After retiring from TU Delft about 12 years ago, Dr Otto Rompelman can still be found on campus sometimes. He’s part of a group of volunteers, called ‘keldermannen’, who maintain and inventory old electronic equipment in the cellar of the EWI faculty.
“I worked at TU Delft for something like 40 years and retired about 12 years ago now. When you’re young, you meet people at weddings. When you’re a bit older you meet people at births. When you’re my age you meet people at funerals. That’s what happened. One of the electrical engineering professors from my PhD committee passed away and I went to the funeral. I met some colleagues from way back and they told me about working in the kelder. They invited me to have a look saying it was great fun with a nice group of people. So that’s how it started about two years ago.
We meet every Monday. Working with the equipment is like meeting old friends that you haven’t seen for a long time. You might see an oscilloscope that brings back memories or a generator that you worked with. The interesting thing is it’s quite normal for me, but for younger people, they don’t know what some of these things are. They use different instruments now so we can show them a bit of history. I like that because when you get older it’s not knowledge that you got from books, it’s from experience. If you mix that with some historical background there are quite some stories to be told.
We have something like 15 volunteers right now, retired professors or technicians. One of our volunteers is an emeritus professor of 92 years old and he can talk about the computers from the 1940s, he can say, ‘I made that thing’.
When I give tours nowadays, the equipment seems so old fashioned. But I think you have to look at the time that it was developed, what resources they had, what was the knowledge at that time and how did they use what they had at that time to design that thing. That makes it really interesting.”
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