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Real Stories from Real People that worked
for "Independent" Telephone Companies

As told by Steve Hilsz

I worked in the early 1970's as a General Purpose man for the Southwestern Telephone Company, which at that time had two "XY" Stromberg-Carlson step offices, one with 100 lines in Quartzsite, AZ, and one with 300 lines in Salome, AZ. I was in charge of all inside & outside plant, and did all the installs up to 1975, when I left to go into business as a manufacturer of reproduction telephone parts.

We had an eccentric couple that owned the company, the old man being 27 years older than his wife. She was a real pain, being somewhat o edge with an old man to worry about. He was a bigger pain, being old. One of my biggest headaches was the presence of old carbon protectors, which I would change to more modern types at every opportunity. The old man would go out on a service call during "monsoon" season in July and August, when humidity would cause the old carbon blocks to become noisy and put 4 subscribers on the party line (open wire, to boot) out of service.

I would "rob" protectors from the warehouse, where they were stacked 4 deep on shelves. I would re-stack only the front of each shelf, so it looked as if all the protectors were untouched. The old man really enjoyed looking at his inventory, I guess he thought it was some kind of wealth. One day, he accidentally knocked over the row of protectors and exposed my little game. Later, I did this with gas protectors, which were much more superior to carbon. The old man would scream & holler, but troubleshooting on those 4-party lines was kept to a minimum.

We had about 60 miles of open wire with analog carrier for long distance. Along the lines were junction boxes that were built from old metal subsets. Because we had 52 volt battery on those lines, the subsets would fail because the terminals were on wood blocks. During storms, the wood block would get wet and carbon trails would develop as the DC sought ground. This would wreak havoc with our carrier quality, so I simply removed the subsets and installed gas protectors, setting off another rampage by the old man.

We had a lot of trouble with tumbleweeds getting caught in the open wires, and when you had 4 parties all widely spaced, it took a while to locate the trouble. All of our phones were rotary, mostly #500 and #554 sets. We didn't have much trouble with dial percent break, until direct dialing came in. Originally, we had no identifier, so you called the Blythe, CA, operator and gave your number and the number that you wished to dial. When we upgraded the CO, we finally could call to Victorville, CA, to the Continental toll center by dialing "0" or "1."

Subscriber's troubles we usually confined to open cable pairs due to lightning strikes, or open ringer coils (again, from lightning). We used to have terrible thunderstorms in summer, and a lightning strike would really make the central office jump. After each storm, you could count on several line finders being hung up. Then, off you went to follow the open wire.

Steve Hilsz - VTS Industrial Company
Mail: P.O. Box 429, Salome, AZ 85348
UPS: 66776 E. Highway 60, Salome, AZ 85348
(520) 859-3595, Fax (520) 859-4040