Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2 7 3 - J 1 2

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.


Donna said...

I was raised in telephone offices the first twelve years of my life. In Eagleville, my mom and dad got to turn on the siren that signaled a house on fire. Very exciting, that was, but I only remember it happening once. I learned at a very young age that if I messed with the switchboard plugs, I got shocked... that is, if my dad was the operator at the time. He had a rather ornery sense of humor.

Lanny said...

Your telling of technological changes is endearing. We often wonder if young people wonder why they "dial" a number.

I became cognizant of, and allowed to use the phone when it had expanded to the two letter one number prefix followed by four numbers. Our home was GReenfield 4-9604 and my dad's gas station was JUniper 4-1434. It was freaky enough when my mom got a princess phone for in the bedroom and it had push buttons on it. The hand set for the kitchen wall phone was on a long coil and heavy enough I had often contemplated using it as a weapon when left home alone and I just knew someone was going to break in!

By the way, I'm sorry you hate snow.

Marty Morrow said...

great post Cliff. Funny about your dad not ever having any news. It reminds me of one of my sons...

Rachel said...

I enjoyed this post Cliff. It brought back memories of our early days with the party line. We didn't have a phone like yours and you could hear the click if someone picked it up. You knew they were listening when you didn't hear the click when they hung up.

Technology sure has come a long way since those days! We would never have dreamed of such things back then!

Rachel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shannon said...

Cute, I was telling the boys about having a super long cord on the kitchen phone recently, so we could walk around the whole kitchen and dining room when I was growing up while talking on the phone. Their faces were completely blank, lol. Then my 11 year old chimed in...."wait....the phone had a cord?"

Peter said...

Ah the memories that are invoked by this post and many like it.... back to the good old days.

Jim said...

I liked this memory, Cliff. Mom and Dad may have been one out of turn. Strange to me, I think they didn't know they had a turn.

Do you know that the youngsters today have mostly all memorized their drivers license number. I haven't, have you?

About driving, Lois and I had been talking about Julie's accident. How is her hand now? She plays soooooo good, I hope it is back to like new. I am sure the truck is totaled.

LZ Blogger said...

All I remeber about our first phone was that the number had KI as the prefix. Kimberly is how they stated the number Kimberly 5413 or something like that. And though that was in 1949, we had a black phone that was circa 1926. ~ jb///
PS $100k loss for playing in a Bowl Game. We'll all welcome the Big 10 won't we?

Paul Nichols said...

Great, great great. Ralph and I can point you to a great publisher. I'm telling you, Cliff, these great stories of yours make for great publications.

Very good.

EV said...

Me, too. Great memories, Cliff. HUnter 5 0059 was my first phone number. You never mentioned Pennsylvania 6-5000 though? Kinda surprising.

nora said...

Great memories! Our phone number at the Farm was seven digits, but a party line.

On the rare occasions that I boy called, you couldn't find a speck of privacy - I remember that I was small enough to slide into the broom closet in the kitchen. I'm sure they could still hear me, but at least I couldn't see them watching.

The Red Key still has one of those big black rotary (metal dial, not plastic) phones. It's awesome!

cassie-b said...

Hilltop 8812 here. And I wonder if we were rich because we had a private line.