Just how much does it take to break a Macintosh SE?

or: the story of Crusty, the indestructible Mac


Crusty Working

Click here for the photo directory!

THIS JUST IN: Crusty has been featured on Hackaday, Hacker News, and Lobsters!

Here's some wonderful feedback from our new fans!

"As others have said, given the rarity of these machines, it's just sad to see them mistreated. One day there won't be any left, and stuff like this only makes that day come sooner." - ryankrage77

"Like torturing a puppy for entertainment. I had to stop reading." - masto

"I generally never understood why those Americans love destroying things so much." - Joshua

"This is sad and disturbing. I'd be a bit concerned and wary of the mental health/behaviour of the man who did this." - thelastparadise (author's note: don't worry, it's bad!)

"TIL that Old Bay also makes a flavored vodka...I don't know how to feel about that." - throwup238 

"It's a Mac. I say he didn't go far enough!" - encom 

"I hope the next time you bring this insult out in public someone kicks your ass and rescues it for someone far, far more deserving. You have no respect. You have no honor. You are everything wrong with humanity and I earnestly wish that you would proactively cease to participate in the human race going forward." - stevev96


The vintage computer community is full of people desperate to tell anyone within earshot about how helplessly fragile old electronics are. I so often read about people preaching the virtues of always wearing an ESD bracelet, never using anything less than distilled water for cleaning, and how in general I should treat anything old with extreme respect, lest I upset the delicate and fragile electrons inside.

Crusty is my middle finger to these people. Crusty is my ticket to eternal torture once AI takes over and robots take claim of the Earth. Crusty is the result of two years of pure hell inflicted upon a poor, hapless Macintosh SE that has begged for death at every stage and yet has consistently been deprived of it. Crusty has been dragged, kicked, buried, submerged in creek water, dunked in alcohol, battery bombed, washed with dish soap, hand soap, body wash, conditioner, Old Bay Vodka, and multiple types of solvents - yet, it still turns on, and still proudly displays a floppy disk icon.

Crusty is crusty.

But what's his story? Let's start from the beginning:

VCF East 2021 (Oct. 8-10, 2021)

The Birth of Crusty

Even if I'm not necessarily exhibiting, I get up to shenanigans at pretty much every VCF show - in 2021, it was Crusty. My good friend Mike (aka RadRacer203) had brought a few compact Macs he'd purchased from his scrapper guy for us to play with, and we quickly determined that they were a little bit rough. There was a nasty SE/30 with lots of cap corrosion damage that I believe got sold off to someone else, and a pair of SE's. The first SE kinda sorta worked but had a bad flyback and would eat horizontal output transistors - including a massively over-rated transistor we pulled from a 19" VGA monitor that was yanked from the free pile for parts - so it ended up as a yard ornament (and, two years on, is now completely factory white! Sun retr0briting does work! :) ). The other SE was...dire.


Mike mentioned that the scrapper guy had told him it had been left outside for around six months prior, and once we opened it up, that became pretty obvious. The battery had leaked and destroyed its corner of the board (and chassis!). The garbage original MiniScribe hard disk was completely seized, and the floppy drive was similarly rusted solid. Without much to lose, we yanked the battery out and washed the logic board with soap and water - we had a laugh over some beers and thought, "hey, let's see if it explodes if we plug it in!"

Isn't that neat? And just like that, Crusty's fate was sealed.

Phase 1: Burial (~6 months)

Crusty's first test: burial in a ~3 foot shallow grave. I was gonna make some kind of "planting the Apple seed" joke here, but I'm not clever enough.


Note that, as Crusty is an SE HyperDrive model, we ended up swapping out the high-density ROMs and IWM for a standard 800K set, just because they'd be useful in another machine...we're not monsters! Everything else was buried as-is.

Six months later - the unearthing:


(thanks to Mike for all of these photos)

VCF East 2022 (Apr. 22-24, 2022)

Mike and I exhibited at VCFE 2022, with our topical "Unusual Macs" display. On Sunday, he dragged Crusty in by the trash bag, still soaking wet and covered in mud:


I don't know what I was expecting, but it was somehow worse.

Unfortunately, I don't have very many pictures of the excavation process. The inside was nasty, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be:

Although the I/O ports and everything else exposed to the elements were pretty much trashed, the inside was remarkably well preserved. Perhaps we should consider burial as a form of long term storage for our collections? :)

I tried my best to keep everything as-is, but the dirt was still wet, and it was pretty obvious there was no chance of it working as-is. The logic board got another wash in the sink and I hosed the back of the analog board off with alcohol to try to get as much of the moisture out as I could. I also took the RAM sticks out and sanded down the contacts - they'd tarnished pretty considerably.

With bated breath, I flipped the gross feeling, full-of-dirt switch in front of an audience of amazed (or perhaps dismayed?) onlookers:

Isn't that neat?

Phase 2: Submersion (Creek Water - ~8 months)

Clearly we needed to up the ante. Crusty was laughing at our pitiful attempts to kill it - it didn't even need a single thing fixed after being buried for half a year! Mike had a brilliant idea - his property had a creek on it, and he could dunk it in there for almost a full year until the next VCF! We laughed, and the plan was set.


Ultimately, Mike extracted Crusty in late fall, out of fear the creek freezing over would end up totally destroying the system and ruining the whole project (besides, the creek had all but dried up by then). But fear not, it made for some great photo opportunities!


(thanks again to Mike for all of these photos - note the leech on the side above)

VCF East 2023 (Apr. 14-16, 2023)

By the time VCFE 2023 rolled around, Crusty was getting popular. All the YouTubers that frequent VCF events had heard about it, and the crowd of people witnessing the spectacle got pretty large. Everyone wondered if being submerged underwater for almost a full year would be the final end to Crusty - or would it live again? Many people assumed the CRT would be ruined by the water, or that things would be so badly corroded it would end up having too many problems to fix.

No trash bags this year. But Crusty was looking rough.


(Oh, yeah, we started having YouTubers sign the back shell.)

The creek was really hard on Crusty. The rust was so severe that a few people unfamiliar with the lore actually thought we burned the machine. And I don't blame them. It was baaaaad.

I decided to work on it outside this year - the venue was less than pleased about the dirt staining Crusty had left last year. I suppose that was a good idea, because it meant I attracted a pretty sizable crowd who very eagerly watched along!

The work I did was mostly a repeat of the previous year, cleaning the boards to try to get any conductive crap off, re-sanding the RAM contacts, etc. Thanks again to Usagi Electric, who kindly lent me his entire tool bag after only having met me 10 minutes prior. :)

With the crowd watching on, I slowly reassembled Crusty and eventually gained the courage to apply power. I'd left the power switch in the "on" position before the machine was submerged in the creek to hopefully preserve the contacts, so as soon as I plugged in the extension cord, it was gonna be live.


Nothing. Crusty had finally succumbed.

First Failure - Power Supply

So, what broke?

The machine was TOTALLY dead. It didn't even make noise or smoke (thankfully). All signs pointed to a power supply failure, and a quick multimeter check verified there was absolutely zero output. I quickly yanked it out to study - maybe the fuse blew, or something obvious?

After lots and lots of cleaning, the point of failure revealed itself. It wasn't anything catastrophic - all of the switching elements were OK, the fuse was good, and nothing had actually failed due to us applying power. In fact, the only problem appeared to be the fact the bank of very small 1/8 watt resistors in the feedback circuit (in the top right of the above photo) had actually started rusting off the board. Unfortunately, that was a show stopper. I didn't bring parts, and our attempts to secure a working donor SE supply from the VCFed warehouse failed when the machine they produced, tagged "working" as of 2018, had a dead power supply as well!

Unfortunately, this meant I had to give up on Crusty for the remainder of the show. We'd lost the battle, and unfortunately lots of potential fun YouTube content for the many creators videotaping our insanity, but the war was not over! Mike and I decided we'd regroup at VCF Midwest, and try our hardest to resurrect it for the biggest (and best, in my opinion) show of the year!

VCF Midwest 2023 (Sept. 9-10, 2023)

VCF Midwest - the party's just begun!


Mike and I came prepared for Midwest. We were both driving a dozen (or more) hours to make it, and we didn't want to waste our opportunity to have the worst exhibit at the show! Mike brought a spare, probably-working power supply and another entire working Mac SE, and I brought all my tools, plus enough alcohol to put an Irishman under the table (maybe not...but humor me :) ).

Except for one thing. I forgot solvents of any kind. And the best alcohol I had on hand was...Old Bay Vodka.

And I really needed to clean the logic board.


It took a while to dry, being only 60 proof vodka and all, but it legitimately worked. And also made the board smell intensely like Old Bay. A fitting quirk for a machine that spent so much time underwater, don't you think?

(Author's note: Old Bay Vodka tastes like if you mixed Old Bay with hand sanitizer. The bottle is $20, seriously, it's not good...except for in a Bloody Mary mix. Don't be like me and drink it raw, it sucks!)

After a bunch of pre-emptive cleaning, we put the machine back together with Mike's spare power supply. Unfortunately, we'd handed off the original to someone who claimed he could have it running by Midwest, and who then never actually showed up (we still don't know where the supply is)...so we're cheating, but out of necessity. :(

Not expecting much, we plugged it in and flipped the switch. What's the worst that could happen?


It's actually trying to work!

Amazingly, the analog board worked practically as-is. There were a couple dirty pots, and some cracked solder joints on the main power connectors, but everything else is completely untouched. The CRT and yoke were also fine, even after having been underwater for almost a full year!

Even the fan spun up!

The logic board was sad, but trying to work. The CPU appeared to be executing code based on the fact it was almost getting to a sad Mac.

With a borrowed 'scope, soldering iron and a working SE donor board from our good friend Avery, who happened to be exhibiting across from us, I got to work trying to shake Crusty back into working again.

I found multiple problems. The plating on the RAM contacts had entirely dissolved, so I swapped in a good, clean set from the donor. The RAM slots are in terrible shape, but I cleaned them up the best I could, and verified most of the connections to the RAM sticks with a multimeter. The CPU clock crystal was very intermittent (probably damaged from water ingress) and not outputting a clean clock signal. It was summarily replaced with the crystal from the donor board. I also found out that both the BBU and its socket were highly unreliable; I initially thought it was just the socket, but the chip itself proved unstable when swapped into Mike's working SE. It also got replaced.

After hours of chasing my tail isolating all of the separate faults, and driving myself nuts with my very limited knowledge level on digital logic troubleshooting, I threw the power switch for what was probably the millionth time, not expecting much. But...


Crusty lives again!

I couldn't believe it. The machine actually booted and made it to the disk icon. There were further problems in the IWM/floppy circuit, since it seems to think there's a "bad disk" in the floppy drive even with nothing connected - but I didn't care. After 8+ hours of troubleshooting and going nuts, CRUSTY WAS RUNNING on ALL ORIGINAL HARDWARE.

14 months of hell couldn't kill Crusty.

What now?

Crusty unfortunately did not live for very long - after some experiments with a BlueSCSI (thanks Eric) that sadly went nowhere, the machine relapsed into  simasimac patterns again, and I ran out of time to try to fix it again at the show. As I see it, a few things need to happen:

  1. Replace the BBU socket and RAM slots wholesale;
  2. Try to remove floppy circuit entirely, or at least isolate & remove problematic parts, so machine stops thinking disks are inserted;
  3. Troubleshoot and fix SCSI bus.

I've moved on to other projects for the time being, and since the machine is Mike's, I don't have easy access to it for a little while. But fear not, I fully intend on working on the board again. Crusty will live, whether it likes it or not!

Mike and I have both decided that the creek was the end of the line - it will not go through any more torture tests. The creek took a pretty serious toll on the machine, it's starting to get hard to fix, and we'd prefer for it to be a working exhibit after all. It has earned its keep.


When Mike and I first started playing around with Crusty, we never expected it to get this popular or become such a beloved figure in our circles. It has been a wild ride, and I'd like to thank a few people who've helped out in one way or another: