I Want Something eBay Doesn’t Have

I always have time to think while mowing the lawn. And today while mowing the lawn, I got the notion that it would be great fun to play Colossal Cave and other early text adventure games on a teletype. And, of course, since Linux has teletype support in its genes, if I played my cards right, I could probably get a login prompt to my workstation with the teletype, too.

Now, at this point, I am compelled to take a small diversion and explain just what a teletype is — for those of you, like me, who are too young to remember them. (I will graciously omit comment on those of you too old to remember them!) Teletypes have been around since about the 1930s or so, but the ones I have in mind are the ones that were used to interact with computers in the 1960s and 1970s. Instead of a keyboard and monitor, you’d have a keyboard and printer. Believe it or not, surplus teletypes were the interface of choice for teletypes even in the later years because they were so much cheaper than video terminals.

So anyhow, back to the plot. Teletypes operated at speeds ranging from about 40bps to 110bps, but it seems that the most common protocol was Baudot-coded 50cps 5N2 serial format — that is, 5 data bits, 2 stop bits. Amazingly, the serial UART in modern PCs is still capable of communicating with these devices (though it may take some circuitry to tweak the voltages), and at least one person has made it work with Linux.

So I zip on over to eBay to look for teletypes. What do I find? NOT A ONE! A few manuals, and apparently there is a GPS named the teletype. And some company that has something they think *might* be compatible with a teletype, but they don’t know.

eBay has sorely let me down. An antique geeky item should be right up their alley, and zilch. They can sell everything from cars to advertisements on some guy’s bald head, but not a teletype? C’mon!

So anyhow, I am afraid I will have to improvise. Perhaps I can find a dot-matrix printer with a serial port (or, I guess, a parallel port would do too) and an unbuffered printing mode. Then the trick would be getting keyboard input. Perhaps I could rig up a pty to do this, input from /dev/console, output to /dev/ttyS0. It would still be old, but not quite the real deal.

So if any of you have a working teletype you’d like to get rid of, do please let me know. I’ll send you a photo of the printout of me getting lost in Colossal Cave.

Oh, and for those keeping track at home, I guess you can add this to the list of old technologies I’m interested in: Gopher, typewriters, teletypes… they’re all alike, right?

25 thoughts on “I Want Something eBay Doesn’t Have

  1. The airline I worked for used them for Telex, as recently as ten years ago.

    Of course, knowing how slowly the FAA permits adoption of new things, they’re probably still in use. Which is why they’re not on eBay yet…

  2. I saw a teletype once, back when I was a child, sometime before 1984. It was in the airport of a small town in the Yukon. Unlike an old fashioned typewriter, which had a different arm for each letter, all the characters were cast onto a 2″ diameter steel ball that rested near the middle of the paper. I watched amazedly as the ball spun, rotated, and then struck the paper to mark on characters.

    Good luck finding one.

  3. (1) google [b]GreenKeys[/b] – this is an enthusiast group who are interested in ham radio and teletypes. They use teletypes to communicate over shortwave. Mostly ex-Bell System / Western Union repairmen and former military.

    (2) google [b]Simh[/b] – this is legacy minicomputer software that emulates PDP-11, VAX, HP2000, etc and will run the old text based games under Windows, Mac and Linux.

    I have a Teletype Model ASR35 (the BIG one) which I received from a GreenKeys member. He gave it to me for free, but I paid shipping – A LOT!!

    [url=http://www.vaporland.com/tty.jpg]Here’s a picture of it just after arrival…[/url]

    It will also punch paper tape.

    I have successfully connected my Teletype to [b]Simh[/b] running under Windows using a program called [b]HeavyMetal[/b] – which allows you to print out weather reports, AP news, etc, on your Teletype just like in the old days…

    If you search for ASR28 ASR33 or ASR35 on eBay you may have more luck.

    People at work think I am crazy when I tell them I have a Teletype – there are a number of UNIX / Java developers who don’t have a clue regarding the legacy of this device as it relates to their craft…

    1. I have 3 Model 15’s with keyboards and one w/o keyboard. I have Model 28 with paper-winder no keyboard. I have large Alden Fax Machine Would like to get rid of these machines some how. Contact me, I’m in New Jersey.

  4. I managed to find several on eBay. Don’t search for “teletype”; search for a specific terminal, such as “vt220”.

  5. You might try the ham radio community for teletypes – some people are still using them. The model 29 was the 5-level Baudot machine, and the model 33 was the ASCII machine we all learned to program on back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

  6. I recently wrote about wanting to have a teletype. Well, I have since realized that teletypes weigh hundreds of pounds, draw hundreds of watts, and aren’t available on eBay for a reasonable price. Well I knew the hundreds of pounds bit, but still. I pr

  7. One of the mailing lists I’m on was looking for one too[0]. Lord only knows what evil they want it for ;-) When I was in High School, one of my early experiences was pounding away at a DecWriter which is a modern teletype terminal — lots of noise and paper. I try to hack the school network, tried my hand at BASIC, played a startrek text game, it was a fascination.
    Hope you find one!

    [0] http://www.nycresistor.com/2008/08/05/help-nycresistor-needs-a-teletype/

  8. I have a teletype, will have to check the model for you. Last time it was checked, it was still in working condition. I would be interested in selling it if you desire it. I am not sure where you are in the country, but I would need shipping costs as well. If you are interested, please feel free to contact me at the email address above and I will get all the specifics and give them to you.

  9. Are you still looking for a teletype? We have a large Western Union unit that my older Ham radio brother left behind when he moved out and he doesn’t want it anymore. It was once functional but I don’t know what a couple of decades of non-use does to it. I can provide more details if necessary. Shipping is probably difficult; so hopefully you’re in the mid-Atlantic area.

  10. Hi- I just found this link on google. You or someone had posted back in 2008 that you still had a large Alden Fax Machine. If you still have it and want to get rid of it please contact me at weather@surfsouth.com
    Thanks. Darryl

  11. I have an excellent model 28asr with typing reperf, and two spare typing units.. interested???

    make me an offer for the lot.

    also an ol mod 14 tape reader

  12. Alan. Hello, spotted your 2008 post about the model 15 teletypes you had. Do you still have them, or know any sources for them? I’m in NJ too.

    Regards – Doug

  13. I have a Teletype ASR33 – free for anyone who wants to pick it up. It is located in Linden, TN. It was working when taken out of service some 20 years ago, and will surely require cleaning and re-lube before use. A full set of manuals is included.
    Don S.

    1. Hi Don –
      I don’t suppose you still have that ASR33, do you? I learned computing using one, and with a little old age has come a bit of nostalgia.


  14. I would like to purchase a model 28 keyboard. I have the typing unit but nothing else.
    I would also be very interested in repairing any model 28’s that anyone has, that needs repairing.

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