Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Woodburn Mutual Telephone Company - 1908

Woodburn Mutual Telephone Company
John Newton Barnes was President and Director of the Woodburn Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, a cooperative venture which he organized and installed.  The Woodburn Mutual Phone Company was formed in 1908.  In its earliest days, only one or two phone lines were strung on hedge poles along the main roads.

At first, one customer could phone and talk to another by ringing from their home directly to the other.  This could be done so long as no one else was on the line.  With this system, a switchboard operator was not required, however, one existed at the central office for directing calls to more populated areas.

The central office of the Woodburn Telephone Company was in the Welch Store located on the north side of the Public Square (Block 2, Lot 6).  When, on July 1, 1920, the store was destroyed by fire, the telephone system was moved to a private home.  This was in the southeast room in the Charles Stockwell home.  Charles and his daughter, Grace Stockwell Payne, ran the office.  They carried on home activities but were there to answer calls on the large, old switchboard.  John Newton Barnes cared for the lines at $60 per month. 

The office was later moved to the east room of the Froebel House (Lot 3, Block 10), property now owned by Frank Scroggins.  The room was furnished with a coal stove and bucket, coal oil lamp, a washstand with a wash pan, a single bed, the switchboard and chair, and a chair for the customer.  At a later date the office was moved to the present site and a new, smaller switchboard was added.  This office provided a wall telephone on the south wall for customers.

The wages were $30 for the day and night operators in the summer and $35 in the winter.  The extra $5 was for coal.  The work shift was from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. andd from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.

By 1940, the coal was furnished and the wages started at 15 cents an hour for the night operator.  The day operator got more because part of the night shift, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. was considered the sleeping hours and the operator would hve little workd.  Later the wages were raised to 50 cents an hour.

The first telephone was a Kinloch phone.  The switchboard looked like an upright piano with plug jacks in the front.  The operator would plug into the party line that the customer asked for.  The signals were longs and shorts and each customer had a different signal.  there were eight people to each party line.  An example of the numbers or rings was (S was a short ring, L was a long ring): SSS - LSL - LLSS - LS - LSSSS.  The operator rang or "cranked" these combinations.  Each customer knew their number, as well as the number of everyone on his line.  You would listen for "your ring" and answer the phone.  Because the phone rang at everyone's house, this provided a means of listening to other phone conversations simply by lifting the receiver.  This was called "piking".  Some never missed a conversation.

Shortly after the Midland Telephone Company bought the company in 1960, a severe storm came through and knocked down many of the phone lines.  The new lines were laid underground and there were again two lines to Bunker Hill.  The large party lines were gradually changed to smaller party lines until on March 1, 1976, everyone had a one-party line.

The company switched to dial service on November 2, 1967.  Because everything was automatic, the need for operators was eliminated.  Some people who served as operators at varous times were Grace (Stockwell) Payne, Mayme Smith, Dorothy (Welch) Fite, Winifred Partridge, Lola (Payne) Zarges Hallows, Dorothy (Payne) Jarden, Cleda Johnson Gray, Edna Chadwich, Lucille Partridge Fensterman, Anita Partridge, Nellie Jo Walter, Ros (Show) Callahan, Ruth and Cleda Bouillon, Irene Lawton, and Cecile Sweet.

There were two lines to Bunker Hill.  A record of the long distance calls was kept on little pads so that tickets could be given to the customers.  When Bunker Hill Mutual took over, there was only one line to Bunker Hill.  You could talk three minutes and then you would be disconnecdted.  If it were an emergency, you could dial through to the operator for three minutes free.  Because there was just one line, it was difficult to get calls through.

In December 1989, Midland Telephone Company, along with the Inland, Lakeside, and Prairie companies, became a subsidiary of Rochester Telephone Company out of Rochester, New York.  In 1991, all of the equipment was changed for more up to date equipment and new lines were installed at Woodburn in September.

...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories at

--Cite this story:  Redford, Carol, and Betty Triplett. "Woodburn History." In Reflections: A History of the Bunker Hill-Woodburn Area, 16-17. Bunker Hill: Bunker Hill Publications, 1993. Provided by the Bunker Hill IL Historical Society.

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