BTI logo

– Robert Pilkey's BTI Stories

Note: Robert (Bob) Pilkey worked at Reynolds & Reynolds back during BTI's heyday, when R&R were BTI's majority customer. If you are an acquaintance of Bob's and want his contact information, please email the webmaster, available at the bottom of this page.

Hiram Yeager is described as failing to quite make the transition from hippie to executive, still wears old jeans, cowboy boots, Levi's jacket, granny glasses; - his hair in a ponytail.

What I remember most about being a 'site manager' for the 4000 (x2) time-sharing systems installed at my site in Edmonton is that R&R created this group of site Managers (I was one of perhaps 8 or 10 in Canada) who maintained the 4000, technical assistance to the dealers, installation of phone circuits and conversion of new dealers, and general technical assistance to our sales staff as well.

We were an unusual breed, semi technical and technical in some areas, but not trained or proficient as developers, coders or programmers. In the mid 1970's, flying replacement computer parts in from the US to service the 4000s made the job seem more prestigious, if that is a word I can use. The best part of the job was that we were semi autonomous, making most of our own decisions, giving us the flexibility that few jobs today offer. Most people had absolutely no idea what I actually did.

But it was the Field Service Engineers that came up from BTI to service the 4000 systems (that I managed) who intrigued me the most. A few of them resembled Hiram Yeager, the computer genius in Clive Cussler's novels about Dirk Pitt's adventures with NUMA.

Arne Cantrell was 'legendary' within R&R - I think they made him a VP when R&R bought the DMS automotive software system. I never met him, or talked to him but his name surfaced from time to time on internal memos from R&R in Dayton.

Was reading through Harlan Andrews' musings about R&R and what R&R called 'factory price master' updates for parts inventory. These would arrive on the removable packs, but NEVER made it in time for the EOM or even beginning of month as Harlan pointed out. Had a lot to do with shipping times, clearing customs and the fact that I'm not sure many folks in Dayton knew where Edmonton was on a map of North America at the time. A few of my training classmates I met in Dayton remarked that Edmonton was so far north on the map of NA as to be undetectable!

I always thought R&R crunched the OEM manufacturers' reel to reel tapes ** onto the packs themselves, but Harlan seems to indicate otherwise. I do know that once crunched, the data packs were duped and shipped out to the various sites, mine included. I remember that frantic call to not load the new factory master pack I received in Edmonton from our HO in Toronto.

** At the time we had GM - B,O,P,C,K (K is Cadillac) and GMC trucks, Chrysler, Ford and Toyota as I recall. Later we got MACK trucks and a few other heavy equipment 'price master packs' , packs that contained a complete image of all manufacturer pricing (cost, list, trade, wholesale) by part number and change up (super session). The reason the data had to be out so quickly was more to do with internal factory warranty claims, but a lot of parts managers also liked to know how much their inventory had 'appreciated', particularly when calculating inventory turns, a measure of performance.

A funny segue occurred in the mid 1970's when enterprising R&R Field Techs used the disk pack boxes as an interstate shipping method to move Coors beer to the 'have not' states. Truth to be be told, I used the triple walled boxes to ship Christmas gifts home and to bring them back one year when I visited my parent's home in Toronto. Never got any Coors beer shipped to me though, sad to say.

There were two reasons for the R&R slow down in 4000 systems. The first being a move away from the true online time-sharing service bureau, followed by a move to place the 4000 in house at many dealerships. Eventually all of the remote service bureau sites across the US and Canada were closed (around 1980 / 81, I think) and the field staff moved back to Head Office, or they were simply terminated. The second reason was that R&R also got this brainwave to create their own computer system, an Onyx box (running a derivative of Unix) that tried to mimic the 4000's environment, account(s) and file structures, but proved to be extremely temperamental, and eventually it was scrubbed. Following that, R&R got in bed with NCR implementing their new Unix tower as a replacement for the 4000 systems running in dealerships across North America. They ported the R&R DMS software to the Unix platform and life went on. I had already left R&R in 1978 and lost touch with what was happening on the systems side. The move to NCR happened sometime in the early to mid 1980's.

In January 1983, I returned briefly to R&R (for 6 months) and had the displeasure to install one of the early Onyx boxes at a dealer site about 130 miles east of Toronto. Bad enough that the trip took 2-1/2 hours by car, even worse when the system came up, and proceeded to eat the data written to disk from the data cartridge because of a misplaced Unix Cmd line delimiter. Oh, it ran fine, it just never reported what it had done, and when finished, not a trace of the dealer's data was to be found. That meant someone from Dayton had to dial into this Onyx box, re-compress and clean the disks and restart the system again. The process of copying data was supposed to take no more than an hour. I was there all day!

I left R&R again in June 1983, returning to Edmonton. Shortly there after I installed the first IBM System/36 in a Ford dealership in Vancouver, BC; - a full blown system with 512Kb of RAM, assigned storage of 250 Gb, 35 screens, multiple small remote printers, a 700 line per minute printer and a 9600 baud SNA/SDLC link to a remote Truck Center in Burnaby where they had 8 more screens and 3 printers. In 1983 dollars it was over $350,000 investment in new technology... a princely sum in those days.

This set the stage for my next career move in 1985 when I joined Ross Perot's Canadian, Electronic Data Systems in Whitby, Ontario to help General Motors launch it's first bi sync 2780 dealer communications systems network to 800 dealers across Canada. Having experienced a 'mainframe' environment with the System/36 made moving to EDS a lot easier. The connection with R&R and EDS was that R&R was now a dealer systems provider of DCS to its dealers running on the NCR Tower. The existing dealer in house 4000's were supplemented by an IBM XT computer as a standalone communications device for DCS until the last 4000's were decommissioned. R&R spent little time or effort to integrate or create data transfers between the 4000's and the IBM XT's because their development efforts were focused on the NCR Tower.


back to the story index