Grandy's keyboard

January 26, 2022

My mom's dad and my grandfather, William John Cate was born on December 11, 1911 and passed away on May 7, 2013.

I knew him as Grandy.

Grandy was loving, patient, gentle, wise and generous. He was a skilled handyman, mechanically minded and always tinkering and learning. His garage was filled with tools, contraptions and stories. He was a passionate amateur radio operator.

Photo of Grandy with his radio, younger
As a young man, enjoying operating his radio
Photo of Grandy with radio, older
Grandy always loved his radios

Grandy was also really into computers.

Photo of us at his computer
Photo of us at his computer

Before he died at the age of 101, Grandy still regularly used an IBM desktop computer to write email, create documents, play bridge and look at photos. He also sold goods on eBay, such as old keys and antique tools.

At Grandy's funeral, I asked my mom and aunt (her sister) if I could have the keyboard from his computer. It's an IBM Model-M keyboard with a production date of July 25, 1988.

Coincidentally, July 25 is my mom's birthday.

Photo of keyboard backside
1988 IBM model M (model number 1391401)

I've long had a soft spot for mechanical keyboards. Their weight, appearance, precision and noise are all attractive qualities. This one was particularly special, as it was his.

As it sat in 2013, Grandy's keyboard was in very good shape. It's heavy – over 5 lbs.! – and huge, dwarfing today's average hardware. See for yourself in these photos.

Photo of keyboards from top
Photo of keyboards from top, for comparison
Photo of keyboards from side
Photo of keyboards from side, for comparison

Connection-wise, due to the keyboard's age there's no USB port. I had to order a custom ps/2 to USB cable from someone on eBay who sold hand-made units.

After I got the cable, I plugged it into my Mac and it was immediately recognized. The keys were mapped to PC, so I switched them to Mac functions.

Photo of keyboard mapping
Preferred keyboard mapping for Mac OS

It took some time to get comfortable typing on the Model-M. Not only is it obnoxiously and gloriously loud, but it's physically more tiring to use the thing.

The Model-M is also not a keyboard you choose if you have young kids. That is, little ones who you don't want to wake up at night should you choose to use your computer.

While it's highly satisfying to type on the Model-M, it sounds like a machine gun if you really get into hammering out some words. As such, it's a good deterrent from working overtime.

I'm grateful I was gifted Grandy's keyboard. I don't often get emotionally tied to physical products – it's weirdly easy for me to sell, give away or throw out items – but that's not the case with his Model-M.

Every time I use it, I smile both from the joyful experience of typing on it, and through the recollections I have of watching – and hearing – Grandy do the same.