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.