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

Re: Old Party-Line Arrangements

Lisa Hancock (
8 Feb 2005 13:28:49 -0800

John Levine wrote:

> In the 1970s, I knew people at non-Bell independents who used circle
> digits, the extra digit to identify the calling phone. There was also
> a surprising amount of ONI, operators cutting in to ask for your
> number, even on private lines in Bell territory before ANI was
> universal.

My employer in 1973 had Centrex but suburban (message unit) and toll
calls were ONI -- you dialed the number and a Bell operator came on
and asked you for your number. (I believe the Centrex was run by
step-by-step switch since it had secret digit absorbtion of the first
digit of the extension. All our extensions began with "3" and you
didn't need to dial that 3 except when calling 33xx. My co-workers
were impressed when I discovered that.) My employer also used a cord
switchboard; I thought all Centrex users had more modern consoles.

AFAIK, ANI trailed direct-distance dialing in the Bell System.

I would think being an ONI operator would be a pretty boring
job -- all you did was enter 4 digits into a key pad all day long.

TELECOM Digest Editor noted in response:

> 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. PAT]

From time to time people say "back in the good old days people were
nicer, more respectful, etc." The above example -- which was very
common -- shows this wasn't always the case.

In my present complex, I joke that we should have our own private PBX
connecting the apartments. We know a few "old biddies" who would jump
at the chance to be operators so they could listen in to every call.

Joseph wrote:

> On two-party lines whether it was tip or ring determined whether
> either party would be charged and you could use AMA. With four party
> you used CAMA and an operator would come on the line to ask what your
> number was.

[repeating an old story]

Back in the 1970s I was making a lot of toll calls from home (thank
goodness for cheap after 11pm rates). We had a private line served by
a #5 XBAR in a city.

Suddenly, my phone bill didn't show any long distance calls. Month
after month went by. I finally called the phone company and reported
it and they denied anything was wrong. About a month later someone
from the _business_ subscriber service (not residential) called me to
report they found a problem with my line. The man said somehow my
"tip and ring were confused with a business customer and my toll calls
were charged to him; they reviewed the calls against my past usage and
put them back on my bill; I would be allowed to pay it out over a few

I don't know how the internals confused my line and this business's
for billing purposes, his number wasn't anything like mine. But the
toll calls were mine and my own calls showed up again.

As I understood it, the businessman noticed my toll calls (being made
late at night) and repeatedly complained to the company it couldn't
have come from his place. The phone company simply said someone must
have access and using his phones. After I guess he made a big enough
stink they researched it and found the 'tip/ring' problem and fixed
it. Oh yes -- he called one of the numbers I called and got more info.

The only subsequent problem was that while the man said I could pay it
out, the regular _residential_ service people demanded the full
payment at once.

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