...........A Brief Moment in Time

                                                                                                   ......  By
                                                                                Chris Hegter

                                           Click on the blue links to open the photos, click again to close photo



My working life really began in 1959, when I joined the “ National Cash Register Company ”. This was after a short stint as a Fireman I saw an advert in the newspaper that they were looking for technicians to convert their machines from sterling to decimal.
South Africa was to change from the sterling monetary system (Pounds, Shillings an Pence) to the Decimal system in line with the rest of the world. I started with them on 10th February 1959.

The company later changed their name from The National Cash Register Company to the NCR Corporation.
In order to work for them one had to pass their Mechanical and Logic Aptitude Tests.  Of over 1000 applicants 40 of us were employed.
I was interviewed by Max Clifford, who asked me technical questions to gauge my technical ability. EG How the various parts of a motor car worked.
Little did I know at the time what an interesting and exciting period of my life I was moving into.

Before being able to convert machines we had to receive technical training on the various models of cash registers and accounting machines. The accounting machines included the Class 3000 , class 31, Class 32 and Class 33 . This entailed several months of intensive training. Fred Du Toit was our main Instructor. Every Friday morning we had to write a test on the previous week’s information. We were expected to get over 90%. If one got less than 90% for three weeks in a row one was fired. I saw a few of my fellow students that were discharged.
I remember while doing the one accounting machine course, of receiving 100% for 7 weeks in a row. (This was a record at the time).

Have you ever considered where the expression “You’re Fired” originated? Well here it is. This was in 1914.
John Patterson, the founder of the National Cash Register Company, had one top salesman with whom there was a clash of personalities.
This was Thomas Watson. Watson was a forward thinker and tried to persuade Patterson to implement some of the newer technologies that were emerging such as Hollerith punch cards as an input device to computers that were emerging. Patterson disagreed, and in a fit of rage made workers carry Watson’s desk outside where it was set on fire. Thus Thomas Watson was “Fired” 
Thomas Watson went on to form IBM.

After our training we were then placed in the workshop to begin the physical process of converting the machines. This process became known as “decimalization”. I was part of the team that worked in the Johannesburg office in Braamfontein.
The government paid for the cost of the conversion.
Different machines were allocated different times in which to convert them. For example a class 32 machine was allocated 40 hours.
Towards the end of the conversion period I was converting the class 32 in 6 hours.
I those days men’s trousers had turnups. It was not unusual to come home to find a number of springs, screws or clips in my turnups.
Also all the time I worked for NCR I always went dressed in a suit and tie.
The decimalization period was estimated to take two years. We completed the conversion in one year. As a result, we the technicians each received a bonus of R300.00.

After decimalization I was placed in the field. The person I was placed in the field with initially to learn the ropes and procedures was Charlie Hutchison. I was then sent to do calls at various customers. Initially my territory was in town, doing calls on cash registers and accounting machines. This entailed carrying a toolbox full of tools (this weighed approximately 10kg) which eventually developed permanent calluses in my hands. I remember doing sometimes between 8 to 12 calls a day.    

Then in 1963 I was given the opportunity to go to the United States on training on the 390 Computer in Dayton , Ohio.
This was a completely transistorized computer, where the Field Engineers were required to trace a fault down to the component. The 390 used the IBM 026 Key Punch as a punch card input device.
 I was given this opportunity I think because I was considered to be a reasonably good accounting machine technician. Also the 390 computer used the class 32 machine as its input device. I went with a colleague from Cape Town, Paddy Burke. I remember Denny, Sylvia and Derek as well as my Mom and Dad and our Technical Director Wally Walters came to see us off. Denny did not come with because we could not afford it. We saved up, and some months later Denny came across to Dayton with Paddy’s wife Lieka. Her plane fare at the time from Joburg to Dayton with Panam Airlines cost R300.00 return. This course was eight months long.
During this time we saw some of America. We drove up to Chicago one weekend and down to Tennassee   with Dennis and Maureen Palmer on another weekend. When Our Wives came over, Paddy and I rented a house in Dayton. We also bought a car together for a few hundred dollars, which we sold later for about the same price. In fact on most of my trips I bought a car which I sold before I left. In those days the system was that they issued new number plates every year. I brought a few of the back as memento’s.
At the end of the course I was to stay on to do training on the Class 406punch card reader sorter.

On returning to home I worked in the field, and did some relief work around the country. I remember being sent to Umtata to solve an intermittent problem on a 390. I remember working through the night and eventually finding the problem (A dry joint) at 4 in the morning. The Customer was Provost Lefebvre a wool manufacturer.

Then in 1966 I was again sent to Dayton for training on the 500 Computer System . Again Paddy and I went over together. This course was 6 months long. This machine was an upgraded version of the 390. ie The architecture and command structure was based on the 390. Class Photos. Photo1 , Photo2 , Photo3 , Photo4 , Photo5 .
Input devices were punched card and punch paper tape. Output devices were a Bull Printer and paper tape. The memory was 400 words.
Denny did not accompany me at this time. Two weeks before the end of the course, I received a telegram from Denny that the baby that we applied to adopt was ready! They would not give her to Denny until I came home. I was so excited! Telling everybody I was now a father! On arriving home the first thing we did was to collect our beautiful daughter Beverley . What a joy she has been to us!

In 1969 I was asked to go to Dayton for 615 ( Century ) Computer training. This was really a much more powerful computer. This was the worlds first fully integrated circuit computer. Integrated Circuits (chips) instead of transistors. The Century 615-100 had a memory of 32K. Dennis Palmer was our instructor. Here is a class Photo.
Denny and Beverley came with me. NCR paid for Denny’s flight. This course was 3 months long. The first part was in Dayton, and the last few weeks were spent at the factory in Hawthorne, Los Angeles. Beverley was now 3. We went to Disneyland among other places. In Dayton Beverley and I often watched the original "Star Trek" on TV.
While in Dayton the first moon landing took place. I remember staying up that night to see it on television. And seeing president Nixon speak to the astronauts on the moon.

Back in South Africa I spent a few years in the field maintaining the various machines I had been trained on. In repairing computers one of the main tools on needs is an Oscilloscope to see the various electrical signals. An oscilloscope to an electronics engineer is like a screwdriver to a mechanic. However this meant lugging an Oscilloscope as well as a toolbox around to every computer call. The caused me to invent a tool that did 90% of the trouble shooting functions of the oscilloscope. So field engineers no longer needed to carry an oscilloscope with them. This tool was called a “ Latch Test Card ”. I received a Dayton award for this suggestion from the factory.

After a few years in the field I decided to leave to start my own business. I started an alarm company, “ Guardian Alarms ”.
Although I sold a few alarm systems, this business was not very successful. After 2 years NCR asked me to come back, and asked me to start up their Rework Centre . This was an electronic workshop for the repair of computer boards, and computer parts. During this time I developed a variety of Test Equipment to aid in the repair of boards. One tester that I designed was initially sketched on the back of a Punch card while I was waiting for a computer to complete a compilation. This was the “ Board Comparator ”.
I was then asked to go to Dayton in 1975 to program new test equipment that we were getting, the DTC . This trip was 5 months long. Here are some course photos. Photo1 . Photo2 .
I took Denny and Beverley with. Beverley was now about 9. We stayed in apartments in Centreville. Beverley was placed in school there at the Village South Elementary School , and Denny also was a helper at the school. The car we bought was a Lincoln Station Wagon.
Denny would often go on field trips with the school.
There were representatives from various parts of the world on this project. We worked in building 10 down at NCR headquarters. There were in fact 31 buildings at the NCR factory. They were all interconnected with underground tunnels.

On my return I continued to manage the Rework Centre. During this time I was set to Dayton on a PSP Tester course, then some time later was sent to Phoenix, Arizona to the Genrad factory on microprocessor tester course. I managed the Rework Centre for about 10 years.

I was then asked to move up to the Support Group, managed by Bill Leader. Initially I was  sent on a 7750 training course. So my initial function was to support the cheque processing equipment. But this soon changed with me soon supporting the PC’s, Mini Computers (Tower), ATM’s, as well as certain Retail Terminals. In 1983 I was sent to Japan on training on the 2126 Retail Terminal. As a support engineer my function was assist any field engineer who was stuck on a problem. Much of the assistance was given telephonically, but if necessary going to the site to help resolve the problem, This entailed my frequently flying around the country. A support engineer in essentially the interface between the field and the factory. When ATM’s were added to my portfolio, I frequently went to the Dundee factory in Scotland for training and for seminars. A few times Denny came with. One time Denny and I spent a weeks holiday in Scotland.

I calculated that NCR sent me on 26 overseas trips. 15 to the United States, 8 to the UK, 1 to Japan, 2 CPC trips.
Denny accompanied me on 11 of these trips. Time outside South Africa for NCR, 3 years.
CPC trips are awarded as a prize. One to Cairo, Egypt and One to New Orleans where Denny came with me.

During my stay at NCR I developed many Interfaces, Modifications, Testers, Features, etc for NCR Machines. When I retired from NCR in 2000 I counted that I had developed over 100 devices for NCR. (Many others for different purposes)This function was not part of my job description. I just did it. Mostly people would approach me to find a solution to a particular problem, but sometimes the developments were my own idea. What was amazing was that when I came up with an idea and asked my boss if I can go ahead, in every case they gave the go ahead. They obviously had confidence in me. Examples were: Board Comparator, UPS Interface, 5070 runaway protection, Statement Printer Barcode Reader, ATM Card Reader Tamper Indicator. Most of this development was done in my own time at home. Here is a list of my developments. In fact there was no one else at NCR that was able to perform this function. A number of my developments were to improve the functionality of a NCR machine where the factory was not able or not prepared to do. E.g. ATM Tamper Modification , MICR Detect Feature .  Did a couple of developments for Alan Townsend in Australia.

Notable developments were the 2950 Waste Proof System , where the Touch Switch Interface board as well as the Sorting Boxes were developed by myself. A mould was taken of the 2950 cabinet which was used to correctly shape the sorting boxes arround the machine during manufacture. A few hundred of these systems were sold. (to Standard Bank, Trust Bank and Barclays)

Also developed a Micro-Processor Training Course using the Micro-Professor Training Kit . Conducted a number of these courses.

Here is a List of the many devices I have developed over the years. What is interesting is that over 90% of my development work was done in my own time for which I was not directly paid. Some of the work I did was my own idea, others were requested by sales personal or customers. The development work I did was not part of my job description. My main function was as a Technical Support person. When I retired I counted that I had developed over 100 devices for NCR over the years....................................(such as Test Equipment, Interfaces, Features, Modifications, etc)

Here is a Clock I built usung a Century Disc Platter and a number of NCR Service Badges I accumulated over the years.

Also submitted some unique circuits to magazines, locally and overseas for which I received awards.Among which were. ..................Adjustable Touch Switch , Automatic Doorbell , Self Powered Logic Monitor , Dynamic Transistor Testor .

My business “Interface Technology” I started while still at NCR in 1994 because although I was designing many devices and giving them out to local companies to manufacture, they did no have the technical ability to correctly troubleshoot the finished boards. Although I would set up a test facility for them (one in Benoni and one in Pretoria) I still ended up having to go out there to assist them. So they were making the profit while I was still being used to help them out. That is when I decided to start my own business where I could control the manufacture from beginning to end.  After retiring from NCR I still did further development for them.

After Retiring I started a new company "Display Technology". This was a Queue Management System using the LED moving message displays I developed. I sold over a hundred of these to the Post Office and eight to Dischem, as well as a number of other users.

Here are a Few of the Certificates, Diplomas, and Awards I have accumulated over the years.


When I was in school, I remember reading in thr Readers Digest that many of the survivors of the Nazi concencration camps had one thing in common, they all had an unfinished project to attend to. Since then I have tried to be busy with some or other project. hopefully if I am always busy with a project I may never die. So far its working!