Bell System Employee
The following are actual stories told by
former employees of the Bell System and current employees of the Baby Bells,
AT&T, Lucent, and Bell Labs (minimal editing was done for spelling errors and
Besides the short stories on this page, we have included a
story on a separate page written by George E. Weldon titled "Old Telephone Men
Tell Old Telephone Tales". It is his personal story of his telephone career with
the Bell System. To read his almost 50 page story, click
was created at the suggestion of Peter W. Koch of Melbourne, Florida, USA. Thank
you Peter for your suggestion!
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My Dad Brad
Bradfield grew up as a cowboy. His parents homesteaded inside of what is now
Badlands National Park on the wind blown prairie in Western South Dakota, and
that’s where my Dad was born and grew up. No matter how hard the work was, he
loved it and loved the Badlands and could have been happy doing it the rest of
Dad was a radar
repairman during WW-II, and when he came home from the Army at the end of the
war, he went to work on his brother’s ranch South of Kadoka, SD. After he and my
mother got married in June of 1947, it didn’t take too long to realize that
there wasn’t enough business on my uncle’s ranch to support both his family and
the family that my Mom and Dad planned on having, so in late 1947 Dad went to
Rapid City and was hired by Northwestern Bell Telephone Company. Dad started out
“at the bottom” like everyone else, digging holes with a spoon and banjo, and
worked his way “to the top”, climbing poles and hanging ten pin cross arms.
The work was
hard, especially in winter, and after all these years, I can still remember how
tired he’d be when he came home at night. Sitting down on the front porch to
take off his knee high lineman’s boots so he wouldn’t drag dirt and mud into the
house, he’d unlace the boots, and my job was then to grab hold and pull them
off. Big job for a four or five year old!!
Dad could have
easily sat down in his living room rocker and slept away most of the evening,
but there was always something needing done in the old house that Mom and Dad
had bought on Lilac Lane on the West side of Rapid City, so it was usually later
in the evening before Dad got much of a chance to sit down to relax and read his
paper and listen to the radio a bit before bed time. There were two young boys
(I was born in 1948 and my brother Doug in 1951.) vying for his attention by
this time as well, and no matter how tired he was Dad always had time to sit
down on the floor with us or to gather us up in the rocker with him to just sit
and talk or read to us.
left the line crew and moved on to work as a telephone installer for a few years
before moving into the Fillmore exchange central office. About 1960 he took over
telephone switching equipment maintenance and repair in several smaller central
offices around Western South Dakota in towns like Phillip, Edgemont, Black Hawk,
Piedmont, and the Warwick office at Ellsworth AFB. This meant being on call and
occasionally spending a few days at a time out of town doing routine maintenance
on these small offices. Dad liked working independently like this and was still
maintaining these offices when he finally retired in 1976.
in his career Dad was offered the chance to move into management, and while that
certainly would have meant more money, it also would have meant re-locating and
both Mom and Dad decided that they just weren’t interested in leaving the Black
Hills that they both loved so much.
Dad and Mom
were both active Telephone Pioneers and worked for years driving the shuttle at
Mount Rushmore and in many of the Pioneers’ other projects. They even got to go
to the Pioneers’ national convention in New York City one year.
from Northwestern Bell in 1976, Mom and Dad owned and operated Robbins Roost, a
seasonal motel in Hill City, SD, and finally retired altogether to a house just
north of Sheridan Lake in 1985.
Mom died in
2003 after 56 years of marriage, and a year later Dad sold his Sheridan Lake
home, remarried to a wonderful lady, and moved to Arizona full-time. A year
later Dad died of an accidental fall.
After Dad died,
my brother and I were going through the very few possessions that Dad had left
when in Dad’s nightstand I came across a small box that printed checks come in.
When I opened the box I wanted to both laugh and cry at the same time. Inside
was a Telephone Company plastic pocket protector filled with pencils and pens, a
couple of screw drivers, a relay burnishing tool, some orange sticks, three or
four spudgers, and a few other small tools. These were the tools of his trade
that he’d used on the job for many years. He’d obviously taken that pocket
protector and its contents out of his shirt pocket the day he retired in 1976
and put it away and kept it. The fact that he’d kept it when he had so few
personal possessions left in the world says something about the importance of
his career to him.
are few if any working telephone employees left that knew my Dad before he
retired, his legacy lives on in the work ethic passed down to today’s younger
employees by other employees who were once new employees themselves and who had
in turn once trained under my Dad.
Dad made many,
many friends in his years with the telephone company, many of them life-long
friends, and many of them came to his funeral in Hill City, SD in 2005 and saw
Dad's pocket protector on display in the church foyer just as we found it after
he died and as it's seen in the picture above. Even amongst many of the people
at Dad's funeral that I didn't know, I could often tell who some of the old
telephone men were from across the room. They'd walk up to the table covered
with memorabilia, and when they spotted his pocket protector they'd often smile
and pick it up, and maybe run their finger across the top of an old spudger or
orange stick, before putting it back down with a tear in their eye. They knew!!
They knew why that old pocket protector full of tools was there and why Dad had
saved it all those years when he truly didn't have many personal belongings left
in the world. Dad was proud of his career and proud to tell people that he was
once a Telephone Man, and I'm proud to have had him as my Dad!!
I'm a retired Engineering Manager from
Southwestern Bell. I spent most of my
career in St. Louis with a brief tour in Houston and a few years at the Bell
System Center for Technical Education in Lisle, Illinois. Attached are a few
photos of that facility, taken in 1970. These were scanned from prints so
the quality is not that great but perhaps you can use them.
I noticed the photos that Roy Welch sent you. I know Roy and still am in
contact with him on occasion through our Ham Radio hobby. I have a couple of
photos of the people in a small District in which I worked as my first
assignment at SWBT. It was the St. Louis PBX Traffic Engineering District.7
or 8 people. I have one from 1969 and another from 1970. If you would like
to add these to your site I would be glad to send them to you. These were
scanned from Polaroid snapshots, so they are a little fuzzy.
Finally, another piece of trivia I have is a listing of the actual dates
that each central office in the St. Louis metro area converted to DIAL
service (from manual switchboards). Most of these dates were conversions to
Panel equipment (ever hear of that?) and some are conversions to No. 1
Crossbar. These are dates in the 1920s through the 1940s. I'm not sure your
site would benefit much from such trivia but if you like I'd be pleased to
send it to you. The list was given to me by another District Engineering
Manager when he retired and it carried the admonition, "Don't let this get
away from you!" So, I didn't.
St. Louis, MO
to view the photos on the Southwestern Bell Corporation site.
I started with the Bell System in late
1970 in Miami one week after my honorable discharge from the US Army and service
in Viet Nam. I followed in the footsteps of my uncle and his father (going back
to the 20's).It was an easy transition from the Army to the Bell System as Bell
was almost the same size, had similar rank and privileges and as much red tape.
Many of my co workers were veterans as well in their 20's.It was a close knit,
family oriented, organization.
In 1971 AT&T held one of their annual "Presidents conferences" with all of the
top brass from AT&T and the heads of each Bell Company. That year the meeting
was held at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo. As a new rookie
marketing guy I got selected for "bag man" duty over the weekend. I had to meet
and greet the executives at Miami international airport and deliver them, their
wives and golf bags to the AT&T corporate plane that would fly them into Ocean
Reef's small strip. I spent my Saturday and Sunday performing these tasks. On
late Sunday afternoon I took the last guy (an AT&T executive VP) to the
corporate plane and was surprised when the pilot asked if I wanted to come along
for the ride. I figured that this could be the one and only chance I would have
to ride in the corporate aircraft so I jumped at the chance.
Once we got the executive and his golf bags unloaded the pilot loosened his tie
and asked if I wanted a good scotch on the ride back. I said yes, of course, and
also took one of the Cuban cigars available. With scotch and cigar in hand I
relaxed as the only passenger in the AT&T plane. With the sun just going down
over the Florida Keys I reflected on what a great job this was going to be with
the Bell System.
Of course things changed dramatically over the next 34 years but still, all in
all, it was a pretty good ride. I retired in early 2005 after spending the last
15 years in the International arena for AT&T, Lucent and Avaya. I worked in 38
countries supporting the Caribbean, Latin America as well as the Asia Pacific
Region and lived in Singapore for 3 years, returning in 2003.
Now happily retired in Fort Myers, Florida
Here is the link to my compilation of
stories over 20 years of working with Bell. There is something for everyone in
here and I hope you have a good read.
Grant Avila Gysbers
... I have a slightly different story for
I (luckily) grew up in a small rural community am only 23 years old.
I have always been fascinated with the telephone. When I was around 9 years old,
I had the opportunity to remove whatever I wanted from a building being torn
town. In a small room, I found a small gray metal box. Opening the box, I found
two cards on the door, room for two more circuit cards, a little black
transformer just shoved inside and a long punch block. I wondered how to make it
work again and what I exactly had? I used the black box to make phones ring and
the power supply for my train set.
While in High School, I meet Lillian Shultz who retired from the AT&T / Pac Bell
of San Diego. She taught me everything I could absorb and helped me repair and
correctly install my AT&T 1A2 Key Service Unit, Shoebox. My parents were very
understanding as they let me pull 25 pair [cable] to all but 1 room in my house
:) and then procede to torture them via my button buzzer block. From what I
learned with Lillian, I was able to get a switchroom job at a university running
40,000 via Definity.
Lillian Shultz was very strict in her training, esp. to that of wiring at AT&T
code. I went into shock when I started working on that Definity G3. There was no
pride in what we were doing and a job worth doing is a job well done was
Currently, I am the sole installer/operator/programmer/maint guy for an Avaya
switch with multiple T1s / PRIs to several different Lucent CO 5ESS switches.
Everyday, I think about the old standards and do my best to obtain them at my
end. I believe that one day people will get tired of the less than standard
current bell operation and the pendulum will go back to a unified service
oriented system. Although, I will never get to see an old SXS switch in actual
There are times in repairing my digital switch that I miss my 1A2 system and
wish I could have actually worked on WE electromechanical CO switches.
Grant Avila Gysbers
I worked for 381/2 years for Ohio Bell
Telephone Company, retiring on August 31 before Divesture. I had the pleasure
of working in a SXS dial office, as a station installer, customer order
assigner, toll test man, engineer (PBS, SXS, and N & T1 CXR) and Engineer
Manager. At the end of my career, I was lucky to have the duty of coordinating
the planning and engineering with the various independent companies. Thru out
my career, I met many interesting fellow telephone employees (Bell and
independent). I observed or heard many stories of their antics, habits and
problems, including stories concerning subscribers.
I have been compiling these stories in
what I hope will become a book. The stories I am looking for are similar to
John P. Loch’s story about a dog playing the piano and Ron Christianson’s
story about the nude swimmers.
I am interested in obtaining more such
stories. If you have such stories, I would appreciate receiving them at
put “Telephone Stories” in the subject line. Also, please include your phone
number and address, so that I may contact you if I need clarification. If you
want send the stories by snail mail, my address is below.
Many thanks in advance for all the help
you can give.
Don Conrad – Ohio Bell Retiree
3622 East Powell Road
Lewis Center, OH 43035
Hello From” Andy the Kid” as I was known in those days when I
collected telephone equipment and started my hobby when I was only about 7 years
old. I learned how to install telephone systems 1A2 the old 551 key systems
along with the 584C panels and key equipment.
I started asking for phones, equipment and old parts that were left behind on job
I learned from the street how the systems worked and knew how to install phones
when I was only 9 years old.
I knew Splicers, station installers KTS installers and other people that worked
in the field.
I was known by every person in the area as ”Andy the Kid” in the Steiner C.O.
Address 1930 Steiner Street, at that time had the old Panel equipment that than
went to ESS#5 around 1972.
I moved out to Santa Rosa and meet other phone people as well that I was know as
Andrew the Pac Bell Kid in 1977.
I always wanted to be a phone person and I started my job in the phone industry
in 06-21-80 I worked for small phone companies in the Marin Sonoma country as I
still do, to this day I still see the old people that know me when I was growing
up in San Francisco in the Cow Hollow, and Pacific Heights area. I am now 46
years old and still work on the phones and other telecom equipment.
I am looking for the people that knew me when they worked for the old Bell
system company from San Francisco in the area that I grew up in.
I wanted to thank you for keeping the Bell System Alive with good info on your
This web sight brought up the old days when I was growing up around the old day
of the Bell System!
Yours Truly, ANDREW THE PACBELL KID. < The forgotten Person of a small history
where I grew up>
Hobbies, Ham Radio, Telephone Systems ,Railroading,
Pamela T. Whitehurst
TO ALL BELLHEADS:
My husband turned me on to this site and
I have enjoyed reading the comments. I am now retired from Verizon, previously
known as Bell Atlantic, but better known as C&P of Virginia. I retired in
Aug.2002 after 30 years. I started working as a long distance operator in
Newport News, VA. on Mar.27,1972. That had to be my favorite job, but the
customer service was on time and we had a blast. Those night shifts, as well
as the split shifts were a mess, but I was so excited to be hired with the
phone company. We had some real strange callers who screamed, cussed, talked
in riddles, so one night after the observers were gone, we connected them
together! We were using the old cord board then, so we patched them together
and did they ever cuss. Of course, I didn't personally do this as I was a
rookie and very afraid of doing anything wrong.
During my career, I was a toll operator,
repair clerk, records clerk, dispatch clerk, service rep, miss utility clerk,
maintenance administrator, frame hop, and finally a central office technician.
I decided that managing wasn't my thing after seeing what kind of deal my
husband (also a bellhead) received from AT&T back in 1990. He was a former C&P
PBX installer who went to AT&T after the 1984 break up. He was promoted to
management at AT&T and was laid off with almost 20 years of service. At any
rate, it was a blessing because the company changed too much. We met at the
old C&P of VA. That was a great time for both of us and we still miss our
acquaintances that we made during those times. We both hate to hear some of
the negative comments made by all of the CLECS, as well as our friends and
family. Thank you for this site and for reminding these old Bellheads of the
old Bell System.
Arnold " Skip " Trivigino
This is my sad tale of New Jersey Bell to
Verizon. I took a buy-out in Nov. 2003. Couldn't take anymore.
"Ode To Ma Bell "
Many years I spent at Bell.
Lot's of stories I could tell.
Winter, Summer, Spring and Fall,
I've worked my tail off thru them all.
Then the break-up of Eighty Four.
No one seemed to care anymore.
Bell Atlantic's now the name.
But things just didn't seem the same.
CEO and his partners grabbed all the loot,
But about us workers... no one gave a hoot.
Oh wait...something new...Verizon's the name.
Stock's going down - the union we'll blame.
GTE and Verizon, what a nice mix.
Dump our employees. That's a good fix.
Once we cared about customers, one and all.
Now we push cell-phones in stalls at the mall.
Arnold " Skip " Trivigino
Repairman/ Maint. Splicer
1970-2003 Now playing golf...
I am also one of those folks that followed
in their father's footsteps. Dad retired at divestiture (end of '83) after 47
years. He started with C&P of West Virginia as a janitor and retired from C&P of
Virginia as a 2nd level manager. (Note: C&P (Chesapeake & Potomac) consisted of
four companies: C&P of VA, C&P of WV, C&P of MD, & C&P of Wash., D.C. Of course
they became Bell Atlantic & now Verizon). Anyway, Dad worked his way up in craft
to a Central Office Repairman and then stayed pretty much in the supply end
after his promotion into management. He once turned down an opportunity for a
3rd level management position because he would have been required to work in New
York City..."no way" he said. He loved working for them and his original plans
were to continue through 50 years or more...then divestiture shenanigans
started...what a change...after his retirement, not much was said about the
company but his disappointment in them was unmistakable. I understood his
feelings very well, having worked for them 22 years pre-divestiture and then 12
I started in 1962 and really did enjoy my career with AT&T. It was mostly in the
Customer Systems (Installation/Maintenance) end of the business as a craftsman
and as a 1st level management employee. Most of my career was spent assigned to
the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. Yes, the company was very good to me during
my career. As you know, they were one of those organizations that employees
considered themselves a big "Family." Of course during the times leading up to
and following the 01/01/1984 divestiture of "Ma Bell," corporate folks began
making some pretty drastic policy changes. I did manage to survive that part for
12 years but sadly, their old kind of "Service & Quality" had become an ideal
whose time has now passed.
I guess I just came from the era when the bottom line didn't matter as much as
customer service and quality telephone equipment. I suspect most of the
corporate hopes and dreams of carrying on the "Spirit of Service" after
divestiture have faded now and been replaced with the bottom line mentality. Did
they have to do this to survive? I don't know but they sure did become like most
of the giant corporations in today's world. I believe good careers with one
company are withering and about to be a thing of the past.
I rolled with the changes leading up to and following divestiture for 12 years
but in December 1996 I was offered a very generous early retirement with full
benefits plus a two year full pay bonus. This was from the newly formed Lucent
Technologies that I had become a part of. I still felt very fortunate to be
working for this company and had not planned to retire so early but I also knew
I was not happy with the direction they had taken. They were complete strangers.
Customers & employees both would get a look of bewilderment on their faces when
company/customer business was discussed. Our customers as well as employees
never knew what to expect from them next...of course I graciously accepted their
offer and haven't looked back or regretted it for a moment. I became a
full-fledged 34+ year retiree of Lucent Technologies, a company that had been in
business for only three months at the time. For awhile, when I told folks I
retired from Lucent they would say "who"? I just started saying AT&T. Now I have
been reading about the SBC/AT&T deal. As the Washington Post said, this
"represents a final humbling of what was once the preeminent telecommunications
company in the world." Now I think I will just say "I'm a retired telephone
Oops! I apologize for getting carried away David. I don't usually do this.
Probably too much time on my hands (chuckle). Keep up the outstanding work you
are doing on the real Bell System. The old Bell System disease ain't such a bad
one to have. JJ At divestiture they gave us a nice copy of the 1921 bell logo
done up in gold print. I had it framed & it still hangs on my wall saying:
One Bell System, We Made it Work!
December 31, 1983
Although I come from a "Bell family"
(mom, aunts, and other relatives worked for Mountain Bell and Bell of PA), my
short-lived career was entirely post-divestiture.
I worked for US West Service Link (the
fancy given name for operator services) from 1988 to 1990. It was not a fun
job. As a US West operator I could only assist with intraLATA calls. This,
after consumers were used to decades of just dialing "O" and having the
operator do whatever was needed to complete a call and now we were telling
them they had to do it a different way. It was not a pleasant experience for
All the way up until my last day in
1990, six years after the big breakup, the majority of the people I spoke with
had no clue who handled their long distance calls, or that those calls were
even handled by a different company. Sometimes dialing "00" worked, and
sometimes it did not.
We had a list of 10-codes (10XXX-0 to
reach the live long distance operator), but we weren't allowed to mention any
long distance company by name or give out those codes to a customer, unless
the customer mentioned the name of the company first. I can't tell you how
many customers were reduced to shrieking obscenities at me because of this
There was also a way to look up a
customer's long distance information from service records. We only did this
lookup for a customer as a last resort to getting them to call a service rep
because the information was frequently not in agreement with whatever the
listed company had on file.
With all that drama over making a simple
phone call, I'm surprised a significant portion of our customer base didn't
resort to sending smoke signals.
Finally, there was The Forbidden Button.
On the Northern Telecom TOPS keyboard there was a button that would shunt a
caller to an AT&T operator. We were allowed to pass through the call if (1)
the caller requested an AT&T operator or (2) they were making a long distance
call from a US West pay phone (at this time, all LD coin revenue went to
AT&T). In reality, that button was used so often that it was one of the most
shiny and worn out keys at every position. Despite repeated stern warnings to
Stop Doing That Right Now, Dammit, supervisors and in-charge staff usually
looked the other way.
What was that again about divestiture
being a good thing for the consumer?
(would like to hear from other Oklahoma retirees)
I am a retiree of Southwestern Bell
Telephone Company. I started with SWBTCO in 1968 right out of high school. At
the time I applied for the job of Operator or "Hello Girl" as some people
called us. I didn't have a telephone so had to use my neighbor's. From my
first face to face interview to my next one I had acquired an engagement ring
that the interviewer noticed on my finger. I had to assure her that I would
still be working after I got married and I wasn't planning on starting a
family right away. Since I lived about twenty miles outside of town I had to
agree to move into town before I was hired.. I got my first full physical from
a company doctor - boy, was that embarrassing!
I use to tell people that the only thing
I had been with as long as the company was my husband. I started with the
company in May and got married that July. I retired after 35 years. I saw a
lot of changes - some good, some not so good. I have to agree, one of the "not
so good" was doing away with the "greenies". I worked as an operator,
universal service rep., order rep., billing rep., and retired as a revenue
One day, as a universal service rep., I
answered a phone call from a little old lady. She was upset and wanted her
telephone disconnected if we couldn't fix the chirping in her phone and she
was tired of everyone thinking she was crazy every time she reported it. I
assured her we didn't think she was crazy and please let me try to find out
what was going on. I checked with repair service and there had been reports
closed out to finding no trouble. I called the lady back to try to get more
information to see if maybe it was the set or something else. While talking to
her she made the comment "there, there don't you hear that?" I could hear a
chirp in the background. I asked if she had a fire alarm or smoke detector.
She said she had a smoke detector, but her husband had to take it down because
the batteries were going dead. I asked her where was the smoke detector. She
said, "right here on the table by the phone." I could tell in her voice that
she had realized what was making the chirping noise. Needless to say she did
not disconnect her phone.
The one slogan that was hard to live
down was "we [may be] the only phone company in town, but we try not to act
Would love to hear from other retirees
in the Oklahoma area. My email address is
Enjoyed the stories.
I was an employee of Pacific Telephone & Telegraph and
then Pacific Bell from 1981 to 1998 in San Francisco. Here is a (not very
pleasant) story of a service call:
I was dispatched to do a NDT trouble ticket (in '82 or '83), to repair some
vandalized inside wire and a damaged set. The police had arrested the boyfriend
for domestic violence and woman was not home at the time. I had neighbor access
to the apartment. I found some smashed jacks, cut wire and a 500 set with a
broken cover and smashed dial. When I walked back to my van to put together
another red set, there were two kids sitting on a rail, I overheard one say to
the other: "That must have been the phone he hit her with". We sometimes found
ourselves in very unsettling situations out there in the field. But the fun of
the job for a repairman was that you didn't know where you were going and what
you were going to do until you got your next trouble ticket.
I am a former Bell System
employee that just found your Web site after reading an article in Telephony
magazine, written by Don Lively.
I spent 34 years with the
company starting with the Bell Labs Telstar Satellite Department in 1962 and
retiring from Bellcore (formerly the CSO) in 1996. In between I spent 10 years
at the AT&T General Departments where I met Don Lively; who I believe at one
time was in the Bell System Purchased Products Group (BSPPD).
I was in the AT&T Engineering
Group and was responsible for the digital channel bank product lines. As a
result of that assignment I not only worked with the AT&T BSPPD group but
eventually wound up testifying in Washington, DC in the DOJ lawsuit as an
witness in the equipment procurement phase of the trial. My testimony focused on
the development and release of technical standards and technical information.
I sat in the court room for many months and was
very disappointed with the AT&T lead Anti-trust law firms (i.e.,
Sidley & Austin
Dewey Ballantine). They were more focused on competing with each other for AT&T
billable hours then concentrating on the case issues. Their strategy seemed to
be impressing Judge Green by marching an endless stream of Bell System executive
witnesses that were rehearsed to spew the same garbage. Eventually Judge Green
got tired of this tactic and demanded that they address the charges with facts,
relevant evidence and with knowledgeable witnesses.
I believe that had the trial
been completed, Judge Green would have kept the operating structure of the Bell
System intact and forced AT&T to divest Western Electric. On the other hand,
Charlie Brown and his henchmen knew that AT&T and the regulatory bodies gamed
the tariff structures so that local services were heavily subsidized by long
distance revenues (i.e., local service got all the costs and long distance got
all the revenues). That combined with the illusion that an unencumbered Bell
Labs and Western Electric could quickly move into the computer industry and
capture a large share of that market led AT&T to divest the RBOCs. What a big
I am attaching a jpg of my
Telstar Satellite ground station employee badge.
This badge was issued to all employees at the Andover Maine site. The second jpg
is a copy of my Central Services Organization (CSO)
badge that was issued in 1983 to Bell System employees scheduled to move
into the RBOC owned R&D organization that eventually was named Bellcore then
re-named Telcordia Technologies when purchased by SAIC.
Joan in Marlton, N.J.
In 1956, when I was about to graduate from high school,
Bell Telephone of Pa. came to the Northeast area of Pa. to recruit telephone
operators for the Philadelphia area. It seemed an exciting thing to do after
graduation. I turned down my parents offer of a college education. It must have
been quite a struggle for them to make the decision to let me go.
After I passed a test, and just a few days after
graduation, I was on a Greyhound bus with a friend headed for Philly. We were
taken to a Bell building in center city and there with a large group of girls
from all over the state, we were given our assignments.
My friend and I were driven to Lansdale, a town outside of
Philadelphia. The phone company had made arrangements at a boarding house for
us. I think my take home pay was about forty dollars. With this I paid my rent,
bought my meals, saved something each week and had something left over for fun.
My friend left after just two months but I stayed for
almost three years. These years left me with many wonderful memories and friends
I am in touch with still.
When I left I transferred to Bell in Wilkes-Barre my home
town. I worked there until 1964 when my first son was born This is the same son
who led me to your website. Thank you for your wonderful website and all the
memories it has brought back to me.
KAWEB57 at AOL dot com writes:
I worked as a maintenance splicer (as opposed to a
construction splicer) for New Jersey Bell from '79 till'87. On one occasion,
having just parked my personal vehicle in the co. lot, one of my co-workers
informed me that "remember, you are claustrophobic!" Chet was too large to
argue with, so I proceeded to the morning meeting where we got our 1st jobs. I
had forgotten that on the previous Friday (this was Mon.) I'd told the boss that
I'd chased a leak to a manhole! The other guys had told "Shaky Bob" (so named
for massive caffeine consumption and gullibility) that I was claustrophobic!!
He was so beside himself, he stormed out of the meeting, threw a 3" pump&
associated hoses into his truck & spun wheels out of the garage...
Patti in Indiana
Hi Phone Guy,
I just happened onto your website while I was
searching to buy a good old Western Electric touch tone wall phone for my
kitchen. (I hate the newer models with the handsets that fall off the hook so
easily!) Thought I'd share my personal experience with you.
I worked at Western Electric in Indianapolis for about a
year when I was very young. I quit when I became pregnant for our second
child. He was born in December 1966. I think I got hired in March or April of
1965 and stayed 11 months.
I was one of about 4 girls they hired to begin learning
to assemble the new Trimline phones. We had two bosses - one was Lynn Udegard
and I can't remember the other one's first name, but his last name was
Busemberg (spelling may be wrong) and we all simply called him "Boozie." We
later had a group leader named "Ruby."
When we began we each had to learn all the components
and assembly of the Trimline and be able to put the whole thing together from
scratch. Then as we mastered it they hired more girls until we had enough to
set up the first assembly line. It was very frustrating because all the lines
around us were on a good bonus plan based on their productivity and we didn't
make any bonus because the Trimline was so new that they had no basis for what
to expect in the way of production!
After they had the lines running I got a little upgrade
to inspection and I can remember sitting there looking down through that
darned lighted magnifying glass, getting so bored that I'd about fall asleep,
sometimes dropping the chewing gum out of my mouth onto the glass! I can
remember that everyone was fascinated with the Trimline because it was so
different than any of their other phones. When I quit they had only two
Trimline assembly lines running and still hadn't established a quota or bonus.
I know of a lady in her 70's who retired from Western
Electric years ago, and she must have stolen dozens of those Trimline phones
because she gives brand new ones still in the box to friends and relatives to
this day! -
I would like to share a favorite memory of the Bell
System Phone Center Store. We had recently moved into our house and this was
just after the stores were Introduced. Of course I had enough extension phones
ready to hook up, but still needed one official phone so we went in and picked
out a yellow 2500 set. Our brace of Labradors a Yellow & Black litter mates
were getting big - about 75 lbs apiece (they eventually weighed in at 100 & 98
The kit included the modular adapter to convert the 42A
wall block to modular. I hooked up the phone ok put it on loud ring made sure
it worked ok. We then went out for dinner & some shopping. When we came home
we found the phone in pieces. The face plate around the touch-tone dial had
been chewed in half, the line cord severed & a handset cord chewed in half.
The housing also suffered major tooth holes. I scolded Duke & Luke of course.
Evidently someone called while we out & the ringing bothered them and they
"fixed it". I picked up the pieces & put them in a bag.
The next day I went to the Phone Center Store and told
the young clerk I needed a new phone. She asked if my wife like the color. I
said the color was find but it fell off the table. She said she would test it
just before I took the pieces out of the bag. As she gasped at the pieces I
placed on the counter she laughed & asked if wanted a wall phone instead. I
said we prefer the yellow desk.
She replaced the phone with no further questions or
Dave Hurlburt - Retired Pacific Bell
about a Testdeskman and a repairman
One of my many jobs before I retired was a Test-Deskman,
later a Testing Technician. I was the one who called the frames to put up a
test shoe in a cable pair. One day I got a call from a repairman to help test
a pair on a trouble. He needed to get a clean balanced pair to replace the
defective one for the customer. I put up the shoe and asked him for a short. I
did not see the short and because there was a multiple he climbed the next
location; but still I did not see the short. We tried the last multiple but
still I did not see it. I was reading out of the cable book for 34th avenue
when he needed a pair on 33rd avenue. When I told him I had made a mistake he
said he was coming to see me. Lucky for me I was on the second floor and when
he got there he got stuck in the elevator until the end of my shift. I walked
down the stars and went home and he cooled off.
William Howard Geisel
This is WILLIAM HOWARD GEISEL better known in the old Bell
System as HOWIE GEISEL. Started as a WE installer at 463 West Street New York
City, New York in 1941.
Because of Pearl Harbor, I left on military leave with
the Merchant Marine. Spent 4 years in Merchant Marine and returned to Western
Electric installation for 15 years, transferred to Equipment Engineering
Hawthorne Works, Cicero, IL. Spent 3 years there then transferred to Defense
Projects in New York City, NY. Then to Equipment Engineering in Newark,
NJ then to Western Electric Plant in Kearny, NJ. In 1983 to New York Telephone
as Detail Engineering. Retired in 1985 with 44 years BELL SYSTEM
SERVICE. Anyone wishing to say Hello please e-mail me at howie*@*surfglobal*.*net
(remove asterisks to get actual email address).
Marcy J. Massura
My great-grandfather was Arthur Charles Kuhn. He was
general disbursements manager for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company. He
started with bell in 1906 as a revenue accounting clerk and retired 46 years
later without ever missing a days work!!!
I was searching your site to locate articles or manifests or even company
documents with his name on them. I have two newspaper articles about his
retirement and later when he became mayor of Pleasant Ridge, Michigan.....but
I would love to find more to preserve his memory and pay homage to the great
Bell company he loved!
Marcy J. Massura
Webmaster's note: Please contact her
through her website if you have any information for her.
"I worked for 'Ma Bell' for 32 years and just retired
this year - things have changed way too much for me. We all laugh about our
fondest memory - the beloved "greenies". They cured you of PMS, headaches,
hangovers, aches, pains, and anything else that ailed you - I wish to this day
I still had some or knew what was in them - they worked miracles. Male &
female alike will remember the day with sadness they took them away from us. I
hope you can read the attached memo that
told us we could no longer order them. Thanks for the history!!!!! Things were
really better then!" - Christina Runkal
March 2, 1983
To All Department Heads
Subject: Dispensing of Medication by Departments
It has been a custom in some department for several
years to stock so-called "green pills" and dispense them as they are
requested by reporting people for minor symptoms of colds, headaches, etc.
These pills contain an aspirin-like drug and caffeine. These pills were
procured directly by the departments from Western Electric. Recently Western
Electric has discontinued the handling of this substance, hence, there have
been inquiries to the Medical Department regarding the procurement.
It should be pointed out that while the Medical
Department has never endorsed the handling of medications by the
departments, about 18 months ago this practice was part of an extremely
biased article in the "Mother Jones" magazine.
The handling of these medications should cease and the
procurement, purchase and_ administration of any medication should be
strictly a personal problem to be addressed by the individual employee.
Ronald E. Finn, M. D.
J. R. Snyder Jr
"In the early 70's I was one of the
first male operators in the Bell System. I worked paper Directory Assistance
and Intercept, Rate and Route and the Toll and Assistance cord switchboard in
Greenville, SC and Phoenix, AZ. I also was an International Operator on the
cord switchboard at the International Operating Center in Jacksonville. I
worked for the Bell System and then U S WEST after divestiture for almost 30
years before Qwest took over U S WEST and I was laid off right before I was
I was also one of the first male
supervisors of operators, an EEOC token, before I got out of Operator Services
and went into test centers. This is really in response to Christina
Runkal's post about "greenies" (see story above). Yes, we all mourned the
day they went away but as a supervisor I knew the real reason why. Her
question is she wished she knew what was in them. Well...I know.
They were 400 mg of aspirin, 200 mg
of caffeine and 1 mg of benzodiazepine (valium).
That is why we were so hooked on them and they were taken away!
J. R. Snyder Jr.
Peter W. Koch
A breed of employees quite apart from the rest of the
Bell System were the Western Electric installers. We traveled all over the
country. I worked out of the Union, New Jersey office. This meant traveling
all over the State of New Jersey. We installed the switching equipment
manufactured at the Kearney plant as well as some others. I think I got to
know every central office in New Jersey. In addition we installed PBXs. I
worked in the field office of the FBI in Newark, Newark and Essex Bank,
Shering Corp in Bloomfield, and best of all in Krueger's Brewery. For
obvious reasons, that had to be the best job site.
I also worked in Virginia and Georgia. The company sent you and you packed
your bags. These jobs usually lasted up to 13 weeks. We stayed in second
rate hotels and boarding houses. Up until 1952, single men received only a
dollar day per diem. Married men not much more than that. After a long
strike in early 1952, per diem was raised to $7.50 per day for the first two
weeks and $6.50 per day thereafter for everyone, regardless of marital
status. Also the company had to pay all traveling expenses by common
carrier, first class tickets.
We were jacks-of-all-trades. We were steel workers, riggers, cable runners,
wiring technicians, equipment testers, electric power equipment
technicians, and a few others that the boss could conjure up. It was
interesting work and I enjoyed my job. Unfortunately, in 1958 the job gave
out due to a recession and massive layoffs. In New Jersey alone, about a
third of all installers were laid off. There had been about 1200 of us at
the time. I was never recalled.
In 1986-1987 I was Governor of Rotary
International in Houston and District Manager of SWBT. I told this story
many times because the Theme for Rotary that year was: Rotary Brings Hope.
One day, a customer service representative of
mine spoke to an elderly female customer about a problem on her bill. After
resolving that problem, the customer mentioned her phone hadn't rung in six
months. The rep ask why she had waited so long to report the problem. The
customer said the phone was on her patio and several months ago, her little
dog and constant companion barked just as she reached for the phone and
someone was there. Since that time, every time her dog barked, she picked up
the phone and someone was calling. The customer continued that she supposed
that dogs could hear sounds humans could not, especially the elderly and
that she guessed the little dog was hearing the ring of the phone.
At noon, my rep, who was dating a telephone
repairman, met him for lunch. She suggested he drop by the customers home
and fix her bell. He did. That night, on a date, the rep ask about the
customer and the repairman explained.
Each day the customer took the little dog out
to the patio and tied his metal leash to the telephone ground stake. When
the phone rang, the dog barked. That repairman really "Brought
Hope" to that little dog.
And another story . . .
Back in the 60's a hurricane approached Galveston Island and of course, we pulled all the FEMALE operators and replaced them with male managers (except the Chief Operator).
None of us knew what we were doing, but the Chief treated us just like she did normal operators (tough).
I was sitting by a buddy (Lew) when he got a coin long distance call from a phone booth on the beach.
He connected the party, forgetting to collect in advance. When the light appeared signaling the party had finished, he rang the phone in the booth. The same customer answered.
Lew requested the customer NOW deposit the correct amount but the customer informed him that the call was complete and he felt no need to pay.
Lew then informed the customer he was about to push the button in front of him that would lock the door to the booth and the hurricane would likely blow the customer away.
Guess what..........DING, DING,DING went the coins into the payphone.
Of course Lew had no idea if the correct amount was deposited but he tried and the customer survived.
Walt Lackey #97
In 1951, I was in my junior year as a
pre-engineering student at Kalamazoo College. I had been admitted to the
University of Michigan School of Engineering for that fall, but needed to
work to have the money to pay tuition, room and board. In those days there
were no such things as student loans, so you either needed parents who could
pay the cost, or you had to work your way through college. My folks didn't
have the money. I had worked prior summers for various small independent
telephone companies who provided magneto service in the areas near Battle
Creek and Kalamazoo, and had a job lined up for the summer of 1951. The
school year was drawing to a close in May 1951 when I saw a classified ad in
Telephony magazine from Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Co. in Chicago which
read: "Wanted, experienced equipment installers or qualified
trainees." It gave the address in Chicago to send in an application.
Instead of writing, I called them on the phone and was connected to Ralph
Schofield, chief installer. He wrote me a letter suggesting that I come to
Chicago prepared to work for the summer. The letter said he was confident a
suitable arrangement could be worked out.
When school was out, I packed my suitcase, boarded the New York Central
railroad in Battle Creek (closer to my home than Kalamazoo) and traveled to
Chicago, getting off at the South 63rd street station. There I caught the
street car going west where I got off at Cicero Avenue. I walked 3 blocks to
the Kellogg plant at 6650 S. Cicero Avenue. It was right next door to the
Cracker Jack factory. (I can still remember the sweet smell of the sugary
brown syrup they poured over popcorn to make Cracker Jack). It was also
close to Midway airport. This was my first trip out of Michigan.
We did work out a satisfactory arrangement and in a day or two I was off to
my first assignment, which was to assist in the installation of a new
Kellogg 4 position full-feature common battery switchboard in Fortville,
Indiana, just outside of Indianapolis. This was a replacement for an old 2
position magneto switchboard. Fortville was becoming a bedroom community for
Indianapolis so there was a lot of construction and growth going on there. I
took the Greyhound bus from Chicago to Indianapolis, and then changed to a
local Indiana bus line to travel to Fortville. I paid my own rail fare to
Chicago, but Kellogg paid the bus fare to Fortville.
Fortville was served by United Telephone Company of Indiana, whose
headquarters was in Warsaw, IN. Just a few months before, Warsaw had been
converted from common battery to dial with a brand new Stromberg Carlson XY
switch. That was one of the first XY switches which Stromberg Carlson had
just started to manufacture. In those days many people didn't believe that
dial service was for "everywhere," as evidenced by the fact that
United decided on a new common battery exchange for Fortville. The Kellogg
common battery switchboard was Kellogg's latest "super service"
model. It featured keyless listening, and automatic multi-frequency ringing.
When a line lamp came on, the operator plugged in a rear cord and was
automatically connected to the calling party. Obtaining the called number,
she inserted the front (calling) cord into the called line and depressed the
proper ringing button. There were four, corresponding to the 4 ringing
frequencies. From that point on the call was under the control of the
calling party. The ringing was automatic. If the called party answered, the
ringing stopped and they talked. When they both hung up, the two supervisory
lamps came on and the operator took down the cord circuit. If the called
party didn't answer, the calling party hung up and both supervisory lamps
came on. The operator could not listen in on the call. The Main Distribution
Frame furnished by Kellogg was made by Cook Electric. It used type 100
protectors with carbon blocks and heat coils.
My wages were $1.20 per hour for 40 hours, plus time and a half for 8 hours
on Saturday. We worked 6 days a week. In addition, the per deim was $6 per
day, $3 for food and $3 for housing. I found a room in a private home for $5
per week. I was able to send all of my paychecks to the bank plus about 1
out of every 3 expense checks. It took about 4 weeks to complete this
When the Fortville installation was completed, my supervisor and myself were
transferred to the next job, which was in Winder, GA. My boss drove his car
from Fortville to Winder, northeast of Atlanta, taking with him his wife and
myself. It took about 2 days to make the trip. There were no interstate
highways in those days.
The telephone company serving Winder was Georgia Continental Telephone
Company. It was owned by the Gary Group, which at the time also controlled
Automatic Electric Company. (It had no relationship to Continental Telephone
Corporation which didn't come into existence until probably about 10 or 15
years later.) The old exchange was an early common battery switchboard with
no super service features. It had manual ringing and the operator could
listen in on calls. We installed an 8 position Kellogg super service
switchboard. Two of the positions were for long distance. Winder served as
the toll center for a couple of unattended Ga. Continental automatic SxS
exchanges in nearby towns. I have forgotten the names of those towns.
Ring-down trunks connected the Winder switchboard to the Southern Bell toll
board in Atlanta for connection to the rest of the world. It cost me $6 per
week for my room, but that included breakfast. (I remember we usually at
lunch at the City Cafe, just around the corner from the telephone office.)
The room was upstairs on the front in a large elegant brick house right next
door to the post office. I had a private balcony over the front porch.
It was interesting to me at the time that even though Georgia Continental
and Automatic Electric were controlled by the same group, they opted to
install a new manual common battery exchange in Winder rather than convert
it to dial operation. Again, not everybody was convinced that automatic
service was for everywhere in 1951. In this case, however, an Automatic
Electric main distributing frame was installed with Automatic Electric's own
protectors, rather than a Cook frame. At least the owners were getting some
of the equipment from their own Automatic Electric Company. The dials on the
toll positions were also Automatic Electric, rather than Kellogg. (Just a
few years later Automatic Electric discontinued their own MDFs and
protectors and standardized on Cook products. I had moved on and was working
at Cook Electric in 1963 when that happened).
While working on this installation in Winder, it was announced that
International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation had purchased a
substantial minority interest in Kellogg. Jim Kellogg, grandson of the
founder Milo G. Kellogg, was president of Kellogg at that time. A few months
later ITT purchased the remainder of Kellogg and it became a division of
ITT. Subsequently it was renamed ITT Kellogg and sometime later the name
"Kellogg" was dropped and it became ITT Telecommunications.
Completion of the Winder installation took the remainder of the summer. In
fact it wasn't quite completed when I had to head back to Michigan and start
my first year of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor. I rode the Louisville and Nashville railroad to Chicago, and the New
York Central back home to Michigan. I had saved enough to pay for my first
semester and a large part of the second semester. I worked part time as a
switchboard operator on Michigan Bell's Western Electric PBX in the
dormitory during the school year to pay for the balance of the second
This was the first of 3 summers I worked for Kellogg while going to college.
The second summer I installed a 30 line Kellogg Relaymatic in Johnsville, KY
and a 750 line type 1040 Crossbar for Central Iowa Telephone Company in
Forrest City Iowa. I remember that Forrest City was a predominantly
Norwegian community, where people were very warm and friendly to strangers,
but sensitive to not wanting to be confused with Swedes. The 3rd summer was
installing another 750 line type 1040 Crossbar for Central Iowa Telephone
Company in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Emmetsburg was largely an Irish community. I
still keep in touch with a fellow installer, long since retired, who worked
with me on the Emmetsburg installation. Both of these were manual common
battery to dial conversions. Forrest City had an old Stromberg Carslon
manual board. Emmetsburg had a fairly new Kellogg super service manual
I remember that in both of these Central Iowa
towns, the telephone company installed new Kellogg type 1000 Red Bar phones
with metal housings. Kellogg's standard housing was bakelite, but the metal
housings could stand a lot more abuse. I suppose they paid a premium for
those sets. My hourly pay rate and per deim remained the same all three
summers. I sure wish I had today the old candle sticks, hotel-type wall
phones and Kellogg 700 and 925 series phones replaced by these red bars. At
the time, they were considered junk.
When I finished college, my college expenses
were all paid, I had no debts and had $250 in the bank.
A STORY "OREGON CAVES MAGNETO SYSTEM"
Here's a story about a working magneto
telephone system that's still in use today! It's at the Oregon Caves
National Monument. It's quite a large complex consisting of a 5-story lodge
with about 50 rooms.
Many of the rooms have a magneto telephone in
them ranging from Leich desk sets to Western Electric single box sets. There
is a Kellogg 20 line desk mounted switchboard in the lobby. There are also
magneto telephones in the park ranger station, the maintenance building, the
kitchen, the gift shop, the cave tour ticket sales office and various other
places. There is even a separate magneto system with four stations in the
cave itself with additional lines going out to the ticket office and ranger
I have personally maintained the entire
telephone system for the past 20 years or so. I finally had to remove the
magneto system inside the cave because the original cloth wires (installed
in 1920) were constantly shorting out due to rotting cloth resulting from
the dampness. I replaced the entire system with 4,500 feet of state of the
art six pair "armored" buried drop line, and four newfangled
Stromberg Carlson intercom sets. It was quite a job. The cave is nearly 1
mile long and is full of twisting crawl holes. They didn't want any wire
showing, so I had to pioneer a "new route" to pull the wire
through the cave. It took 10 people to be in strategic places to accomplish
this. It took two weeks to finish the job. And yes, I did happen to acquire
the magneto sets that I removed! (I put one in our local museum) The rest of
the telephone system is still ringing away and I'm still replacing the no.6
dry cells regularly.
ANOTHER STORY "PROBLEMS"
This story takes place in Oregon in the early
70's. I was working for a small independent telephone company called
"Redwoods Telephone Company." Redwoods was owned by one person,
and served a small community called Cave Junction with a population of 490.
We were using an X Y switch and almost
everyone was on party lines with coded ringing. Redwoods also served the
surrounding area which is heavily wooded and has lots of mountains. One of
the common winter problems we had was a heavy snow load or high wind
breaking off branches and sending them crashing through and breaking
telephone lines. This sort of thing occurred frequently during winter.
Needless to say, the cable splicers were kept busy. Of course there were
many other types of winter problems involving dampness, ice, critters
chewing through lines and so on.
My story is about a different kind of problem
that occurred during the summer. During the beginning of the 70's there was
an influx of, what everybody called at the time, "Hippies" They
moved into the mountains and valleys in large numbers. The type of place
that they liked to settle in the most, was so far removed from civilization
that very few had access to electricity or telephone lines. There was a
hippy commune called "Sunstar" that was about 6 or 7 miles past
the farthest reaching telephone line in our system. After several years of
arguing and squabbling with the telephone company, the PUC, the FCC, the
USFS, the BLM, logging companies and private land owners, they finally got
easement for a telephone line to run through the woods and along an old
gravel logging road that crossed about 8 creeks and 2 rivers.
I was sent out there along with Don and
Dennis who were the cable splicers to do some construction work and splice
cable. This is where the problems began. The pedestal that we were working
on was situated next to the "Dunn Creek Bridge" which happened to
be directly above one of the best swimming holes in the valley. All day long
there was an endless supply of pretty girls wearing no clothes at all
hanging out at the hole! Well......Don and Dennis just could not concentrate
on their work!!!! (I could, of course, because I was used to this sort of
thing due to the fact that while not at work, I was one of those hippies.)
For some odd reason, we had to keep going back to that pedestal over and
over, day after day, because we just couldn't get it right!
Well, summer finally ended, the leaves
started dropping and so did the air temperature. Needless to say, the
pedestal was finally wired properly and we looked forward to winter problems
I am the last generation of Splicers that
hand spun wires. The
in the Manhole picture is beginning a random splice.
The only sequential order in randoming is
bunch (usually 100 pairs) identification. The core bunch is number one and
rotation follows the rule "clock to the block" and counter clockwise to the
central office (C.O.)
The white sleeves on the left side are placed
first on all the pairs. When the pair is spun, trimmed off, and folded back
into the now straight wire the sleeve is slid forward to cover the exposed
copper that is shorter in length than the waxed sleeve. After all the random
splices are completed we would then test and identify each pair for
termination purposes at each end of the "run."
The Splicers Trailer is commonly know as a
Tool Cart. The center-fold down door in the
middle became a work bench which we prepared lead sleeves to be "lead wiped"
and create an airtight splice enclosure. Underground cables are pressurized
to trigger an alarm if a leak develops. -
Tom Steed, Mid Hudson (NY) Cable Maintenance
I was a Western Electric Installer from
1951-1981. My first job assignment was the new Marietta, GA office which was
being installed to cut the city over to Step By Step Switch from a n old
Manual office. As another Installer told you they did not pay us much for
living expenses while on an out of town assignment. In fact they didn't pay
us much period, but it beat working on the farm, as most of us were doing.
Hardly any installers had automobiles at that
time, so we rode busses and trains between towns.
In 1952 when we started getting per diem when
traveling. It took a while, (approx 8 weeks) for it to start.
Since it was retroactive back to day contract was signed, most of us got
quite a large back-pay check. I got I think $800.00. Immediately every
installer bought himself a car. Didn't have to ride busses any more. But
there was problems, I knew of quite a few that got drunk and wrecked their
cars the first week. (Couldn't handle this new fangled thing).
I was an operator for Michigan Bell on a
switchboard in West Branch, Michigan from 1965-67. West Branch was one
of about 5 or 6 locations in Michigan at that time that didn't have direct
dial. We had a switchboard for local calls. Phone numbers ranged
from single digits to 4 digits, and included rural lines that ended in J, M,
R, or W, and party lines that ended in J1, J2, J3, J4 and J1-1 or W1, W2,
W3,W4, and W 1-1. We used cord pairs to answer and connect
We also handled long distance and information
calls for several nearby communities who had dial phones for local calls
(Centrex-type equipment, I believe), but who went through our switchboard to
connect to the outside world. Our long distance lines went to Saginaw,
Michigan, and from there to the rest of the country.
We had a Western Electric switchboard
installed, I believe, in the 1920's. I've realized for some time that
I had an incredibly unique experience using that kind of equipment, at a
time when most of the country had direct dialing for local a long distance
I've been making notes recently on what I
remember of how the switchboard worked - from the operator's point of view,
I mean nothing technical. I remember quite a bit but not everything.
I wonder if anyone else had documented this type of information.
Examples of what I'm after: I'm
thinking literally of how an operator worked the switchboard: how it
was arranged, how colored paint around the individual "sockets"
told us which numbers weren't in service, were disconnected, or were
disconnected at the customer's request. How colored paint on one
socket gave us this same information for each of 4 rural lines on the same
socket, and amazingly-for each of 10 party lines on one socket! How we
used the ringer switches. How we handled, documented and timed long
distance calls, how we knew when someone was calling from a pay phone, how
we knew how much to charge them, and how we knew when they had deposited
enough coins to cover the call. How we learned about fires, rang the
local fire alarm, and got the information to the volunteer firemen so
quickly that I remember at least one occasion when only 5 minutes elapsed
from the time we first got the report of the fire to the time when I heard
the sirens on the fire engines as they raced by the telephone office. It was
a remarkably efficient system that combined reliable wiring and electronics
with a complex array of manual procedures that made it all work.
I am more and more impressed with it the
older I get, and the more I learn about modern telecommunications. It
was truly amazing what they did with none of the current technology. West
Branch converted to direct dial in October of 1967, and the operators all
lost their jobs, although they had all known for some time that it would
end. The other Michigan communities I remember with switchboards
like ours in the mid-1960's were St. Ignace and Newberry, both in the Upper
Peninsula. I believe there were at least two other locations but
I don't remember where they were.
"It is a shame, but as one and all would
say, 'that is progress'!! Hogwash...but as a former employee who wanted to
retire with pride and satisfaction...which became a downsize kid in 1990....
that's what people wanted. I have a communications business and it has
taught me something about the public ...they do not appreciate the service
that you speak of...I know!!!!! And so do a lot of other techs ..... all I
hear from the customer is 'that much???' Even when I go almost
immediately to service them due to their created emergency and charge
them...(at first it was 25.00 an hour then 35.00 and now.. 50...plus the
material.)..they gripe and grumble about the cost. If it isn't fast and
cheap they don't think its great....I never thought that people could be
this way when I serviced them and thought I would have an extremely thriving
business...what a joke!!!! People have too much money and time and have come
to expect service people are like the Chinese slaves over seas...they are
ungrateful and un- appreciative...more so every day...I'm up north in
Michigan and I've seen it everywhere...to this country's (USA's)
A short story of the wonders of working at Ma-Bell. I had been a Service tech for about
12 years when my marriage fell apart (a common thing with Bell Employees) It was the day after my divorce and the last thing on my mind was another relationship. I called the business office at BellSouth for some information on a customer. The young lady that answered my call said her name was Michelle and she was very helpful. After she was done helping me, I asked her out. Of coarse she turned me down. She did however concede to call me after work.
After two weeks of phone calls we actually went on a date and had great time. We had been dating for a few months when hurricane Andrew did his thing and wiped out Michelle and her two-year-old daughter Jessica's apartment. Apartments were scarce
so we moved in together.
Well a common boy meets girl story you say, but this is when it gets weird. Because of the hurricanes destruction, service techs were sent into different areas to work. One day I was driving up a street I had never been on, when a woman using one of BellSouth temporary payphones came screaming into the street. She advised me she was on the phone with a Bell employee who could not seem to understand her.
I stopped to speak to the service rep. from BellSouth. I realized it was Michelle. Out of over one thousand service representatives answering calls and out of over fifteen hundred service techs in south Florida we had managed to find each other on the end of a payphone.
We have been married now for nine years. I adopted Jessica and we also have a son Daniel. Oh and by the way, Michelle's life and mine had been touched years before we met. Her two best friends both worked for my brother and she was close friends with some folks whose home I had been to on many
occasions but had never met her there.
What can I say it was just meant to be.
I just was on your internet site and it
brought back so many memories. I retired from AT&T after 40-1/2 years with
the Bell System on December 31,1983! Yes, that was the last day of the
I worked in Western Electric at the Tube Shop
in New York City starting in mid 1942, then served in the U.S. Navy, back to
the Tube Shop, transferred to N.Y. Telephone in Brooklyn, NY (close to home)
where I worked in a XB1 and a Panel office, asked for and received a
transfer to Rockland County, N.Y. where I purchased a home and worked in
Nyack, NY on a manual board, Nanuet, NY where it was a 355 Stepper office.
Then, it was to Spring Valley, NY in a XB5 office, promoted to C.O. foreman
and transferred to Nyack where it was a XB Tandem a XB5 location.
Transferred to Trunk Facilities which later became Network Operations.
Promoted eventually to Supervisor. Loaned over to AT&T. at Basking Ridge, NJ
for staff work and retired from there.
When I look back, I realize that I had a
variety of jobs and job locations which were different. My working
experience was always interesting and especially in the switching craft it
was very gratifying. The accomplishments of the days activities gave me a
feeling of satisfaction. I don't believe the comradery is still in the
telephone business these days, as we had it then. Unfortunately, I do not
think of the past except today, your site made me go back and think of the
John P. Lock - Tulsa Retiree
Years ago a story was related to our station
installation crew here in Tulsa by our installation foreman that happened
years before when he was a young telephone installer. He had finished his
installation in the house and was getting ready to leave. The house wife
said Mr. Telephone Man do you want to hear my dog play the piano. The dog
jumped up on the stool and started pawing the keys with his front feet, the
installer stood there a few seconds and turned to leave.
When he did the dog come bounding off the
stool and bit the installer on the back of his leg. The installer said "Mam,
your dog bit me!" She replied, "You did not applaud."
I would like to relate a story told me in the
1950's by a Telephone Construction Foreman that happened to him in Eastern
Oklahoma in 1920's. His line crew was working out in the country far from
any town or even a gas station.
They came up on this man in his Model T who
was out of gasoline. The foreman ask the man if he had anything that he
could put any gasoline in if so they would drain some out of the Telephone
The man said I have a full fifth of Jack
Daniels, the old foreman known for his love for it said lets pass it around.
There was a good ending everybody left happy.
In the year of 1949 I was in a line crew
replacing 50 ten pin cross arms on a toll line from Pawhuska, Oklahoma going
north into Kansas. The only access was the railroad tracks, so our
construction foreman made arrangements with a railroad employee to
distribute the cross arms for us on a small flat car with a gasoline engine.
There was myself and two other telephone
employees riding the railroad car throwing the arms off as we went down the
railroad tracks about 25 mph. One employee was reading the print and the
other employee and myself was throwing the arms when the man with the print
told us to.
After we unloaded the 50 cross arms the man
with the print looked a little closer at the print and he realized we had
thrown them off in the wrong place. I don't need to say that our foreman
aged 10 year and we never went back after them or we did not replace them, .
So I guess our foreman made a real good rating by showing those arms
Darrel Sharp - Retired Lucent - Modesto, Ca.
A team was integrated to conduct a field trial
for Bell Labs. This trial was to test Integrated Broadband packet transmissions
for voice, image, and data from San Francisco Bay Area customers. The Network
used high speed links (56kbs) between customers, AT&T Comm, including Bell Labs
at Indian Hill , Ill. and Holmdale, Nj.
The first high speed link from the west coast to Bell Labs. The team was chosen
from volunteers from AT&T NS. The Supervisor was from ATCOMM. I will call him
"BG". Myself ("DS" and TH) were from AT&TNS. We ("TH" and "DS") were
to be the grunts to physically install and maintain the Installed network.
I was so excited about going to Bell Labs. A dream comes true. We were to depart
Oakland Monday morning. The previous Friday I suffered a back injury and was in
bed for the complete weekend. I should have remained in bed for a week, but the
trip to Bell Labs would not deter me, even if I had to be carried, so I showed
up at the airport on a cane and hobbling and cringing from intense pain, pushing
my baggage with one foot. Events did not get any better for several days.
Our first impression at Bell Labs, so important, was beginning to go down in
flames. We were to meet the Bell Labs Team at the introduction conference at
07:30. TH showed up late, looking like warmed over death, and reeking of booze.
We were late and looked like a team from hell. BG was destined to corporate
failure, for sure.
The meeting was crowded, there were three chairs left. I hobble up front, BG sat
at the wall next to his supervisor, TH sat at the end of the table, close to the
door. After introductions I kept hearing distracting sounds coming from the rear
of the room. I knew that it involved TH. I did not want to know anything more. I
was already hiding low.
The following story was told to me after the event happened.
That evening BG was bawling in his beer at the lounge at the hotel. GS from AT&TNS
saw him and said, "In 28 years with this company, I have never seen anything
like that. The only thing you can do is to go outside to the parking lot and
fall on your sword."
BG was ready to surrender. His career was finished, a corporate embarrassment,
network failure, doomed to be fired.
What happened at that meeting? I asked.
It seems TH was sick. He kept getting up and running to the restroom.
No one knew he was sick. BG's Bell Labs supervisor told BG, "If he cannot sit in
that chair, perhaps he can sit on an airplane seat back to California. Tell him
to sit down and stop his disturbing behavior."
Well, it did not work. After a few minutes, TH made it to the door before he
began to puke on the walls, floor, and door.
One more beer could never help BG recover from this mess. The team had
embarrassed him, and themselves at Bell Labs. BG being the talent that he
was, (an explosive expert in Vietnam) had never been in anything like this, was
an incredibly fast thinker.
BG crawled into his supervisors office the next morning, prepare to make an
offense. He said, " I am not here to apologize. I am here to tell you about TH
and DS. These guys have been crawling around in switch rooms for 20 years. They
have never worked around engineers and sterile environments like this. Your
people will have to get used to them, and they will have to get used to you.
These guys can and will get this network installed and running. These guys are
from the real world.
The supervisor said, "OK" let's go.
The project was 7 weeks behind the schedule. TH and DS had this lab back on
schedule in a week.
From an anonymous M. D., who has his practice
in McLean, VA, right across the river from Washington, DC:
Regarding the best telephone system in the world;
the honorable Judge Greene, the presiding judge over the breakup [of the Bell
System], lived about a mile from me. After the
divestiture mess hit the fan and started to clear, one of my patients, who was a
repair serviceman for Bell, told me that the good judge wanted an additional
telephone line installed in his house and became thoroughly incensed when he
couldn't find out who was now responsible for such work. True poetic
Some Bell System mottos:
OUR JOB "GIVE OUR CUSTOMERS
SERVICE WHEN THEY WANT IT, THE KIND THEY WANT, KEEP IT WORKING, AND IF THEY HAVE
TROUBLE, FIX IT RIGHT AWAY."
"DON'T MAKE PROMISES WE CAN'T
KEEP, AND KEEP THE PROMISES WE MAKE."
"DO TODAY'S WORK TODAY."
- submitted by Jeremy Walters