Something’s Phone-y In Georgia

Starting with this post we will be posting shorter and more frequent articles. Consider them a blog form of postcards. Let us know if you like this approach.

We chose Georgia Veterans State Park as it was about halfway between Florida and the South Carolina coast where we would be snowbirds for January and part of February. There are also three National Park sites within easy driving distance. The park is located about 65 miles south of Macon in Cordele, Georgia on Lake Blackshear. We were able to get a lakefront site. This morning just before breakfast Steve said “look out the back window at the egret.” There not more than 50 feet away was a white egret strolling by looking for breakfast. If it hadn’t been raining we’d have had cameras in hand.

Georgia, National Park Service

Google Earth Central Georgia National Park Sites

This is an area of small towns and red clay farms growing cotton, peanuts and pecans. Is it a pecan orchard or a pecan grove? We think it’s a grove so let us know if you know. As I mentioned it was raining this morning so we were in no hurry to get up and out. Plus it was my 66th birthday. Steve’s card was a recorded one playing “I’ve been Everywhere” and he wrote a note saying “We haven’t been everywhere but we’re working on it.” My gift was 2 large chocolate bars, one 72% cocoa and one white chocolate. I think he expects to share don’t you? Our cupboard was looking quite empty so we left to go grocery shopping. First a visit to the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum in Leslie, GA.

telephone, museum, Georgia

Georgia Rural Telephone Museum Mural

We arrived to find the doors locked and a note saying Out To Lunch, Back At 1 o’clock. If you need help go across the street to the phone company. Since it was now 1:30 Steve went across the street to ask and a woman came over and opened up for us, took our $5/person fee and left us alone in the museum. Small town America is alive and well! There was a sign requesting No Food, No Drinks and No Photography. It would have been very easy to snap a few pictures but they had trusted us to follow their requests. We did. So we’ll do our best to describe what we found. From the outside this place doesn’t look that big but once inside it seems to go on and on. Steve has written a summary then I’ll be back to give my impressions.

There are literally thousands of telephones on display, dating back to the earliest, in the 1870s.  One display depicted the first call ever made, when Alexander Graham Bell spoke over the line to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, after spilling acid on himself and requiring help.  “Mr. Watson, Come here.  I want you.”  The first phone call, was actually a 911 call for help! Another phone was the same type used to call for help when President McKinley was shot and became known as the McKinley phone.

One item I found fascinating was the telephone directory from New Haven, Connecticut, dated February 21, 1878.  There were no phone numbers in it.  The entire city had fifty telephones, and were broken down as follows:  Residence, 11; Physician, 3; Dentist, 2; Miscellaneous, 8; Stores/Factories, 20; Meat or Fish Market, 4; Hack and Boarding Stable, 2.  It’s interesting to note the Police Station was under the Miscellaneous heading.

There is a display of Acoustic Telephones, which are basically the same kind of thing we all made as kids, with two tin cans and a taut string.  These devices, usually with a diaphragm at each end connected by a steel wire were generally used to communicate, for instance, between a farmhouse and a barn, and were quite effective.  Chari has a funny story about one of these when she was a girl.

I was visiting my cousin Jeanne. We were both about ten years old. Her bedroom was large and covered the whole attic. We made a “phone” from 2 cans and a wire so we could talk after ‘quiet time’. One night we were using ‘the phone’ when the wire came in contact with a wall outlet and shorted out every fuse in the house. My uncle couldn’t understand what happened. We certainly didn’t enlighten him!

The first pay telephones were nothing more than regular phones with a locked coin box next to them.  Money was dropped into the box on the “honor system”.  But displays of old coin phones reminded me of a story my Grandmother told on herself, which we in the family found hilarious.  If she was out shopping, and knew there was no one at home, she would often put a dime in a pay phone and call her own number.  Naturally, no one would answer, and when she hung up, her dime would fall back into the coin return drop.  She was “cheating” the phone company by making a call for free!

The technology for “dial” phones was invented in 1892, and was used on a small scale. Because of the huge exchange required, it wasn’t until thirty years later, in 1922 when New York City was able to begin using the system.  But I can remember well, as a kid, having a phone at home with no dial.  You would pick up the receiver and hear the operator saying, “Number, puleeze.”  I thought it interesting to see the first “dial” phones had 11 holes, not the ten we’re more familiar with.  The 11th was used to connect to the Long Distance” operator.  Touch-tone phones were introduced in 1964.

There are numerous other displays of phone-related stuff.  Bell-shaped glass paperweights, telephone pole insulators, switchboards, toy phones; you name it, the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum has it!  They also have a huge display of non-telephone type things…  antique cars and trucks, washing machines, Victrolas, cash registers, musical instruments, arrowheads.  They even had a newspaper clipping showing a photo of the dead Elvis laying in his coffin! I think we’ve come full circle here.

The first phones used a sulphuric acid glass battery and one of the first telephones capable of making long distance calls used six batteries. There was a sign describing the first phone call as Steve mentioned. Toward the bottom it talked about how the telephone had been the “social glue” that held people together as families moved away from each other. I’d never thought of the phone in that sense but it’s very true. One of the exhibits I enjoyed the most was seeing the switchboards that were used in the Jimmy Carter National Campaign Headquarters. They looked much older than I would have expected for 1976. When Jimmy Carter was nominated for president, Plains, Georgia had only 24 lines for calls coming into town. Almost overnight the service had to be expanded to handle thousands of calls. The process for doing this was described.

As I wandered among the phone displays I took special note of the change when desk telephones changed from something strictly utilitarian to something decorative and functional. The sets were named after the shape of the stand such as potbelly or candlestick. Moving from telephone sets into switchboards and telephone poles I found myself humming “I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road searching for another overload“. I asked Steve if he found himself singing it too. No but thanks a lot. Now that you’ve mentioned the song I’ll probably be singing it all day. 

This is truly a hidden gem you should take time to see if you come to this area.

3 thoughts on “Something’s Phone-y In Georgia

  1. Sounds like something I would love to see, we have a few old phones from the 60’s, Happy trails! And by the way happy birthday CHARI, hope you had a wonderful day…

  2. Pingback: A Public Service Announcement From The Switchboard | The Accidental Kansan

  3. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s
    both educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is an issue that too few folks are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy that I stumbled across this in
    my hunt for something relating to this.

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