Desperately Seeking a Brother WP-500

March 9th, 2009 by Editor B

Back in the late ’80s I bought a dedicated word processor. My main criterion at the time was something that seems silly now: I wanted printed output that would be indistinguishable from a typewriter. So I got a Brother WP-500, which featured a daisywheel printer. This enabled me to produce documents that appeared to have been typed the old-fashioned way, but in reality all my documents were saved to 3.5″ disks.

Besides writing papers for college, I wanted to be able to send letters that would seem to be hand-typed, so that I could emulate Bruce West, author of Outrageously Yours. And indeed I got some good pranks out of this machine. But now it appears the joke’s on me.

After years of lugging that old machine from one residence to the next, in Bloomington and then New Orleans, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife, it finally met its end in 2005, when the federal levees failed and the lower level of our house was submerged in several feet of brackish water. Unfortunately that sort of thing tends to have a negative impact on electronic equipment.

I still have the 3.5″ disks with several years of writing stored on them. And that’s where this little tale of woe gets ugly. It seems that Brother used its own proprietary format on these disks. (Apparently this is the case for all of Brother’s models marketed in the United States that have the WP prefix but no suffix, that is, with no letters after the model number.) Although these are standard low-density diskettes with a 720 KB capacity, Brother’s perverted little format only uses 240 KB per disk, which makes no sense at all to me, but there it is.

The upshot is this. I can’t get the data off the disks. They can’t be read by DOS machines or anything on a typical modern desktop. I thought I could just use a more modern Brother to convert them to RTF or some sort of readable file format, but turns out that’s not possible either. Most data conversion companies can’t handle this format. The few that do are prohibitively expensive. $40 a disk is a bit much for me, since I have 20 disks.

It would be cool if I could get my hands on an old Brother WP-500. Then I could at least print these documents out and scan them for optical character recognition. Trouble is, such machines are hard to find. So I’m posting up here as a way of getting started on the search. I don’t necessarily even need to buy one. I’d be happy to beg, borrow or steal — or rent, at a reasonable price. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a WP-500. I think some of the other older models may be compatible. Problem is, I’m not for sure which models those might be.

So — any tips on finding vintage word processors?

Postscript: One may well wonder why I’m troubling over these old files that I’ve obviously been able to live without for so long. Well. Katrina acted as a giant filter on my life. I lost many old documents, making what I’ve still got all the more precious to me.

Post postscript: It seems I’m not the only one in the Crescent City singing the data recovery blues.

87 Responses to “Desperately Seeking a Brother WP-500”

  1. TheNewWazoo Says:

    Any chance you can pull a disk image and make it available for reverse-engineering, or do modern floppy drives not even recognize that there’s anything to read?

  2. Editor B Says:

    Yeah, I wish. I think all DOS can do is reformat the disk. But I will double check this.

  3. Tony Says:
  4. Editor B Says:

    Tony – maybe! I despair of finding any documentation to that end but this looks promising. Thanx.

  5. Duff Says:

    This is a huge longshot, but are there any virtual machine images of a compatible Brother OS? Then, I imagine all you’d need is a disk drive that reads those 240K disks.

  6. Anne Says:

    I have a similar situation. I still have the machine, but the problem is finding INK to print everything out on. Let me see if I can find my machine…I’m not sure if it was a Brother or not.

  7. dsb nola Says:

    I used to have one of those! Well, I’m not sure if I had the exact same version (I got it in 1990), but it was the same basic setup. Alas, I gave it away to some kids a decade later. A friend of my had one though–he lives in Virginia and hasn’t faced any floods, so I’ll ask if he still has his …

  8. Brenda Helverson Says:

    I have a Brother WP 700D that you may have for free if it will do the job. AFAIK it works OK and has very little use on it. Drop me an email if you are interested.

  9. Robyn Says:

    I very well may have one. It’s in my mother’s closet, and I’ll be there this weekend. You see my e-mail address even tho it’s not posted, right? E-mail me and we’ll figure something out.

  10. Robyn Says:

    I was searching for an image of the brother wp-500 to confirm that that was indeed my model, and I found this, which may or may not be helpful:
    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=50632

  11. Granny Dee Says:

    I have one for you—email me….

  12. dsb nola Says:

    My friend no longer has his–but it’s looking promising in the other comments … good luck.

  13. Editor B Says:

    I called Brother this afternoon and they told me the only compatible models are the WP-500, WP-550 and WP-610. Only those three from the hundreds of models they’ve manufactured. Sucks.

    But Scott at Pivar Computing Services in Illinois said he’d give me a decent rate if I send him ten or more disks. They actually reverse-engineered the Brother formats twenty years ago and are probably closing shop soon. So if I don’t find one of the above-cited models soon I’ll scrape together the bucks for that. It will save me the print/scan/OCR hassle.

  14. candice Says:

    I am reasonably certain that dos can read this kind of floppy, but not positive – wordperfect 5.1 used to be able to read a myriad of word processor formats and half the girls’ dorm used to print/edit their papers in my room in high school. Friend of mine had one that I could open her files.

    Also, Linux or any unix for that matter can just read the straight bytes off the floppy into an image, and these formats are generally all wrapped ascii of some sort – probably not that hard once you get down to it. (I say this as I am studying for a test in reverse engineering – assembly language and old viruses!)

  15. Anthony Says:

    I am having the same issue with an old Amstrad wp that used something called locoscript and very proprietary 3 inch discs. The drive went dead and I haven’t had the time to crack it open and see if I can replace it with a rubberband. It has everything I wrote for about 5 years in the late 80s-early 90s. I’m either going to have to fix it all and scan it all back… or find a way to convert the output to serial and just convert up and up and up.

    Wish i could help you with your issue.

  16. Editor B Says:

    Oops, I got the model numbers wrong above. It’s the WP-500, the WP-510 and the WP-650 that are compatible.

    Also, Candice, I am not very optimistic about DOS or Linux being able to read these disks. Check out this discussion on comp.sys.ibm.pc.hardware.storage. Here’s the relevant poop:

    There were several 3.5″ Brother disks that are completely non standard. You will not read them at all with standard disk controllers. One had 1296 byte sectors and another had 12 x 256 byte GCR sectors. The only way to read them is either on the original Brother system or a mult-media disk converter, such as InterMedia/Lynx Converter, or Shaffstel….

    There is actually a second way: Use a disk-scanner (I build one way back, that read floppies at a 4MHz digitizing rate) and then a software decoder. A lot of effort, as I do not think you can buy this. Just mentioned for completeness.

    And this sort of jibes with my other research. Most companies that offer data conversion for Brother won’t do my type of disk. This is their bread and butter, so I can only assume if it was halfway easy they’d do it.

    One thing’s clear. Proprietary formats suck! But we knew that already.

  17. candice Says:

    That’s complete madness about the disk controllers. That seems like it would be prohibitively expensive to manufacture – Brother would have been paying many times the cost of a normal disk drive to have the hardware work “wrong.”

    Linux is pretty forgiving with just straight bytes and no filesystems – if it is that kind – dd even accepts sector size as an argument – like on tapes – you’d still have to reconstruct the files because the organization of it would be an issue. In theory you could get all the text back, but not what parts go with what without knowing the disk filesystem format.

  18. mominem Says:

    http://www.file-convert.com/wpt_ff.htm

    May do it, there is a free trial download

  19. Lee Says:

    Shoot one of those disks my way B! If I can’t crack it, I’ve got a friend who lives for this sort of thing.

  20. robyn Says:

    Booooo. I just checked out my old Brother that was living in my mother’s closet, and it’s the wrong model. I WP2200 to be exact.

    I hope you can find a solution!

  21. bullet Says:
  22. b.rox » Blog Archive » The Mania for Documentation Considered as a Disease Says:

    [...] those Brother WP-500 disks I mentioned a while back? I was unable to find a compatible machine to actually read and print the [...]

  23. Carole Says:

    I have a Brother Word Processer 500 for sale. It uses an MFD60 disc. I haven’t used it for a while, but I turned it on and typed a little and it appears to be in fine working order. Are you still interested in this model? I am a private individual, not a store or refurbisher. Carole

  24. Editor B Says:

    Carole: Thanks so much for taking the time to contact me. Alas, you come too late — I paid a data conversion company to recover the files. Thanks anyway

  25. Judy Says:

    I have one, too, if anyone wants it!!! It’s not for sale either, it’s free!

  26. Rosemarie Says:

    I have been using my Brother WP500 regularly since I bought it about 1985. It was a marvelous machine. It burned when my house was completely destroyed on June 6, 2009. Also, all discs and tapes burned completely when my whole house burned down in a very hot fire. My beloved black LABRADOR was killed by the smoke.

    I’m sorry, for you could have run your discs on my machine. I desperately want another one if one can be located. For anyone who needs to know, the tapes can be purchased at Office Depot and the discs can be ordered from Brother. Brother has not made the machines for years. Thanks for your help. Rosemarie

  27. Rosemarie Says:

    Please notify me by email if you have a Brother WP 500. Mine burned in a horrible fire. Thank you.

  28. Rosemarie Says:
  29. Reece Says:

    I got my Brother WP 500 in 1988 and stored many family stories on the 3.5″ floppies. Today I retrieved it from the closet to print them out and discovered the disk drive won’t read the floppies anymore. Any Solutions?

  30. Doug Reid Says:

    To Reece;
    I’m sure it hums away without doing a thing? If so, I have a new floppy which is the answer. Mine burned a circuit board. Will trade shipping, labor, ink, time and postage to print out your old disks if you are willing to part with the base machine which has a good board and screen. Write me back. I can repair yours and poetry that my disks have held hostage for several years.

  31. Fredd Colletti Says:

    HI!

    I found one at a flea market and have not tried it extensively. It does power up and show the words you type on screen. Beyond that, i don’t know. Interested?

    Sincerely,
    Fredd

  32. Editor B Says:

    Fredd: Thanks so much for taking the time to contact me. Alas, you come too late — I paid a data conversion company to recover the files. Thanks anyway.

  33. DarrenG Says:
  34. Capt Rat Says:

    Does anybody know where there’s a Brother WP 55 for sale cheap?
    Maybe free to loving home?

    Editor B, I have some friends who are REALLY good at data conversion. I’m going to have to depend on their help, as I now need a digitial version of my MA thesis. The only printed copy I have is bound, and the disks are all 3.5. Some of this particular thesis was done on a WP55, and some was done on a Brother 3900 DS, which is DOS compatible.

    We moved to Mississippi, where I got a full-time position teaching college, from Florida. My husband left both my WP 55 and my 3900 DS in a garage near Orlando.

    If I were to try paying someone for data conversion, I’d be in trouble, as I’m a writer, and I have hundreds of 3.5 disks.

    When (hopefully not “if”) I get my thesis disks converted, I’ll let you know how it was done.

    Capt Rat

  35. Keith Says:

    I have a WP 510 with accessory kit. works perfectly. Heavy to ship though.

  36. Capt Rat Says:

    I don’t think any other Brother WP can “speak” to a WP 55. Talk about a dysunctional family of “brothers!”

    The 55 is really simple, but it’s a real workhorse of a word processor. I’ve found most of the disks I need, and I’m going to get a friend who’s really computer language savvy to help me.

    Thanks.

  37. Douglas Reid Says:

    Hey Keith;
    How much for the machine. Shipping is what it is and won’t get cheaper.

    Regards,
    Doug

  38. Keith Says:

    Doug, I have this listed in some publications as vintage tech for $60.00. This pretty much covers buying packaging and effort to package and ship.
    Actual shipping costs would be additional.

  39. Doug Reid Says:

    Dear Keith;
    If the machine does, in fact, work, and the rubber band which drives the floppy still turns and reads a disk, the price is superb. As I stated earlier, shipping is what it is. contact me directly at [email protected] Once we get past a direct contact, I’ll send you a telephone number to sort final details, possibly a PayPal instant payment and probably sweeten the pot so we both walk away happy.

    Regards,
    Doug

  40. Schwa Says:

    Hi. Are you still looking for this? I have one if you are.

  41. H Reel Says:

    I have a Brother WP 55 that works just fine, has a 2 wheels, print and cursive, I’m willing to depart with, as long as I dont have to pay shipping, make me an offer

  42. Capt Rat Says:

    It’s a WP 55 I need, actually! I would LOVE to get this from you.

    At present, I am trying to make $300 last until the end of August, & the utility bill hasn’t even arrived yet. I assure you, those folks will want far more than $300 (small town; private, for-profit utilities company). I’m on temporary disability. I thought I’d have an insurance settlement by now from a wreck that happened 3 years ago, but it’s been postponed AGAIN.

    What would you be willing to take for it?

  43. Russ Beckett Says:

    I’m a doctor, and I need to locate a Brother WP-500, WP-510, or WP-650 to get important information off of several floppy discs. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  44. William Coleman Says:

    I have a WP 55 Brother word prossesser that I would like to sell.
    If interested send Email to above address.

  45. Russ Beckett Says:

    Thanks for your reply, but my research tells me that the WP-55 will not work with the discs that were created on my WP-500. The only machines that will work are the WP-500, WP-510, and WP-650. I’m still looking for one of these 3 machines. If anybody out there can help, please contact me at [email protected]

  46. Mark R. Says:

    I had a brother word processor around 1988. I know for sure it was called an “Opus” I think it was the wp510. Can anyone confirm this? I recently bought an old brother wp2400, but my old discs won’t work in that or my pc either. Also, does anyone know if the discs frm a wp510 would work in a wp500? if they do, i may be in touch w/ someone who is willing to part with it.

  47. Robert Nichol Says:

    I have an original to me Brother WP-55 in great condition, if anyone might be interested in making an offer. Reach me at my address.

  48. Database Dave Says:

    I have a WP-500 in new condition except that the disc drive will not read, write, or format a disc anymore. I pulled it out of the closet last week and was surprised at how nice the print quality is. Just can’t save files.

    If you are desperate enough to pay for shipping (this thing is heavy!), or if you live in the Seattle, WA area, it is yours for free.

    I think there is a way to arrange for shipment where you could call the UPS store in my area and pay the shipping directly to them, thereby avoiding the fear of getting ripped off.

    I will keep this thing around for the month of July 2011, and then I’m going to give it away to some old person who can use it as it is. So if you are interested, contact me now: z o m g l o h o t m a i l . c o m

  49. Database Dave Says:

    I forgot to mention there are shops that repair these disk drives. Of course, that means shipping it twice. $$$

  50. Dan Thorpe Says:
  51. Jamey Says:
  52. Jamey Says:

    I might sell it…or hold onto it for another 10-15 years and sell it then! :) Who knows. It could be a good, long-term investment!

  53. Robert Nichol Says:

    My unit has just sold. Thanks!

  54. Ruth Says:

    I have a Brother WP 500 works great, missing the latch is all that is wrong with it, so if careful when moving it, no problem. I live in Manitoba Canada, if anyone is interested.

  55. Owen Chastain Says:

    There is a WP-55 on EBay.com now… Google “brother word processor history” to find the unit that was featured on Pawn Stars.

  56. Steve Says:

    Hello Ruth, I am interested in purchasing your WP500. How much are you asking?

  57. Jamey Says:

    I’ve been offered $100 for my wp-5500 but I just think its worth more…or will be. I could also make an easy $100 doing data recovery for thousands of people in these forums. Anyone have a better offer? I’d be willing to print your data in the meantime…$25 per disk. 423.723.5656

  58. Jamey Says:

    WP-500 I meant

  59. RUTH Says:

    I want $50.00 CAD

    Where you are and how you will I be able to get it to you?

    I am in Portage La Prairie Manitoba.

  60. Steve Says:
  61. Alice Long Says:

    What I need is an old Brother WP 55 and a WP 3900 DS. Both my old word processors were left behind by accident in a move from FL to MS back in 2003, & I CANNOT open any 3.5 diskettes without the word processors that created them.

    Some of the 3900 DS (which is DOS-compatible) ended up on a Brother “Notepad,” which still used 3.5 diskettes. I got a lot of that data into Microsoft Word.

    But NOTHING will open any diskette’s data from a WP 55.

    Anybody out there know of one?
    Thanks!

  62. Alice Long Says:

    Is H. Reel still out there on this link? If so, you said you had a Brother WP 55 that worked perfectly, but it was back in the summer of 2010. At that time, my wealthy father-in-law had just died, and Stepmom–StepMONSTER, as we now call her–stole his entire estate and evicted us from our house . . . that HE bought! I had less than nothing that summer.

    I’m a bit more back in the black these days. IF you’re still there, H. REEL, please contact me re: your perfectly working WP 55.

    Thanks.
    Captain Rat (Alice Long)

  63. aaron Says:
  64. Rick Says:

    we have a WP-650 that we are having too much fun with and everyone is gawking at it like its an alien from mars, but it has a floppy drive and screen and it prints.

  65. Dale W. Says:

    I have a WP-510 up for sale on eBay. Just look on eBay for the item, it’s the only one on there. Thanx. Dale W.

  66. LongBeachMike Says:

    Hi there -

    We’ve got a Brother WP-55 that we’d love to get into the hands of somebody who wants it. Please email me at [email protected] if you are interested or reply to this thread.

    Also, to the owner of this site, if you’d like me to try to recover your data, I’m pretty confident I should be able to pull the data off of those disks for you. Or I can at least point you in the right direction. I’ve recovered a lot of lost data in my past : )

    Mike

  67. Gilbert Endrizzi Says:

    Am in desperate need of a WP-55 Brother word processor. Please respond if you can help.

  68. Amanda Hutto Says:

    I have one of these vintage word processors that works still. Anyone interested Pps send an email. Thank you

  69. Terry McGill Says:

    I am seeking a Brother machine to read 720K disks from a Brother DP series machine. I think they are from a DP-540CJ. I still have the Brother conversion software.

  70. Amanda Hutto Says:

    I have this machine that i would like to sale if anyone is interested in getting.

  71. Terry McGill Says:

    Amanda, which exact Brother model is your machine?

  72. Mary Says:

    I had one of these and it got me through college. I loved it because it was so simple to use and had a built in printer. Maybe brother or another company should re-work the idea and put out a new version — just for writers. Mine went through several family members and was lost but just the other night on the History channel’s Pawn Stars show, a customer brought one into the shop and they gave him 20 bucks for it (that was all they would offer even though t still worked like a dream!). You may be able to contact them either at their Gold & Silver Pawn shop in Las Vega, NV or through the History channel website. It is my understanding that the Pawn Shop DOES ship items all over the country so it may be worth the call to see if they still have it hanging around.

  73. shaun mccormick Says:

    I know someone who has one, working who is looking to sell.

  74. Amanda Hutto Says:

    The model is Brother WP-500

  75. Gilbert Endrizzi Says:

    Am still looking for a WP-55 Brother Word Processor. How do I get in touch with Shaun McCormick?

  76. william r ryan jr Says:

    have a wp500 brothers hardly used been sitting in this shed 8 yrs will sell if any 1 interested in box have no idea what is in there

  77. Mark Says:

    Amanda, Do you still have your machine? What model is it? and how much do you want for it?

  78. Mark Says:

    Amanda, what model is it? And how much do you want for it?

  79. Gilbert Endrizzi Says:

    This is a repeat distress call for locating a WP-55 Brother Word Processor. Desperately needed.

  80. Amanda Hutto Says:

    Yes i do still have the machine. Im not sure what to ask for the machine. Make me am offer i suppose. The machine is just sitting in storage so i would be glad to sell it to you

  81. Gilbert Endrizzi Says:

    Amando:

    Delighted with your response. Please get in touch with me by telephone, which I believe is the quickest and best way to proceed.

    (715) 423-5732

    Gib Endrizzi

  82. Editor B Says:

    Gilbert, I believe Amanda was responding to Mark about a WP-500, not the WP-55 you seek.

  83. Amanda Hutto Says:

    I was responding to Mark as well i believe. I will try to clear up the misunderstanding. I have a Brother WP 500. The machine does work & im willing to sell this machine if someone who would like to get it. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  84. Gilbert Endrizzi Says:

    I simply won’t give up. Someone out there has a WP-55 Brother Word Processor that os seeking a good home. Please, please let me hear from you!

  85. Ken Says:

    I have one that works. i was in the same situation but was able to get mine repaired. i have since printed all my data and scanned it into PDFs.

    it’s now just taking up space in my garage.

    e-mail me and i’d be happy to work something out.

  86. Jason Says:

    Are you still looking? I have a Brother professional daisy wheel word processor, “wp-5750ds”, with the original box, packaging, and manual. All still works – just tried it today.

  87. mark r Says:

    I have a wp 3900 ds are you still looking for one?

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