The quest for my first computer.

The first computer I ever used was in the 1970s at L.F. Smith Elementary School in Pasadena, Texas. The “computer room” was a small closet with a printing terminal in it. We would go in, pick up the old rotary phone and dial a number. Once we heard the computer answer the phone, we would set the phone handset down in to these small cups and then the computer would start printing.

We had notes of what we were supposed to type to get the computer going. I seem to recall playing a math game and some football game. I still have a roll of yellow paper that is the entire session of a football game I got to play on this machine once.

But what was this system? A few years later I would have my own home computer (a VIC-20) and then a second computer (a TRS-80 Color Computer) and would even be borrowing a 300 baud acoustic coupled modem to dial in to BBSes in Houston. Thus, I did learn that the “computer” I used in elementary school was just a terminal, and it was dialing in to the actual computer elsewhere.

Today, I looked up my old school and sent an e-mail to see if anyone there could tell me just what we were using. I am hopeful they can find someone who knows. It seems the principal I had during the 70s retired in 1995. I suppose I should have tried to look this up years ago when some of the folks were still there.

I should really find that old printout and scan it as a historical document of my first encounter with a “computer.” I know it led me to typing things in on a TRS-80 (probably a Model 1 or 3) at a Radio Shack, and then being interested in my friend’s TI-99 when I moved to Mesquite, Texas around 1979-1980 (his mom worked for Texas Instruments). It seems it took another year or two before I would actually have a computer of my own.

I regret not begging for one a few years earlier.

Nothing to read here. Move along…

UPDATE: A response from the current principal (via her husband who attended an area school) reveals that the machine being used may have been a Teletype Model 33:

Wow. That certainly looks like the type of thing I remember. This machine was introduced in 1963, so it would still have been “new-ish” in the 70s. (Think back: it would be about as new as the original iPod from 2001 is today.) Amazing.

Hopefully some more details will come through on what we were dialing in to. If only I had known computer commands back then — maybe I could have typed LIST and gotten to see the source code to that football program?

More to come…

3 thoughts on “The quest for my first computer.

  1. Darren

    We had a similar setup at my school in the 70s. The terminal we used was an Olivetti Te300 teleprinter .

    I’m not certain but I believe it connected to a DEC PDP-11 system running the RSTS-11 Basic environment. I know it used BASIC because a friend of mine got in trouble for entering a program that would lock-up the system:

    10 ON ESC GOTO 10
    20 GOTO 20

    I don’t know where he learned how to do that.

    1. Allen Huffman Post author

      Oh, if only I knew about BASIC back then. Or any type of commands (LIST, etc.). I recall they had a list of specific things we were supposed to type to make the computer go, but I didn’t understand what any of it meant at the time.

  2. Pingback: Using Termcap – part 1 | Sub-Etha Software

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