Archive for April 11th, 2012

April 11, 2012

When I asked my grandparents about telephones they both had different stories.  My grandmother grew up in Shad Point, a small town but had neighbors and was only ten minutes from Salisbury.  My grandfather, however, lived in the country and never had a telephone until he moved and got married.   If you could afford a phone line during the Depression, (which Pop Pop told me was probably cheaper than $1.00 a month in the 1930′s) then you were familiar with switchboards, wall telephones with a crank and “Party Lines.”  There was an old switchboard station in Salisbury, Maryland that used to sit on Church Street right next to Miss Jessie’s Hat Store.  “I know that because I used to get all my hats from her store,” Mom Mom said.  Sometimes a switchboard station would be in a woman’s home- it all depended.  But my grandparents both remember the head station in downtown Salisbury.  When someone would crank the operator, they would tell her who they were trying to call or give her the number and she would literally “connect” them on the large switchboard in front of her.  Pop Pop said that at that time, the Ice Plant in Salisbury had a single digit # because phones were so scarce.  Then, depending on whos house it was going to depend on how many ‘rings’ the call would give off.  You see, on any given street there would be a telephone wire that went to 5 houses.  It connected to 5 homes (given they all had enough money to afford a phone and line) and if the call was going to house #1 on the street, the operator would only make one ring.  If no one picked up, she would try again after a few secconds with a single ring.  If it was going to house #2, she would ring it twice and then pause for someone to pick up and so on and so on.  Mom Mom told me that if people wanted to know someone else’s business (on the same telephone line) then they would wait for the house to pick up the call and the other houses could pick up and listen to what their neighbors were saying.  “That’s why everyone knew your business in a small town.  But the pause inbetween rings gave you enough time to pull up a chair to hear what was being said,”  Mom Mom said.  :) Below is a photo of the old wall phone in my grandparents house.  It is missing the crank on the right hand side but to use it, you would pick up the receiver on the left, put it up to your ear and listen to see if anyone was on the line and if not then you would crank for the operator.  You talked through the speaker in front and the 2 bells on top would make the ringing sound when the operator dialed in to your home.  The ledge on the bottom is where you could put your telephone book.

The following photograph is courtesy of the University of California and shows women working on a switchboard.  Mom Mom said that the lady operating the switch board could know the whole town’s business if she wanted to. :)

My Mom Mom remembers that growing up, her family would buy a spot on the line only when they could afford it.  (guess they didnt have two year contracts!)  “I remember we had a telephone when my brother was in the service because he would call home but then I also remember my mother scolding me one night when I came home too late that she was just about to go over to Gilbert’s to call the law on me!” Mom Mom explained.  “And other times when we didn’t have a phone I would run down the street to use my Aunt Nonnie and cousin Janet’s phone.”   I asked what people did if they had an emergency and she said you would interrupt the current conversation and just say “Excuse me, I have to make an emergency call, I’m sorry to interrupt”  then hang up to let them end their conversation and then make your call.   For my grandfather, that was all foreign to him.  If they had an emergency (like the time he swallowed a watermelon seed and it began to sprout!), they would have to drive or run two miles Harry Horner’s Store which had a telephone.  I’ll tell you about the watermelon seed incident another time :)  Pop Pop said that he got his first telephone after he married my grandmother in the 1950′s.  “My parents used to drive from Wetipquin to Salisbury everyday after our first child- your aunt- was born to check up on her everyday,” Pop Pop said.  “So they finally broke down and bought a phone in 1958 so that they could call to see if their granddaughter was okay instead of having to drive everyday.”

We have come a long way from switch board and receivers!  Wonder what they’ll come up with next?? :)