Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



Saturday, May 4, 2013

When Phones Were Phun



Stringam Ranch.
Everything . . . except a phone
"Operator."
“I want to talk to Jody.”
“Number, please.”
“Six.”
Electric ringing.
“Hello?”
“May I talk to Jody?”
“Yes, one moment.”
“Hello?”
“Jody! We got our phone!”
It was the most exciting day of my life.
The Stringams. That weird family who lived at the back of beyond, had joined the twentieth century. The modern world had finally found its way to our door.
But therein lies a story.
The Stringam ranch was twenty miles from the bustling metropolis of Milk River (pop. 499). The phone lines went as far as Nine Mile Corner, a bend in the road situated, astonishingly, just nine miles from the ranch buildings.
The phone company refused to take the phone lines any further. Why would people living that far from civilization need the convenience of modern communication?
Why indeed.
But Dad wanted a phone.
As the only veterinarian in the area, he needed a phone.
Dad was determined to have a phone.
Finally, he bought all of the poles and cable to run his own phone line.
He and the hired men spent several weeks installing said poles and cable.
Voila!
The magical day dawned.
The phone company unbent enough to hook up our line to theirs. (And then proceeded to run many, many lines off of it, but that is another story.)
The family gathered around the large, wooden box.
It shrilled. Twice.
Two longs.
We stared at it.
Then looked at each other.
We had arrived.
From that moment on, the peace of the Stringam home was often shattered by the shrilling of the magical box in the hallway.
And the pounding of numerous feet as various denizens of the house sprinted to answer.
It was a whole new, and very exciting, experience.
Followed, soon after, by the discovery that, if one was careful, one could gently lift the receiver and . . . wonder of wonders . . . listen in on other conversations on the 'party' line that had nothing to do with you.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you why it was called a 'party' line.
My sister and I became the masters of it . . .
“Well, I'm sure she meant well. But I can tell you that Gloria wasn't very flattered.”
“Well, I can imagine. Poor Gloria!”
“Yes. I mean, I can only guess, but I would well imagine that being told that one was as big as a whale, albeit a pretty whale, wouldn't go over too well.”
“Well, I wish I'd been there. I would have given her a piece of my mind!”
“Well, Dorothy brought a yellow jellied salad with bananas in it that was just divine. I got her recipe!”
“That reminds me. I wanted to get Dorothy's recipe for her devil's food cake.”
“Oh, I have it, just wait a moment.”
“Ladies?”
“Umm, yes?”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I really need to use the 'phone.”
“Oh, sorry, Hank. Problems?”
“Yeah. I need to talk to Joe at the feed store.”
“Go right ahead. Grace? I'll get that recipe and get back to you.”
“Thanks, Mabel.”
This was fun!
Another conversation . . .
“Well, she was out half the night!”
“No!”
“Yes! Until midnight! And when she got home, Papa could smell . . . liquor on her breath!”
A sucked in breath. “Oh! What did he do?”
“Well, he wasn't happy, I can tell you! She's grounded for a month!”
“A month!?”
“Yes! And that includes prom and everything.”
“She might as well die right now!”
“Exactly!”
And another . . .
“Well, Doc, my poop looks like . . .”
We ended that conversation before it was begun.
And . . .
“Okay, don't spread it around . . . yet . . . but the Larsons are going to be away next weekend.”
“Really?”
“Yes. Jeff says his folks should leave about 6.”
“So what time does the party start?”
“Well, he has to do chores and tidy up the dishes, so 8:00 should about do it. He will beep the phone line twice when he's ready.”
“We'll be waiting.”
Finally . . .
“You have to be careful what you say on this line. Uncle Bob may be listening in.”
“I am not!”
It was the most fun we had ever had.
Until we were introduced to . . .
“Hello?”
“Is your 'fridge running?”
“Just a moment, I'll check.”
A pause.
Then, “Yes. Yes it is.”
“Well, you'd better go catch it!”
Ah. the memories.
I don't remember the last conversation I had on the old party line.
I should.
Because now, phone lines are private.
And boring.

9 comments:

  1. The old party lines were both fun and infuriating.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My friend, Les, and I used to listen in then start laughing. A teenage romance in Hillspring tied up the line for hours at a time until one man, needing to use the phone, lifted the receiver and put it beside the radio which happened to be turned up to full volume. Come to think about it, Dad did that same trick to Anita on our (later) non-party line. But don't forget about a near arrest because of a misinterpreted listener... Good post, Diane!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I SO loved your story about the misinterpreted listener. Perfect! And Dad played that trick on ME! Grumble. Grumble.

      Delete
  3. It is amazing how technology changes us. For some reason, I was reminded of a novel by Terry Kay, "The Year the Lights Came On" which showed the changes to rural America during the Rural Electric Project

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm . . . I'll have to look that book up! Thank you for sharing!

      Delete
  4. I was glad when we got a private line. Our operator tended to listen in on conversations as much as anyone else!

    And I would love to hear the story of the phone company running lines off your father's hard work ... that is just no-good thieving if you ask me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always wanted to be an operator. And get the news first! I will tell that story. Pretty crooked practices . . .

      Delete
  5. Thank you for your great post! This collection's mobile phone accessories information has gotten heavy use to me!!

    ReplyDelete

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