A planned technology museum in Maine grew out of the curiosity of a 10-year-old.
In 2010, Alex Jason traded a minibike and an electric snowblower for an iMac G5 computer, in what turned out to be the start of a giant collection of vintage computer equipment, including 200 Apple machines. It is one of only a few dozen collections of its size and kind in the country.
Alex, now 15, along with his father, Bill Jason, are planning to display the collection, known as Alex’s Apple Orchard, in a converted library in Fairfield, Maine, soon to be the Maine Technology Museum.
Among Alex’s pieces is a rare Apple I from 1976 that still works and has the original chips. Fewer than 70 of these models are believed to remain, with one selling for more than $900,000 at an auction in 2014.
Other prized artifacts include an Apple Lisa 2/5, named for the daughter of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs; the first prototype of a mouse, known as the Cursor III; and a Powerbook 100, which is considered to be the first modern laptop. Alex said he has not put an assessed value on his entire collection.
“To me, it’s priceless,” he said.
The modest beginnings of Alex’s project recall the humble start of Apple itself, which was founded by Jobs and his high school friend Stephen Wozniak in a suburban California garage in 1976.
Alex said his first breakthrough was buying a collection of 50 Apple computers — enough to fill a 26-foot-long U-Haul — with $2,000 he had saved from mowing lawns.
He has since acquired computers from other collectors and from eBay and carefully displayed some of them in the basement of the family’s home in a town about 20 miles north of Augusta, Maine. Apple memorabilia, such as a giant rainbow-colored logo and schematics of a motherboard, decorate the walls.
Bill Jason is spearheading the effort to convert the Carnegie Library on the campus of Good Will-Hinckley, a charitable organization, into a museum that would open in January. Aside from housing Alex’s collection, the Maine Technology Museum would be dedicated to interactive exhibits about renewable energy, engineering, computers, space exploration and virtual reality, Jason said.
Alex described himself as a longtime tinkerer who studied how tractors worked at the John Deere dealership, explored the innards of computers and once rigged a plastic pipe to a garbage bin to get rid of crumpled papers and crumbs from his desk.
He was inspired to pursue Apple computers after he upgraded the hard drive and RAM on his first computer, the iMac G5, on his own.
Adam Rosen, who maintains the Vintage Mac Museum from his home in Boston, estimated that there are several dozen large private collections of Apple computers in the country. The planned museum in Maine would be one of the few public exhibits of Apple computers, along with others in Georgia, California and Washington, he said.
Rosen said Apple has not opened a museum of its own and he knew of only two museums — in Prague and Savona, Italy — that are solely dedicated to its computers. Stanford University Library, in the heart in Silicon Valley, has a large collection of the company’s records, which Apple donated in 1998.
Apple did not respond to an email seeking comment for this article.
Alex said he has been drawn to the design, durability and efficiency of Apple products. On Saturday, he was looking for so-called Easter eggs, or surprises hidden by software programmers, on Macintosh SE models that reveal a slideshow of the company’s development team.
Perhaps surprisingly, Alex said he does not use an Apple, relying instead on a custom-built computer to play games and edit videos. Still, he said, “in my heart, Mac will always be better.”