Party Line


Pamela Perry Blaine

  Being a grandmother now, I am sometimes questioned as to what the 

world was like when I was a child back in the “old days”.  I explained 

to my children and grandchildren that things weren’t really so different 

back when I stepped down off of the ark.  However, the one thing that 

has changed a lot in my lifetime has been technology. 

Telephone technology is one of these things.  It seems that mankind has 

always been interested in communicating and especially across long distances.  

The telephone was a wonderful invention to enable this to happen.  I can’t 

remember when there weren’t telephones but I do remember when we 

didn’t have one in our house.  

The first telephone I remember was next door at the Mayer’s house.  

It wasn’t anything like the ones we have today and a far cry from 

the incessant tingling of cell phones that we now carry in 

our purses or on our belts.   

The telephone at the neighbor’s house was a big wooden box on the wall 

that was about 10 inches wide x 20 inches tall.  As a child 

I thought it looked like a face on the box with two bells at the top 

for eyes and a trumpet-like elephant’s snout sticking out below the eyes.  

The snout was the part that was to be spoken into and most people 

seemed to shout into it in order to be heard.  The “Can you hear me now?” 

expression is probably not new at all.  The receiver had a cord attached 

and was hung on the side of the box.  When making a call, the receiver 

was lifted from the left side and a crank was turned at the right side 

to signal the operator that you wanted to place a call.  At that time, 

telephone calls were mostly made for business purposes or 

because of a need in the family.  Besides, there was no long cord 

so you had to stand next to the phone or sit on a stool 

or chair by the phone while talking.  

My Granddad owned a feed store in Baring and one day Grandma 

sent me to the neighbor’s house to ask to use their phone to call him

  and tell him he needed to come home for something important.  

I was about six years old at the time and when I made the call 

a voice said, “Operator”.  I said, “I would like to talk to my Granddad, please.”  

The operator said, “Is that you, Pamy?”  I replied that it was and 

wondered how that operator knew me even when I was calling from 

the neighbor’s house.  There just isn’t any place to hide in a small town!  

There was a lot of excitement at our house the day we got our very own 

telephone.  Today there are so many choices in telephones that it is 

mind boggling but when we got our first phone, the choices were: 

A black phone on a table or a black phone on the wall.  

We chose a black phone on the table.  We were told that our new phone 

was the latest thing with a rotary dial so local calls no longer required

  an operator.  The telephone company gave us our very own 

telephone number, Twinbrook 2-3485, and they explained that 

we would be on a party line. I wasn’t sure what that meant but “party” 

sounded like a lot of fun.  We soon learned that a party line meant 

that the Klataskes, Sykes, Earlys, and maybe others we didn’t know 

about were on the same line with us.


It was a little confusing if we wanted to call someone on our party line 

because if you dialed their number you’d get a busy signal because, 

in a sense, you were calling yourself.  However, if we wanted to talk to one 

of them, we had to dial their number and then hang up so it would ring 

their line and then pick it up again to talk.  The phones on party lines were 

set up so that after a few minutes it would buzz three times.  That was 

the signal that your time was up and you needed to say good-bye because 

the next time it buzzed it would cut you off.  This was so that nobody 

on the party line could dominate the phone for too long so that 

others could use it.  We sure thought that our new telephone was wonderful 

and definitely beat that long string and two tin cans that 

my brother and I used to play with.   

It took a little more time to make a call then, since we had to use a 

rotary dial instead of pushing buttons, but we always got to talk to 

real people instead of machines.  Today the phone companies offer a 

lot of options and one of them is Caller ID.  We didn’t need that back 

then since very few people ever called that we didn’t know.  

If someone called and we didn’t recognize their voice, we just 

assumed it was my brother doing one of his voice imitations again

  and we’d just tell him to stop fooling around and hang up on him. 


Another option that is offered today is Call Waiting.   Call waiting is not 

a new thing either because on a party line we had to wait to use 

the phone if someone else on the line was using it.


Of course there was always the party line eavesdropper.  Daddy used to tell 

about when he lived on his family farm and there was a woman who 

always listened in on everyone’s conversation on their party line.  

One day as he ended a conversation, saying good bye to the person 

he was speaking with, he quickly added “and good-bye to you too, Mrs._____.”  

He said the phone was slammed down so hard that it hurt his ear!  

Yes, telephones have changed a lot.  They may have caused the whole movie 

industry to change with the advent of cordless and then cellular phones.  

That’s because they can no longer build suspense in a good mystery film 

by having the villain cut all the phone lines in two in the “trapped at night 

in the house alone in a thunderstorm” scene.   However, it seems like 

in our fast paced world these days that there is no time for building 

suspense anyway.  

There are a lot of other differences in our world today and I was going 

to write about it but I’ll have to save it for another 

story because I have to answer the phone right now.

Pamela Blaine

© November 2004