What in the world is Happy Hacker BBS?
Well, its a Bulletin Board Service, an early form of the online services that everyone enjoys today. BBS's have been around since the early 1980's, to my knowledge. Most of the early systems were created by Commodore users to be able to communicate over the phone lines and share programs and chat. In the early days, 300 baud was the speed of choice. In fact it was the only speed available. To compare that rate to the standard 56K modems of today, todays modems are over 180 times faster!
Back in the old days for me, or around 1987, I purchased the first of many computers. I had heard about this craze going around with modems and something called CompuServe, so I was never interested in spending a great deal of money to call long distance and find out the weather in Oregon. It just didn't sound that interesting. The modem thing kept nagging at me and I went to a local computer store to discuss a purchase with a salesperson. I asked what I could do with this brand spanking new 1200 baud modem. He said that there are some local dial up services that offer things to do and gave me some numbers to call to get started. I bought the thing and quickly decided to dive into the online world.
It turned out that the number and contact I was given was for a guy by the name of "Pizzaman". I paid my fee to get setup and got some basic instructions on how to dial in. After some serious frustration, I managed to connect to a BBS called No Anchovies IV . I was actually seeing these text prompts come across the screen, asking me for my username and password! I logged on and found it all interesting, but not overwhelming. I saw areas for messages, files, doors (whatever those were), and a few other prompts. Glorious black and white text! I couldn't wait to see what else I could do.
After a few days of logging in and looking around, I just happened to be online one day and some new text came up. It was somebody on the other end actually typing to me. His name was Pizzaman. Most called him the Sysop. He explained that he ran the BBS and designed it from scratch on his Apple computer. He asked me how come I wasn't using color screens. Color? How do you get color? Pizzaman got me through it all and before my eyes were bright colored menus with shading and designs. I was impressed!
What does all of this have to do with Happy Hacker BBS? Well, quite simple… If it hadn't been for Pizzaman's assistance and guidance, I'd have gotten discouraged and never went online again. It turns out that I learned more about modems and software and an opportunity came to me in 1989…
While on a trip to Chicago, a high school friend of mine handed me some disks and told me to take them home, look them over. It was some shareware software from Mustang Software, Inc. called Wildcat! . I was anxious to have a look at the software when I got home. I realized that this software would allow me to design and run a BBS just like Pizzaman. I could help others like he did for me! It took me several months to learn the software, design screens and menus, setup security profiles and file areas. All the while, I'm talking with others on No Anchovies and telling them that I'm going to be starting a BBS. One individual offered to test it for me. I was reluctant but thought, why not, have to do it sometime. The BBS took its first call in September 1989 and worked just great! At least until the new Sysop started tinkering with the plumbing…
I needed to come up with a name for this fledgling service. North Coast BBS? Nah. Dave's BBS? Uh, no. I started flipping through the phonebook for cute names of businesses for some ideas. Wait a second… Happy Acre. Full of life and joy is the message. That settled it! Happy for sure, and Hacker as an affectionate term for the BBS'ers. From that point on, it was always known as Happy Hacker BBS!
As a side note that may be of interest, I've been accused numerous times of playing fun with "Happy Hooker". That never crossed my mind, but it does make for interesting conversation!
I setup the computer for part-time BBS use. In other words, I ran it from 11:00 pm until 8:00 am hooked into my regular phone line. When I actually turned it on for use on October 1, 1989, I left my phone on so that I could hear how many calls it would get. I got a few curious people wanting to see what the new guy had done. But the first few weeks were rather slow. A part-time BBS just wasn't going to cut it. I decided to get another phone line dedicated for BBS use so that it could be full-time, around the clock.
The regular BBS'ers were more than happy to "assist" me with suggestions, shareware files to stock the BBS and plenty of use. I wrote an instruction document for new users to download and print so that they would understand how to operate the BBS. I was new once too, and I know the feeling of not being sure of what to do. Word of mouth spread the news about BBS's and more and more people started buying modems. I had to continually upgrade my modem to the fastest on the market to be able to support anyone that may call. USRobotics and I were good friends!
Over its 5 year life, what was on there? Message areas where people could leave messages to each other about assorted topics. File areas contained a number of shareware programs. These were actual programs written by regular people looking to make a few dollars, not the outrageous amounts that large companies wanted. Some of the software was actually pretty handy. Doors were online games that you played by yourself against other people's scores. Some of the doors included Trade Wars, Say When and Yahtzee. Keep in mind that the BBS had one access line so thats all that could be on it at any one time! Even better, it ran on a 386 computer with an 85 meg hard drive and single speed CD-ROM.
Some of the BBS's highlights include reaching 200 users, 40,000 calls, adding a second access line, hooking up with the other local BBS's (No Anchovies PC in Geneva, and Mad House BBS in Conneaut) to form NeoNet, the Northeast Ohio Network, exchanging messages across BBS's in the county. This was during the time when it was long distance to call down the street. Frank "Pizzaman" Capo, Mike Socko and myself even got involved in getting the Star Beacon online for the first time. Bob Lebzelter would make a number of articles available to us each day for downloading. Users were using automated dialing systems to check and download e-mail before they woke up. Life was very good in the Ashtabula County online world!
Things were going too well for us. Files and messages were being transferred across the country everyday through long distance and satellites. We had several national e-mail networks at our disposal so that users could communicate with others from anywhere in the US and Canada. Sometimes heated discussions would start over the most personal topics. We never see that today, do we?
The online community in Ashtabula County was having its best years. CompuServe was still out there, but still long distance. AOL was in its infancy and it, too, was long distance. So users remained loyal to the local systems and we returned that by offering the best entertainment available. Then… like a flash from above… rumors began circulating that the Internet was coming to Ashtabula County. We had already started getting Internet messages through our networks and were overwhelmed with the numbers of messages that came through. But a dedicated Internet service? The Internet was developed in the 1960's to assist the government and universities in communicating data faster. The structure, or lack of, came together over many years. But, wait, the Internet can be more than FTP file transfers and message packets. The World Wide Web was developed and gave Internet users the chance to actually see graphics, and quite complex and detailed at that.
I was stunned. All the money in a year's paycheck couldn't get me the equipment needed to offer direct Internet access. This was all so new and very expensive to get involved in. I was struggling along with my 85 meg hard drive and 386 computer. I didn't want to think about having to spend 10's of thousands of dollars to stay competitive. I went through a state where I was very concerned about the direction of the BBS. I talked to other Sysop's about it and we all feared the worst. I couldn't bring myself to work on the BBS, or even log in and check messages. I knew the end was near, but how soon would it come? It took me several months to make the final decision to shut the BBS down. I announced that the shutdown would take place within 2 months, in March 1995. I got many messages about the shutdown, some very nasty and rude, some very polite and sympathetic. When the day came, there was no fanfare, no parties, nothing more than simply shutting down the software and turning the computer off. The phone lines were disconnected and the software backed up onto tape. I removed the software from my computer to make room for something I would enjoy, but there wasn't anything that was fun. As it turned out, I really distanced myself from computers for a number of years. It had been a way of life for me, challenging, exciting, meeting new people and making friends and all of a sudden that was all gone…
Happy Hacker BBS was the first of the "big BBS's" to close up shop. As history shows, Mad House BBS was the next to go. Within a year of shutting down, Internet access was made available to the general public. The other BBS's eventually faded away. There was no competing with something that offers "the world". I have no regrets about the time I spent operating the BBS. I made many friends that I still have to this day. Occasionally, I'll get an e-mail from one of the old users, just to say "hi". I still hear how great we had it in the old days. I know this much, it sure was fun!
Now, I realize that this has been one of the longest things to read, if you got this far. My old web page had a much shorter tribute. I guess trying to summarize my 5 years experience into a couple of paragraphs is near impossible. Far too many things went on during those days and there were a number of people that made BBS's, not just mine, a way of life as well. So its to the old BBS'ers that I dedicate this page. It doesn't matter which one you called, we were a community that the likes of which will probably never be seen again.
I hope after all this, if you remember the old days, I hope they were good. If you are too young to know what a BBS is, here's your history lesson for the day…