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December 11, 2021


I was born and grew up in a small country town.
I remember that we’d turn the handle on the phone and give the operator the number, or more often, just ask for a person or business by name.
It was a small town, as I said, and pretty much everyone knew everyone, especially the phone operators.
None of these eight digit numbers we have now – the place where dad worked had the phone number 3. Our home number was 273.

Hi, Peter--Thanks for the interesting rundown of your childhood telephone situation. Your town was larger than ours if it had more than one operator - lol. As I recall from TGB, you were born in Australia and more recently were living in Melbourn. Was your small town near Melbourn or did you stray farther afield?

As to phone numbers, we had combinations of longs and short rings in our little town. If the phone made one long ring + two short rings, I knew that Grandmother D would pick it up. (As far as I know, the rings were not assigned as Morse code equivalents to initials; but, in the case of my grandparent Ds, it happened.) I seem to recall that we had a phone in the house that we rented from my great-grandparents in 1940-41, but our tenure was so short and I so young that I don't recall our ring. In 1943 we moved into a home in Tulsa in which we had a rotary telephone (with 5-digit number?) My great-grandparents and great-great-grandmother had moved to a town large enough to have 3-digit numbers (with a candlestick phone).

We were a long way from Melbourne, indeed, pretty much as far away as was possible while still being in the same state (Victoria). That was in the west, not far from the South Australian border.
The town’s population was about 2,500 at the time. We came to Melbourne in 1959 when I was 14. Melbourne’s population these days is about 5 million (less back then, of course) so it was a bit of a cultural shock.
Sounds like you had a party line. We had them here too, but out of town for the farms and so on.

Thanks for the clarification on your geographic locations. So you got to acclimate yourself to the big city while in high school! The only time I've lived in a city with that high a population was when I worked in the Los Angeles area - and that was an auxiliary place. I had an apartment there, but my house was in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

You are correct, Peter, that in our small town (population, I'm guessing around 200 + another 100 or 200 in even more rural area around it) we had a party line. In fact, we also had a party line in Tulsa and, in 1946, in Kansas City, Missouri. Eventually, in the early 1950s (still KCMO), we were able to obtain a private line. Our original phone number in KCMO had 6 digits that later became 7. I don't recall when it became 10 (including the area code) - probably after I left home in 1955.

I know Albuquerque a little.
My sister lived there for a few years in the late seventies (before moving to San Francisco) and I visited several times.
A few times later as well, when we returned to visit friends of hers.

Stayed once in a pub in eire that had a single digit number
Twas a very small village.

Peter--Albuquerque has really grown, over the years. The metro area had about 200,000 people in 1950. It's now up to nearly one million. I lived there 1983-1990, so I missed your sister by a few years, and I was working in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1989-1990. Albuquerque has nearly doubled since I was there.

Stu--I cannot infer the size of the village from the fact that the pub had a single digit number. Is there a rule that says that all phone numbers must have the same number of digits? I'm not familiar enough with the relays and other parts to know the answer. Help me!

I recall switchboards and had a SIL who had worked one in San Luis Obispo years earlier before she joined our family. I certainly recall interacting with real people operators any time I wanted to make a long distance call and had a friend who was one of those for a time.

Joared--So you are well familiar with basic switchboards/operations. It occurred to me that HH had set up and operated switchboards during his first couple of years with the Missouri Air National Guard - before he qualified in cryptography. I'll add a photo of the communications center that he helped set up and operate in 1954.

I think that was also the kind of switchboard we had at the TV station when I went to work there. Was a big deal to our operator when it was replaced with newer technology.

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