Cheshire's Telex Stories

This document is © Copyright 1996 Richard Cheshire, and includes stories for inclusion in "The Book" I intend to publish. Feel free to read them, and to set HTML pointers here, but do not reproduce it yourself without my permission. Please e-mail me at Thanx!


Learning to hack the World Telex Network.

(C) Copyright 1995 by Richard Cheshire
PO Box 10124
Indian River City FL
USA 32783

You might want to first read
A Quick Primer on Telex

A Japanese Translation of this article is available
through the courtesy of telex fanatic Nobutoshi Kohara.

The World Telex Network is about as old, and outdated as is available, yet will still work. In fact, it is finally being replaced, even in the world's back-waters. But for many years - if not many decades - if you had business communications to get somewhere, Telex was the way it went.

Model 32-ASR Telex Machine
Telex communications grew out of War communications, and was an immediate spinoff to the business communitty in the 1950's. It started in the United States when the Western Union Telegraph Company brought a line down from Montreal Canada, and set it up in New York City. The Canadians, of course, had cables from Newfoundland to Great Britain. Britain could then connect circuits to The Continent, and global communications (between points that really mattered - the Financial Markets of New York, London, Paris, Zurich, and some other players) meant the start of real global trade on a scale we now take for granted today.

A feature of Telex communications was the fact that it was printed, meaning that some time could be spent in translating the document to the local language. The magical machine that delivered this unheard of speed to business communications was the Teletype machine. The Kleinschmidt Corporation made a number of them (mostly for the military), and somehow, AT&T got the word Teletype as a Registered Trademark (I'd LOVE to find out how THAT happened some day), and owned the Teletype Corporation. Actually, AT&T only owned 50%, but since the other 50% was owned by the Western Electric Company (itself owned 100% by AT&T), I've never really quibbled, or been quibbled about the difference.

This adventure begins in upstate New York, in the homeland of the Rochester Telephone Company, the nation's largest independent "telco" (as telephone companies are refferred to in the industry). In the winter of my senior year in high school, the school recieved an IBM-1130 computer. This beastie was the size of an office desk, and contained 10 megabytes of hard disk storage (I forget how much RAM it had, but 64K Bytes of Core Storage was considered alot in those days). 5 MB of hard-disk was fixed, and 5 MegaBytes were removable in a plastic pack the size of a LARGE round pizza.

The programs and operating system would reside on the fixed disk, and the data would be on the removable pack. To back up the system, you copied the fixed disk to a removable pack, and stored the pack.

Most programs and data were on punched cards anyway, and most of the opening coursework was learning the vagaries of the Model 29 Card Punch (it was a high class installation - not so well off sites used old Model 26 machines).

It was in this environment that I was told my first "IBM Big Lie". "This system," they said, "is for the use of the Higher Level Math students". Hey! Wait a minute! Those kids already KNOW how to count. I'm the one who needs a computer! After all (went my reasoning) setting up the problems was FUN! The grunt arithmetic of working out the final answer wasn't. In this one stroke, I'd discovered The Secret. The Secret that IBM didn't want anyone to find out about. The Secret that (you're sure you won't tell anyone?) computers are fun! That information spoils IBM's entire image, and just won't do.

Needless to say, the school administration didn't know The Secret, and having fun with the big expensive computer just wan't what it was about. Of course, the real reason I'd wanted to work with the computer was that I'd heard you could print out pictures of my hero Snoopy with them. Yes, Charlie Brown's dog.

This reason was even lower in their esteme. But I started hanging out in and near the former storage area that was now "The Computer Center". The lady in charge took pity on me, and kicked IBM in the butt enough times to finally get in a collection of programmed instruction books on Fortran.

Every couple of days, I'd bring one back, and borrow the next one in the series. I started punching some cards in Fortran. I started playing with some simple programs. Then it was June. Graduation. Out!

What's a "Rube"?
An explanation for
non-english speakers
A "rube" is an old expression (not widely used anymore) to denote a country bumpkin, or someone who is not wise in the ways of city life. Since they could take any "Rube" off the street and teach them the "skills" needed for this job, it was called the "Rube Room".
If there is a point that you would like clarified, e-mail me at (Hi Nobutoshi!)

an acoustic coupler
I went to the local communitty college for a few months, got a job in the "Rube Room" of a local company (it's where the Rube's take the print-outs, and copy them and bind them for Executive Consumption). Eventually, I found out that a nearby college was offering computer time on an HP-2000C timesharing system to any schmuck off the street for US$1.00 per hour. Not only was this cheaper than pinball, but I qualified. After all, I WAS a schmuck off the street.

It turned out that the State University of New York at Brockport (a small suburban college town on the Erie Canal about 20 miles from the center of Rochester) was trying to put up a good front of Communitty Service by making college resources available to the locals. They were trying to mend fences with their neighbors is what it was all about, and I was ready to take full advantage of the situation.

In fact, my philosophy of programming has become my philosophy of life. Basically it is, "Find out what the Rules are. You can't break them, but you can abuse the hell out of them."

So here I was. I had access to a Really Nifty computer system - if I could reach it. It was within my local calling area, but you have to remember, access to a computer over a phone line took equipment that wasn't very common in those days. To visuallize what a modem in those days looked like, take two small china tea-cups, and place them on a brick with the cups about six inches apart. The cups were made of rubber, and the telephone handset was placed with the microphone and speaker held firmly in the cups so that outside noise couldn't get past the cups. One cup was marked "Cord", and showed which cup the microphone of the handset should go into, since it was next to the handset cord.

Most of these devices had two speeds. The first was 110 baud, and the high speed setting was a whopping 300 baud! A whole 30 Characters Per Second! Now come on folks, stop laughing. We didn't know any better then, and hardware STILL cost lots of bucks, and I didn't have access to a whole lot of efficient gear back then. The main thing was, how can I access this cheap computer system from Rochester without driving, or taking the bus all day to get there. Then I noticed a Teletype machine in a business office. A Model-33 Teletype, just like what I needed. But it was a TWX Machine. That was my first question. "What's a TWX Machine?"

The Phone Company has a way with initials. It only likes three letters in most of them. The switchboard in a company is the PBX which stands for Private Branch eXchange (PBX). In the early days of the phone company, there was the Main exchange, and Branch exchanges. Private Branch Exchanges made for less work for Telco (Telephone company, remember?) operators. The PBX became a mainstay. TWX stands for TeletypeWriter eXchange.

American Telegram Co
When the Western Union Telegraph Company started making out like a bandit with "Record Communications" (printed Telex messages between international companies), AT&T wanted in on the action. Since they owned the Teletype Corporation, and had an under utilized voice telephone network, it was a cinch to get involved in a teletype network of their own.

The Telex network used the 5 level Baudot code that was popular on The Continent (Europe), and since everything in Europe passed over someone's border or other, International Standards had been set up. In fact Baudot was International Telegraph Alphabet Number 2 (ITA #1 was the Morse code). The code, developed by Frenchman Emile Baudot, had 2 to the 5th, or 32 characters available. The 26 alphabetic characters, and five special characters. One of these special charcters (called Figures) meant to shift the type box, and use the numbers and special characters printed across the top of the letters on the alphabetic keys. To start printing letters again, you sent the Letters shift character.

When AT&T started up it's network, it used the ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) code, which was now becoming popular on many computer systems - like the HP- 2000C. This eventually became ITA #5. I've lost track of what ITA #3 and ITA #4 are, but one of them is undoubtedly the one used in SITOR (Simplex Telex Over Radio) first developed in Britain for use with ships in the North Sea.

I made some friends in this one office in downtown Rochester, and was allowed to play with the machine for a bit. But I really needed to reach the local telephone exchange with it, and the costs of TWX (it's pronounced like the Twix candy bar, by the way) was way out of sight, and I didn't feel that mean towards people who were helping me out.

So I got to thinking. Why would the folks at the Rochester Telephone Company build a whole new exchange for a Pa Bell playtoy? They wouldn't, I concluded. They'd translate from the "funny" area codes (310, 410, 510, etc), to a local area code and exchange. Let's see, I thought. The 510 area code seems to be for those cities with Independent Telcos (I had gotten a national TWX Directory, and was looking it over pretty carefully). The 510-523 exchange covers Rochester. 716-523 is a telephone exchange in Buffalo, so that won't help me. Let's pick a number, and figure that the last four digits will stay the same.

Now I can start at the 221 exchange and work my way up, or I can figure that the digits in the exchange might get mixed up, and find it that way. Well, I started with the 716-325 exchange, because it was the big exchange in the downtown business district. It seemed logical. So I tried 325-2368. "Uh, Hello, is Doug there please?". Whew! Good old Doug, always never there when you need him (if a "Doug" had been there, it would have taken even longer to get off the phone, and on to the next call). OK, so it wasn't the 325 exchange. The 235 exchange is way out on the west end of town. I could see no reason for the Telco to place the TWX exchange way the heck out there. But it was still better than starting at 716-221 and working my way up. I dialed. "Ring - click. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!" Paydirt!

I ran out to another college the next day, and used their terminal room. It was almost farther than Brockport, but was near my final destination. I dialed the TWX number for the local Truck Stop. Ring - click. "BEEEEEEEP". Handset in the accoustic coupler, 110 baud, half duplex, (the transmission speed and method of a Model 33 teletype), and it appeared that I was at a TWX machine. I shipped myself a message, and went to lunch.

At the truck stop 3 miles down the road, I had a good meal, and wandered back to the fuel desk. "Got a message for Cheshire?", I asked. "Let me look," said the man behind the desk. He picked up a shief of yellow papers. "Richard Cheshire?", he asked. I got my message and went home VERY happy.

With the help of the TWX directory, and some experimenting I wound up with a list of over 40 cities that I could directly dial into with a computer terminal and a modem.


These stories are ©Copyright 1995,1996 by Richard Cheshire, All rights reserved.

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