TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Old Party-Line Arrangements

Re: Old Party-Line Arrangements

Dave Garland (
Tue, 08 Feb 2005 00:34:06 -0600

On 7 Feb 2005 06:08:45 -0000, in comp.dcom.telecom Pat wrote:

> She said the old biddies on the party line would set the phone in a
> galvanized laundry tub, so even if they were sitting out on the
> front porch on a hot summer night, they would all hear that
> (amplified by the galvanized tub) 'tick sound', and the front-porch
> ladies would quietly slip inside and try to listen/spy on the
> neighbor who had received the phone call, to find out who had called
> and what they were talking about.

When I was a kid in the '50s in rural New York, I think we probably
had an 8 or 10 party line. There were several ring codes, and a
cardboard cheat sheet that told how to call other parties on the line
(IIRC, each party had a different 2-digit code that you dialed, then
hung up and, I think, waited for your own phone to stop ringing,
indicating that the other party had picked up).

By the early '60s, the number of parties had dropped to about 4.
Somebody had finally turned the local corner store in to the phone
company for using the residential party line as their business line.
The personal phone equipment in my room, in addition to my contraband
extension (constructed of an ear and mic element taped to an improvised
handle ... there was no insulation so it was unwise to have it touching
both your ear and your mouth when a ring signal applied ringing voltage
between the two points.. and a box with a toggle on-off hookswitch and a
SPST NC button switch used for dialing, to dial 9 press 9 times),
included a small 3-transistor amp from a defunct tape recorder attached
to the line, so I could listen to party-line conversations without going
offhook. As most other eavesdroppers have probably found, 95% of the
conversations were extremely boring.

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