Friday, February 11, 2011

Rural Telephone Co-op

Column sent to Frederick Leader and Frederick Press
March 2, 2010
Mr. and Mrs. Walter "Jack" Duncan, Jr., have donated rural telephone line records and climbing gear to the Tillman County Historical Society for Pioneer Townsite Museum.
Museum Receives Telephone Line Records

Depending on where they lived, having a telephone has not always been easy or even possible for Tillman County residents. Since the 1920s town folks could get telephone service, but until the mid-1950s the telephone company did not provide telephone lines in the country. Prior to that time, rural residents had to build and maintain their own lines.
For that reason, in some parts of rural Tillman County telephone line co-ops existed. The people who lived in those areas owned and maintained their own telephone lines. They met each year to elect officers and paid annual dues to cover the costs of maintaining the line.
Jack and Claudine Duncan, who have lived in the same home west of Frederick for 71 years, recently donated several items to the Pioneer Townsite Museum from the Richland telephone line cooperative. The Richland phone line cooperative began in about 1930 and served the Duncan home. The donated items include a co-op record book from 1949 to 1957, the co-op’s bank records from the 1950s, as well as a belt and climbing shin plates that were used to climb telephone poles to make repairs.
The Richland co-op’s line extended from the Southwestern States Telephone Company’s Frederick service to homes within five or so miles west of Frederick. Households from west of Frederick that were listed in the co-op’s 1949-1957 records are as follows: R.L. Sanders, Walter Reed, Frank Schultz, Walter Duncan, Walter “Jack” Duncan, Jr., Ralph Keith, Henry McCord, Sidney Allen, R.W. Smith, J.J. Alexander, John Schultz, Carl Gant, Otto Ebeck, D.A. Conway, Robert Duncan; Johnnie Avriette, Mr. Kimble, Clifford Schultz, Hubert Hagy, and Herman Vosburgh.
Co-op members met each December to set the co-op’s line rates for the coming year, to elect a president and vice president, and to name a lineman for the year. It was the volunteer lineman’s job to fix the telephone lines when there were problems. That involved splicing or stringing lines and setting new poles.
Annual dues for the telephone co-op between 1949 and 1956 varied from $9 to $14 a year. The money was used to pay a monthly fee to the Southwestern States Telephone Company in Frederick and varied from year to year depending on the line repair needs that existed. Line subscribers were sometimes levied extra dues during the year when expenses ran higher than expected.
When the line co-op existed, the rural telephones were still box-like apparatuses that hung on the wall, with a crank on one side and a snout-like extension in front in which to talk.
All telephone subscribers who lived on the line were part of a “party line”. Instead of traditional telephone numbers, each subscriber had a code of longs and shorts and recognized by the ring when the call was for them. Unfortunately, though, every ring sounded on the phone of every subscriber on the line, so that whenever a call was received everyone on the line knew and would often listen in.
In the January 1977 edition of Prairie Lore, R.M. Lowe of Snyder wrote about the party line, “it was a vital pipeline for news and gossip between farm homes across the new land of Oklahoma.” He went on to say that “listening in had its merits. For instance, if you couldn’t recall a name or place when talking to a friend, some obliging listener would supply it by whispering, ‘It was so and so’. Then you’d reply, ‘That’s right, thanks a lot,’ and go on with your conversation.”
Whenever something important or newsworthy happened, the phone would sound five long rings to alert telephone subscribers on the line that there was big news.
Jack Duncan remembers a time in the 1930s when he stood on the porch at his father’s house and watched a terrible storm build in the west and move to the north. A while later, the phone sounded the five-crank emergency ring to let folks on the phone line know that the town of Headrick had been struck by a terrible tornado.
Members of the Richland telephone line co-op gathered for their final meeting on January 3, 1957, in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Schultz. At that meeting the co-op members voted to disband because Southwestern States Telephone Company was taking over responsibility for the rural lines and most people were “getting on dial”, signing up for the modern new dial telephones.

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