Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Royal Telephone

I've mentioned here before how I grew up with a switchboard in the living room.  For most of the first twelve years of my life, the switchboard was a fixture in our house, and it seemed as natural to me as having a refrigerator in the kitchen.  My parents were operators in Villisca, Nodaway, and Guss in Iowa, and finally at Eagleville, Missouri.   
Don't you wish you could go back to childhood and snap some pictures of things that nobody ever thought to photograph (or couldn't because there were no flash attachments)?  Things like my mom or dad sitting at the switchboard, or Grandma Stevens sitting in her rocking chair, crocheting.  
If my mom had things to do in the house like canning or cleaning, Daddy took over the switchboard.  When we went to church (Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night) a girl was hired to stay with the switchboard.  In these small communities, nobody called anybody else without going through "Central" unless they were calling someone on their party line.  If they placed a phone call at midnight, one of my parents had to get out of bed and see that the call went through.  When my mom went into the hospital for several days, my sister came to Eagleville to tend the switchboard, bringing her son with her.  Larry was four or five years old at the time, and I took him to school with me for half a day sometimes, while he was there.  Can you imagine a school allowing that now?  Larry was an exceptionally good child, and he sat at my desk with me and colored pictures and looked at books.  We walked home at noon, and I went back to school alone after lunch.    

The teacher, Mrs. Grabill, also taught my mom when she was a kid.  That's me standing next to her.
If there was a fire in town, Mother and Daddy turned on the town siren, which was on a pole at the far end of our yard, I believe, next to highway 69; when the siren sounded, people would call Central to see where the fire was.  I thought it was quite impressive that my parents had the power to turn that siren on!  
Lately my Eagleville switchboard memories have been jogged a bit because of finding some people from my past on Facebook.  The old song "Royal Telephone" came to mind.  When I look at the words of that song, I realize how perplexed most people would be trying to figure out what it's talking about.  For instance, in the first line, "Central's never busy":  If my mom ran to the outhouse and Daddy wasn't around, she hurried, because nobody in the community could make a phone call when she was away from the switchboard.  Central could also be busy if several people were making calls at once.  The service was not "free for one and all" like the Royal Telephone; everyone received a monthly bill. 
The third verse has the words:  "Fail to get your answer? Satan's crossed your wire...", which reminds me of the times I'd get in the car with Daddy after a windstorm had blown the wires together until they crossed.  This caused people on the party lines to hear static and various conversations intruding on their calls.  Daddy had a long pole with a hook on the end that he used to reach up and uncross the lines.  
The next verse mentions the line being "grounded", which I think happened when a strong wind (or a car colliding with a pole) caused the telephone wire to end up on the ground.     


Central’s never “busy,” always on the line;  
You may hear from Heaven almost any time;
’Tis a royal service, free for one and all;
When you get in trouble, give this royal line a call.

Telephone to glory, O what joy divine!
I can feel the current moving on the line,
Built by God the Father for His loved and own,
We may talk to Jesus thru this royal telephone.

There will be no charges, telephone is free,
It was built for service, just for you and me;
There will be no waiting on this royal line,
Telephone to glory always answers just in time.

Fail to get the answer, Satan’s crossed your wire,
By some strong delusion, or some base desire;
Take away obstructions, God is on the throne,
And you’ll get your answer thru this royal telephone.

If your line is “grounded,” and connection true
Has been lost with Jesus, tell you what to do;
Prayer and faith and promise, mend the broken wire,
’Till your soul is burning with the Pentecostal fire.

Carnal combinations cannot get control
Of this line to glory, anchored in the soul;
Storm and trial cannot disconnect the line,
Held in constant keeping by the Father’s hand divine.


Anonymous said...

I love reading abotthe early days. It remined me of when I was grwoing up in the small town I lived in. Th telaphone operator would tell you when you went to call a certain person that they were not home, but would call you when they arrived back. BOY they wouldn't do that today! And, she also sounded the alarm for a fire and would also call the firmen to let them know the roads were icy. I still say that was a better time.

Margaret said...

Fascinating stories! I remember party lines(my parents didn't have one though) and that my grandfather did--or something where a certain ring meant it was for him and a different one was for someone else. I could never tell the difference!

Lindie said...

I remember we had a party line back in the 50s when my dad was a vet in Wisconsin. Sometimes it was hard for peopleto reach him because the line was busy elsewhere. When I first moved back to Missouri in in 1977 we had a party line down in Kingsville area and always had trouble with the neighbors kids which culminated with me going over there and telling their mother that they had interrupted a call from New Zealand to my mother (who was living with us)about her brother drowning there. I was quite upset!

kcmeesha said...

Phone company still operates like that :-)
Actually I got to make calls through the switchboard when I was in the military. We had crank phones and an operator.

Mo Rage said...

I was raised in the "city" of St. Joseph and just wasn't aware of this stuff. Closest to this I knew was my Grandparent's party line.

We don't know so much of our own country's history, you know? And in a way, this is the little stuff.
Thanks for the post.

patsy said...

I was watching "pickers" last nite on TV. this is a couple of good ole boys who go around looking for stuff to buy and sell. any way this man had a room full of telephones and several switch boards loke your mothers. I thought of you . the guys bought one for 450.00.
as for polish chickens, dad had some and he said they were crazy. he thought it was because they couldn't see because of the feathers over their eyes. I never wanted any because of that but sam thinks he can sell them for hoigh dollar at the sale.


I remember having to use an operator to make a call. And party lines, too. But to have a SWITCHBOARD in your living room. WOW. What an INTERESTING childhood you had. You really were part of the history of telecommunications in this country. That is something special. And to think now we all use cellphones. Ain't technology great?

Judy said...

Donna, I remember only the switchboard in the corner of the living room and nothing else about the house! I really enjoy your blogs because I lived those early days with you. I like being reminded, but could never put things into words like you do! Thanks for the memories...