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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

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...



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