Bil Herd’s Commodore 128D
I recently learned that a Commodore 128D I acquired in early 2019 was confirmed to be Bil Herd’s. For Commodore enthusiasts, everyone knows Bil was the lead hardware engineer and case designer for the Commodore 128. He was also the lead hardware engineer on several TED series computers including the Commodore 116, Commodore 16, Commodore Plus/4 and the very rare Commodore 264 and 364 models.
I had come across this Commodore 128D via eBay. The title was “SUPER RARE Vintage Commodore C128D pre-production sample. READ DESCRIPTION”. Now, titles don’t mean much to me and on eBay SUPER RARE usually means they haven’t seen one in a while. It was in an auction that had a fairly inexpensive starting price but it also had a “Best Offer” option. I used to check eBay quite often back then so when I saw this Commodore 128D auction pop up, I thought there was something special here. I thought to myself, “Oh, cool, this is a plastic C128D and it’s in North America already! That’s a bonus. Doesn’t look in immaculate shape but there could be some truth to the auction description where it was described as a pre-production sample. If there is some truth to this, I probably need to make a decent offer or someone will bid on it”. Many people in North America, at least, may not be aware that there is a Commodore 128D (C128D) and a Commodore 128 DCR (C128DCR) and they are different. Any C128 enthusiast knows there is the normal “wedge shaped” C128 and the boxy “desktop” C128DCR with the metal case that had an enclosed floppy and separate keyboard. In Europe, they also have a C128D model that has a plastic case with a neat “cubby hole” on the bottom to clip the external keyboard into.
The auction description had an account of it’s history that was hard to believe. It turned out that after several years, I would learn that it would turn out to be 100% accurate.
Well, after closely scrutinizing the pictures as quickly as I could, this was definitely plastic because it had a left side handle. It also had a sticker on the back of the C128D unit and a sticker on the back of the keyboard that said “Sample No. 0013, 30/Aug/’85”. Okay, that’s got me more interested but anyone can put a sticker there. Seems like it might be a sample of some kind for real? It’s still in pretty rough shape. It had a “Skate or Die, Electronic Arts” sticker on it so I thought that maybe it was formerly used by the Electronic Arts software company for game development. C128D models don’t come with 120V power supplies because they were only available in Europe so that is always a bit of a concern but I could live with that. I straight out gambled on the auction description and made a substantial offer several times the opening price in hopes that he would quickly accept. Once the first bid is placed in a “Best offer” auction, any offers are no longer valid and the auction would continue with normal bidding. Maybe I could get it for less or maybe it would go crazy high. Who knows, so I had to make a fair and reasonable offer for something I believed might be this rare. Thankfully, it was accepted fairly quickly and no bids had a chance to take place yet. Now that I bought it and had time, I then asked the seller what he knew about it and I also did some more of my own research.
He had written that it was given to him by his sister’s boyfriend at the time. She worked at Commodore with Bil Herd and it was. In fact, it was Bil Herd himself who had given this computer to him and told him, “Here, this is better than the C64 you are playing with”. I can certainly see Bil doing that.
The former owner had used it for several years but as time progressed, it got put away and I was the fortunate one to have been able to acquire it. Now, I have heard good stories in the past and I had no reason to doubt the him but I do take this information with some skepticism until I can prove it. He had put the “Skate or Die” sticker on it when he was younger as he used to play that game a lot. I am leaving names out here but I did confirm a female that shared his last name worked at Commodore but I didn’t know where or when. It might have been Bil’s but maybe he had a ton of them and gave them away on a regular basis. How would I know? I kept this in the back of my mind but didn’t think much more of it.
When I finally got it, I learned it had a 120 volt power supply and I knew then that this was definitely rare as I have heard there were prototypes that had 120v North American power supplies and were NTSC computers but none had never been released. There was also a sticker on the bottom that had the following content, “C128-D, S/No. 0013, 30/Aug/’85, “Kentron”. What is Kentron? Maybe an internal code name for the C128? That makes things interesting…
I am a member of a Discord server with a small group of serious Commodore enthusiast friends and we have had several discussions in the past about various Commodore and non-Commodore related things. I had mentioned this C128D, probably when I got it, because I was quite excited about this find. I also knew that if anyone would know what Kentron was, my friend Dave McMurtrie would know. Dave, another member of the Discord had explained to me that Kentron was a Commodore facility in Japan that made one-off samples and small runs of computers, among other things. Turns out Kentron was not a secret code name or anything after all. How many there are is anyone’s guess but at least we know that this was not mass produced.
Fast forward to modern day… Bil Herd had recently been invited to join this Discord. In one of our discussions, we talked about the release date of the C128 (wedge model) vs the C128D (desktop model). Bo Zimmerman had mentioned that he had an early Kentron C128D and we could check chip dates because this was a pre-production C128D. This model had not been released until later in Europe and, as mentioned, never had a North American release. Bo had mentioned that he had “Sample 0036”. I added that I also had a C128D sample and that it was “0013” and I could check the dates as well. Bil Herd was part of this discussion. He replied that his handwriting might be on some of my internal chips of these pre-production C128Ds. I had written back in reply to Bil, “You gave it to the person I got it from”. That had him puzzled…
As it turns out, it was in fact Bil’s unit. Bil wrote, “Well the story is we (animals) were each given a C128D and I gave mine to ****. The one I have now is my office beater that was signed out as “junk” by the VP. So you have my pre-production C128D that was given to me by CBM.”
To make a long story short, while I am an avid vintage computer collector, I also like to put history back where it belongs when it at all possible. I cleaned it up, fixed the keyboard and got to take care of it for a while but Bil has now been re-united with his pre-production C128D. It was always his and it needed to go back home to him, even if 35 years or so have passed.
Here are a few pictures of Bil’s pre-production C128D, serial number 0013. Update: Please look below for a video of Bil Herd unboxing the computer.
While it was an honour to send the C128 to Bil, it was even better watching his expression as he unboxed the C128D computer I had sent. He mentioned that he would do it on video but unfortunately, I didn’t know the time or I would have watched it live and commented in the chat as he opened it live on Youtube. Here is that video:
As mentioned, I was very glad to be a part of the reunion of his C128D. Enjoy Bil.
Edit: As a follow up, Bil Herd has since sent me some items in appreciation for doing this. Here is that post: Gifts from Bil Herd