Posted by: patwogan | February 28, 2009

Party Lines

Now people on Facebook and other public sites are reminded that whatever they post is visible to anyone who wishes to see it.  Back in the day, the party line was somewhat similar to that.

I don’t even remember if we had a telephone at Glencliff.  After we moved over to the farm, we were on an eight-party telephone line.  Our telephone number was 69F4.  I don’t know exactly what all of those numbers meant, but I do know that the four meant four long rings.  Grandma Hudiburg’s number was 69F33.  To reach her from our phone meant all we had to do was crank the handle on the side of the phone six times.  Three long cranks or rings and three short ones.  All of the people on the 69 line could reach each other without going through the operator. 

To reach other people whose prefix was not 69, you had to go through the operator.  To reach the operator, you cranked the phone one long ring.  The operator would answer and say, “Number, please.”  You would tell her the number you wanted and she would connect you.  I don’t know exactly how the switchboard worked, but the operator wore a set of headphones and had cables which came from the horizontal part of the switchboard to holes in the vertical portion of the switchboard .  In this manner, the operator could put you in contact with anyone you wanted to speak to locally.   If you wanted to speak to someone in another town, it was an entirely different story.  Actually, I don’t recall my parents calling anyone out of town as it was terribly expensive. 

When the phone rang four long rings, we would pick up the phone and say, “Hello”.  Often you could hear clicks as other people on the party line picked up their receivers to listen in.  Most would hold their hands over the mouthpiece of the phone so that the background noise in their homes could not be heard.  Actually, people thought nothing of doing this as this was the way news was transmitted.  I have seen Grandma do it many times.  I have even done it myself, believe it or not.  Privacy laws were not in effect on party lines.  If you wanted privacy, you had to have a private telephone line….and then not talk to someone on a party line, I guess. 

Some people’s conversations were more interesting than others.  If a girl had a boyfriend and he called her, it was probably one of the better conversations to listen in on.  However, most of the conversations were quite mundane.  It was always nice to know who was visiting whom and who was ill and who needed help of any kind.  Some conversations were downright boring and not really worth all the trouble it took to be quiet while listening. 

As I said at the beginning, the internet today equates to the party line of my childhood.  Nothing is ever really new,  is it?



  1. How correct. I remember 1611j as our phone number in Early Winway. Love you and thanks.

  2. Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

    Don’t pay for your electricity any longer…
    Instead, the power company will pay YOU!

  3. See, being the “Rear Window” movie fan that I am, I think I would have listened in more often than not. Other people’s lives always seem a lot more interesting!
    It sure would be hard to get away with anything too serious back then.

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