On the Trail of the Oregon Trail, Part 4

21 Apr

It’s been a while since I’ve written on this subject. That hasn’t been because I’ve lost interest; rather the contrary actually. I’ve been doing some digital archeology with my new friends Michael Gemeny and Bob Brown of the HP 2000 Yahoo Group, and we’ve been able to turn up something very cool indeed.

On an old tape image from the school district of York County, Pennsylvania, Michael found a program with the very promising name of “Oregon.” Sure enough, when we loaded it onto the system we found a version of The Oregon Trail dated March 27, 1975, more than three years older than the earliest previously known version. I’ve uploaded the program listing to this site, if you’d like to have a look. Looking at said listing has already proven to be very interesting for us.

First of all, it appears that the little history lesson I gave in part 3 of this series was not entirely correct. When Rawitsch came to MECC in 1974, he evidently did not port the game — or at least not immediately — to run on MECC’s centralized UNIVAC mainframe. He rather typed it out once again on another HP-2100 system. That makes a great deal of sense when one considers that these little systems were quite common in Minnesota schools and, indeed, in schools all over the country. By early 1975 MECC was obviously already giving the program away to school districts in other states.

It’s also evident that Rawitsch, or MECC, or at any rate someone, continued to improve and refine the game for years before it made its way to the Apple II. The 1978 version found in Creative Computing has some features not present in the 1975 version. In both versions, the player must enter a word quickly into the terminal at certain points: when hunting, when attacked by bandits, etc. The 1978 version, however, has a difficulty setting; when the program starts, the player is asked how good a shot she is, from “ace marksman” through to “shaky knees.” This determines how much time the player is given to type the word. And unlike in the 1975 version, in 1978 that word is chosen randomly from four possibilities — “BANG,” “BLAM,” “POW,” and “WHAM” to be specific. In 1975 it’s just good old “BANG” all the time. For those interested in looking at the differences, you can also download the 1978 version. This one isn’t quite as authentic as the 1975 one. I spent quite a lot of time fixing problems in the code that resulted from the OCR, and in the process also ported it back to HP-BASIC from CDC Cyber BASIC. I believe the problems have all been sorted out, however, and it should look and play just as it would have on an HP system back in 1978.

So, if we take the liberty of calling these major version numbers 2 and 3, it sure would be nice to have version 1, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, that doesn’t look likely to happen. Since this version apparently never made it beyond the system on which Rawitsch, Heinemann, and Dillenberger wrote it, and since Rawitsch deleted it off of that system in 1972, the only hope seemed to lie with that famous yellowing printout Rawitsch carried over to MECC. This picture from an Oregon Trail anniversary event at the Mall of America gave us hope, as Rawitsch is holding something that looks suspiciously like exactly what we were seeking.

I was able to contact Rawitsch about that, but the news was disappointing: he no longer has the printout. Barring a miraculous find, it appears that the 1975 version is the best we’re likely to do. Still, that’s a heck of a lot better than 1978. I feel lucky indeed to have found it.

Looking at the code of the 1975 version does tell some very interesting stories in itself. Michael knows much more about HP BASIC than I do, so I’m going to quote him here:

“The line numbers of this code tell an important part of the story which matches the historical accounts. From the looks of it, I would have said that it was being maintained by an accomplished programmer with a sense of pride and dedication. Then it seems to have been maintained by a less experienced programmer, or a programmer lacking the sense of pride, or the time, or perhaps the skill to maintain the appearance of the code.”

This latter programmer would of course be Rawitsch, who re-keyed and modified the program at MECC, initially at least on his own, and who, unlike Heinemann and Dillenberger, was not a trained programmer.

While most of the program is numbered in steps of 5, this pattern is occasionally broken. This is somewhat odd, as Michael informs me that HP-BASIC has a very powerful renumbering facility that Rawitsch perhaps didn’t know to take advantage of. Michael has assembled a list of lines which break the numbering pattern, and which therefore probably indicate places where Rawitsch made changes or additions at MECC. At the risk of belaboring the point, I’ll just paste that in here for the passionately interested.

Line 8- 11 Added MECC name, maintainer, and version
Line 262-263 Caution user against using a dollar sign
Line xx99 added section names in remarks
Line 1332 require user answer to be an integer
Line 1537 added caution about spending
Line 1752 discovered that ‘7 was a bell, added note to that
Line 1902 made question two lines
Line 2392 fixed bug when riders don’t attack
Line 2672 added ammunition losses to heavy rains losses
Line 2792 added ammunition losses to fire losses
Line 2891 may have changed Indians to wolves and cause death
Line 3147 added ammunition losses to wagon damage
Line 3317 added ammunition losses to blizzard damage
Line 3650-3658 added next of kin and aunt Nellie
Line 4012 added another note about ‘7 bells
Line 4279 changed congratulatory message

Working from these clues and the historical record, it might be possible to reconstruct an “original” Oregon Trail. I’ve thought about it quite a lot, but I’m not really certain if it’s a good idea. The end result would inevitably be the product of a lot of conjecture. And, while we can learn much from the line numbers, we can’t know what modifications Rawitsch might have made within certain lines.

But perhaps you’d like to play this thing? If so, here’s how you can experience it in all its 1975 glory in HP Time-Shared BASIC.

1. Telnet to (Telnet, mind you. None of that newfangled SSH!)
2. Slowly alternate CTL-J and CTL-M until you see a “PLEASE LOG IN” message.
3. Enter “HEL-T001,HP2000,1”. Without the quotes, of course — and note that those are zeroes. Oh, and the system isn’t case-sensitive, but for the authentic experience you might want to have your caps lock on.
4. Enter “GET-OREGON” to load the 1975 version, “GET-ORE2” to load the 1978 version.
5. “LIST” the program if you like, or just “RUN” it.

Bob Brown has graciously made this system available for all of us interested in this corner of computer history. Poke around as you like — there’s a lot of other interesting programs on there in addition to The Oregon Trail. But do please be polite and respectful if you decide to rummage.

As for our subject today… damned if the thing isn’t kind of fun. More on that when I wrap all of this up very soon now.

Update, October 25, 2018: Mickey appears to be down for good. Sorry, folks, it was nice while it lasted. If anyone should put up a similar system, by all means, contact me.

Update, January 2, 2019: And now it’s up again. Get in there while you still can, folks.


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49 Responses to On the Trail of the Oregon Trail, Part 4

  1. Felix Pleșoianu

    April 21, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Your link to the program listing is bad. I get a 404.

    Fascinating story, though. Can’t wait to see how it ends. :)

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 22, 2011 at 6:45 am

      Hmm… I just checked it and it’s working for me. Perhaps try it from the blog site itself rather than the RSS feed.

      • Jason Dyer

        April 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm

        Doing that. Still 404ed.

        Also can’t get to the main Filfre site (with your interpreter).

        • Jimmy Maher

          April 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm

          Okay, sorry. I think I fixed it now.

          Today’s lesson: relative links in WordPress posts cause all kinds of problems.

  2. Jason Dyer

    April 21, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    I’m loving this series.

    I incidentally have interesting finds to report in relation to Wumpus, which I’m going to write about at some point in one of my Zork posts.

    What’s the date on CASTLE (from the telnet server)?

    • Jason Dyer

      April 21, 2011 at 8:05 pm

      Actually, while I’m at it, what’s the date on Wumpus? The Creative Computing article written in 1975 by Yob states it was made 2 years before, except everywhere it is given as 1972, not 1973.

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 22, 2011 at 6:51 am

      I’m afraid your guess is as good as mine on the creation dates of these things. We got lucky with The Oregon Trail in that it had the date inside an REM statement at the beginning of the listing.

      I want to devote at least one post to Wumpus after I finish up with The Oregon Trail. I’ll dig some more at that point; perhaps I can come up with something. Looking forward to hearing what you’ve learned about it as well.

  3. Bob Brown

    May 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I will try to get a date for castle (castle.b300). My friend wrote it…I think early 80’s sometime. (I am still in contact with the author).

  4. Frank Sapone

    February 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Hey, I love the series. But, I am wondering what school did the tape come from in York, PA? I live pretty close to York, PA and my father grew up there in the 70s.


    • Jimmy Maher

      February 19, 2012 at 8:15 pm

      This would have been a time-sharing machine, meaning it was likely installed in a central location — perhaps a district office or the like — and served the whole district, who would have connected via remote dumb terminals.

      • Frank Sapone

        February 20, 2012 at 1:28 am

        Do you have any more information on where it came from? I’d like to visit the actual school and see if they’d let me see the tape, and answer some questions of my own. I’m pretty surprised that York, PA would have the oldest remaining copy. Especially when PA doesn’t appear to be an area that was focused on technology.

        • Jimmy Maher

          February 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm

          It was actually the folks from the HP2000 Yahoo group ( that dug up the tape image for me. Best thing to do would be to inquire there. They’re all very kind and helpful folks.

  5. Kari Kraus

    February 21, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    What’s fascinating to me–I mentioned this on Twitter the other day–is that the 1975 and 1978 versions of the source code don’t include dysentery as a potential cause of death. The game’s most iconic phrase was a later addition to the game and not part of the original experience!

    Interestingly, I’ve never seen this mentioned before, by Rawitsch or anyone else.

  6. Kari Kraus

    February 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    P. S. Awesome work recovering the source code!

  7. Don Alsafi

    November 22, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Oh dang! Seems no longer exists?

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 23, 2014 at 11:24 am

      The URL was just changed. I’ve updated the post with the new one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  8. Chris

    April 8, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    I was able to telnet to, but when I enter the HEL-T001,HP2000,1, I get the message “NO TIME LEFT” and then it just hangs.

    Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!
    p.s. I really enjoy your blog. Keep up the great work!

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 9, 2015 at 5:49 am

      I wrote to Bob Brown at my last email address for him. Will let you know here if and when I hear back.

      • Jimmy Maher

        April 9, 2015 at 12:39 pm

        Okay, Bob’s fixed it!

        • Chris Torrence

          April 11, 2015 at 2:01 pm

          Thanks Jimmy! It works great now.

          It was a real nail biter, but my family made it safely to Oregon City. Whew! :-)

          BTW, I have a printout of an Oregon Trail game from around 1981, from a DEC line printer. My school had a card reader hooked up to the printer, and I made a stack of cards with the word BANG on them. Anytime I needed to hunt I would shoot one of the cards through the card reader. Bang! Right between the eyes!

          Thanks again.

  9. Stephen

    June 23, 2015 at 3:14 am

    Any chance the link has changed again? I just tried to connect via Telnet and it keeps timing out.

    • Jimmy Maher

      June 23, 2015 at 7:27 am

      Wrote to Bob Brown again…

      • Jimmy Maher

        June 24, 2015 at 7:08 am

        It seems there was a fire at Bob’s house. He’s fine, but Mickey, alas, wasn’t so lucky. He said he hopes to have it up from his rental house in a few days.

        • Stephen

          June 25, 2015 at 1:57 pm

          Thanks so much for checking!

          • Jimmy Maher

            June 27, 2015 at 11:59 am

            Okay, working again now.

  10. Dave

    January 13, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks for posting this great material!

    I’ve noticed some bugs in the code for the 1978 version. Most of them are probably OCR errors.

    1. Your forts have been forgetting to mark up the price of bullets.
    2440 LET B=INT(B+2/3+P*50)
    Should be:
    2440 LET B=INT(B+2/3*P*50)

    2. A successful (but not right between the eyes) hunt doesn’t give you any food!
    This line is missing:
    2610 F=F+48-2*B1

    3. The “riders ahead” probability curve is wrong.
    2890 IF RND(0)*10>((M/100-4)*27+72)/((M/100-4)*2+12)-1 THEN 3550
    Should be:
    2890 IF RND(0)*10>((M/100-4)^2+72)/((M/100-4)^2+12)-1 THEN 3550

    4. When you run from riders who do not look hostile, you don’t get your mileage boost.
    3340 IF T1>3 THEN 3390
    Should be:
    3340 M=M+15
    I’m puzzled about where that IF/THEN came from, but it has no effect due to the previous line.

    5. The hail storm event is broken.
    3650 GOTO D1-10 OF 4220,4290,4340,4650,4610,4670
    Should be:
    3650 GOTO D1-10 OF 4220,4290,4340,4560,4610,4670

    6. You actually gain mileage by wasting time looking for a clean spring.
    3860 LET M=M-10*RND(0)*-2
    Should be:
    3860 LET M=M-10*RND(0)-2

    7. 4130 … DAMAGE!” –> DAMAGED”

    8. A wagon fire damages way too many supplies.
    4160 LET M1=M1-RND(0)*68-3
    Should be:
    4160 LET M1=M1-RND(0)*8-3

    9. The mountains accidentally jump to the hail storm.
    4720 IF RND(0)*10>9-((M/100-15) ** 2+72)/((M/100-15) ** 2+12) THEN 4560
    Should be:
    4720 IF RND(0)*10>9-((M/100-15) ** 2+72)/((M/100-15) ** 2+12) THEN 4860

    10. Getting lost in the mountains also leads to a hail storm.
    4770 GOTO 4560
    Should be:
    4770 GOTO 4860

    11. Errors in handling fractional turn at the end.
    5540 IF F9<5 THEN 5560
    Should be:
    5540 IF F9165 THEN 5820
    Should be:
    5780 IF D3>185 THEN 5820


    13. An illness probability is calculated wrong.
    6310 IF 100*RND(0)<100-(40/4*(E-1)) THEN 6410
    Should be:
    6310 IF 100*RND(0)<100-(40/4**(E-1)) THEN 6410

    • Dave

      January 13, 2016 at 5:40 pm

      Oops, looks like #11 got mangled. Let me try again…

      11. Errors in handling fractional turn at the end.
      5540 IF F9<5 THEN 5560
      Should be:
      5540 IF F9<8 THEN 5560

    • Dave

      January 13, 2016 at 5:40 pm


      5780 IF D3>165 THEN 5820
      Should be:
      5780 IF D3>185 THEN 5820

    • Dave

      January 13, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      Oh, one more, though it’s just in a comment…

      6640 REM X5 = FLAG FOR INJURY
      Should be:
      6640 REM K8 = FLAG FOR INJURY

      • Jimmy Maher

        January 14, 2016 at 12:40 am

        Thanks so much for this! I’ll make the corrections in the code as soon as time permits. Or, if you happen to have a corrected version already, you could send it to me at ;)

        • Jimmy Maher

          January 23, 2016 at 12:54 pm

          Fixed in the textual listing linked to in the body of the article, and sent the new listing to Bob Brown as well. It will hopefully be live soon on Mickey. Thanks again!

  11. K

    August 7, 2016 at 6:33 pm


    I know this article is several years old (and in the world of the modern internet, that’s a small eternity), but is the ‘Mickey’ system still working? I tried both connecting to the address VIA telnet, as well as pinging the server (which repeatedly timed out), to no avail.


    • Jimmy Maher

      August 8, 2016 at 8:05 am

      Wrote to Bob Brown. Will let you know here when I hear from him.

      • Jimmy Maher

        August 8, 2016 at 3:54 pm

        Should be working again now.

  12. Tom

    November 7, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    and certain points -> at certain points ?

  13. Tom

    November 7, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    liberty of call -> liberty of calling ?

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 8, 2017 at 11:18 am

      Thanks for these!

  14. Adam

    February 13, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    I get message “NO TIME LEFT” after typing “HEL-T001,HP2000,1”.

    • Jimmy Maher

      February 15, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Should be working again now.

  15. Alvaro

    May 8, 2018 at 9:06 pm

    I compare Oreon 1975 vs Orsgon 1978 at pare.html

  16. JayCarr

    August 4, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    Is it still working? I tried accessing from Windows Telnet but it said it was busy…

  17. SKot Kirkwood

    October 25, 2018 at 7:13 am

    I think Mickey is down again…can’t connect via telnet or ping.
    And let me say what a great thing it is to have that emulation out there as a historic document or Oregon Trail. I hit it every so often just to revisit the old code.

    • Jimmy Maher

      October 25, 2018 at 9:22 am

      I haven’t been able to get in touch with Bob lately. It does appear that Mickey may be down for good, unfortunately.

  18. K. Garlow

    January 2, 2019 at 3:43 am

    Good news in 2019! I was successful in connecting to today (though dying a quick death from starvation in the 1975 version).

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 2, 2019 at 6:17 am

      Cool! Good to know Bob is still okay.

  19. Bob Brown

    February 19, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    If anyone ever has trouble connecting to the Mickey hp2000 system, please enable me at

    I’m happy to keep it online for all to enjoy! There are baby treasures there in addition to Oregon trail.

    Mickey has been online since around 2005.

    Enjoy the memories and the fun!
    -Bob Brown

    • Bob Brown

      February 19, 2021 at 2:03 pm

      Oops.. please email me, not enable me.

      And there are many treasures, not baby treasurers.

  20. Chris Fuller

    January 19, 2022 at 4:30 pm

    I helped convert Oregon Trail from the Apple 2 to the C64 in the early 80s when I worked at MECC. I knew Oregon Trail had been on the Cyber 170 mainframe which was shut down in June 1983 just a few days after I started working for MECC. I wasn’t aware of the Oregon Trail even at the mall! I definitely would have attended. I have a bunch of yellowing code printouts and disks from my days at MECC.


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