Rushville Republican

August 28, 2012

Phone service changes over the years

Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — When I was a young sprout my father had an automobile agency as well as a Philco appliance franchise. The local telephone company was owned by the people who used it and was right here in town on Main Street where the bank on the west next to the Chamber is today. Dad's phone number was 2555; that was it, no area code (not yet thought of), not 932 or 938, not enough phones around to need such things.

I found it rather interesting many years later when my family started a business the phone number was assigned to it by the national telephone company; that number was 932-2555. Dad may have gotten older but somehow managed to hang onto his first business phone number. Our home phone number was 2337 and we had a private line too. Dad felt because of his business and what he might not want others to hear we needed that at home.

There were a lot of people who did have phones and also were on what was called a party line. Party lines consisted of three or four other individuals on the same line as you. You would still have the phone ring to you if you were the one being called, but the rest of those on the line could also listen in. If you had a call and one of the other or all of them on the line picked up their phones they could hear everything said. And if you or they needed to use the line they had to wait until who ever was using it hung up.

Of course, many were not bashful when they wanted to use the phone and you were using it. I heard of people who yelled and screamed until you hung up so they could use the line.

My aunt in Dearborn County had a phone that was really an antique. It had a big round battery hanging off the phone. And the phone number was two long and a short. That meant two long rings and one short one to get her attention. The phone had a crank on the side and the receiver hung off a cradle on the side of the phone. That crank was how you made short and long rings. If the head set was hung up the line was dead until someone picked it up. There were three others on the same line and each had a distinctive ring to know they were the ones who were wanted.

Those rings would ring in all of those one that party line too.  And, of course, they all could and usually did listen in on all calls. If someone rang Aunt Minnette it would also ring into all the others on the line.

That in reality meant hey there is a call for someone else so if you want to listen in get on the phone. Party lines meant no possible privacy for those on it.

There was a true monopoly in Bell Telephone as far as long distance went. They were highly regulated but still were number one and only for long distance. If you wanted to call outside of town or the county you had to go through the operator to do it. Early on, if you wanted to call you had to go through the operator. If you were the operator you had a switchboard in your home and were expected to answer any and all calls or requests for calls for those on your companies system. Other words, if at midnight I wanted to call someone I would pick up the phone turn the crank and wait. The operator would have to get out of bed go to the switch board and place the call for you then when your done disconnect it. Sure sounds like fun ,doesn't it? One of the nice things was if you wanted someone you told the operator and they then would connect you, and maybe listen in too.

The phone company owned the phone itself and rented it to you on a monthly basis. They also owned and maintained the lines coming into and through the home. Originally, you had a black phone. Period. No colors or much else as far as services were concerned. No call ID, or forwarding, no Princess phone (that sure did change when the utility was deregulated back in the late '60s. When they did deregulate it, boy did things get wild and lots of companies try to be your phone company.

Several large national firms purchased smaller utilities like Rushville Independent

Telephone Company and bundle them together.

I noticed on my phone bill last month more than half of my charges were taxes. I now own the phones I have in the house and either pay the phone company for maintaining the lines in my house or do it myself. I have one local utility and one long distance company rather than one that did it all. I have a cell phone that I can call long distance usually toll free, or use the land line and pay a long distance fee. In fact, I believe that fees make up most of anyone's' land line phone bill those charges and taxes are most of what you are charged anymore.  Just one more of those funny things that we lived with and enjoyed way back when.