Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Vintage Storacall answering machine.

The mother-in-law popped round. She's been clearing out the attic.

"Is this of any interest to you?"

Yeah , why not ...

It's an old answering machine. It weighs a lot!

It's an amazing machine... on quite a few levels...

It's "logic" control is performed using the bunch of relays you see on the left hand side.

The outgoing message is stored on a 60 second endless loop tape in the centre of the machine. The incoming messages are stored on the reel-to-reel tape on the right hand side.

The quality of construction is absolutely superb. This must have been expensive back in the day!

So expensive it was leased or hired perhaps?

Even has the original GPO 4 pole jack!

This is the outgoing endless loop mechanism. It's much the same as any other endless loop 1/4" tape mechanism. It has three tracks selectable by using the announcement switch on the tape head cover. This physically moves the head up and down the tape.

The interesting part is the end detector. This is the bit of the machine which is used to detect the start/end of the tape, so once the announcement has played out, it stops the outgoing message and starts the incoming message recorder.

Normally in and endless loop system, there's a piece of silver conducting tape, which shorts out two contacts. Not here...

There's a microswitch with a lever on...

And a corresponding slot in the tape...

And when the lever falls into the slot, it switches over .... Look carefully at the gif!

The incoming message recorder also uses 1/4" tape. Again, quality here is impressive. Proper constant speed, capstan drive.

The end of tape is detected in the (more) traditional silver conductive tape and contacts method.

After the caller has hung up, the tape just stops and gets ready for the next incoming call.

When you get home, the machine rewinds to the start of the tape and plays the messages back.

Here's the inside of the machine. Fantastic quality Japanese construction. Early to mid 70's at a guess.. 

Here's another amazing bit ...

(You need to look past the wiring a bit) ... the entire machine is driven from one DC motor! It sits on top of the plate on the left hand side of the picture. Through a somewhat over-complicated system of idlers, operated by a solenoid (top right) , the drive is transferred from outgoing to incoming mechanisms as required.

There's one belt, which supplies the drive in rewind to the incoming message.

Yet another amazing bit ...

Despite being retired to the attic sometime in 1979 (40 years ago at the time of writing), I performed a few cursory checks, and threw caution to the wind and plugged it in. It worked. Just like that. Zero repairs required other than to clean the tape path.

Still more amazing bits...

How did I know it was retired in 1979? There were still incoming messages on it! My mother-in-law managed to date the messages!

The audio quality of these messages is superb. I know it's only a telephone answering machine, but even after sitting there for 40 years, the clarity and fidelity of the recording was superb. Sadly, due to the personal nature of these messages, I can't upload them here for you, but take my word for it!

One final thing... Storacall looks like they still exist in some form or other, still recording phone calls! I'll drop them a line !


  1. A hugely interesting and educational presentation. Thanks for sharing Mr D!

  2. Hi - I joined Storacall in around 1978 just after they launched the System 6 and ended up a director for a number of years. Would you mind if I used one of your pictures in a LinkedIn post?

    1. Hi Paul, Thanks for asking! Of course you can. Send me a linkedin link!