[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Cave BBS Turns 20

November 26th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

The Cave BBS first log file - RedWolf PC Plus Minihost - 1992A vintage printout of my first BBS log.

Twenty years ago yesterday, I set up a BBS for the first time. The Cave BBS. Admittedly, it was nothing more than a bare-bones system run through Procomm Plus’ Minihost module Minihost, but it was a start. Within a few weeks (with a brief detour running VBBS for a few days), I had a full-fledged WWIV BBS setup running on a Tandy 1800 HD laptop with a 2400 BPS modem.

[Brief aside — I can’t find a copy of that ProComm Plus MiniHost for MS-DOS software anywhere — does anyone have it? I have the terminal emulator part, but not the MiniHost.] [ Update 11/27/2012 – Thanks to Jim Carpenter (see comments) for helping me find it! ]

I’m not clear if this is before or after I convinced my father to get a second phone line for my BBSing habit — which had become considerable during the summer of 1992. But I do remember an amusing episode regarding that second line.

In 1992, I was only 11 years old. After advertising my BBS phone number on another BBS for the first time, I started getting calls on the BBS line in the middle of the night, which disturbed my parents. Naively, I still had a conventional phone hooked up to it — with the ringer turned on — sitting in my bedroom.

One night, just after I had brushed my teeth and was winding down for school the next day, the second line rang, and my mom answered it. The caller heard her talking over their modem speaker and picked up the phone as well. My mom told them that I couldn’t answer because I was only 11 years old and I was going to bed. For the next year or so, a few of my early users relished in embarrassing me by recounting stories of talking to my mom on the BBS line.

The End of The First Cave BBS

Of course, I grew up over the years while running the BBS, and it became a major part of my life. The first thing I did every morning after waking up (and before going to school) was to review the latest validation messages and check on the status of the system. I had the sequence of keypresses required to validate a user memorized so well that I could do them while half-asleep.

(I was late to school more than once because of various memory-leak crises that required my immediate attention as a system administrator.)

I was almost 17 when the first incarnation of The Cave BBS went down on February 9th, 1998. Some piece of BBS-related software crashed that day before I had to go to school — I don’t remember exactly what it was — and I used it as an excuse to just not bring it back online.

While I had been using the Internet since 1994, by 1998 I wanted to use my dedicated phone line for the Internet 100% of the time. Besides, BBS callers had been steadily declining since at least 1995 due to the rise of the Internet. It was the end of an era.

The Story of the Scan

In my early months of BBSing, one of my best BBS friends (who had, prior to me, been the youngest sysop in the area) became jealous that I had set up a BBS of my own. Over the summer of 1992, I had called up his BBS literally thousands of times, racking up a few $200 long distance phone bills that made my father none-too-pleased. (I didn’t realize it was long distance because the BBS had the same area code; go figure.)

So not too long after I set up my BBS, that supposed friend impersonated another friend of mine — who was helping me set up my BBS — by logging in as him and uploading a tool that would supposedly help me create ANSI art. Unfortunately, the “tool” was really a virus, and I watched in tears as it wiped clean the hard work I had put into building my new BBS.

The attack didn’t end there, either. He also logged into other BBSes as me (with my password, which he had from his BBS) and posted slanderous messages in my name.

That betrayal really, deeply, and truly devastated me as a person — remember, I was only 11 years old. After that, I constructed a fictional alter-ego to shield myself from those who would prey on my naivete and youth. (You can read more about that subject in this VC&G post I wrote in 2005.)

Betrayal aside, with that virus wipe, I lost almost all of my early BBS-related records and files. So I was elated earlier this year when I found the piece of paper you see above in a box of old papers at my parents’ house.

It is a Canon BubbleJet printout of my BBS files directory and part of my first BBS host log file. It is the only remaining record I have of the date on which I first set up my BBS: apparently, November 25th, 1992. I’m not sure if I printed it out inadvertently or whether I actually had the foresight to preserve a record of those events, but either way, I’m glad I have it now.

The “Red Wolf” seen on the scan above was my BBS alias, and I was logging into my host program for what looks like the first time. There is an ANSI file dated a few days prior, but my memory is too foggy to know whether I had attempted to setup the actual BBS prior to November 25th.

The Cave BBS Lives On

In 2005, after a 7 year hiatus, I set up a continuation of The Cave BBS using Synchronet and a telnet connection that still runs today. In fact, earlier this year, I moved the system to a new ultra-low power server (6 watts, silent, fanless) that I’ve been meaning to write about. If you’d like to connect, telnet to cavebbs.homeip.net port 23.

[ From a 1992 inkjet printout by the author ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever call any BBSes in the 1990s or earlier? Tell us about it.

See Also: BBS Stories Archive Looking for Submissions (2006)
See Also: The Dial-Up BBS Revisited (2006)

24 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Cave BBS Turns 20”

  1. Eagles409 Says:

    I used one called The Bunker in the late 80’s, it was run out of somewhere in Illinois. If I remember correctly it was run off a Commodore 64 and could handle 8 people at a time. I also remember everyone on the BBS used a stolen calling card number so you didn’t have to pay for the call to log in. I had the calling card number pre-programmed in so that when I dialed in with the modem it added all of the extra information. Hopefully the statute of limitations has ended on that, otherwise “I’m just kidding”. The Bunker actually got raided by the police because of that phone card hack and was offline for a few days. I wish I could go back and see how it looked, but I don’t have any print outs. I just remember my screen name (back then it was called a handle) was Maverick… thanks Top Gun.

  2. Stan Says:

    Some friends and I operated a little BBS on an old Apple IIe in 1989, called Baud-wieser (sic). We were 14 at the time. It was only up for a few months, but I can remember spending quite a lot of time writing code to customize its menus and various other parts of the system, as well as a simple game. (The BBS was coded in a custom language called ACOS, kind of a mix between Pascal and Basic).

    We had set up 23 boards, including things like Tech Talk, The Comedy Board, Sports Stats, Music News, Want Ads, Arcade News, and Movie Talk. We also had separate boards for different computer platforms (Amiga, Atari, C64, Apple II, Mac, and IBM), which immediately broke out in flame wars. And, of course, we had our super-secret boards for cracking, phreaking, and warez. Unfortunately, I don’t think we were ever able to attract any ‘leet hackers. We were only running on two 5 1/4″ drives, after all.

    Not too long ago I found the disks for this BBS and tried to get it up and running again. It was fascinating to read some of my earliest code, along with emails and bulletin board posts we were sending to one another as kids.

    One email I had written to a friend contained a very long and detailed list of instructions on how to get the system up and running, how to edit and compile the code (using the Appleworks word processor), and how to login locally without dialing in.

    That message was never read by my friend, but it turned out to be incredibly helpful as I never would have come close to getting the system up and running again without it. It was like an email sent to myself 22 years in the future.

  3. Ross Says:

    I found a list of many BBS from the 1980s and 1990s…it helped jog my memory and might help jog yours…


  4. Jim Carpenter Says:

    It wasn’t a PCPLUS module, though Procomm and Procomm Plus did have a little mini-BBS mode.

    Your BBS was MINIHOST, by Dan Mankin. He later renamed it MAXIHOST. I haven’t tried running it but I’m looking at the strings in the binaries and they match your printout above.

    I found a version in a PC/Blue library. Download http://cd.textfiles.com/pcblueii/PCBLUE/VOL321.ZIP and try it in a dosbox. (There’s also source to WWIV310 in the same zip.)

    You can also download the newer MAXIHOST from http://cd.textfiles.com/hof91/communic/mh091590.lzh . It’s strings look very similar.



  5. Jim Carpenter Says:

    Actually http://files.chatnfiles.com/Public-Shareware-Library/PSL_V4_N5%20(D)/COMM/DOS/BBS_PGMS/MINIHOST.ZIP appears to be the version on that printout. The file sizes for BULLETIN.* and MINIHOST.* match and they are dated 1/1/1989 too.

  6. Josh Renaud Says:

    Sounds like we were probably active on BBSes at about the same time and around the same age. I was active from 1992-1998, and continued telnetting and dialing even sporadically after that. I never created my own board, but I did become a sort of remote SysOp of a popular board in St. Louis called “Something In The Attic.”

    The last BBS I called regularly was “Fire Escape’s BBS Directory HQ,” which still has a website at http://www.fehq.org. But the board went offline just a few years ago.

    I have saved some old ANSI screens and things I made here: http://joshrenaud.com/grossworld/ansi/

    Years ago I created Wikipedia entries for a number of BBS door games, including “Space Empire Elite,” which editors are (as I type this) trying to delete for being “non-notable.” This is an area of games/technology history that I think is greatly under-researched. Loads for academics and historians to write about, I would think. But so far, anyway, door games haven’t gotten treatment like what we’ve seen for interactive fiction in recent years.

  7. Benj Edwards Says:

    Awesome stories, everybody. And thanks for finding those MINIHOST files, Jim. That’s great! I’ll have to check them out.

    I agree that door games are criminally overlooked, Josh. I put one of them (TW 2002) on my 10 Greatest PC Games of All Time list for PC World in 2009 because it not only deserves it, but I thought it was time to raise their profile.

    I’ve also done a few articles that mentioned BBS door games through the years (here’s one), although I’ve always planned to explore their history a bit more. Perhaps now is finally the time to do it.

  8. PWP Says:

    Great history of The Cave, Benj!

  9. Judith Says:

    Can I get a list of Josh’s Wikipedia entries on BBS Door games so I can weigh in at Wikipedia on why those are important to keep? Also, anything else on this that we should archive? I”ll copy the Wikipedia articles and archive them just in case. judith at digitalgamemuseum.org

  10. Josh Renaud Says:

    Judith, as you already found, the Space Empire Elite article has been nominated for deletion and discussion is underway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Space_Empire_Elite

    Two others have been proposed for deletion, but have not yet moved to “nominations:
    Solar Realms Elite, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Realms_Elite
    Space Dynasty, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Dynasty

    There are more BBS door game articles on WP, and I am forking all of them onto a new wiki to preserve — and hopefully expand — them. Site will be at http://www.breakintochat.com, but is not quite ready yet.

    There are plenty more games that don’t yet have articles. Maybe we can do something about it.

  11. LongFellow Says:

    Don’t forget Barren Realms Elite in your list. That was the one that kept me dialing for years. Though I did like Trade Wars as well.

  12. Xyzzy Says:

    I’m writing what I can in the Wikipedia deletion discussions from the position of being a freelance writer working on relevant articles that finds the article/links/discussion imply the games are just as important as older offline games that had an impact on future creations. Hopefully pointing out that one needs expertise/knowledge on the broader topic in order to judge notability (and asking bluntly whether the pro-deletion folks have that knowledge) won’t just annoy them enough to make things worse.

    Back to the VC&G post… 🙂 I was partway through junior year in high school (93-94) when I started hanging out on a good friend’s BBS. My brother (your age) and I ended up spending a *lot* of time laughing as we repeatedly played BarneySplat to find all of the fun ways we could mess the characters up. I recall also playing a RPG similar to Legend of the Red Dragon, but the title screen image was different, it was limited to 1 hour per day rather than a certain number of fights, we couldn’t fight other players; there were more minor differences than that, but the memories are too mixed with those of the Ultima Dragons’ MUD I hung out on a few years later.

  13. The Doctor Says:

    I called a lot of BBSes in the 412 and 724 NPAs; I was co-sysop on a few of them (like Triumvirate), archivist on others (Area 51). In point of fact, I not only learned a lot of useful social skills by calling BBSes (and later, attending (bowling) parties), and I’m still in touch with a lot of those same friends to this day. We’re scattered to the four corners of the Earth now but every once in a while an e-mail arrives.

    I still have a couple of megabytes of QWKmail packets from the boards I used to call: Area 51; Triumvirate; Screaming in Digital (where I used to post to VampNET); Slacker (ditto); !’s Land…

  14. Bruce Says:

    I used Sanctuary and Wonderland BBS’ in the UP of MI, primarily to message and play Barren Realms Elite. Upon movning to Abilene TX in ’95 I used Ganymede and Seventh Heaven for the same purposes. I learned to double up my BRE attacks by logging in just before midnight, then just after midnight, so two days attacks would go out on the same packet. Seemed very simple, but an overlooked strategy by many based on the number of times I was accused of cheating!

  15. Ant Says:

    I always wanted to run my own BBS, but my parents refused to let me do that. 🙁

    Did anyone watch BBS Documentary? http://www.bbsdocumentary.com/ It’s really good!

  16. Don Mankin Says:

    I found this website today and it brought back some great memories. I wrote the Minihost, Maxihost, Megahost BBS’s using Borland’s $39 Turbo Pascal compiler. I probably still have the code laying around although I’m not sure I could get it off of the floppy disks they were backed up to. 🙂 I started coding BBS’s back on my TRS-80 Model I but switched to the IBM later on. Anyway, those were great days. I’m glad my early software is remembered somewhat fondly.

  17. Benj Edwards Says:

    Great to hear from you, Don. Thanks for writing Minihost! Without your program, it’s likely we wouldn’t be chatting like this right now.

    If you do manage to get the source off those floppies, let me know. I would also be happy to dump the floppies for you and send them back (along with the dumped data) when I’m done.

  18. Don Mankin Says:

    Well, it’s worse than I thought. I found the MH source in a series of zip files. Unfortunately they are all password protected (why?) and I can’t remember the password. I have a zip password cracker running but I’m not very hopeful. Humm… what password would I have used over 20 years ago???

  19. Max Says:

    Your “printout” is an obvious fake.

  20. Benj Edwards Says:

    That’s a bizarre thing to say, Max. What is so obviously fake about it?

  21. litlnemo Says:

    My BBS, Slumberland, celebrated its 22nd birthday today. It was up consistently the entire time, except for some brief periods when I was moving to a new place, etc.

    You can still telnet into bbs.slumberland.org, but nowdays most of us use a web interface and just hang out and chat all day. (It’s a Citadel BBS with discussion rooms — but lately the live chat has taken over.)

    If you want to try it, telnet in and make an account, then go to bbs.slumberland.org/chat (http, not telnet) and use your account to log in via the web and say hello. 🙂

  22. Benj Edwards Says:

    That’s great news, litlnemo. I’ll check it out.

  23. paul kats Says:

    what I remember the cave it was awesome:) I was user s*nking I just had a thought to google it and here I find some info
    caveman is not extinct long live the caveman:)

  24. Chris Davis Says:

    I connected to the Cave several years back and forgot my password, but I introduced my son to LORD and all the fun i had back in the early ’90’s. I used to co-sysop a BBS in Roanoke Rapids, NC called The Arcanum. We ran Renegade software.

    Good times…

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