Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

What a difference 50 years makes in telephone service

They almost didn’t convince me that people who walk around talking to themselves might actually be talking with someone who is all of the way across the country. I still want to believe that telephones require a wire stretched from one phone to another and someone in between called "Central" who asks, "Number, please?"

My early experience with telephones was almost nil. When I was a kid, our only phone was used for the dairy business. When Dad’s customers needed "whipping" cream for topping a pumpkin pie or a pint of milk for the cat, they called our home to place their orders. That might have been the only reason we had a phone, and our retail dairy shared the line with nine farm families! Whether customers went away for one day or a month, they called to discontinue service. My brother Jim and I didn’t make calls to our friends or have calls from others because children were not supposed to tie up the party lines.

Telephones were for doctors, businessmen and wealthy people. They were also used to call for help in case of serious illness or fire. Poor people and families who lived in remote places had no phones at all. Instead, people shared the news with each other at church. Farmers also traded horses and talked about fence-building and home cures for animals at square dances or livestock sales or hardware and feed stores where rural people tended to congregate on Saturdays.

Not every home had a phone, and many people in our neighborhood depended on the phones at Harg’s crossroads store east of Olivet Church. The owner, "Mr. William" McHarg, had three phones: The one at his home was on the Columbia telephone system’s rural line, and the phones at the Harg store were on the Millersburg exchange and a "Farmers’ Mutual" line. Phone calls could not be made from one line to another!

Time marched on, and in 1950, my husband and I bought a 160-acre farm with no intention of living there. Almost two miles away there was a working Columbia telephone in Bill Bowling’s uninhabited house, available to anyone who needed it. We investigated phone service from the Millersburg exchange because our neighbors, Frankie and Nannie May, used that service by providing their own phone wire and draping it on fence posts and trees.

"Central lives in Millersburg, across the street from the switchboard, and she closes it at 5 p.m.," Frankie explained.

"What if there’s illness or fire at night?" Chub asked.

Nannie May said, "If you grind long enough and hard enough, Central might hear you and run across to plug you in."

"Or someone who’s walking past the switchboard office might go in and connect you," Frankie added.

That was not for us. We preferred to use the phone in Bowling’s vacant house.

We fell in love with this small farm, and before our Nancy and Walt were school-age, we built our permanent home here - without telephone service. Imagine the quiet, peaceful life we enjoyed for four years. Columbia service could be extended to our farm if we cleared l.6 miles of brush from one side of the road - and then the school bus could come down the lane for our children. Finally the brush was cleared - partly by landowners and the phone company - the poles were set and wires strung, and we had a telephone!

It’s no wonder that I find it hard to believe that those people who walk or drive around talking into little hand-held boxes might be talking to someone a few thousand miles away.


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