Memories of Burroughs

These (edited) memories have been contributed by visitors to this web site.

Subject: Series L/TC - From: Henry Griggs of Virginia, USA

Wow. All those photos! They really brought back the memories of the Burroughs gear. I liked the L series of machines, but the B80 was my favourite. I did a lot of work on those things, but only the really cut down ones, not the really fast ones.

I've got a bit of Burroughs memorabilia stuffed away - the little yellow Assembler code notebook, notepads with Burroughs logos, some advertising material...  I'll scan what I've got and send the images to you so you can enjoy them too. I might scan that entire little assembler coding book. I spent so much time with it, it was years before I could forgot those codes!


Subject: B700 - From: Bill Roberts of New York State, USA


I worked for Burroughs in Downingtown, PA, from 1972 to 1977. We made the B700 and B800's there. I wrote the micro-code that allowed the B700 to do addition and subtraction (in decimal so there were no binary rounding errors). I also headed up a team to add up to four key-to-disk microprocessor-controlled (B7* microprocessor) keyboards to allow key-to-disk data collection and verification while the B700 continued it's normal processing. 

The key-to-disk system was the AE500 system. This system was being developed with all the following going on at once: modification of the disk control hardware to allow control by both computers (B700 and B7*) at the same time; development of the Assembler to do the micro code for the B7*; development of an interpreter to read the audit entry instructions; development of a compiler to compile the AUDit EntRY (ADURY, the official name of the compiler) instructions to something that could be interpreted; and modifications to the micro code of the B700 to allow for multiple disk accesses.  The only debug tool was an HP logic analyzer with 8 probes!

I remember hooking up the TD700's (terminal display units) to the B700. 

The B700 was originally released with RPG-III. Although I wasn't involved with the development of that system, I did decide to learn the language, and wrote a program to keep track of my personal finances for (US) income taxes. This helped to uncover some early bugs in the compiler, and, as a result, my personal finances ended up as a part of the test suite for the B700! I at least got to change some of the numbers before it got out of the plant and on to our sales forces in Detroit.

We intended the B700 to compete with the IBM System 3 (also an RPG-III machine), with the B1700 as the "big brother" for when the customer needed a faster machine. As a result, we were one of the first purchasers of the IBM System 3, a fact IBM made use of in its sales promotions. Well, we needed something to run our tests on! In both compile time and program run speed, we were able to beat the System 3. But the real problem was that we totally wiped out the B1700 as well! Turns out the B1700 disk-swapping system swapped out the disk controller at every opportunity, and that had a negative effect on performance. Burroughs management was not amused, several engineers at the B1700 plant did not get their Christmas bonuses that year, and there was a lot of hard feeling between plants for a while.

We took pride in creating demo's that really did stress the machines as much as real life applications. But remember, we were the developers, and quite often did not realize how the machines would really be used.

Finally, I did the design on the B800 job-swapping system. I left before that project came to fruition, but it was a fun project. If you ever played the "Battleship" game on the B700, I did the firing algorithm. It was quite a machine, and (IMHO) well ahead of it's time.


Subject: Burroughs and SAM Systems - From: Mike Piper, Menai Bridge, Anglesey, United Kingdom


Talking of Altham's Travel, I took over the majority of the programming work for them from Brian Fairies (a colleague at SAM's) in 1982, who'd written the original batch processing travel agents system, which SAM's also sold to Star Travel. I converted the system to real-time and added various new features, such as BACS output for ticket payments and an airport transfer system to provide transport scheduling to and from Manchester Airport. All this work was specified by Altham's financial accountant, David Ball who might still be working there - I spoke to him about 5 or 6 years ago. Apparently they moved to IBM AS/400 equipment in the early 1990s.

Stollers is another company I did programming work for. By then, they had a B80 running a modified KeyBMS accounts receivable system. I went there a couple of times with Martin Harbour (of SAM's, also an ex-Burroughs guy - Stockport office I think) to install extra sales analysis tailored for their furniture business.

I used both the SL3 and SL5 languages on the L series machines, L2000, L3000, L6000, L8000 and L9000 - also the TC500 comms-capable machine, up until around 1980. After that I used Cobol and MPLII for the CMS machines (B80/90, B800/900, B1800/1900) up until 1992. MPLII was used mainly for the on-line applications, to write tasks (sub-programs) that slotted in to Burroughs Proteus skeleton application (written for them by Cap Systems, based in Leeds) which communicated with TD830 screens.

Cobol was best suited for the reporting functions.

When I talk to people about Burroughs equipment, I usually receive a blank expression. It always surprises me that Burroughs weren't more well-known, and as you say they were the world's second largest computer company at one point.


Subject: Memories from Tom LaPorte


I worked in Downingtown, Penn for about 6 months in about 1975 or 76.  Itís all a bit hazy now and I would really like to hear from someone who could fill in some of the gaps in my memory.


I stated with BBM in Canada but was transferred to Downingtown as part of a project team applying the CMS operating system from the B80 to the new B800.  The B80 was a single operator system and on the B800 we had to develop a whole new operator interface to allow multiple applications to be shared by multiple operators, one at the console and others on terminals (maybe TD800ís??).  This sounds really basic now but I believe that we had the very first multi-user multi-application operating system on pretty much any business computer smaller than corporate mainframes.  I had completely forgotten this but when I read Bill Robertsí comment on your Memories of Burroughs page I remembered working on Battleships.  I remember that someone else in the team had written the entire core of the program which tracked the shots taken and their effect on the ship targets, I suppose that was Bill as he says, and I wrote the operator interface (the entry of the shots taken and the reporting of their effects) so I wrote the small user piece and demonstrated it to all the BBM brass along with a very basic Accounting Simulator application which I wrote for the systems launch.  It was basically just a series of screen images which made it look like Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable and General Ledger were all running simultaneously but really it was just a series of images which the salesmen had to follow to show the systemís potential.  I remember that the B800 was shipped more as a developerís platform than as an user product as there were absolutely no applications written for it.  We had planned to develop some more impressive demonstration programs for it but there was pressure on to launch the system so it went out with only the Accounting Simulator and Battleships which could be demonstrated on it. 


I also remember that we had worked on prototype systems and when the engineers rolled out the shipping system it did not have the PF keys across the top which the old B700 keyboard on the prototypes had.  Unfortunately my demo programs used the PF keys for input and so they didnít work.  This was about two days before the launch.  The engineers argued that the system didnít need Program Function keys any more as they werenít program specific and so  couldnít be mapped to specific functions in a multi-user environment.  Unfortunately there wasnít enough time to change my demo programs and all the shipping documentation so they had to put the keys back in by the launch.  We compromised by having them label them F keys (F1 thru F8 I think) rather than PF keys.  As we went to market first, when the IBM systems launched they also had the F keys on their keyboards although they didnít use them for anything in their initial demo systems.  I remember how excited they were at Head Office that IBM was following their application model.  I donít know, does that mean that I invented the F keys?  They are still around and they still hardly ever do anything for most users.


These memories are very hazy.  I would really like to have someone who knows more about computing history who could comment on the implications of our project at Downingtown.  I seem to remember that we beat IBM to that market by a matter of several months.


After the B800 shipped I was transferred to the head office in Detroit where I sat at a desk and was the contact person for every branch around the world who had just received the new B800 systems.  The most common question they asked was what were they supposed to do with these systems as they didnít do anything yet.  I think the first shipping year was very slow.


While I was on the phone, the guy at the next desk, Mike Hughes, was setting up a project team for a huge sale of B800ís to SWIFT (from memory, the Society for the Worldwide Interchange of Financial Transactions).  One day he asked me out for coffee and invited me to join his project team as he had overheard a few of my telephone conversations and that I knew more about application development on the CMS platform on the B800ís than anyone else he was able to find for the project.  That was based on my development of the Accounting Simulator and the Battleships operator interface but it probably was true.  I accepted and was transferred to the SWIFT Project Office in Brussels, Belgium where our team wrote a switch which transferred large amounts of money between various banks in 11 countries.  Our team was headed up by Mike and had members from Japan (Yutaka and Kazuo), England (Ray), US (Chris), Greece (Niki), Holland (two but I canít remember their names) and myself from Canada.  Perhaps one or two more that I canít recall right now.  The development took well over a year and grew into a much larger application than had even been planned initially.  It became much too big to test and playing computer with the code was very hard as it was all being done in very low level language.  I canít remember what that was now.  I wrote a filter which inserted trap points at every conditional statement and at the entry and every exit from every subroutine.  On execution you could programmatically turn the traps on and off in order to debug specific sections of the massive program.  When it finally shipped, Chris and I toured the system to all the 11 countries where the system was installed.  For a few months afterwards we provided system support for the systems which often involved flying there to help them out.  I believe we made about a 100 flights in and out of those 11 countries over the next 3 months.  Often two or three countries in the same day.  


After that I was assigned to the NatWest Bank in London for about 3 months and to the Burroughs plant in Cumbernauld, Scotland for another 3 or 4 months.  I then received an offer from Burroughs Denmark to work there on their CMS sales and as I had quite a few friends there I requested a transfer to Copenhagen but the Comptroller back in Brussels, who didnít know that I had received an offer from there, lied to me and told me that he had contacted the office in Denmark but they didnít have a position for me but if I did a certain assignment that he needed me for in Belgium, not a very good offer financially, he was sure that Denmark would be interested in me after that.  So I got my nose completely out of joint and quit Burroughs.  I still have my reference letter from Mike at the end of that project including an apology for the Comptrollerís actions and his regret that I had been treated that way.  Mike was a class act but the Comptroller, Roland, was a real piece of work.  I went back to Winnipeg, Canada and worked on CMS systems and then Windows Servers until I retired a few years ago.


Subject: Memories from Fred Little, Preston Branch


Do you remember me...Fred Little?

I was a field engineer.

Jim Cassidy was the Service manager who took me on...heís 2nd from the left (next to Brian Dugdale) in the Elliot Rae retirement do which i donít remember attending.  On the extreme left is Harry Oldroyd. He was a field Hngineer from Lancaster. He spent a lot of time at ĎStoreyísí and Lunesdale Farmers.

I remember Ken (leave it to me) Tipper too !

What about Ron Berrington too...He was on EDP as engineer on the B500 at Burtons Biscuits. He emigrated to New Zealand.


I was for-ever going to Dockers of Barrow (Mrs Fitzjohn!) to sort out their F5000 dual printer which broke down all the time because the program was too much for it!


I worked on the E2000ís too. I well remember blowing-up W & J Pyeís one day when I disconnected a very big multi-pin connector with the mains  still connected. I effectively put 240Volts AC on a Ė4 volt line and took out about 20 boards! But that's how you learn!  Of course no-one knew what I had done at the time....all part of being an engineer!  I learned a hell of a lot about the E2000 whilst getting it working again!


Then there was the E4000 at Lancaster Town Hall which I worked on but never did the full course for!  I always remember there was an intermittent fault there. All our brains were on it for weeks. They even put in a special mains supply but it still miss operated!  The customer was at 10,000ft!


One day a  scruffy chap called Keith Grand-Scrutton turned up from Head Office.  He got no tools out or equipment...He looked at the print out where it had gone wrong.   He looked at the Ďprogramí,  After about 20 minutes he uttered the immortal words ĎChange Memory Driver Card Bí.  Of course we didn't have one but one was acquired and fitted.  The machine NEVER failed least not for that fault.  What an ego killer! Non of the so-called experts had even given the Memory Driver Card B a thought!


I also worked on the banks TC500ís (boring as you became a part swapper) and more interestingly the early ATMs...£10 a day jobs! How times have changed in just a few years.


There was a lovely girl called Trudi in the front office and we had a Ďdemonstratorí by the name of Jan Warbrick.  I remember in the early days Pat Gormley couldnít drive and went everywhere by bus, as a service engineer!


More customers I visited were ...Provincial Insurance in Kendal (F1000 I remember it well). Manseghís in Lancaster (E2000) ...... Kelmac at Carnforth (E1000)....Omeride ar Earby (E2000 gave little trouble!)Ö.Leonard Fairclough at Adlington (E2000 s).... Gossís Preston (F1000 & E1400..nightmare!) ... Ashley Accessories at Ulverston (E2000)... Althams Travel at Burnley (E1400)...Atwater Preston (F1000)... Evening Gazette Blackpool (E1000)... Lune Metal Spinning at Morecambe (E1000). 


I remember going to Midland Bank Accrington one Monday morning in response to their ATM having shut down. There was a £10 clip sticking out which anyone could have taken and it had been there since Friday when the machine powered itself down because it had sensed the jammed clip! ie,  the clip hade to be removed within a certain time limit.  Someone had used their card and forgotten to take the cash!  I wonder if that would be the case today?


I also worked on the punched tape kit. Before Nat West Bank went over to TC310ís they had Burroughs punched tape for a year or two. At the end of the day the tapes were loaded onto a Plessey on-line reader which transmitted the data to the mainframe at Bootle....if they were lucky!  So we had a mechanical accounting machine (SeriesF) connected to the punch tape unit which was all relays and stepper switches! What a mine field! It was a miracle it worked at all!


The there were the ABC machines around decimalisation time...Already been Converted.  What a disaster they were...The idea was that the user could flip from sterling to decimal and back. After D-day we jammed them all in decimal mode!


I met and married Dot Bradley who worked in the front office with Marjorie Crowther in charge.  Laurie Taylor was my best Man.


Much though I enjoyed working at Burroughs, Ďtheyí thought that was sufficient reward and paid their engineers poorly.  They didnít pay me enough to live to a decent standard as an engineer so I had to leave.  I joined Lansing Bagnall as a service engineer.  What I change from office to boiler suit!  But they were a good firm, paid very well, gave you a vehicle and very had good training. 


I have to say that my electronics training (TPCís) at Burroughs have always stood me in good stead. Technology advances but the basic principles stay the same.  I ended up training engineers at Lansing after working there for several years. (You had to have at least 6 years experience in order to apply for the technical jobs).


You will appreciate that some of the modern warehouse equipment has quite sophisticated electronics which has to survive the rigours of the machines movement. So as with everything there is more to materials handling equipment than meets the eye.  Linde (of Germany) took Lansing over in the early Ď90ís and things became a little uncertain but we came through it fairly unscathed.


I ended up as  electric products technician for ĎLinde Sterlingí who were the distributers for Linde in the NW.  As well as trouble shooting I was also responsible for training service engineers.  I was always in the happy position of knowing more than the management (at least on the tech side...which was all that I was interested in) so I Ďdid my own thingí most of the time and got quite well paid for it too!  I never wanted to be a Ďmanagerí...whatever that may mean. I wanted people to come towards me when they saw me ...not walk away!


So I had a great 36 or so years in the materials handling world.  I retired in 2009 (a bit early) and havenít missed it one bit!


I've been with Longridge Band (where I live) for almost 30 years and being Secretary keeps me occupied.  We take our 2 lovely granddaughters to school EVERY day, which makes us get out of bed!  Iím a keen photographer (got my LRPS after retiring ) so that takes up lots of time too.


Just remembered another couple of things.....Brian Compstey, Alvar Rodger, Burnley Building Soc.... Preston Farmers....and Heysham Harbour... well her chest ! (and she knew it...I was only early 20ís)There were some perks!


I think thatís enough for now...I could go on.


Subject: íToo far ahead of its timeí: Britain, Burroughs and realtime banking in the 1960s


This link is to an Open University article


Subject: Memories from Judith Weekes, Machine Operator in Burroughs Australia from the 1950s


I worked for Burroughs Sydney based in 1950's.

I am now 81 years of age but have fond memories of what was considered a skilled position to hold.

I began operating a manual comptometer then a Duplex comptometer. It was such joy to operate, after the manual comptometer.

Then I progressed to the bookkeeping machine to do payrolls. I think the model of the bookkeeping machine was a number 78

The next machine I operated was a costing machine purchased for the costing department.

From memory I think it was called a multiplier.

My hands and fingers now are showing the wear and tear caused by the strength needed to operate the mechanical machines.

Despite this I have no regrets.

They were actually the precursor to the computer which is now the modern machine.

I now use a computer which is the modern miracle machine and moving forward at a fast rate.

I'm sending this as my record of nostalgia thinking back so so long ago.


Subject: Memories from Granville Parker, Programmer at H G Usher, Edinburgh in the 1970s


I worked on an L5000 series at H.G. Usher in Edinburgh in 1972-74 after leaving  Edinburgh University with a very average BSc in Biological Science.  In those days you could sit an "intelligence test" to see if you were suitable for programming. Harry  Usher ran one of the first software companies in Edinburgh. I developed in Assembler or machine  code for efficiency and I still have a copy of the code book somewhere and paper tape program.  Sometimes had to patch a bad bit of parity using the hand-punched overlay tape. Using mag stripe ledger cards for accounting systems. Later H.G. Usher got a COBOL compiler.  I left for Australia to start work in COBOL, strangely enough for a finance company (General Credits) with a Burroughs B4700 using punch cards (1 compile per day and lots of desk checking).


Subject: Memories from Bruce Miller of Burroughs in New York in the 1960s and 1970s


Started with Burroughs in Binghamton, NY at the ripe old age of seventeen in 1966. I guess I must have done okay as it was off to Detroit for Sensimatic training in January of 1967. Then the "Even E's" in late 1969 followed by the L's and TC's pretty much from start to finish. I left Burroughs in 1979 to go with FourPhase Systems. Three years later some former Burroughs guys and I got together to do what Burroughs was trying not to do... we took over the "L" business in southern NY.

Training? As others have stated... very good!

Pay? It depends on your perspective. I wasn't getting rich but Burroughs was by no means terrible.

And then the experience. Put training and pay aside if you will.

Burroughs exposed me to things I'd otherwise never have known about.

Burroughs also allowed me to meet some powerful and influential people.

People who would prove invaluable to me over the years.


Subject: Memories from Brian Haynes of Burroughs in London in the 1950s and 1960s


I joined Burroughs Field Service in 1958 on demob from RAF/National Service, working out of Northdown Street, Kings Cross.   London West-End Branch transferred premises to Baker Street, LondonW1.    Branch Service Manager was George Breed, then Andy McCulloch, who promoted me to Zone Service Manager. I was with Burroughs for 10 years, then moved into a full sales position with H.J.Heinz 57.  I donít expect any of you guys to know me, but Iíve been trying to make contact with anybody who remembers Sensimatics, etc, for ages.  I hope Iím not barking up the wrong tree, and look forward to hearing from any of you.


Subject: Memories from Steve Garry of Burroughs in Bristol area


Been reading through some of the Burroughs site memories - it's probably time for me to add a bit to the mix.


I joined Burroughs pre Decimalisation, in 1969, working for Bristol Branch in the UK,  The service manager was Bernard Parsons, two of the Zone managers were Wilf Parkhouse and Roger Rumble, and I spent a number of months living in a bed-sit in Bristol while doing initial training, on things like the P6000 cheque encoder (horrible machine), the J series adding machine, and then the TC500 which was being installed in massive numbers across the Midland Bank, National Westminster Bank and Barclays Bank branches in the run-up to decimalisation.  Due to the timing, I never got involved with the older mechanical and electro-mechanical accounting systems, although there were quite a few around the place


I had my own car, which was unusual in those times, so quite often I was the driver for an experienced engineer who didn't have his own transport, but it meant that I got to see and experience a lot more than some of the other trainees at the time.  There were massive numbers recruited around then due to the huge bank order for TC500s, which in most cases were on 4 hour response-time maintenance contracts, which was a problem in the rural areas due to the distances involved.  It  would be nothing for me to claim 600 or 700 miles a week of travelling, and that was without a 180 mile round trip to the branch office from home, and this was in the days before the motorways, so getting home on a Friday evening in the summer could take 3 to 4 hours due to the volume of traffic on the roads.  I think the highest I ever claimed was 1,200 miles in one week, but that was dealing with a major system crash on a B700 system that was a long way away from me, and in those days, the company didn't do things like pay overnight hotel accommodation, which would have been more cost- and time-effective, given how slow the B700 COBOL compiler was (8 cards a minute if I remember correctly, so a small program took a number of hours to compile, and if there was an error, you didn't get to know about it until the last pass, which could be incredibly frustrating).


When I started, home was not in the Bristol Branch area, but it was agreed that I would operate from home, which was Exeter, as the Bristol branch covered Somerset and Dorset, and I could get to both from Exeter relatively easily.  In those days quite a few of the engineers didn't have their own cars, but I did, so being able to cover a large rural area was a huge advantage.  The he down-side was that I could go for days without seeing another engineer, and I had to be very much self sufficient in spares in order to meet the response times that had been agreed with the banks.  So, the car ended up carrying a considerable load in spares weight, especially when the L8000 & L9000 series came on stream, due to the different circuit boards on those systems.


In 1971 we moved to Wellington in Somerset when I got married, which meant I was in the branch area, and I spent the next 5 years working in Somerset and Dorset with occasional trips to other areas depending on the urgency of the calls and availability of an engineer to respond.  Bristol covered a huge area, from Minehead in West Somerset to Blandford Forum in Dorset, and up to Moreton In March in Gloucestershire, then across to Swindon, down to Devizes, and then down to the South Coast.  Pre-motorways, it could take 2 or 3 hours to get to one call, and I could easily do over 200 miles in a day if someone was out sick or on holiday.


In the early days of the TC500 there were no parts vans to deliver things like print-head decoders to us, so if a decoder failed, which they did regularly due to some design issues in the print head that were not found for a while, it was a case of doing an on-site rebuild of the decoder.  That was a big job to do, and sometimes messy if the oil seals were bad, so there was oil everywhere inside the machine.  Sometime later a central rework facility for decoders was set up, and (Securicor I think) a van service to deliver parts was introduced to make it easier to meet response times.  So the engineering skills needed to repair the machines was significantly diminished, most repairs were a major module swap - good from the bank perspective, but not good for the engineers who joined when that system came in, as they never got the in-depth training that the early people did.


In the early 1970s things like the L5000 magnetic stripe machines, then the L8000 and L9000 series came on-stream, and started selling to commercial customers with all manner of peripherals on them, including line printers, paper tape, and 80-Column punch card.  We usually had to put a constant voltage transformer on to the larger L8000 & L9000 series to help smooth out power fluctuations.  The abiding memory of the transformers was that you didn't go near them, they were hot enough to fry an egg on when in service, and needed 2 people to move them safely, they were so heavy.


I was lucky as I'd done the in-depth Series L training, so I was ideally placed to move on to also covering the commercial Series L sites and the later L8000 and L9000 machines.  On them, there were some aspects that still needed good diagnostic skills, especially on the L5000 and later series that used magnetic-stripe ledger cards.  The paper tape punches were tricky little things, and as for the 80-column card punches, (A149 if I remember correctly) the bulk of the logic there was relays, with the reliability issues that went with them.  I still remember spending over a week analysing a problem at Yeovil District Council, where they were having problems with an incorrect value being punched on an 80-column card, and after a LOT of head scratching, I was able to find out that it was a problem with a firmware overlay that had a wrong value in it, which was causing it to punch a 0 (zero) value incorrectly.  I was able to Memory Modify it, and sent the resulting change to head office, which did get recognised with an appropriate letter of thanks from someone a lot further up the pecking order than I was used to dealing with.  It had apparently been causing problems on a number of sites, but had up to that point eluded the software support teams at the factory.


Then there were the Cash Dispensers, based on the TC500, and they were a nightmare to service due to the security and the problem that they were often in the public area of the branches, so working on them was a lot more difficult.  They were often vandalised, which made for a long job to repair things like a pin keyboard filled with Superglue, which happened quite regularly.  There were also huge problems with the "umbilical cord" of cables that connected the "computer" trolley to the rest of the hardware that was physically built into the wall of the bank.  It was too easy for that to get damaged, and if it did, finding the one wire among 100 or more that was broken took a long time.  I didn't miss them when I moved on to other things!


Then came the B700, with all sorts of strange options, and then the B80 and later the B90 range, but by then I'd made what would be regarded as an unusual move.  At the request of the Sales Manager, Dick Booth, I transferred from engineering to Sales, and I spent a number of years selling things like the L8000 and L9000, then the B80, before becoming more involved with a more technical role on software support, and later with an emphasis on Manufacturing Production Control System on B700 & B800 systems.


It was an interesting time.  I managed to sell the first B80 in Bristol branch area, much to the chagrin of the product sales manager for B80s, Bernard Ward.  It went into a housing association, and then I sold a number of other B80 systems running a package known as KeyBMS to small wholesalers for use as invoice and accounting systems.  We had one of the highest volume B80 sites in the early days.  They were doing nearly 200 invoices a day, with up to 150 lines on each invoice.  They were a sweet and tobacco cash-and-carry, and the B80 (initially on 2x 8" floppy discs!) worked incredibly well and was subsequently upgraded to add things like a line printer and 30 MB Disk Drive that was the size of a filing cabinet.  Having been involved in the engineering side was a huge advantage, as it meant I had a much better understanding of what was technically possible on the hardware, as well as a programming background.  The early TC500 courses spent quite a bit of time on the SL3 programming language, so I was able to get very close to the software side of the Series L, which was a big advantage when discussing what could or could not be done, and it wasn't a big change to get involved with COBOL on the B80.


At the other end of the scale, there were things like programmable calculators, (C6000 I think)  which used a magnetic stripe card with 16 memory accumulators, and I sold a number of these doing a payroll application.  I was able to put together a full build-up to gross pay, with overtime rates, then gross to net calculation, and a full coin analysis, all within 16 available memory locations.  And if they got a payslip wrong, they could reload the memories from the previous card, and process the employee again without losing the grand totals for the run.  For a small business, it was a superb and relatively cheap system.  The payslip was specially designed by the sister company of Burroughs Business Forms - a 2-part carbonless-transfer pre-printed form, so the whole thing became a lot less complex for small companies that needed to pay a sometimes complex payroll.  The first was a small bakery with 50 staff, who all worked varying hours at different rates, so to be able to automate this was a huge saving for the owner, with a list of what notes and coin to get from the bank being the icing on the cake for him.


As someone else mentioned, the money for an engineer wasn't particularly good, and it was one of the reasons for moving over to Sales in 1975, which worked out quite well until in 1978 Head Office caused me huge grief with a site in Weymouth.  We'd taken an order for a B800 running a complex production control system, but for reasons that I never got to the bottom of, while the software was in our price lists and "available" to sell, they never placed the order for a number of critical modules, so when the customer started pushing for delivery, head office informed us that it wasn't available and would not be.


The customer, a large electronics coil winding company in Weymouth, was obviously very upset and took legal action.  I left Burroughs and joined my former Zone Sales manager in a company (Deane Computer Services) he'd taken over some time earlier, as I wasn't prepared to lose the commission that I'd earned on the B800 sale, as it was through no fault on my part that the order was being cancelled.  It took a while for it all to get sorted out, and in the end the company I'd moved to was responsible for the installation of a machine to replace the Weymouth B800, which worked very well and we subsequently also replaced the B80 in the sweet and tobacco cash-and-carry with a larger multi-screen system that we programmed in-house.


We still did a lot of work on Burroughs kit, buying and selling used Series L machines, and in some cases providing maintenance support for them.  That led to my next role in 1983 -  Data Processing Manager for a large poultry processor in Tiverton, Devon.  We had been supporting a number of Series L machines which were damaged beyond repair by a flash flood, and I spent the 3 months installing a multi-screen minicomputer there to replace the four machines they'd been using for invoicing and sales ledger.  That led to an offer to join them and manage the data processing function for them, with a new system to be designed to cover all aspects of their operation.  That was a 3-year project and a very good position, and led to a later move to a position as European Technical Support Manger for a major financial services software house that was using the hardware platform that I'd been responsible for in Tiverton.


The training and experience at Burroughs laid a good foundation that still stands me in good stead some 45 years later.  Modern hardware is smaller, faster and technically more capable these days, but the underlying principles are still the same,  and sticking to them has prevented me from being caught out on many occasions.  We had a good team in Bristol, and all in all Burroughs wasn't a bad company to work for.  The last of the L9000 machines were incredibly capable and reliable, and provided a good platform for many companies.  They provided the perfect platform for the B80 and B90 systems that came along to replace them.  Looking back, the only difference between the B80 and things like the Commodore 8000s and then the first IBM PCs was that the B80 had a much better operating system than any of those early PC systems.  It's a pity that Burroughs was not able to take advantage of the advantages that the B80 and B90 platform had.  In hindsight, they were a long way ahead of the competition, but didn't know how to capitalise on that advantage.


I can still remember some of the presentations I put together on the early B80s.  We had a line printer in the branch, and a demonstration of real-time invoicing while also printing statements on the line printer was, for its time, light years ahead of anything that could be done by the competition, but we couldn't get access to the software source code, so were restricted in what we could offer without spending massive sums on customising.


The funniest was probably having to demonstrate a B80 in the skittle alley of a car distributorship in Yeovil, ( big L9 customer, and very friendly).  It was a smart place to use, carpeted, etc, with a small mini bar etc, but I had to demonstrate for 3 days without shoes on.

If I didn't take them off, the static from the carpet would cause the machine to reboot unpredictably, which wasn't helpful!  It wasn't much fun for my finger tips either - they were pretty big sparks, jumped about an inch, but unpredictable. 

It caused some merriment at the time, and made it easier to get customers to set up their sites correctly when we came to install, they remembered the issue, which made for stable sites going forward.


Ahhh, memories! - but they might be of interest to some of the other people who were involved during what was a turbulent time in computing.


SUBJECT: Memories from Rodger K Beaton, Arkansas, USA


I started in the Plymouth factory as a DA tech in 1968.  When I started there they were manufacturing the Sensamatic.  They had 6,000 employees.  Then they started the TC500 - I helped build that.  The factory went down to about 1,200 employees.


I became an ALGOL DA programmer.  I designed programs to build the computers and test the resulting comps.


I went to WHQ for a while, then transferred to Carlsbad, Calif.  Then they moved us to Rancho Barnardo 2, and then they closed that and we went to RB 1. Then Cadence bought the small engineering group in RB 1, and we moved to another building.

They fired anyone over 50 after 2 years, and a few other tokens.  Then they closed the facility a year later.  We made chips, then chip manufacture was all moved to Taiwan, with no environmental control, but our chips could not compete.  Jobs gone.


I moped for about a year.


Then my daughter mentioned Y2K and that they were looking for old Burroughs programmers.  My lucky day, and an interview in Toronto!  They were dazzled, and could not believe I could program an A machine (I could make it stand on its heels!).

So they sent me to work for CTA in Lansing.  It was late 1998, and they had to be done by end of 1998.  We made it - I worked many hours and made lots of money.  I was a tester, looking at documents and comparing till I was seeing double.


Then in 1999 they fired everyone except me - they were still dazzled.  Should they keep me, just in case???   So I had nothing to do for about a year, and to stay amused I sat down and tried to figure out the state's software for its retirement systems.  They were dumb and poorly written.  I wrote ALGOL programs and in a few pages duplicated their software and fixed their problems!!!  Extracted data, and FTP to their Excel spreadsheets.  ORS was ecstatic.


DMB was not impressed - they hated my guts.  They were an XGEN shop - worst idea I ever heard of.  4th Generation indeed! - makes a COBOL program the size of the Encyclopaedia Britannia!


So I reached age 58, my last-ditch retirement target.  I said Iím retiring!!

They freaked out.  ORS said they would create a new department just for me at ORS.  I deeply thanked them and said "nope", bought a home in Arkansas, paid cash and retired. Y2K cash!!!


Treasury did entice me to go back about 6 months later, for $100 an hour.  I thought that was pretty fair.  They ordered me to write in XGEN.  I lasted one week!!


Back here in Arkansas, life is good.


SUBJECT: Programming Burroughs L series from Jeffrey Haran

My first programming job was programming L series for a company that sold document processing systems to the mortgage industry in Castro Valley, CA circa 1975.

You'd mentioned 3 different ways of programming an L.  We did it sort of like this description you provided:

"in COBOL.  In this case the program was written on programming sheets, which were then sent to a Burroughs data centre to be punched onto 80-column cards.  These were then processed with a COBOL/GP300 compiler application, that produced the final program on punched paper tape - if the program compiled!  If it didn't (which was usually the case first-time round), the programming sheets had to be changed, and the whole process had to be gone through again.  This could take several times, and several weeks.  As a result, this approach was rarely used."

Except we wrote the source code on the coding sheets in the GP300 assembler rather than COBOL.  The advantage to using the assembler directly was we avoided the problem of getting it to compile the first time around that you mentioned.  The assembler was much more forgiving than the COBOL compiler in getting us a listing and object code on paper tape.  Even in the presence of errors like mistyped instructions and references to non-existent labels the assembler would generate a listing and object tape, so we usually got something we could work with on the first build.

We'd take our coding sheets to a keypunch outfit a couple blocks away in Castro Valley.  The next day or two they'd have the punch cards ready, so we would then drive to San Francisco and do one build on the big Burroughs mainframe at the Burroughs office on Battery Street, take our error-filled listing and paper tape back to Castro Valley and then patch in fixes for the build errors using the Memory Modify utility there.  These patches would be recorded in pencil on the paper listing.  Bug fixes, minor and sometimes not so minor enhancements would be done the same way, so over time the source code a given customer was running would end up being represented by a wrinkled, original paper listing covered in endless penciled-in patches and coffee stains.

That was our "git".

I was still in college when I started that job (summer between my sophomore and junior years).  By the time I graduated I had turned the job into a contracting gig where I wrote L applications for customers that Burroughs sold systems to (since they didn't employ anybody who knew how to program L-series, apparently).  That lasted until about 1980 and was pretty lucrative for an early-20s snot-nosed kid who didn't really know much about computers yet.

One of the companies I wrote a billing application for about 1977 (a cement company in Berkeley) was still using that application on their L9000 system in the mid-90s.  They told me they'd had several other companies come in and try to replace it with something more modern like PCs on an Ethernet, but those attempts all failed.  The new guys couldn't quite get the billing system right.  I should have charged monthly maintenance fees like Burroughs did!

I still have an old Burroughs 80-column card reader in my garage that I picked up as surplus back in the late 70s from what was left of the mortgage documents company.  It's about the size of 2 toasters.  Nothing to connect it to though.  Which is just as well I suppose. Burroughs must be charging a fortune for maintenance on those old Ls today!



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