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The Old Switchboard
Part Three
by Romaine Walburn & Maricia Mlynek

Updated on Wednesday*:

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There wasn’t too much more excitement for the people of Key until the winds of war began to howl in Europe. This caused more and more people to desire phones in their homes. By 1940 there were over 25 phones in Key’s homes, not counting the ones belonging to the gas company.

On Dec. 7, 1941, it was a cloudy, cold Sunday afternoon.

The first call on that day came from Willard Neff, the local fruit farmer. He asked the operator if she had heard the news about Pearl Harbor. She had, of course. He asked her to call all of the customers and tell them, because he was sure some didn’t have radios.

This was a sad day because of the news that was shared over the lines of the switchboard.

Over the years, the switchboard was a source of both good and bad news. Calls came to warn people about all sorts of things during those war years.

Calls came in about soldiers going to war. Happy calls rang when they came home. The devastating calls were the ones that always ended in tears when soldiers were injured, killed, or never coming home. Those were hard years for everyone.

Some called the switchboard a hero during the war. The War Department made it part of a cross country bypass for the East West Cable, a main artery for telephones from one coast to the other.

Little telephone companies all across the country were asked to participate in a program that would allow phone calls to continue in the event that the East West Cable was destroyed.

They came and hooked everything up directly through Wheeling to Bellaire, Centerville, Barnesville, and Quaker City, Ohio.

Calls were sent in both directions--some going toward Washington, D.C., and others toward Los Angeles, Calif.. The switchboard and its operating family, the Haughts, were proud to serve their country in this matter.

There are lots of other war stories. Almost all of the young men in the community went away to war. Only the farm boys and fathers were left behind.

The Haughts wrote letters and sent packages every week. The Scales family had two boys and a girl go to war. They were special friends. The operator, Betty, had a baby that came close to the end of the war. She named the baby for the Scales’ daughter, Romaine, an Army nurse.

Everyone was family in Key, although they didn’t share the normal genealogical links.

Besides the calls that came through the old wires, the switchboard was a proud display area for pictures of local boys and girls wearing uniforms and fighting on foreign soil.

Countless nights and days were spent by families praying for the home line to ring and the voice of their son or daughter to be on the other end.

This is true of our phones today. The comfort that can be felt from a mere “hello” of a deployed soldier is something one cannot explain. The old switchboard made that possible for the people of Key.

(Continued Next Week)

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By Helen Morris:

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