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Rockport Telephone System.
The Early Years.

A jrd web page on 12/28/07 from an original stat on 8/24/06.
Reworked Code on 8/11/15.

In the mid nineteen-forties the small town of Rockport needed telephone service. In order to obtain this service a few citizens were elected to the "Telephone Service Board". They worked together and before the year was out, a few of the residents were lucky enough to have a working telephone in their house. From about nineteen hundred and forty-seven until now, a period of about sixty years, telephone service to Rockport can be broken down into three types of service. The first type of service was a "Switchboard Operator" type system. Then, Rockport changed to a "Party Line" system. After the "Party Line", the "Private" line served the town well. Now, most of the residents have a fourth type service, cell phones.

Telephones, prior to the Cell Phones, worked by having two phones tied together by conductors or small wires where the electric signal could travel back and forth from one phone to another. The person speaking into the phone mouthpiece caused a small generator to vibrate in tune with the energy spoken into the phone. This small generator produced an electrical signal that traveled over the phone lines to the receiver which contained a small speaker. The speaker would vibrate, in tune with the electrical signal from the transmitting phone, and reproduce the sound from the earpiece of the receiving phone.

In 1947 Rockport was experiencing some growth. A new mine had just opened in the Echols area, a new highway bridge had been built to span the Green River and river and rail traffic were increasing. People were moving into Rockport and the town was growing. What this town needed was phone service. Jimmy Blair had been appointed chairman of the "Rockport Phone Service Board" and his work and the work of the board was about to reap some benefits. Jimmy Blair received the first phone and H. D. Bailey received the second. I think that the first system was made to work from the Blair house. It would be a few years before most people in Rockport would have a phone in their home, but at least a plan had been put forth and a start had begun. As mentioned earlier, in order for a phone to work, there needs to be two phones that are connected by wire to each other. The sending part of the phone must be connected to the receiving part of the other phone and vice-versa. To accomplish this, each phone must be connected to a local "Switching Unit". From this "Switching Unit", a connection can be made to tie one phone line to another. In the early years, this switching was done by a "Switchboard Operator". The "Switchboard" is a panel where the "Operator" can manually connect one phone to another or make a connection to a "Long Distance" line. As wires were being installed to each house from a central location, called an "Exchange", the house could now have a phone installed. Once a house was wired and a phone added, the user could now make contact with the "Switchboard Operator" and from there, the call could be made locally or it could be "Long Distance" and tied into a main switchboard and from there it could be routed to anywhere that had phone service. Now, Rockport was on the move.

In just a few short months, several phone systems had been added to the new Rockport Phone System. The "Switchboard" was also moved in this time frame. Sister Louise had the first switchboard that I am aware of and this must have been in about nineteen forty-eight, maybe nineteen forty-nine. She lived in the big two story house across from the old bank building. Sister Louise operated this "Rockport Exchange" for about five years and in about nineteen fifty-two, the switchboard was moved to the Bowser Brown house with Cora Mae Brown becoming the new switchboard operator. They lived in the big two story house that Billy and Louise Stevens live in today. It was across "Old Main Street" from Mrs. Rose Maddox. Cora Mae kept the "Switchboard" in her house until Rockport went on the "Party Line" system.

Cora Mae Bannon Brown, an early Rockport Switchboard Operator.
I don't have a picture of Cora Mae Brown working her "Switchboard". I wish that I could present one. Will have to let this picture represent the "Local Switchboard Operators" for the time being.

As time evolved and electronics improved, the old manual exchange system was replaced by an automatic switching system. In the late nineteen fifties, Rockport was switching over to this "Automatic Exchange" system. At first, the system was somewhat crude, but an improvement on the old system. Rockport, by now, had updated to a "Party Line" system. I think that originally, it was an eight party system where up to eight phone lines would be tied together and tied into the "Exchange" with one phone line. Now, one person on that "Eight Party" system could make a phone call if the line was not being used by another customer. Not only that, but anyone on that "Party Line" could listen in on the conversation of anyone on that single line. The individual phone lines were separated into a "Four Party" line for receiving. Now, when a person was calling an individual number, they would dial a phone number, for instance BR-549, like the old Junior Samples number of the old "Hee Haw" TV program. Each party member would hear the ring, but each member had an individual ring, like "Three Shorts". In other words, if your "Ring ID" was three short rings, you would be the one being called. Now was that not some kind of a phone system.

Just as soon as more phone lines could be installed, this old "Party System" fell the ways of the horse and buggy. Probably, in less than five years, everyone in Rockport was tied into a "Private Line" type system and most were happy. Those that like to listen to others on their "Party Line" were disappointed, but soon got used to the new system.

The "Local Exchanges" were automated several years before the "Regional Exchanges" and the "Switchboard Operators" at the central exchanges were still being used and would be able to work as "Switchboard" operators for several more years. Remember, how a person would be able to dial the five digit numbers (BR-549) and be connected to a local phone, but had to dial the operator (0) to call a "Long Distance" number. Eventually, the last "Switchboard Operator" would be without a job, but that would take a few more years.

Mabel Durbin DeNoon-Switchboard Operator Extraordinaire!
Picture probably taken in the early sixties.

The above photo shows an "Operator" at her work station and will give one an idea of what a switchboard looked like. This "Operator" is Dotty's oldest sister and the picture was made in Kansas.

Hilma Aston Stewart-The Ultimate Switchboard Operator. Hilma worked the Owensboro Exchange. She started out with the Central City Exchange and had a chance to transfer to Owensboro.

"The Telephone Switchboard Operator".

I don't know much about a switchboard, so please bear with me. The following is only an old retiree's ideas and I may have some of it incorrect. Hum, bet that I will hear from some people in the know about "Switchboards".
What is a "Telephone Switchboard" anyway? Well, it is just what is says. It is a work station where an operator can switch or connect/disconnecttelephone lines. It consisted of a vertical board with row after row of jacks (holes) about a half inch in diameter. The back of the holes had wiring attached to them and when a plug was inserted in a jack, a circuit was completed. The wiring on the back of the board was bundled and tagged and was considered the "Out" bundle. The "In" bundle wiring came up to a horizontal board where the operator sat. A plug was connected to each wire. It was the operators job to make the correct connection by inserting the correct plug into the correct jack. Remember on the Andy Griffith show where Barney would pick up a phone, and tell the operator-"Sarah, Barn, get me the diner". Well, Sarah would take the plug that was connected to Barney's phone and insert it into the hole that went to the "Diner's" phone. The diner's phone would ring, and when it was answered, a circuit light, for that connection, would let the operator know that the two parties were connected. When either Barney or the diner hung up, the circuit light would go out and the switchboard operator would know to pull the plug from the board. Not bad if you are only dealing with one plug and one jack, but in real life there was many lines to be connected and disconnected and an operator could certainly stay busy.

There were "Local Switchboards" and there were "Central Switchboards". In the "Local Switchboard", every phone in the town or community would be connected to a jack and a plug. If a person wanted to talk to their neighbor, the switchboard operator would connect a jack with a plug. To make a "Long Distant" call, the operator would connect the local phone to a central location, and from there it could go through several switchboards until it reached the local switchboard where the final operator would make the connection to the household that the caller wanted. And you wondered why a call to Chicago could cost several dollars.

Remember several years ago when Lily Tomlin was a popular TV personality. She played several parts on TV shows and I think at one time she had her own show. One of the characters of Lily's was "Geraldine The Switchboard Operator". She would take an incoming call, continue to twist her mouth, roll her eyes, and talk in such a monotone that it was quite hilarious. During this period of time she would be giving the caller a hard time and taking forever to make the connection. She also played a small girl in a very large rocker, but that is another time and possibly another stat. Hum, wonder why we have all of this junk on TV now and not some of the good old shows.

Well Hilma and Mabel, the previous mentioned phone operators, were not like Lily. Instead they were just the opposite. They were serious and well mannered. They were customer orientated and eager to supply the customer's every demand. Now, once they got off work, their demeanor may have changed. I can't vouch what they did then.

Hilma started with the phone company at Central City and later transferred to Owensboro, a larger switchboard. She worked her way up to the payroll section and eventually retired from South Central Bell. Mabel worked for a phone company in Kansas City, Missouri and retired from there. My hat comes off in a salute to these two fine phone operators and the countless others that made our life, in the "Olden Days" a little easier.

Hope you enjoyed. Thanks for looking.

See you.........


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