That was our phone number when I was a kid here on the farm. The phone at that time was a black wall mount with a receiver and a button on the side and nothing else. The last of the hand crank phones were being phased out of service on the farms and the new technology was upon us.
The button on our phone was so you could pick up the receiver and listen to see if anyone else was using the phone. It was a party line so if the line wasn’t busy, you could simply push the button and you’d get a lady who sounded as if she had a clothespin on her nose saying “Operator” and then you’d simply say the number you wanted. “273-J12 please.” The neighbors couldn’t hear you ‘pick up’ so you didn’t disturb them if you listened for a moment and then hung up and waited for a while. No one I ever talked to had ever listened in on the neighbors phone calls, that was a no-no in those days, but on the other hand everyone was also convinced that the neighbors were involved in some kind of covert action and listening to every word.
We couldn’t use the phone on Monday mornings. That was when the neighbor lady called everyone in the township for news for the newspaper. She was paid by the word so we had some trouble getting the line. When she called here, Mom had news for her. Dad never, ever, had any news for her. He didn’t like seeing his name in the paper. “Nope, we haven’t had any company, bye,” and click the conversation was over. When Mom had to be gone on news day, she would return and immediately ask if we had talked to anyone on the phone. She was fearful that we might have spilled the beans about someone coming to visit as a ‘Saturday evening dinner guest’ when it was not their turn to be here. She didn’t want to offend any of her friends. She would say “Oh no, you didn’t tell her that did you?” to which we replied, “Mom, I told her we didn’t have any news but she asked about last Saturday night, she said she had seen Blanche and Harold’s car go right by her house on the way down to ours.”
The J 1 2 on the end of our number, was meant to inform the operator that it was the J side of the line and she should ring us by one long and two shorts or RING-ding-ding. One neighbor was J 1 which was one ring and the other neighbors were J 2, or two quick dings. There was an R side to the line but we didn’t hear them ring. But we were all trying to use just the one line.
My sister was an operator and so we didn’t get by with many shenanigans. If we called too late in the evening to give her a number, she would ask “Are Mom and Dad gone?” and then she’d say “you should be in bed.”
The operator was the original 911 call center in our town. We had a flashing red light mounted on the lumber yard on the east side of main street in the middle of town where a bank is now located, and if someone needed the police the telephone operator would turn the light on and when the constable finally saw the light he would drive to the pay phone by the Octagon Restaurant and use the town’s only pay phone to call the operator to find out where the emergency was.
I remember another time when a severe thunderstorm marched through town on the evening of the 4th of July and everyone called the operator to see if the fireworks had been rained out.
They had been.
Long distant call start and stop times were written down by the operator. Believe it or not, we would call ‘person to person’ meaning if the party you wanted to talk to wasn’t at the location you were calling; then you didn’t have to pay for the call. Those calls however, if connected, were charged at a higher rate than station to station.
As circuitry capabilities advanced, they eventually ruined all of the communication technology by going with some new fangled rotary dial phones that effectively put the operators out of business. It was pretty neat stuff though, once we got used to it, no more operators telling us when it was time to go to bed or that we might get in trouble if we called her that late again.
To top it all off, along with the new phones, the phone companies had the nerve to require all of us to get a new phone number with, (wait for it) another number added. That meant everyone now had to learn a 7 digit phone number. Then of concern was how big the phone books might get with all of these new numbers, after all, ours was already as big as a church bulletin with 20 pages. These were all big changes but we were assured that the new number, even though incredibly long, would probably be the last number we would ever need to learn.