This blog was created for USASTRATCOM Long Lines Battalion Army personnel who served in Taiwan during the 1965-72 time frame. Specifically, those who lived and worked in and around Taipei are the target. If you worked at the Grass Mountain or Gold Mountain facilities or anywhere in downtown Taipei, we would like to hear from you. All are welcome to visit and contribute to this blog. Your comments and pictures are encouraged.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The $200,000 Mistake

Although the military had the latest in communications equipment, this wasn't always for the greater good.

The addition of computer machinery not only changed our work habits, but also spelled the end of the teletype method of message preparation and dissemination.

When we arrived in Taiwan in 1968, our punched paper tape relay center had a similar look to the one below.

We worked 12 hour shifts with messages coming in and going out at no more than 100 words per minute. 60-80 wpm would seem more likely. Regardless, it was slow.

This system was essentially the same used during WWII and the Korean War.

Photo from D. Nelson, Tape Relay Center, Asmara, Eritrea

Receive banks are on the far right. Messages received would be logged in. Then the message would be placed on a message tree in the middle.

The message would be logged in and sent with a copy of all transmitted messages being recorded on a monitor bank on the far left.

We served not only all of the Air Force installations on Taiwan, but also USTDC and USIS in the American Embassy.

Then, in the summer of 1968, we were introduced to a machine that was going to help change the entire punched paper tape relay system. That's what they said, anyhow.

We had a DTS (Data Transfer System) installed.  It was about the size of a Pepsi machine. No, there were no coin slots.

And, it came with an instructor!  This young man explained to us how we would log in and out messages which would increase the speed of transmission and reception by at least 4 or 5 times. 

My interest was small since I worked the Taipei Terminal area. This was also the morning after the night before when the cab driver dropped me off at Seven Star. A migraine headache was my main concern.

We knew that there was an IBM 80 column punched card machine in NARC when we arrived.  So, messages on punched cards were also being used in Taiwan. 

Then, since it was a non-automatic relay center, NARC also had installed a UNIVAC 1004 punched paper tape machine which sent and received messages from Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. 

You will notice that NARC also had installed the twin to our DTS machine just a wall or two from each other.  They were connected to nothing else but each other.  

When this whole system went online, one person in DCS Major Relay was bound to our DTS and one person was devoted to the twin DTS in NARC. 

The UNIVAC 1004 did the actual connecting with the outside world while the two DTS machines just talked to each other.  The concept seemed logical to someone.  It just did not work. 

The tape, coming and going, jammed constantly and actually slowed down the system since it ruined so many messages so quickly.  One of my friends used to kick it and swear at it all the time. 

Complaints began immediately.  But until changes were made, both places were stuck with the DTS machines.  Only the DTS instructor had a great time. 

Finally, someone in command got the idea of simply placing the UNIVAC 1004 in the DCS Relay which eliminated the need for the two DTS machines. 

The DTS instructor told us that the U.S. Military had paid about $100,000 apiece for these two boondoggles.  The image above shows how both NARC and DCS looked before the end of 1968. 

The 2 DTS machines gathered dust in the Signal Compound warehouse and were still there when we processed out in August of 1969.

This is the UNIVAC 1004 with the optional paper tape punch shown on the right front of the machine.  With one person assigned to it, we were able to send and receive from Clark AFB at a rate of  about 1,000 wpm. 

This did change our work lives as we went from three shifts of 12 hours each to four shifts of 8 hours each.  The UNIVAC ran flawlessly and very seldom jammed at all.  It was a delight to the tape apes and the bosses. 

This is Sperry Rand literature which accompanied pictures and explanations of the Univac 1004. The 1004 was initially supposed to compete directly with IBM in the 80 column punched card market.

Fortunately for us, NARC already had an IBM and, with the punched tape adaptor added, the Univac 1004 exceeded our needs. Somehow, the Air Force guys at Clark AFB now sent messages directly to USTDC and USIS in downtown Taipei.

Now, a word about speed. When stroking keys on a typewriter keyboard, 5 strokes is essentially counted as a word. I'm not sure that tape messages, buzzing in and out, is equivalent. So, 1,000 wpm, if anything, is an underestimation of the speed of this non-computer.

For those of us in teletype communications, the writing was on the wall. If messages could be sent and received automatically at Grass Mountain, why couldn't a computer be installed at any location, thus eliminating the need for us?

Well, that's almost what happened. The first death knell for the teletypewriter was the facsimile or fax machine. Over an encrypted line, a properly prepared document could be sent directly to an address.

Then the personal computer resulted in the storage and eventual destruction of virtually all of the machinery we used during the Vietnam War. To see a short history of teletype communications, click HERE.

As for Sperry Rand, it kept swimming upstream against IBM. In 1986 Sperry Corporation merged with competitor Burroughs Corporation and formed Unisys Corporation which trades on the NYSE under the symbol UIS.


  1. I also worked on a UNIVC 1004, it was in the Kunia comm center in hawaii. When I arrived installation was not complete. We were sending ibm card thru a card reader at 12 card per minute. So as you know the card reader on the 10O4 was much faster.

    This was the same time period, nov 66 thru Noa 69.

    You can reach me at

  2. Those of us who had their working lives made easier by the UNIVAC 1004 can only marvel at the folks who were stuck with equipment that forced 12 hour shifts.
    We treated that fairly simple computer like a newborn baby.
    My contacts in Hawaii were at Schofield Barracks. Thanks for writing.