Just call me Mother Bell

When Mother Bell's monopoly was whittled down, I realized of a sudden that I was a telephone company. I hadn't thought of it, but all at once I was one of the new independents with my own identity, ready to take part in the complicated adjustments. I could go for access fees and all such as that there. My private telephone system has three stations - one in the house, one in the garage, and one in my shop. I acquired the equipment years ago from at least five local Maine telephone services - Winthrop, Monmouth, & Greene, Franklin County Farmers' Cooperative, Warren Telephone, Denmark Telephone, and some insulators from the woods lines of Great Northern Paper Company. All the parts were gifts except the insulators - they had been abandoned and I just took them off trees. My system is in working order and gets used almost every day. It has never been connected to an access company, long lines, and satellites, but I understand I am now free to compete.

My system is magneto - one cranks it by hand to generate the impulse that rings the bells, or in the old days released the ''drop'' in the central office. Once a connection is made, the voice is amplified by dry cell batteries. I have three kinds - the big wall set for stand-up talking, a candlestick set, and then a cradle set. All are authentic antiques from the days of listening in on party lines. My system uses two wires, but the woods lines of Great Northern, now replaced by radio, had but one line and completed the circuit by the ground.

The bell-box and magneto in my shop came from the Franklin County Farmers', which was a very special rural and village system finally absorbed by Mother Bell. It was unique because it made no charges for calls outside your own exchange. That should make somebody wonder why we have toll charges today. Well, time was that a long-distance call was put through manually and involved other circuits. But today any call I make, local or distant, is dialed right here and except for computer bookkeeping nobody knows I did it.

What I'm saying is that exchanges are now tied together until any call I make is the same as any other call. On the Franklin Farmers', numbers were rarely used. Crank, and Central would appear. You'd pass the amenities and then say, ''See if Charley's to home, will you, Sade?'' It was possible Sade would reply, ''No, he ain't - I jest see him going into the bank.'' And, if you lived in Farmington and wanted to reach somebody upcountry in Phillips, you would say, ''Ring me Phillips, will you please?'' There would be a ZZZZZ and the Phillips Central (daytime hours only) would say ''Phillips!'' So you would ask for Glendon Dill, and there was no toll charge. It was a great system and a folksy service, but it was a common sight to see a disgruntled member coming to the main office with a telephone that he had yanked off the wall under his arm, about to resign his membership. 'Tis said that when a big ice storm brought down all the lines in Madrid, the repair crew used four miles of barbed wire fence to bypass Bray Hill, and service was so much better they never restrung the pole lines. That may not be so.

Bauer Small, a friend of mine who lives in Farmington, used to have a lot of fun with the oddities of the Farmers' system. He worked things so that when you wanted to reach Bauer you would say to Central, ''Gimme Wildcat Number One, please.'' That was his own special number, and he worked this up for a reason. When anybody from Farmington was in a far place, it became the custom to work the conversation around to telephones, and there would be a few comical yarns about the Farmers'. One would be how everybody had his own private exchange - such as (for instance) like, oh, let's say, like Bauer Small. He's Wildcat Number One. Doubts about the truth of this would lead to, ''Well, pay for the call and find out for yourself.'' Thus a dubious operator in Dallas, Sacramento, Memphis, would be persuaded to ring Farmington, Maine, and ask for Wildcat Number One, and Bauer would appear with, ''Wildcat Number One speaking!'' So anybody from Farmington in a far place could usually find a dupe to pay for a call home, and Bauer would relay.

I never heard any stories like that from Mother Bell, but if one turns up I'll give you a ring. Just as soon as I get my private system accessed.

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