Welcome to the Datatron 205 and 220 Blog

This blog is a companion to T J Sawyer's Web Page that outlines the history of the Burroughs Datatron 205 and Paul Kimpel's incredible 205 and 220 emulators. Please visit those sites and return here to post any comments.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Open Thread - 10/30/09

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Another Datatron Site - Lamar State College

A number of Datatrons appear to have had "second lives."

W. L. Peavy entered Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas, and met his first Datatron -- a 205 that was obtained from United Gas Corporation of Shreveport, Louisiana. He describes the machine as follows:
At Lamar, there were three languages available for use:
1) Machine Language (my favorite),
2) ALGOL 58, (I had no idea Knuth wrote it)
3) Shell Assembler (I never saw this actually run).
There was also a mathematical subroutine library (relocatable) on paper tape. (I've no idea where this came from.)

We had two tape drives, a DataFile, a Cardatron unit, and two IBM punched card units. (I don't recall the models of the IBM units) We had no line printer.

We also had a complete set of blueprints for the machine which really came in handy for trouble-shooting.

I can't imagine a more congenial machine on which to begin learning about computing.

Congenial! Yes, that describes the Datatron in a single word. But at Lamar they also had a DataFile.

Photo courtesy of Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota.

I had never run into anyone who actually used one of these devices. I have heard it described as a "Data fail" because of reliability problems. Peavy continues:
As to the DataFile, we loved it.  But we didn't have all that many tapes for it.  I mean, the lanes were populated but the tapes were defective in large part and we didn't have the money to go out and buy more.  At the time, I was working part-time in the Geophysical Laboratory at Sun Oil Company there in Beaumont, Texas and the seismic tape they used was 3" wide.

Occasionally, they'd retire some tape and one of the gentlemen who'd been with the company forever had a home-built rig that he used to split those tapes in to 1/4" widths for audio. He modified it to split some 3/4" tapes out for us and we had a small collection of tapes. But they weren't really precisely cut and so we didn't have good results from them -- but we tried just about anything to avoid spending money.

Our Algol 58 Compiler resided on one DataFile tape and it got used practically to death.
Here's a closer look at the tapes he is describing.

Photo courtesy of Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota.