TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Switchboards in Homes; Closing at Night

Switchboards in Homes; Closing at Night
Fri, 14 Oct 2005 09:30:44 EDT

In a message dated Fri, 14 Oct 2005 01:20:34 GMT, John McHarry
<> writes:

> I don't think I ever knew. I kind of assumed from the story they had
> put the switchboard in somebody's home, perhaps the telephone company
> owner's. Alamogordo is now Qwest, but it may have been a mom and pop
> back then, or at least the outlying areas. Next time I talk to the
> people who found it, I'll try to remember to ask what it is now.

It was extremely common in the days before dial operations for small
towns to have the switchboard in someone's home, and the resident was
the operator, closing during the night. There was no embarrasment in
the operator's not responding at night. The service was not available
at night.

I had occasion many times to visit telephone offices in small towns in
the 1940s and 1950s, perhaps even later, that were in small places.
Following the aerial cable routes as they became more concentrated
toward the office was the way I found the office, too, in both manual
and dial towns. (In many places the only public telephone, or the
only place to make a sent-paid toll call, was in the operator's
house/telephone office, or in front on the office if it was dial, so
you needed to find the office.)

Sometimes in small-town manual offices the operator had an assistant.
But service was still not usually offered at night.

In the 1940s, when I was in high school, I dated a girl who lived on a
farm that was served by a one-person manual office that was located in
a someone's home. The girl I was dating told me what time the office
closed and any calls would have to be before that time. Not
considered unusual at all. If you tried to make a call to that place
at night, the originating operator in my city would try, but warn me
that they office probably would not answer.

The house that held the switchboard was usually owned by the telco,
and the operator was termed the "agent" and also handed business
office functions, including bill payments, taking service orders, and
cash payments for toll calls.

This was a pretty standard arrangement in small towns whether served
by a mom-and-pop operation, an independent of some size, or a Bell

Wes Leatherock

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: My maternal grandmother (Langford) had
a situation something like that when she grew up as a young lady in a
small town near here, Mound Valley, KS. She was employed by the
'agent' (for telco, telegraph, stage coach), whatever made money at
the way station where she worked/lived. All those things put together
in one place meant _someone_ could sort of earn a modest living. Then
the 'agent'/operator either died or got married, whatever, and
grandmother took over the operation. That was around 1890 more or
less, maybe 1900. She was on duty 24/7 but had 'sleeping priviledges'.
She said to me once that there was an 'understanding' in the community
that the telephone operator was not to be disturbed after 10 PM nor at
all on Sundays. She (or her helper) _would_ meet the incoming stage
coach on Sunday afternoons since that was 'where the money was at'.
(Drivers would have passengers without tickets who had boarded else-
where without tickets, she got a commission on tickets sold and said
she always made a couple dollars commission on stage coach tickets
every Sunday that way.

But if the switchboard starting ringing after hours or in the middle
of the night, she explained, "that always meant trouble; someone
needed to have the doctor; of course we would get the doctor or the
family member, but the understanding was not to bother me until 7 AM
when I got a wakeup call from the operator in Coffeyville. And they
knew in Coffeyville not to bother me during the night unless it was
a dire emergency." PAT]

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