When I was a boy…

A couple days ago a coworker was talking about things “the kids these days” wouldn’t recognize. One of the things he mentioned was rotary dial phones. Or even just desktop phones in general. These days a phone is a thin rectangular object you can put in your pocket and many young people would not make the connection between what they know as a phone and what a generation or two earlier knew as phones when they were growing up.

I one upped him by telling about the phones we had at the first two houses I remember living in. Here are those houses with me in front of the first house:

Here is the type of phone:


This picture is from Christmas Eve about a month ago at brother Doug’s place. The phone from my childhood is in brother Gary’s house a hundred yards away from brother Doug. Until a few years ago the phones were connected and working. There is still a similar phone in the shop between the two houses. Sometime in the last couple of decades an underground wire broke and the Huffman phone network went down for the last time when it wasn’t worth the effort to find the break and fix it.

And as late as when I was in high school there were other phones of this type on our local phone network in my two grandmothers mobile homes which were also on the property.

One of the stories I told my coworker about these phones is that these type of phones were the only type phones available at our house until I was in the third grade. We upgraded to a rotary style phone.

Mom and dad thought the older phones worked just fine and objected to the price increase (it went from something like $3/month to $5/month). They did without a phone for a year in protest before getting a new phone. It was still a party line where you had different ring types to distinguish between calls to your phone and calls to your neighbor. Our ring with both the phone type you see above and the first rotary phone was three shorts. Later there were party line phones with band pass filters for the ring signals and unless your phone used an adjacent ring frequency and the filter wasn’t that good you couldn’t hear the incoming ring for your neighbor. But if the frequency was adjacent and the filter wasn’t doing its job you could hear some vibration from the ringer and maybe a anemic “ding” or two when the call was intended for your neighbor.


9 thoughts on “When I was a boy…

  1. Neat.
    In 1976 I was camping with my family in Two Guns, AZ (now a ghost town) and went to the campground office / general store to make a phone call. They pointed to the phone. It looked like a plain desk phone, except that the dial was absent. The instructions were: pick up the phone, tell the operator what number you want, when asked say you’re calling from “Two Guns 93”. It actually worked just fine. I’m not sure why they bothered with two digit phone numbers in that town of just 6 or so inhabitants, though.

  2. When I was old enough to learn how to use a phone, we had a desk phone with no dial. Pick up the phone and the operator would ask”Number please?” The number would be given as the name for the exchange followed by five numbers, i.e “Cedar 2-XXXX.” If you needed to make a long distance call, you specified “Station to Station” or “Person to Person for John Doe” the city, and the number. I think I was in first grade before we got dial phones, although the “big cities” had dial phones for decades, before we got ours.

    • When we got our dial phone our number was “Granite 2-3068”. The first two letters of Granite, GR, were actual the numbers 4 and 7 from the phone dial. So our number was 476-3068. But as long as you were calling someone local, inside the Granite exchange, you could just dial the last five numbers such as 2-3068.

      This changed when I was, IIRC, a sophomore in high school. We had to change numbers and we had to always use the seven digit number even when dialing a local number.

  3. Two different homes I lived in in 74-76 had these exact phones. My ring at the second place was three long one short, IIRC.
    The network only connected a few buildings in the southern Sierra and several residences in the town of Lone Pine

  4. I lived on a party line as a youth. You could be over at a friends house visiting, and still answer to your ring on their phone. You didn’t have to worry about the NSA listening to your conversations. Just all your neighbors!

  5. One of the interesting things about phone systems in Holland, where I grew up, is that phone numbers are made up of a town code and a station code. A bit like exchange and the part after, except that the lengths vary. So big cities had short city codes and long station numbers. Our village had a four digit town code, and started out with 3 digit phone numbers. It had just upgraded to 4 digits when we moved in. That sort of thing happened repeatedly; the city nearby upgraded from 5 digits to 6 while I was in high school.
    I don’t remember non-dial phones in Holland, but I have a stamp issued when I was 7, commemorating the completion of the phone system automation. 1963…

  6. About 1970, I moved from a town near Philly down to the NJ seashore, and the phones had a keypad! Never saw them in the Philly area ’til later. They had the options of Forwarding, Waiting, and 3-way. One feature that wasn’t advertised was Intercom. Dial a code, hang up and wait for it to stop ringing, then pick up and you were talking to an extension in the house.
    I can recall seeing the separate earpiece phones as a child, like you see in old movies from the 30’s or so.

  7. More than once, Mom would order me to walk the half mile to the neighbors to tell them their phone was off-hook and that anyone trying to make a call can hear them fighting. The neighborhood was less interesting after our party line went away.

  8. I was referring to the desk versions, similar to your wall mounted ones, with the base unit small enough to hold in one hand. They were too heavy for a child to hold, IIRC.
    Fast forward to ’88-89, and I had a Nokia model 900 handheld cell. Came with a zip-up leather pouch that you could mount on your belt. Discovered that a 2″ snubbie would fit inside the bag, in place of the phone (fit corner to corner, same thickness as the cylinder). Had that during the ’89 earthquake, when the phone system was overloaded here in Silicon Valley (“all circuits are busy” signal on landlines that evening, unless you were using a speed dialer).

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