I’d see one of these again. I personally knew the inventor/creator of these things! He made one just for me for my TRS-80 Color Computer.

    I remember Wayne showing me on his oscilloscope exactly what the problem was and how this device addressed the problem.

    I also remember him talking about how he would put in extra parts and seal it all in epoxy so that it couldn’t be reversed engineered. :)

  6. zuzu says:

    I remember Wayne showing me on his oscilloscope exactly what the problem was and how this device addressed the problem.

    Can you recount this for us now?

    I also remember him talking about how he would put in extra parts and seal it all in epoxy so that it couldn’t be reversed engineered.

    Wow, Grandpa Johnson was kind of a jerk. ;)

  7. Joel Johnson says:

    I don’t know if the Loader can be used for anything else. I never thought about that! I’ll plug it into my phone. I hope it doesn’t explode.

  8. David Carroll says:

    I hate to have to tell you this Joel, but “donated to the Smithsonian” is from the same code book as “We gave fluffy to a nice family in the country”…..

  9. dculberson says:

    Thanks for sharing the awesome family history, Joel. One thing I regret is letting my grampa’s work room get stripped out and sold off to family and strangers. I wish I had bought the house and kept that room as a personal museum. too bad I couldn’t afford the house at the time. It sounds dirt cheap to me know when I think about it.

  10. OM says:

    …Holy FRACK! I remember the Lemonade Loaders! One of my friends who had a TRaSh-80 had one, and the damn things actually worked! Radio Shack’s tape drives were crap in that their heads got gunked up even if you farted next to them. The loader significantly reduced load failures by several orders of magnitude. So low that when it happened, it was actually the tape itself that was at fault and not line noise!

  11. Jaycatt says:

    I loved my old TRS-80 (I refuse to call them Trash-80s :P). My family was big into them, starting with a Model I, Level I, upgrading to the Level II, then a Model III, then, yes, one of the Model 4P luggables. I have lots of happy memories playing with that 4P in hotel rooms while my father would be out selling books. I would transcribe sheet music into it using the old Orchestra-90 program. And who could forget the joys of Big-5 Software and the ever popular Scott Adams adventures?

    I never had a Lemonaid Loader, but I had heard about them! With that Model I, it was near impossible to get things loaded correctly, manually tweaking the volume between 6 and 7, just hoping to get the right level. My sister and would take a half hour to try and load “Haunted House”, I remember, and the saved “Fire When Ready Gridley” BASIC program we took so long to enter in from the instruction manual. Good times! Thanks for the nostalgia trip :)

  12. LarryD says:

    Joel: No, my last name is Dorman… though I know Larry Davidson also. :)

    I’m trying to recall the circumstances… I would have been a young teenager at the time; 13-15. I believe I was doing a school project where I had to interview someone in the community. Being a computer geek my dad put me in contact with your grandpa.

    Your grandpa didn’t have a TRS-80 Color Computer to test with so he made a lemonaid for me to try. It seemed to help in only about 10% of the cases so there really wasn’t a market there.

    I really don’t recall the workings of the device anymore, but I would generalize it as basically reducing noise and normalizing the signal.

    Interestingly, the most effective ‘fix’ on the coco was to simply turn the tape player upside down… worked about 90% of the time if there were problems loading a tape. :)

  13. Joel Johnson says:

    That’s really cool, Larry. Most of the Lemons family has moved out of Buffalo now, but I’m still down there every couple of years to go to Lone Rock for Memorial Day and stuff. Nice to meet you!

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