Rural Telephones - 1950’s

by Ralph Roggenbuck

During the early 50’s where I grew up the local telephone company was owned by the Bowmans. Eddy Bowman and his wife were the local telephone company!

She ran the office, the billing, the switchboard, the news service, and handled all sorts of emergencies. As all calls off your own line had to be mechanically transferred by actually plugging wires into different sockets on the main switchboard. The Bowmans were ALWAYS there!

On the party lines, ours was about 6 or 7 families; you heard every ring! There were codes in the rings. Our ring was – one long+ two shorts. I don’t remember the rest. As you probably realize “Nothing was Private!” This wasn’t all bad. Sometimes if someone needed help it was there before they were through with the phone call. She was also a message service when people didn’t answer their phones; she would call later and relay many messages.

The Bowmans had no life, some one had to man the switchboard; basically 24/7 and there were only the 2 of them. They did hire someone occasionally to run the switchboard. Usually she did the switchboard.

The physical upkeep of the entire system was his responsibility. He had an old Pepsi utility pickup that he used all of the time. He took it in many unusual places. On the edge of a river valley that had a rather sparse population and not even all of them had phones. Phone lines ran everywhere except right beside the roads!

He had to haul the poles out, (he used a trailer to get the poles there) dig holes (BY HAND) for the poles. Set the poles up; he would roll them about in place and then use the pickup to pull them vertical. Next he would straighten and tamp the poles the same way we did on the farm. BY HAND! If you haven’t done this you can’t appreciate how hard of work this was!

He also had an unusual helper. He took a small bucket with a rope tied to the handle up the poles with him. He could tell his dog about dozen different things that he needed. The dog would go to the open utility box and get them! (I can’t remember this dog’s name!) The dog would then bring them and drop them in the bucket! The number of trips up and down the telephone posts the dog saved him would be very large!

Of course when the phone lines broke or went down wasn’t always good weather either. I remember my dad pulling Eddy’s pickup a few times with a tractor. I am also sure he wasn’t the only one who did!

I don’t think Eddy ever took the keys out of his truck or even thought about locking the utility box compartments either! It was a different time and place! At that time in the little towns almost all of the vehicles parked on the street or by someone’s house had the keys in them! The only time the keys were removed was in one of the larger cities.

When he sold his phone company to a co-op we ended up with dial phones. The other ones had been the one’s everyone identifies with “Petticoat Junction” and similar TV shows.

They actually were real. Yes they were hung on the wall and you had to turn the crank! The crank was actually a small generator which sent a current through the lines to make the rings. Now a computer does it!

The extended family feelings of the small towns is slowly evaporating out of our neighborhoods and whole society. Even the small towns where everyone used to know everyone now have strangers living next door to each other.

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