May 11-08

Past-E-Mail: Cam Notes - 2008: May: May 11-08
Telephone Switchboard Memories    ...scroll down to share comments
Photo (c)Joseph A. Carr

Charlie at Pasty Central (Chopper) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 08:41 am:

Mother's Day in 1966 marked the final week of manual switchboard operation in the Copper Country. The automated dialing system officially took over the following Sunday.

Myrtle Barrett wrote a nice article earlier this year, with memories from one of those telephone operators, Vera Stellberg. Today's Pasty Cameo relates some of that personal history along with an overview of phone history in the U.P. Some of the pictures included are from other exchanges, such as the ones from the Chamber of Commerce office in Saint Ignace.

Also a special thanks to George Thurner - an old telephone guy himself - for reprinting Myrtle's article in his "Telephone Talk" newsletter, and interesting summary of history and happenings I look forward to by email each month.

Have a Happy Mother's Day, and have a good week :o)

By elm (Grampy) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 08:57 am:

I was one of them. Nice times:)

By David S. (Yooperdfs) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 08:58 am:

I remember that "Number please" like it was yesterday. And the party lines where we would have to listen to hear our specific ring (two rings, pause, and another ring) to know that it was a call for our house. Nostalgic

By Liz B (Lizidaho) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 09:05 am:

And our Calumet number was 1256.

By Paul Oesterle (Paulwebbtroll) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 09:20 am:

Our number was 81F111. Line 81, F meant the first ring was a long ring, thus 111 meant a long, a short and a long ring. 81S111 would have meant that the first ring would have been a short ring.

By Jim Haralson (Jhattica) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 09:47 am:

My wife Nancy (Poisson) was an operator in Calumet in the mid 50's. She still remembers several numbers, like 874 Calumet Hospital, as well as several doctor numbers etc.

By Donald R. Elzinga (Donagain) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 10:06 am:

Our Marquette # was 51 and my good friends # was 2345 and Peters and Larson Insurance (now Hetricks) was 1. Now if I could just remeber if this is Sunday!

By Brian R. Juntikka (Polkatime) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 10:24 am:

The May 1966 Calumet cutover completed the effort to convert all of the Copper Country's telephones to dial service. The new Calumet exchange was a Western Electric Number 5 crossbar office - the state of the art at the time. But it was also unique in that Touch-Tone was brand new, and the new Calumet dial office was equipped to provide this service. As was the case in the Houghton-Hancock cutover of 1962, Michigan Bell sent technicians out to every home and business prior to the cutover to either install a dial on existing phones or to replace them altogether with brand new dial instruments. But in the case of Calumet, customers were also offered Touch-Tone service upon completion of the the dial cutover. As a result, there were many homes in the Calumet Exchange that went from having the old blank phones right to Touch-Tone....without ever having a rotary dial phone in the house.

To the best of my knowledge, Calumet was the first place in the Upper Peninsula to have Touch-Tone service.

By Cindy Pihlaja Russell (Gone2long) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 10:30 am:

My mom was a telephone operator in Detroit back in the 50s for one year...1954, I think. I wish I knew more about that. I don't remember our party line number. I think there were 5 house on that line.

By Just me (Jaby) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 10:36 am:

I just heard that Myrtle Barrette who Charlie mentioned above-and who happens to be my very dear aunt-is in the hospital. She is one of those wonderful, inspiring people with a true zest for life!I hope she gets well soon!

By kay Moore (Mskatie) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 10:59 am:

Oh my what a jolt when I just saw that photo of a switchboard! Way back to 1956/7! After a call was completed I'd have to report the "time and charges" to the caller. This was on an air base in Grandview AFB, Mo.!My how time flies!!! Back in Milwaukee as a kid our phone number was the Hilltop exchange........

By Jeffrey P. Carlson (Dlineman) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 12:00 pm:

I remember going up to Iron River to visit my wife's family, it just seems like yesterday and we only had to dail the last 4 numbers. Even now there is only one exchange 265.
Happy Mother's Day to all you Mom's out there. I think I'll get my Mom a bottle of Rebel Yell, save her a trip to the store...just kidding....

By Deb S. (Usedtobeayooper) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 12:19 pm:

Iremember hearing number please. I also remember the party lines when you never knew who was listening in on your calls.

Our numbsr was 1811.

By FRNash/PHX, AZ (Frnash) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 01:39 pm:

Back in my ol' college daze at Mich Tech (circa 1958-1962), I earned some extra $ and spent considerable time as part time telephone operator on the main campus switchboard, which was located in Douglas Houghton Hall (DHH). It was a single operator/two panel board, looking much like that in todays cameo, just half the size.

(I swear I last saw that very same old MTU manual switchboard in the Houghton County Historical Museum in Lake Linden, about 6 or 7 years ago!)

The MTU campus at the time had their own local (3-digit?) dial system for faculty and staff phones, using vintage two-axis Strowger switches (in three variations: linefinders, selectors and connectors) located in a basement closet in DHH, yet had only a few manual phones for the dorm residents, in enclosed phone booths in each section of the dorm, and a buzzer in each room to alert residents to find a phone for incoming calls.

The main campus switchboard served as the link for incoming calls from the manual phone system then in use in the outside world, and was located in the dorm not only as a means of providing service to the dorm for extended hours, but also for the convenient population of dorm residents to serve as part time/backup telephone operators.

I found running that switchboard to be an interesting mental exercise, and in fact, there was no way you could keep up with the traffic if you had to look up phone numbers in the directory each time someone would ask for Professor What's-his-name — you just had to have those numbers memorized. That, and knowing where certain professors were at different times of the day (classroom, lab, office, etc.)

I would often relieve Betty Smallwood for lunch or other break times, often during the busiest times of day.

I was also a guest from time to time at the late John and Betty Smallwood's beautiful Victorian home in Houghton. (John Smallwood spent his final days at Still Waters, as well.) Nice folks, the Smallwoods, I miss 'em both!

By Clara Huhak (Mugga) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 03:42 pm:

How well I remember working at the switchboard in Calumet. I still miss it.

By Jim Haralson (Jhattica) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 04:23 pm:

Although Lake Linden had a very early dial system, there was an operator/switchboard system before that. The switchboard was located on the second floor above Gillete's jewelry store. You could walk up and say hello to the operator as long as you didn't disturb her work.

By SARAH CUDLIP (Porter) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 04:25 pm:

I was an Illinois Bell telephone operator for 11 years but our switchboards were much bigger than the ones in the picture. Some of the shorter girls had to stand up sometimes to reach the higher numbers and we also had B boards where we would relay to a seperate operator the really high numbers. I left that job as a supervisor just before thet turned to dial. This was in the 50's. I loved it
Sarah from Illinois

By David Hiltunen (Davidcorrytontn) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 04:56 pm:

To My Mother

When Jesus decided to send me

From Heaven's skies of blue

He searched the wide world over

For a women kind and true--

Someone to love me always,

Someone to keep me spotlessly new,

One who would really want me--

He wished his own Mother could do,

But then at last, My Jesus found one,

Who was as good as she could be,

She had waiting, yes, longing

For a little boy like me,

So, He wrapped me in a fluffy cloud,

Tied in a ribbon blue,

And slid me down a rainbow,

Yes, Mom-- to earth and you.

Happy Mother's Day.

I remember calling Grandparents 2076-J Please just 4 doors up the street. We were 1976-M
This was written here once before some time back, and we were told what the J and the M meant. I have forgotten however.

By FRNash/PHX, AZ (Frnash) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 06:46 pm:

David Hiltunen (Davidcorrytontn):

Re Party line telephone ring codes:

I've been trying to recall those ring code schemes for some time myself. Thanks to your "trigger" today. I just did some more digging, and found the answer. (This should provide a real "flash back" experience for a lot of us Pasty-holics!)

From the late Kevin Musser's former (now at we have:


Which includes the following information [slightly edited here by myself]:


"The Houghton central office had 4,000 lines – from number 1 up to number 4,000. If your phone number was, for example, Houghton 2855 - that was your line (jack) on the switchboard…2855.

On lines with up to four parties (common in those days), everyone on the line had the same number – followed by a party line letter of either J, M, R or W. The party line letter told the operator which ringing key to use and how many “rings” were needed. “J”= 1 ring; “R” = 2 rings. Ringing on the opposite side of the line used “M” = 1 ring; “W” = 2 rings. Therefore, if you see phone numbers like 185-J, 185-M, 185-R and 185-W, you know they are all on the same party line.

There were a few rural multi-party lines still in use in the Range towns back then. Like four party service, everyone on the line had the same number but with a different party line letter + ring numbers at the end. Here is how a Trimountain rural line looked in June of 1962:

[For example, for] Line number 2580:
Party 1 2580-J1 = 1 ring
Party 2 2580-J2 = 2 rings
Party 3 2580-J3 = 3 rings
Party 4 2580-J4 = 4 rings
Party 5 2580-R-1-1 = 1 long + 1 short rings
Party 6 2580-M1 = 1 ring
Party 7 2580-M2 = 2 rings
Party 8 2580-M3 = 3 rings
Party 9 2580-M4 = 4 rings
Party 10 2580-W-1-1 = 1 long + 1 short rings

NOTE: Multiple rings like “W11” are “W-1-1” & not “W-eleven”.""

The two wires connected to your phone were called Tip and Ring, originally referring to the part of the telephone operators' phone plug to which they were connected.

On multi-party lines, "ringing" was accomplished by sending ring current down either the "tip" or the "ring" wire (where codes J and R rang on on one side and M & W on the other, I forget which was which), thus not all parties on your phone line would hear the ring — only parties whose ringers were on the "same side" would hear the ring.

I see from the above RANGE TOWNS — 1962 TELEPHONE DIRECTORY link above that some of the smaller towns (those that were considered "long distance" calls from the Houghton central office)also had telephone numbers with a "ring code = "F", of the form:

Donken 1-F11
Lk Roland 3-F21
Toivola 1-F3
Twin Lakes 1-F21
Winona 1-F2

I don't know the meaning of the "F", maybe "Far, Far Away" as in Shrek2 the movie ?

Ken ja Mimi from da UP (Kenjamimi) on Sunday, May 11, 2008 - 10:12 pm:

Here in Cornell ours was a 9 party line. Holy Wah! Seems like ours was 1 long and 3 shorts. Talk about a busy set-up!

By Ellen Cox (Dytta) on Monday, May 12, 2008 - 11:56 am:

This brings back a memory for me. I applied to be a switchboard operator when I graduated from Hancock High in the early 60's, but they wouldn't hire me because I was left handed!!! In those days, most people didn't fight the "system", so I just accepted it. I see the lady in the photo using both hands! Actually, I'm not fully left handed, do many things with my right hand, like use scissors.

By Michael Du Long (Mikie) on Monday, May 12, 2008 - 12:52 pm:

Ellen the nuns made me do everything with my right hand. I had to sit on my left hand so I wouldn't use it. Made me right handed, but I use both hands and can write with either. Makes it nice doing wood work. Can paint with either hand and both look good.

By Ellen Cox (Dytta) on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 - 12:44 pm:

Mike, glad I'm not the only one who had the problem when learning to write in elem. school. My 1st grade teacher allowed me to use my left hand, but the 2nd grade teacher hit my hand with a ruler if I used my left hand. I won out though, still write with my left hand. Funny thing about it, she wrote with both hands. Used the left hand to write on the blackboard and the right on paper.

By Ellen Cox (Dytta) on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 - 12:47 pm:

Just re-read my last message. Sorry Mike, I should have said I'm sorry you also had a problem with learning to write in school! (~.~)

By Michael Du Long (Mikie) on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 - 01:04 pm:

Ellen like your teacher I can write with both hands. When I got to the big city they actually had desks that were designed for lefties. My youngest grandson Jack Du Long is left handed. He my nephew Tim Creedon and I are the only lefties in the family. Lot of things now that I am older agrivate me. Like the doors that are locked on the side we reach for, and tools that are made just for right handed use. One of my co workers gave me a tile that says " Everyone is born right handed only the GIFTED overcome it." He liked working with me since I would get the side that was awkward for him. Course that was many years ago. Neither of have done a days work since the last century. Yup retirement is where its at.

By Ellen Cox (Dytta) on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 - 05:24 pm:

Nothing like being a lefty! The desks made for lefties reminded me about the other problem in high school with the right handed only desks, and especially in "shorthand" class. I had a wonderful teacher who let me use the desk next to me to write on. My husband is a true lefty and he gets aggravated like you about the tools and doors, etc. I agree, retirement rocks!

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