Tricounty News

History Matters: Learning to dial

Before statehood, in 1854 the Williamantic Medium, a Connecticut newspaper, ran a letter from Minnesota urging readers in the East to come to "The New England of the West." Peg Meier, in Bring Warm Clothes, quotes the letter and its prediction of immediate communication across many miles: "The telegraph will soon be extended here, and then distance will be annihilated, and we shall be within speaking distance of each other. The thunders of Niagara will then send their echoes here, and we can send back the pleasant ha ha of our own beautiful water-falls." The expression was metaphorical. It would, in fact, still be more than twenty years before, on March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell uttered two long-remembered sentences across an electric wire a few feet into the next room: "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you." In so doing, he opened a door of discovery whereby people could truly be around the globe but still within speaking distance. The telephone had arrived. Amazingly, before the end of the decade, phone service connected Minneapolis to St. Paul. Of course, that by no means implies phones were commonplace. It would be two more decades before the telephone found its way to the Kimball Prairie. At the turn of the century, as a pre-teen, Ada Phillips lived at Maine Prairie Corners where her father owned a store. Eighty years later, Stearns County historians recorded her memories of her youth. She recalled there was just one phone in the whole community. I have long suspected that the single phone was in the store of D.B. Stanley, my great-great-uncle, at the center of the Maine Prairie community. But its actual location is yet to be confirmed. Early in the new century, a Kimball area phone company set up business in the brand new City Hall building. The switchboard was located on the second floor for fifty years. The phone exchange required that a live operator attach plug in cords into the switchboard for each party, thus routing the calls along the party lines on a system that allowed anyone on the line to overhear. Most old-timers can still remember the particular ring tone that distinguished a call intended for them from one for their neighbors, and not one will admit to listening in on neighbors' calls. Reviewing the issues of the Tri-County News for the Centennial year, I was surprised to learn that it was not until May of 1958 that the old switchboard system was retired as the Kimball area made the leap to "modern" dial phones. This article in the May 8 edition announced the change-over, and gave instruction on how to use the new-fangled technology. Kimball dial phone system now in partial operation  (Tri-County News, May 8, 1958) The new Kimball dial phone system is now in partial operation. Service on the old switchboard and lines was discontinued Sunday at 1 o'clock, although many were not yet connected to the new system. The company expects to have the new system in complete operation within the next few days. The Melrose Telephone Company issues the following directions concerning the use of the new phones. "After obtaining the number from the directory, lift the receiver and listen for the Dial Tone which is a steady humming sound. Then dial each figure of the number in order, making sure to dial the complete number. For example, to dial 8-5491: Place your finger in the dial hole over the figure 8 and turn right until your finger touches the stop. Then withdraw your finger and allow the dial to turn back to its normal position. In the same manner dial the figure 5, then 4, then 9, then 1. "If you make a mistake while dialing, or if your finger slips from the dial before reaching the finger stop, hang up the receiver for a few seconds. Then remove it and, after hearing the dial tone, dial each figure of the number again. "RINGING AND BUSY SIGNAL" - After you have finished dialing, you should hear in the receiver either the ringing signal or the busy signal (a rapid buzz-buzz-buzz). If the ringing signal is heard, it indicates the called party is being rung. "Allow a reasonable length of time for someone at the called station to answer. If you receive no answer, hang up and call later. "If you hear neither of these signals within a few seconds, hang up the receiver and then lift it and dial again. "USE OF PARTY LINES" - If you do not hear the dial tone when you lift the receiver, inquire whether the line is in use. You may hear someone speak or dial. Replace the receiver and unless someone is using the line, you should hear the dial tone when you next listen. Efficient party line service depends upon the consideration and courtesy which each subscriber gives the other parties on his line. Endeavor to limit your calls to five minutes. "TO CALL ANOTHER PARTY ON YOUR LINE" - Calls to stations on the same line are made by dialing the number of the subscriber you wish to call. Then hang up for approximately 10 seconds; then pick up the receiver to talk. ********** Dean Urdahl, a retired American history teacher/author, will present a thought-provoking look at the complexities of the 1862 war that gripped Minnesota during 1862. The war centered in the Minnesota River Valley, but its consequences reached Stearns County as well. Urdahl explains what Stearns County communities did in reaction to the uncertainties of life on the American frontier. Calendar the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 28, to join us at Kimball's historic city hall at 7 p.m. More details with our Oct. 23 next column in this publication. All welcome; light refreshments. ********** The turn of the season is upon us. It's not too early to think gifts. Give the gift of history. The rich history of Maine Prairie the first 150 years is available, as well as other keepsake souvenirs and the ever-popular cook books - all at reasonable prices at the State Bank of Kimball and at our historical society events. ********** A huge welcome to our most recent new members. Kimball's historic city hall restoration continues as "she" turned 100 this year and is celebrating. It's never too late to donate toward this National Landmark's preservation, guaranteeing you a tax deduction for this year. Also, keep in mind that your membership and support keeps history alive for the entire 127-square-mile area we represent. ********** Watch for even more events coming in November. For information, donations to our city hall project, your's family's history placed in this column, contact The Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 100, Kimball MN 55353, or call (320) 398-5743, 398-5250, or (800) 252-2521 from out of the area. ********** Forest City fans: Bob Hermann is coming to Kimball in February 2009 with his extraordinary stockade and   fort history. ********** "For the love of history."