Stories from Real People that worked
for "Independent" Telephone Companies
As told by Roger Conklin
I am glad to share my early experience as an equipment installer.
In 1951, I was in my junior year as a pre-engineering student at Kalamazoo College. I had been admitted to the University of Michigan School of Engineering for that fall, but needed to work to have the money to pay tuition, room and board. In those days there were no such things as student loans, so you either needed parents who could pay the cost, or you had to work your way through college. My folks didn't have the money. I had worked prior summers for various small independent telephone companies who provided magneto service in the areas near Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, and had a job lined up for the summer of 1951. The school year was drawing to a close in May 1951 when I saw a classified ad in Telephony magazine from Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Co. in Chicago which read: "Wanted, experienced equipment installers or qualified trainees." It gave the address in Chicago to send in an application.
Instead of writing, I called them on the phone and was connected to Ralph Schofield, chief installer. He wrote me a letter suggesting that I come to Chicago prepared to work for the summer. The letter said he was confident a suitable arrangement could be worked out.
When school was out, I packed my suitcase, boarded the New York Central railroad in Battle Creek (closer to my home than Kalamazoo) and traveled to Chicago, getting off at the South 63rd street station. There I caught the street car going west where I got off at Cicero Avenue. I walked 3 blocks to the Kellogg plant at 6650 S. Cicero Avenue. It was right next door to the Cracker Jack factory. (I can still remember the sweet smell of the sugary brown syrup they poured over popcorn to make Cracker Jack). It was also close to Midway airport. This was my first trip out of Michigan.
We did work out a satisfactory arrangement and in a day or two I was off to my first assignment, which was to assist in the installation of a new Kellogg 4 position full-feature common battery switchboard in Fortville, Indiana, just outside of Indianapolis. This was a replacement for an old 2 position magneto switchboard. Fortville was becoming a bedroom community for Indianapolis so there was a lot of construction and growth going on there. I took the Greyhound bus from Chicago to Indianapolis, and then changed to a local Indiana bus line to travel to Fortville. I paid my own rail fare to Chicago, but Kellogg paid the bus fare to Fortville.
Fortville was served by United Telephone Company of Indiana, whose headquarters was in Warsaw, IN. Just a few months before, Warsaw had been converted from common battery to dial with a brand new Stromberg Carlson XY switch. That was one of the first XY switches which Stromberg Carlson had just started to manufacture. In those days many people didn't believe that dial service was for "everywhere," as evidenced by the fact that United decided on a new common battery exchange for Fortville. The Kellogg common battery switchboard was Kellogg's latest "super service" model. It featured keyless listening, and automatic multi-frequency ringing. When a line lamp came on, the operator plugged in a rear cord and was automatically connected to the calling party. Obtaining the called number, she inserted the front (calling) cord into the called line and depressed the proper ringing button. There were four, corresponding to the 4 ringing frequencies. From that point on the call was under the control of the calling party. The ringing was automatic. If the called party answered, the ringing stopped and they talked. When they both hung up, the two supervisory lamps came on and the operator took down the cord circuit. If the called party didn't answer, the calling party hung up and both supervisory lamps came on. The operator could not listen in on the call. The Main Distribution Frame furnished by Kellogg was made by Cook Electric. It used type 100 protectors with carbon blocks and heat coils.
My wages were $1.20 per hour for 40 hours, plus time and a half for 8 hours on Saturday. We worked 6 days a week. In addition, the per deim was $6 per day, $3 for food and $3 for housing. I found a room in a private home for $5 per week. I was able to send all of my paychecks to the bank plus about 1 out of every 3 expense checks. It took about 4 weeks to complete this installation.
When the Fortville installation was completed, my supervisor and myself were transferred to the next job, which was in Winder, GA. My boss drove his car from Fortville to Winder, northeast of Atlanta, taking with him his wife and myself. It took about 2 days to make the trip. There were no interstate highways in those days.
The telephone company serving Winder was Georgia Continental Telephone Company. It was owned by the Gary Group, which at the time also controlled Automatic Electric Company. (It had no relationship to Continental Telephone Corporation which didn't come into existence until probably about 10 or 15 years later.) The old exchange was an early common battery switchboard with no super service features. It had manual ringing and the operator could listen in on calls. We installed an 8 position Kellogg super service switchboard. Two of the positions were for long distance. Winder served as the toll center for a couple of unattended Ga. Continental automatic SxS exchanges in nearby towns. I have forgotten the names of those towns. Ring-down trunks connected the Winder switchboard to the Southern Bell toll board in Atlanta for connection to the rest of the world. It cost me $6 per week for my room, but that included breakfast. (I remember we usually at lunch at the City Cafe, just around the corner from the telephone office.) The room was upstairs on the front in a large elegant brick house right next door to the post office. I had a private balcony over the front porch.
It was interesting to me at the time that even though Georgia Continental and Automatic Electric were controlled by the same group, they opted to install a new manual common battery exchange in Winder rather than convert it to dial operation. Again, not everybody was convinced that automatic service was for everywhere in 1951. In this case, however, an Automatic Electric main distributing frame was installed with Automatic Electric's own protectors, rather than a Cook frame. At least the owners were getting some of the equipment from their own Automatic Electric Company. The dials on the toll positions were also Automatic Electric, rather than Kellogg. (Just a few years later Automatic Electric discontinued their own MDFs and protectors and standardized on Cook products. I had moved on and was working at Cook Electric in 1963 when that happened).
While working on this installation in Winder, it was announced that International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation had purchased a substantial minority interest in Kellogg. Jim Kellogg, grandson of the founder Milo G. Kellogg, was president of Kellogg at that time. A few months later ITT purchased the remainder of Kellogg and it became a division of ITT. Subsequently it was renamed ITT Kellogg and sometime later the name "Kellogg" was dropped and it became ITT Telecommunications.
Completion of the Winder installation took the remainder of the summer. In fact it wasn't quite completed when I had to head back to Michigan and start my first year of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I rode the Louisville and Nashville railroad to Chicago, and the New York Central back home to Michigan. I had saved enough to pay for my first semester and a large part of the second semester. I worked part time as a switchboard operator on Michigan Bell's Western Electric PBX in the dormitory during the school year to pay for the balance of the second
This was the first of 3 summers I worked for Kellogg while going to college. The second summer I installed a 30 line Kellogg Relaymatic in Johnsville, KY and a 750 line type 1040 Crossbar for Central Iowa Telephone Company in Forrest City Iowa. I remember that Forrest City was a predominantly Norwegian community, where people were very warm and friendly to strangers, but sensitive to not wanting to be confused with Swedes. The 3rd summer was installing another 750 line type 1040 Crossbar for Central Iowa Telephone Company in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Emmetsburg was largely an Irish community. I still keep in touch with a fellow installer, long since retired, who worked with me on the Emmetsburg installation. Both of these were manual common battery to dial conversions. Forrest City had an old Stromberg Carslon manual board. Emmetsburg had a fairly new Kellogg super service manual board.
I remember that in both of these Central Iowa towns, the telephone company installed new Kellogg type 1000 Red Bar phones with metal housings. Kellogg's standard housing was bakelite, but the metal housings could stand a lot more abuse. I suppose they paid a premium for those sets. My hourly pay rate and per deim remained the same all three summers. I sure wish I had today the old candle sticks, hotel-type wall phones and Kellogg 700 and 925 series phones replaced by these red bars. At the time, they were considered junk.
When I finished college, my college expenses were all paid, I had no debts and had $250 in the bank.
And another personal story by Roger Conklin . . .
In 1951, I installed an 8 position Kellogg Super Service manual common battery switchboard in Winder, GA. Georgia Continental Telephone Co., controlled by the Gary Group, owned the Winder exchange and Kellogg made the very best in manual switchboards. The operators were saying "number please?" before you could get the receiver up to your ear. That exchange served as a toll center for some other smaller Georgia Continental (no relation to Continental Telephone Corp. which had Step-by-Step exchanges, and connected to the rest of the world via open wire copper toll circuits to Atlanta. The Gary group became part of GTE in about 1957 or 58.
We lived South America for 11 years before returning to the US in 1977. Many things about the Brazilian telephone system were pretty primitive, but we did have international direct dialing probably 10 years before it was available in the US. Brazil's electromechanical SxS, Rotary and Crossbar equipment was modified to accept the number of digits for international calling. It only became available here when electronic switching appeared.
When I arrived in Miami, we had to dial zero to reach an operator to make an international call. They had TSPS equipment by that time, but it really wasn't equipped to handle delayed traffic. Operator dialing internationally was available, but subscriber dialing was not. I was responsible for Northern Telecom's sales in the Caribbean, part of the 809 area code. Subscriber Dialing had started to some of the Caribbean islands, but most of them still had to be reached through the operator. Calling Trinidad was the worst. The Trinidad and Tobago Telephone company was one of my customers. (Today their system is 100% digital, state of the art, but not then.) Their local system was in terrible shape and, even locally, you had to make 2 or 3 or more attempts to dial and complete a local call. Old SxS equipment from England and in very poor condition. Poorly maintained. When I tried to call Trinidad, the Miami operator would dial once, we'd always get a fast busy, she would tell me, "sorry all the circuits are busy, please try again later" and disconnect. In Brazil, when making an international call through an operator (and I frequently did, using my US calling card so it would be billed in the states and save the 30% Brazilian tax. Also there was no calling card surcharge in those days), if there was any call completion problem, the Brazilian international operator (and they all were multi-lingual - a requirement for the job) would keep trying and call me back when she had my party on the line. I only had to try once.
I would try all day to call Trinidad, but it was hopeless. Bell operators at that time did not handle "delay" calls, so I would have to dial zero and repeat all the details (they were always person to person calls in those days), and go through the same procedure over and over. Finally in absolute frustration and disgust, because it would take me 2 or 3 days to call Trinidad, I sat down and wrote a letter of protest to the president of AT&T. I told him I would protest to the FCC if they would not have an operator call me back when she had my party on the line. (That is the way the Bell System used to do it back in the days of cord boards on domestic calls, but they had long since stopped this with the advent of domestic DDD and TSPS .)
The letter had no sooner hit New York than I had a call from a vice president of AT&T Long Lines. He wanted to come to Miami and talk with me. He picked up another long lines executive in Jacksonville, and took me out for a very fine lunch. This is when AT&T was under the pressure from the FCC which ultimately led to divestiture, and the last thing they wanted me to do was to be writing a letter to the FCC.
They gave me the name and telephone number of the chief operator, a Mrs. Dayno (who I later visited and got to know real well). I was to call her any time I had trouble completing an international call. I did use her services often, and she personally assigned an operator to keep trying my calls to Trinidad, and elsewhere when there were problems. I usually had someone on the line within 5 or 10 minutes. What a difference a little personal service made! I no longer had a reason to write to the FCC.
We have indeed lost a lot with all this automation. Theodore Vail wasn't entirely wrong, but was forced by the rising tides of circumstances to move towards automation. In those days it was thought that there would still always have to be long distance operators because of then insurmountable problems in even contemplating automatic direct dialing service.