I grew up with the old crank telephones in Iowa. We didn't get our first dial telephones in town until I was in Jr. High. I remember when they first introduced the dial telephones to the area. Most of the farmers had no clue how to use one so the telephone company installed two pay phones about a block apart and the farmers all came in to town to get a lesson on how the phones worked by calling each other. It was such a novelty to the townspeople that people would save up dimes so they could call one another from the pay phones. People used to laugh at the old switchboard operators, but those of us who grew up with them knew they were the center of information for the social life of the community and often were better than reading the newspapers. They also were the center for emergency contact. You were not allowed to call our town operator after 8:00 p.m. unless it was really important as this was her personal time. The operator went to bed at 10:00 a.m. because they had to be up early the next morning to start their day over.
One thing I distinctly remember about the old telephone operators was that they listened in on your conversation because they didn't have much else to do. Sometimes they would even join into your conversation if they felt compelled to do so.
I got really mad at our local operator because she always tattled on me to my mom. I had a great love affair with horses. The man across the street had two huge draft horses that he used to plow some of the gardens in town. Occasionally he would let me ride down the hill with him on the plow and let me feed apples to the horses.
On this one occasion I was ordered by my mother to stay home and clean my room. Instead I sneaked out and rode with the plowman as he had invited me to ride along. Mom went to call me and check on my progress and darned if the operator didn't tell Mom I wasn't home but was riding on the plow and on my way up to so and so's house to do their garden. Guess who was waiting for me with a switch when I got there......
All was not always so grim though. Once my folks went out of town on business and left my sister and I at home. You could do that in those days. In fact few people even locked their doors in our home town. Mom and Dad got snowed in and my sister and I were getting scared when we didn't hear from them so we went up to one of my Dad's employees home and stayed with them but left word with the operator that we were safe and where we were staying. As soon as the outside phone lines were back in service, Mom and Dad tried to call us. The operator soon let them know where we were and that we were safe and connected them directly to Hans' house. Hans got a bonus on his check that payday and the operator got our hearty thanks.
Another incident occurred when they took the phones out that you might find amusing. All our phones ran on dry cells and everyone in town had them. When they removed the old crank phones, they left the dry cell batteries in the businesses because the installer felt they were too much trouble to take out.
A few months later a small gang of thieves came through town thinking they would show up these hick farmers and make some money in the process.They first broke into the local chicken hatchery but left without taking anything when they saw the dry cell batteries because they thought it was some kind of burglar alarm. They then broke into the restaurant--same thing. They hit most of the businesses on main street, which didn't take much as the whole town only had 500 people living there. When they broke into my Dad's business, they finally gave up in disgust. When the state troopers caught them they told the troopers, "whatever you do, don't ever try to break into that little town. We thought it would be easy pickings, but those hicks had some kind of sophisticated burglar system all over town. We saw the batteries in all of the stores."----The telephone company's lazy installer saved the town.
Just another old phone crank