Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Phun With Phones

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, Dad 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 the nine long miles to the ranch.
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 . . . The Prank Call.
Dun, dun, duuuun!
“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!” Click.
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.

15 comments:

  1. Nowadays, the only time you get a 'party' line is if you have speaker phone capability and conference call hookups...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What? And everyone knows you're there? That's no fun...

      Delete
  2. McIntyres farm was the same party line but my aunt Mable frowned on me listening. It was one of the forunners to Facebook

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aunt Mabel. Pff...
      You're absolutely right! Posting on the Party Line!

      Delete
  3. Yup...Moms advice was "don't say it if you don't want it spread around the neighbourhood." Never did do the prank call thing but Dad sure had some interesting ways to answer the phone. "City morgue...you stab 'em we slab 'em." "Jim's Towing...'dems de brakes."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love creative answering! It got my brother in trouble...

      Delete
  4. We never had a party line here, but we did get crossed lines. Some interesting conversations there too...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yep, we had a party line for years, too. The thing I remember most about it was that if there was an emergency (usually a fire kind of emergency) the operator - who connected one "line" with another on ordinary days - plugged in all the connections and rang three long rings. It was the signal for everyone who heard it to pick up and find out where and how they could help. Actually not a bad system!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great system! Can you imagine everyone's phones going off now? Hmmm . . . I bet they could do it...

      Delete
  6. Very cheeky of the phone company to use your Dad's line to run their extensions. Did you charge them line rental? Out here, if you have a landline, our biggest company, Telstra, has the cheek to charge rental for the line, so even if you never use the phone, you still have to pay up. That's why I discontinued mine and now use just the mobile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hate having to pay for something I don't even use...
      No, they never did pay line rental. I guess they figured they could use it because they hooked their line up to it. Yeah. It doesn't make sense to me, either.

      Delete
  7. I remember the party line we had one until I was about 9. I used to listen to the neighbors all of the time and the prank call was the best! It's funny how the same things were said around here. I wonder who thought up the original prank call that is heard around the world! My maiden name is Haskett and we used to answer the phone "Haskett's casket company you kill 'em we chill 'em" boy did I get in trouble for that one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haskett's Casket Company. Love it! Sounds like a great band name...

      Delete
  8. Is there anything your dad couldn't do?!

    ReplyDelete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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