60’s Natural Gas Pipeline Computer Retires To Play Games

Computer gaming has come a very long way since the 1960s. While computers of that era may not run Doom or anything even close to it, many of us had our first exposure to computers playing Hunt the Wumpus, Adventure, or Star Trek over a clackety old TeleType machine. If you missed those days, or if you simply miss them, you might enjoy the video from [somecomputerguy] who fires up an old retired gas pipeline computer and loads enough paper tape into it to play Lunar Lander. (Video embedded below.)

We don’t miss the days of toggling in a bootloader so you could load the paper tape for a second bootloader before you could enter the actual program you wanted to run.

The SEL 810A wasn’t a very well known computer compared to a DEC or Data General computer. The company was bought by Gould and later bought by Encore. The computer was actually very advanced for its day, providing an all IC-based 16-bit computer. Some parts of the company still exist as part of Compro.

As for the Lunar Lander game, those were typically a very simple model of something falling at a particular G force. You used limited fuel to counteract gravity. A successful landing was one that hit the ground at a relatively slow speed. Later versions would include moving right and left to hit a target and even some crude graphics. However, the version you see on the video has been around on many computers, including the HP-41C.

We also enjoyed seeing the old H19 terminal. Press fitting the connectors while building those was a pain, but they sure looked good. If you want a more Rube Goldberg version of Lunar Lander, try this one. If you are a bit younger, and pine for the vector graphics arcade version of Lunar Lander, grab your oscilloscope.

33 thoughts on “60’s Natural Gas Pipeline Computer Retires To Play Games

  1. In the day, it was common to use an electric eraser such as the Bruning 87-300, with an custom made attachment to rapidly rewind paper tape. You also learned not to store paper tape (not mylar) secured with rubber bands. The tape had an oil content that caused the rubber bands to degrade and break. Just some vintage trivia.

    1. Another way was to take the tail end of the tape and start wrapping around the pinkie and thumb of the left hand forming a figure 8 while guiding the tape with the right hand. At the end of the winding the beginning of the tape was in the middle of the 8. That was then available to put in the tape reader the next time it was loaded. The tape would feed from the middle. While wound this way it could be hung on a nail or stuffed in a little plastic drawer with no rubber band.

      1. Oh , the memories.

        Like flaking a line on the deck of a boat. or, for those that don’t like fighting their tools, flaking a hose.

        I was never a great fan of the fanfold tape. I still have a roll of polyester tape. Blue. Blue was for the production floor machines. There was a LOT of it on the shelf in that shop, 1000 foot rolls. Spliced into a loop for the production machines using what was essentially a 35mm film splicing machine. I still have a manual punch for hand punching splices. (no, I didn’t run or program those machines. When I was there, they were pretty much on the way out in favour of Computer numeric control, with 5.25 inch floppies, so at stuff went out, I glommed. My actual tape experience is mostly with computers)

  2. Time for all the gray beards to come out… alas, I remember using paper tape on an ASR 33 teletype for an HP1000M which also had a front panel with “switches” and displayed registers. And before that, of course, it was Hollerith punch cards by the thousands. Sometime after the paper tape/punch cards, our company used an Altair 8800b with floppy drives — what an improvement!

      1. Yep, good ol’ RTE IVB, the master password was two alpha characters. The engineers used to have a script they’d fire off to try all possible two-character passwords. That brings back memories of CMM4… the HP admin utility to do almost anything on the system.

      2. The first computer I ever saw and learned to program on was an HP1000! At my dad’s workplace, in 1980. I had no idea it was an old design even then. No paper tape though: this one had colour light-pen terminals and a 20 MB disk (Huge !). By 1982 I was working on an HP85, an entirely different beast.

    1. Yeah, and this grey beard remembers that we did not write “code”, we wrote “protocol”. And electronic memory was magnetic bead web memory. Of course if you shut off the computer the memory was lost. So, you had huge banks of these webs to store memory and a back up board that kept the memory “active” for when you shut down the computer.

  3. You sure you got the decade right on this one? I’m not…

    (1a) The Apollo Guidance Computer is widely regarded as the first computer to successfully use integrated circuits, specifically because it used *one chip* over and over. Quality control of integrated circuit production in those days was *that* awful. Its predecessor in technology, which was a failure, was the Minuteman missile guidance computer — which failed specifically because nobody could make its multiple ICs reliably enough! Considering the AGC can’t *possibly* have entered the public consciousness before the mid-1960s at the very earliest… ;)

    (1b) While I know politics ain’t what it used to be (to say the least!) — the very *concept* of integrated circuits and the idea that they might be so useful as to be relevant to the Moonshot, that *had* to be National Security material at the highest level for quite a while… and I know from reading about it that there was a *lot* of foreign policy, through indeed like the mid-1980s if not longer, dedicated to the idea that the IC designs, particularly those of CPUs such as the Intel 8080… well… please not to give them to certain countries like to cause trouble in America trouble, да…? ;)

    (2) I have a Tektronix 422 o-scope given to me by a friend. That was a design released in 1966. No ICs, all discrete passives and semiconductors except for like three tubes doing things that they hadn’t quite figured out how to do in solid-state stuff yet.

    (3) On an artist’s note (sorry — can’t help it, I am one) — the typefaces used in the linked PDF are common, well-known ones. The headings are Microgramma, I’d know that one anywhere. It was everywhere you wanted a sense of sci-fi type stuff in the very late 1960s through the 1980s. The body text (including in diagrams) is Helvetica — it’s not Arial, which has a capital ‘G’ that doesn’t have a “downstroke” — the sort of ‘goatee’ structure where the vertical line at the right of the letter doesn’t stop where it connects but rather keeps going instead. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for the Helvetica / Arial clue!)

    1. Yes, the article has the correct decade. Click on the link to the SEL 810A sales brochure. Note that:
      1. The brochure has a copyright of 1967 and the cover has a stamped date of “Apr 4 1968”, both of which are in the 1960’s.
      2. On the page 2 of the brochure is the bullet point “All Silicon Monolithic Integrated Circuits”.

      Furthermore:
      1. Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments demonstrated the first working integrated circuit in 1958 and applied for patent in 1959. Since a patent involves disclosure, I seriously doubt you can patent a “National Security” item.
      2. Robert Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor patented the monolithic integrated circuit later that same year, 1959.
      3. Fairchild released the first *commercial* (not military/government/national security) integrated circuits in 1961, six years prior to the brochure date.
      4. The font “Arial” wasn’t invented until 1982 so of course the brochure isn’t using Arial.

    2. The typeface is more likely Eurostile, which is basically Microgramma with lower case added. Eurostile was released in 1962, about ten years after Microgramma.

    3. “the very *concept* of integrated circuits and the idea that they might be so useful as to be relevant to the Moonshot, that *had* to be National Security material at the highest level for quite a while… and I know from reading about it that there was a *lot* of foreign policy, through indeed like the mid-1980s if not longer,”

      Wow! I didn’t know I was learning top secret, secret squirrel stuff when I was in Uni, and making it after.

      Reading is good. But I have no idea what you were reading, or where you read it. Still have the Fairchild IC book on he shelf, as well as TI and several others, going back to before TTL.

      Now get off my lawn…

      1. The poster has makebelievenationalsecurity wood for something that was written about in Life magazine during the 1960s (ICs). Woefully uninformed.

        First rule of classification: the “enemy” already knows everything. Classification is to hide things from Americans.

        1. I once had a Secret clearance at a facility.
          I once joked to my manager about photocopying some of the manuals and selling them to the Soviets.

          He replied that the Soviets would probably turn me in to the authorities…

      2. Actually, “integrated circuits” were not new at that time as they existed long before in the 1940s and were called “wafer circuits”. They did not have any transistors in them, but has capacitors, resistors, chokes/coils and transformers, and some also have selenium rectifiers built in. In the early 1950s they also had germanium diodes in some that were also designed to do some “switching” functions.

  4. My favourite lunar lander game didn’t involve a computer at all (I think). It was a lunar lander model mounted on a counterweighted pantograph, with a ‘real’ rocket engine powered by compressed air. You could control angle and air thrust by two levers, and the objective was to land on a spot within the game time. It was pretty noisy when the jet fired, but the counterweighted pantograph made the free-fall time slow enough to actually be playable. I only ever saw one of those rigs — no idea if it was a custom on-off or whether maintenance is what killed it.

    1. In a way. The H19 is the H88/89 but only the video terminal parts. I believe you could turn an H19 into an H88/89 by adding the CPU board (and cassette I/O controller or disk controller board and floppy drive.)

      1. One of my first programming attempts was a lunar lander for the HP41 (not the C variant, that came later), though I doubt that’s the version you remember, as I only gave it to a few friends here in South Africa

        1. Funny: I bought my HP-41C in 1981, when I lived in Jo-burg. I’m pretty sure the 41C was the first model.
          The CV and CX followed. I got the XMEM, Time and XFUN modules so it’s functionally a CX. Also later the card reader. All eye-wateringly expensive at that time and place (1200 Rand I recall – more than a month’s pay for me). I still have it. It still works except the card reader.

          And one of the first games I remember playing on it was Lunar Lander, but I don’t have a card labeled suchly, so it looks like I had it only on paper.

          1. Thanks for the link Ren. I’ll file it away for a rainy day, even though my ‘rainy day’ project list is booked solid out to 2030 or so… I seem to recall my card reader just started throwing too many errors to be useful, but it may well be gooed up by now too.

          2. Paul, I think you’re right – I’m getting confused with the earlier HP models which first came in a plain variant, then later on a “C” variant (which had constant memory). I remembered the HP41 coming in a plain variant first, but my memory may not be what it used to be.

            Do you also remember the Synthetic Programming module from the PPC club? That opened a whole new world of possibilities.

          3. I remember the PPC ROM module, and have its user’s manual with all the listings, but never saw an actual module. I got much of William C. Wickes’ earlier publications about synthetic programming too. Also the entire set of HP Key Notes.

  5. “We don’t miss the days of toggling in a bootloader so you could load the paper tape for a second bootloader before you could enter the actual program you wanted to run.”

    You don’t really know what’s running on your system unless you toggled in the first-stage bootloader.

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