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The Old Switchboard
Part Nine
by Romaine Walburn & Maricia Mlynek

Updated on Wednesday*:

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Telephone Co.

The word Mutual in this telephone company title makes it very unique and very different from all the other little telephone companies in Eastern Ohio. It meant that each of the customers owned and maintained their phone, fuses, battery and lines to their houses.

When there were only a few phones, this worked great, but, as the number increased, the line part became quite difficult.

Each line had a pair of wires strung from the telephone office to the home of the customer. That was accomplished with very few problems by farmers who built fence and knew how to string wire. The poles were the issue.

One whole line was strung in two days. This pleased Paul Haught, who was in charge of the lines, but when he went out with the farmers to put insulators on the poles, he was rather surprised. There were no poles. The wire was strung to trees.

This can be great for fences, but not for telephone lines. He had a hard time convincing them that the trees grounded the wires and would not work for telephone poles. The six miles of line took more than three weeks to build.

That problem was settled, but soon another arose. The wind from a hard storm could tangle the wires, and the lines would be grounded out. The only way to put the lines back in service was to untangle the wires. This sounds easy, but the wires in most places were 15 feet in the air and in spans of 30 feet.

The only thing that would untangle the wires was a light weight round stick, like a broom handle. Each line had one of these sticks located at the last house. This made it possible for the person walking the line to have a “tangle stick.” A member of each family was to learn how to use the stick.

It worked very well and with practice it was rather easy. Most of the time, it was as simple as throwing the stick straight up in the air to hit both lines at the same time. Voila, the line was repaired.

Though the concept was easy, only a few farmers ever got the knack of untangling with the stick. They became very frustrated with this process and eventually assigned the task to their sons.

Thus, Haught had a crew of young boys and his teenage daughter to walk the lines. Most of this crew became very good. They always came back to the telephone office with a tall tale of the adventure they had while fixing the lines. Some of these stories included nests of snakes, encounters with a bull, unfriendly dogs, and possum sandwiches.

   (Continued Next Week)


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