Thread Number: 78287  /  Tag: Other Home Products or Autos
Party Line Telephone Service - Tell Me Why
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Post# 1023116   1/31/2019 at 01:41 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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What gave with sharing a telephone line with your neighbors or half the town. Couldn't people afford their own private lines?

Just got finished watching an episode of Alfred Hitchcock presents where the plot revolves around a party line (gossip, busybodies, murder....), and don't see why anyone would put up with such a thing. Or maybe am missing something.

Post# 1023117 , Reply# 1   1/31/2019 at 02:01 by ea56 (Sonoma Co.,CA)        

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In rural areas there weren’t sufficient lines to accommodate private lines for everybody that wanted one, no matter how much you were prepared to pay. That was the situation for my family in the 60’s when we moved to the country. We had five on our party line, and I can assure you that my Mom would have gladly paid extra for a private line, she LOVED talking on the phone, and that five party line really hampered her.

Now, when I got my first telephone in 1971, it was a matter of economics, a two party line was I believe $2.65 per mo, a private line was $5.35. When I was netting about $40 to $50 per week, even that small amount made a difference.


Post# 1023118 , Reply# 2   1/31/2019 at 03:16 by MattL (Flushing, MI)        

Exactly.  Shortage of lines was probably a bigger reason than cost.  We had a party line when I was young because that is all there was, after a few years it was private but they had to build a new switching station to accommodate all the lines.

Post# 1023137 , Reply# 3   1/31/2019 at 08:46 by Kate1 (Idaho)        

When my mother’s parents were young, this part of Idaho was almost entirely rural. Even the city I live in now was almost entirely farm land. Surrounding towns are still very rural with tiny main streets with most of the businesses and a few streets with residential houses and then the rest is farm land and rural houses. I deliver mail in one of those surrounding towns, for perspective I do one of only two city mail routes. Two. The rest are all rural and that post office has only one zip code. In the early days of telephone, a lot of those on remote farms didn’t even have telephones available to them and in these tiny towns, individual phone lines would have been enormously expensive so having a party line was the best solution. They were still better off in case of an emergency than those who didn’t have any phone at all.

Post# 1023143 , Reply# 4   1/31/2019 at 09:09 by estesguy (kansas)        
5 party line ?

With 5 on a line, how would you call any of them, assuming you wanted to. My parents had a 2 party line, for economics I'm sure. Wichita wouldn't have had line limitation issues. But the party we were with was a family across the street that we were friends with. So if we wanted to call them, you had to dial what was a ring test number I believe, hang up the phone, let it start ringing and when it stopped ringing you knew they had picked up, then you picked up the receiver and started talking. The most convoluted thing I've ever had to deal with.

Note: We had the standard issue Western Electric wall telephone with rotary dial issued in the late 50s. When you picked up the receiver, you got a dial tone. So the ring test would have allowed for only a 2 party line at most.

This post was last edited 01/31/2019 at 11:06
Post# 1023151 , Reply# 5   1/31/2019 at 10:04 by ea56 (Sonoma Co.,CA)        
With 5 on a line, how would you call any of them, assuming

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you wanted to?

Well, everyone had their own ring. Ours was 1 long and 1 short, the other rings on our party line were 1 long, 1 long and 2 shorts, 2 longs and 1 long, 1 short 1 long. So, you had to pay attention to the rings to know if the call was for your line. We had two phones, a beige wall phone in the kitchen and an ivory Princess in Mom’s bedroom, both had dials, but they were disabled.

To place any call, you lifted the receiver and the operator came on the line. You announced you number (ours was Russian Gulch #3) and requested the number you wished to call. If the number was on your party line, you hung up and listened for the rings, and when they stopped, you knew your party was on the line and you picked up the receiver and commenced your call.

The worst part of this set up for us was that one of the neighbors had a business doing towing and heavy equipment work, and their 1 long and 2 shorts ring sometimes rang round the clock when the weather was bad.

Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1963 this was a culture shock, but we soon adjusted to it just fine.


Post# 1023154 , Reply# 6   1/31/2019 at 10:11 by 48bencix (Sacramento CA)        
In Martinez

I grew up in Martinez California and our next door neighbor had a party line. My mom explained how it worked. At the time we had no dial but operators who asked "number please" when you lifted the phone receiver. If we had this system today no one would be surprised because "Alexa" or other AR would do the asking! I am pretty sure it was to save money. Even now my ATT landline is about $50 per month which I consider expensive. My cell phone is only $30. So in those days the cost was relatively high. Oh, I keep the landline for emergency use, mainly. I think it is still a more fail-safe system.

Post# 1023157 , Reply# 7   1/31/2019 at 10:17 by jamiel (Detroit, Michigan)        

Depending on the manufacturer of the CO equipment, you did various dialing patterns to reach other parties on your line. We had a 2 party line until I was about 14...the opposite party was our scoutmaster, so when we figured that out we got a private line.

Post# 1023166 , Reply# 8   1/31/2019 at 11:47 by turquoisedude (Ogden & St-Liboire (where??), QC, Canada)        

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Party lines were still around up here for many years, but mostly in rural areas where 'modern' switching equipment wasn't available and Ma Bell decided it wasn't worth investing in. Odd phenomenon - in some communities, Bell turned their back on offering basic phone services because they didn't make enough profit, so Co-Operative telephone companies popped up. At our first country house in the Eastern Townships, our phone service was offered by such a co-op. The downside was that party lines were the rule, not the exception. Not surprisingly when Bell was partially dismantled back in the 1990s, the co-ops went into high gear to offer updated phone services as well as internet services and cable TV - all at prices that beat the tar out of Bell!!
And believe it or not, when Chris and I bought a country getaway house in 1995, we still had the option of having a party line as our phone service. We took it - we were the only ones on the line anyway and it cost about 1/4 of what Bell wanted for a single-line service. They were on our case for YEARS trying to get us to switch. Sadly, we moved... LOL

Post# 1023167 , Reply# 9   1/31/2019 at 12:06 by washerboy (Little Rock Arkansas)        
as late as 1989

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In 1989 My first job out of college was in rural south Arkansas. I was on a party line: I had the special ring..long forgotten. I really don't every remember it being a problem.

Now on the other sweet grandmother lived in rural Tennessee..she was on a party line and it made for a hell of a good time for her. She knew everyone's business in the county. I always knew she was doing something she shouldn't when I walked into the room and she gave me that "look" with her hand over the mouth piece. I don't know what she enjoyed more..the game show (I can't remember the name) with Monty Hall, Perry Mason or ease dropping on people's telephone conversations.

Post# 1023171 , Reply# 10   1/31/2019 at 12:56 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
with Monty Hall

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Let's Make A Deal!

Post# 1023172 , Reply# 11   1/31/2019 at 12:59 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Episode That Got Me Thinking

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Post# 1023175 , Reply# 12   1/31/2019 at 13:07 by DADoES (TX, U.S. of A.)        

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TurquoiseDude:  Odd phenomenon - in some communities, Bell turned their back on offering basic phone services because they didn't make enough profit,
Not at all odd.  Profit is the driving force for Bell, AT&T, XYZ, whatever is their nomer this week.

One of my aunts/uncles had a party line on their rural road/area for some years (they married in 1969).  I recall we'd be visiting, the phone would ring, they'd listen for a moment ... "That's not ours."

Post# 1023176 , Reply# 13   1/31/2019 at 13:14 by wayupnorth (On a lake between Bangor and Bar Harbor)        

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The original phone in my home, which was our families camp in the summer back then was on a 12 party line. Our ring was 1 long, 1 short and one long. Ironically, I still have the same phone number but it is a private line now.

Post# 1023187 , Reply# 14   1/31/2019 at 15:54 by IowaBear (Cedar Rapids, IA)        

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Very entertaining training film.  It must have an interesting job trying to police bad behaviors among party line subscribers.  Hard to imagine such a thing these days given how inconsiderate people are in general.

Post# 1023189 , Reply# 15   1/31/2019 at 15:55 by Iheartmaytag (Wichita, Kansas)        

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My mother knew of an older lady that her main entertainment was listening in on the party line. She could then gossip about the neighbors with absolute first hand knowledge.

Post# 1023194 , Reply# 16   1/31/2019 at 16:35 by RP2813 (West Coast)        

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Residential telephone lines in any format have never been a profitable sector for providers of switched network/local exchange services.  Local exchange carriers were mandated to offer residential service, but relied on measured rate business lines and Long Distance charges for compensatory revenue. 


The Bell System break-up and subsequent systematic stripping away of regulations for local exchange services have resulted in monthly rates seven or eight times higher than they were 25 years ago.  The telcos have always been provided a guaranteed rate of return for such services, and as a result of deregulation and the telcos' collective push to abandon copper service entirely, they have been allowed to raise their rates.  Even though nothing has changed with residential service for about twenty years or so, the rates have gone up to compensate for the negative return on investment.  In the past, most PUCs wouldn't have allowed this, but regulatory power over the telcos these days is negligible compared to what it used to be.

Post# 1023197 , Reply# 17   1/31/2019 at 17:01 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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Well it seems if one had been around back then would have been spared the indignity (*LOL*) of party line service. By 1930 NYC didn't have them, so that would have been me sorted.

If am understanding this correctly, parts of PA had party lines right up until the 2000's. That's hard to credit.

Post# 1023213 , Reply# 18   1/31/2019 at 18:53 by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

We had a party line until about '58 or '59. It was 4-party service, and two of the other subscribers hogged the line for hours - my mom said one day that Georgia N. and Ruth S. were on (with each other) every time she tried the line for 13 hours! After discussing this with my dad, Mom called the phone company (Ohio Consolidated at the time) the next day to request a private line. It took a few weeks for installation, but that was the last time we had to contend with waiting to use the phone. Many years later (80's), we discovered they had actually put us on another party line with no other subscribers. One day the upstairs phone (AE 80) quit ringing, along with the ringer box for the basement wall phone, but the ringer in the WE 2554 wall phone would now ring. When we contacted GTE, they told us they had installed new switching equipment, and our phones with frequency type ringers would no longer ring. The repairman visited, and replaced the ringer in the AE 80 with a straight-line type so it would work. He told us we were now on a true private line.

I really enjoyed the film Launderess posted, and got a good laugh out of it. The marionettes reminded me of the sequence in a movie I saw as a kid - "Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm".

Post# 1023218 , Reply# 19   1/31/2019 at 19:38 by RP2813 (West Coast)        

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Yes, ringer wiring in the guts of the telephone was different for party lines as opposed to private lines.  Among collectors of vintage telephones, there have been many requests on collector sites for help to get a found vintage phone to ring due to the instrument having been configured for party line service.


When we moved into a new house (to us -- it was built in 1927) in 1960, we discovered that we were on a party line.  I was six and not using the phone much yet, but my dad had no patience for whatever woman was constantly using the line (I remember him yelling at her) and switched our service to a private line post haste.  I presume the switch involved a technician visit to reconfigure the ringer wiring in our telephone.  I was probably at school that day.

Post# 1023222 , Reply# 20   1/31/2019 at 19:50 by jeb (Mansfield Ohiio)        
Party Line

We had a party line up through the 70's. It was all that was available to us at the time. If you wanted to call someone on the party line you dialed their number, hung up, then waited for your phone to ring. When we did get a private line (along with everyone else on the line) our friends up the road were on another exchange and it was long distance to call them. You could wave to them but to call them it cost long distance rates. Our little community was in the corner of three towns. We went to Butler school, had a Bellville address, and a Lucas phone. Needless to say all of our school friends were a long distance call!

Post# 1023234 , Reply# 21   1/31/2019 at 21:19 by cadman (Cedar Falls, IA)        

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I'm not sure when frequency ringers came into their own. I know it was an option on the early 500 sets, but to hear family talk about their party lines in the 50's/60's, it was still ring-pattern based.

When my grandparents built their retirement home in rural MN and moved in around '80, they were on a party line with a separate ringer wire. They had that phone plan for years but never did hear another party on the line. Kept their rotary until the 90's, too, as the Touch-Tone plan cost extra!

Post# 1023237 , Reply# 22   1/31/2019 at 21:40 by fan-of-fans (Florida)        
Party line

Don't remember ever being on a party line.

But, my parents bought a house built in the 1970s and there were phone jacks in the kitchen and living room. The bedrooms had two locations each with telephone wires but no jack plate installed. My dad decided to put in some phone jacks to the wires. When he did they plugged in a phone and got a message that they were on a party line. This was during the 1990s well after party lines.

They never could figure out what happened and ended up just not using phones in the bedrooms until getting digital phone and cable.

Anyone heard of wiring causing a party line message? My guess was he must have attached the wires incorrectly.

Post# 1023242 , Reply# 23   1/31/2019 at 22:36 by RP2813 (West Coast)        

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Even though NYC was still enjoying its long gone status as the center of the universe back in the olden days (including that of AT&T), it's still amazing to me that party lines were gone by 1930.  I doubt this was so in the immediate suburban exchanges. 


Many parts of the country were lucky to have any telephone service available at all in 1930.  As has always been the case, Ma Bell was following the money and shunning areas that weren't going to provide an immediate return on investment.  Thank goodness for government regulations that changed all of that, albeit at a snail's pace.  


These days, the situation is repeating itself with telcos not being under any obligation to provide high speed internet service to rural areas if it's not worth their trouble.





Post# 1023250 , Reply# 24   2/1/2019 at 00:42 by sarahperdue (Alabama)        
Party lines, etc.

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My grandparents had a party line until the late 1970s in an Alabama town so small our entering and leaving signs are on opposite sides of the same post. Operator assisted long distance calls were the norm into the 80s. The advent of one plus dialing was a big deal. (and being rural, just about everybody was long distance--I get that whole "you can see your neighbor wave but it's a long distance call thing.")

I now own their home and have the same phone number. I'd say it's been the same since 1938, but I know it changed with the advent of 7 digit dialing. I had to call Triple A for service this afternoon... I'm not sure what map the dispatcher was looking at when she asked if I was between Rodeo Drive and the post office.
"M'am, we lost our post office and zip code in 1976..." (and we don't have any drives...they're all roads and only a few of them are paved.)

Both of our homes have POTS--plain old (hardwired, copper line) telephone service. Telcos are trying to phase out POTS and often use bundled services and deals to bait and switch users to digital or VoIP. A friend designs 911 systems, and he told me several years ago that current POTS line subscribers were protected by law--at least for now. Our landline in our primary home is also POTS, but AT&T switched us without fully disclosing what they were doing as part of an internet upgrade. We figured out what they'd done when the tornadoes hit us (Tuscaloosa Alabama) in 2011, and our phone wouldn't work. We had to fight to get the POTS line back. Maybe it's the country girl in me, but I still want to be hardwired, and I want my phone to work when the power is out... Interestingly, the power line is still strung on poles to the country house, but the telephone line has been buried for decades.


Post# 1023333 , Reply# 25   2/1/2019 at 21:11 by petek (Ontari ari ari O )        

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We had a two party line growing up until about 1965. The "party" was my aunt and uncle next door which worked out perfectly because mom could call my aunt by dialling 1191 instead of their full number Di4-0596 (still remember it). As well because my grandma and great aunt who both lived 100 miles away could call mom or my aunt and one of us kids would run next door to tell our moms to pick up the phone and they could have a 3 way call without paying for it.

Party lines still exist here with Bell but you cannot sign up for one any longer My friend still has his but his "party" he figures has long ago either died or got rid of hers. I don't think Bell can discontinue it as much as they'd like to .

Post# 1023336 , Reply# 26   2/1/2019 at 22:19 by askolover (South of Nash Vegas, TN)        

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I recall my mother talking about her mom having a party line into the 70's.  She lived in a little spot on the map town 10 miles from us.  We all had the same telephone company though...Loretto Telephone Company.  Lawrenceburg and Summertown had Bell Telephone.  Lawrenceburg was local but Summertown was long distance...and it was only a 30 mile drive within the same county.

Post# 1023359 , Reply# 27   2/2/2019 at 08:28 by polkanut (Wausau, WI )        

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My parents were on a party line until the mid '80's.  At the time I had a clock radio with a phone that was set up for a private line only.  When the phone in my bedroom would ring my sisters and I would pick up and eavesdrop until Mom or Dad caught us.  I still remember the name of the lady on our line, Viola Hansen.  She was the neighborhood gossip so it was great to be able to get one over on her once in awhile. wink

Post# 1023360 , Reply# 28   2/2/2019 at 08:31 by jamiel (Detroit, Michigan)        

Tennessee had a strange situation where the state required than anyone in the county be able to call the county seat for a local call. They also had a requirement quite late that each county had to have a pay phone (generally at the courthouse) available for the citizenry.

Post# 1023415 , Reply# 29   2/2/2019 at 18:24 by Iej (Ireland)        

The party line may have went away but the phone companies continued to use various multiplexing technologies to get extra customers onto the same cooper pair for many years.

They used what was often referred to as "pair gain" or in the UK "DACS". The earliest systems just put an extra line on the copper pair by shifting the frequency up out of range of your ears. So called carrier line systems.
The second line was just occupying frequencies you couldn't hear. Fairly simple equipment at either end could shift it down to normal audio channels again.

Later systems used digital time division multiplexing to carry multiple lines simultaneously.

Pair gain became less necessary as cheaper, smaller digital concentrators became widespread when TDM based digital switches like Bell Labs 5ESS and Nortel DMS in North America or Ericsson AXE, Alcatel E10 and S12, Siemens ESWD and so on in Europe.

By the mid 80s smaller remote switching units made rural communities much more cost effective but then very small cabinet based remote switches / concentrators meant you could put them far closer to end users.

That meant instead of hundreds of long and expensive copper pairs, you'd short ones terminating in a cabinet and a fibre running back to the main switch in a central office.

The advent of DSL (ADSL or VDSL) also killed pairgain and shared wires because you need dedicated copper to each end user.

At this stage the phone network's primary purpose is to carry data and the copper is vanishing and being replaced bit by bit with fibre to home.

Voice service is really just an app on an IP network

If you still have dial tone service from a central office PSTN switch maybe make a recording of it because in a decade or so that stuff will be as obsolete as VHS tapes and telex/teletype.

Post# 1023420 , Reply# 30   2/2/2019 at 19:29 by cehalstead (Charleston, WV)        
party line time line

Rock Hudson and Doris Day were party line neighbors in NYC (Pillow Talk)in 1959 and the Ricardos were on a party line in "I Love Lucy". I doubt that party lines were gone by 1930 in NYC. TV and Hollywood wouldn't have used them as story lines almost thirty years later........

Post# 1023466 , Reply# 31   2/3/2019 at 07:52 by Iej (Ireland)        

There were party lines that offered privacy though too. You'd things like a polarity switch that cut off the other party while the line was in use by reversing the polarity on the line.

I've heard stories from Ireland in the days of crossbar switching in the 50s, 60s and 70s. My aunt was telling me that there was an exchange in the small village she lived in and occasionally the switch would go wrong resulting in crossed lines with the system bleeding audio between circuits. Sometimes they could speak to each other, sometimes they were just able to hear an on going call. Being a very small town, it meant that you could usually identify the other people's voices.

It didn't happen very often but it did happen if a crossbar frame jammed in a a particular way. Being little remote units they wouldn't have had someone on site all the time.

This would have likely been a tiny Ericsson ARK crossbar remote switch with at most 150 lines.

Apparently that's why everyone was always a bit careful of what they said on the phone.

If you'd had a crossed line on a big switch in a city, it was far less likely you would know the person as it could have been switching 15,000+ lines. These little rural systems were barely bigger than an office PABX and small towns are full of gossips.

Post# 1023468 , Reply# 32   2/3/2019 at 09:23 by fan-of-fans (Florida)        
Lines crossed

About 10 years ago I got a call like that. I could hear two other conversations going on but they couldn't seem to hear me. I didn't recognize the voices.

Another time I got a call and when I picked up, I heard a ringing tone as if I was calling someone else and waiting on them to answer. When they picked up, it was someone speaking fast in what sounded like Chinese. When they stopped I just said "hello?" and they said something else and the call disconnected.

I believe both of those instances were when we were still on plain old telephone line service, before we switched to Comcast VoIP.

I don't remember if we had caller ID back then or not, it would have been interesting to see what it read in both cases.

Post# 1023470 , Reply# 33   2/3/2019 at 09:55 by iej (Ireland)        

The only thing that could possibly cause that is you were going through a 'space and time' switching system. Some designs (not exclusively earlier) of digital switch had an analogue layer of crosspoint switching (usually using reed relays, not crossbars). They used that so avoid having to have dedicated digital line cards for every line. Other designs just went pure digital.

AFAIK the AT&T / Bell 5ESS took the space-time approach, certainly in older versions.
In Europe very old versions of Ericsson AXE did until the early 1980s, while systems like Alcatel E10 were pure TDM since the 1970s.

It's possible that the crosspoint layer of switching caused a crossed line.

Still a pretty cool 'accident' to hear. Probably one of the last little bits of analogue equipment in the network!

At this stage, even the POTS systems are not very likely to be using the same technology behind the scenes. The local switches may still be the same gear, but by now, a lot of the major switches even at local level are VoIP soft-switches just running on generic server hardware. They often refer to them as things like IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) but it's basically just VoIP done at a 'carrier-grade' level of quality and integrated into older systems. They're no different to what you'd see in any data centre. The local switches however might be retained a while to generate the dial tones and provide an edge layer for digitalising voice signals, just like they always did until copper service finally dies out completely.

As amazing as the new technology is, it's a bit sad to see the telephone network become nothing but an application on internet protocols. Sort of the end of a whole century of technology.

Post# 1023475 , Reply# 34   2/3/2019 at 10:35 by Yogitunes (New Jersey)        

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my aunt in Long Island, NY had a party line for years until she sold her house in 1987...she always called Mom after midnight, supposedly the rates were lower, and less chance anyone needing the phone....

also while visiting a friends winter home in Rutland, Vermont in 1990....mainly this was used in the winter season near Killington Mountain Ski Resort....was still surprised a party line was in use....

I guess many times it was a matter of cost, and of having a phone service, but not really needing it exclusively

I don't recall any special ring tone....never got to use one much, so don't know all the ins and out of having one...

someone could pick up and hear your conversation, or you theirs...but was also told, if you picked up while someone was using the line, you didn't hear anything, not even a dial tone, meaning someone was using the line.....

I also thought there was an indicator light on the phone, if flashing while ringing, it was for you, a steady light meant the phone was in use by someone else...

heck, I was glad we got touch-tone service in the late 70's.....the 7 digit number dialing was bad enough, then tack on the area one point they added the Dial 1 first....and pray you didn't get a busy up, and start over!

just stuff kids today will never understand, where we were, and to what we have advanced into...

Post# 1023481 , Reply# 35   2/3/2019 at 11:42 by iej (Ireland)        

In a lot of cases, they just added new registers to crossbars which allowed touch tone signalling. They weren't necessarily digital switches.

AFAIK touch tone / DTMF was possible since the 60s.

Post# 1023484 , Reply# 36   2/3/2019 at 11:54 by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

My local CO has Siemens EWSD switches. Back when we still had POTS, call drops etc were very rare but once or twice a few random things happened. One time I was talking to someone who was on POTS out of the same CO and the call just went to dead air. I hung up and dialed the number again and it instantly reconnected the call because they never hung up. The DMS100 out of the CO at work never had any such blips in service however the 5ESS at my grandmas CO had a bad line card that I would receive in circulation every once in awhile that produced a horrible screeching dial tone.

Post# 1023488 , Reply# 37   2/3/2019 at 13:01 by petek (Ontari ari ari O )        

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As far as I've ever experienced , the two party lines had normal rings and would only ring in the house being called.. The multi party lines was where each house had a distinct ring pattern.. My sister out in the sticks was on one with about 4 others and had their pattern..It became sort of second nature to only "hear" your own ring so she said.

Post# 1023491 , Reply# 38   2/3/2019 at 13:11 by iej (Ireland)        

I know our landline was on an Ericsson AXE 10 or AXE 810 and I don't remember a single glitch ever. Those systems are absolutely bullet proof. I think that switch was in service in various generations since about 1980. It's still there albeit probably morphed somewhat into VoIP / Ericsson IMS.

AXE directly replaced and integrated with older crossbar stuff from Ericsson - ARF, ARM and ARK. I don't think they were ever used in the US, but there was a very large ARM used as Canada's international gateway for years.

The other PSTN switch that used here was Alcatel E10 which went through all sorts of generations. I know it was used here in Ireland because it was one of the earliest switches to have very flexible remotes which were ideal for the low density you get in rural Ireland.

There can be lots of reasons for a dropped call though, it might not even be the switch that was the problem. There are other pieces of equipment - it could have lost the link to a concentrator or something due to a faulty optical circuit.

A whole load of old widely used digital circuit switches have actually ended up as Nokia legacy products due to acquisitions:

Nokia DX200 (Their own switching system)
Siemens ESWD (Developed by Siemens, Bosch and DeTeWe and last owned by Siemens)
Alcatel E10 (CIT-Alcatel - the first generations of which were live in the French network in 1972 and the last generations of it are modern enough to natively support VoIP)
Lucent 5ESS (Originally Bell Labs / Western Electric)

Post# 1023500 , Reply# 39   2/3/2019 at 14:19 by cornutt (Huntsville, AL USA)        

AFAIK, frequency ringing was mainly a Strowger / Automatic Electric thing. WE switches mainly did selective ringing by using different combinations of tip/ring/ground for the ring voltage. The AE system could do selective ringing on an 8-party line, which the WE system couldn't do.

I remember us being on a party line in north Alabama when I was very young, 1960-61 It was a frequency ringing system, but there were only two parties on the line. When the other party was called, if you were near the phone, you could hear the ringer hum. In 1962, the other party switched to a private line service. For several years afterward, we were the only party on the line, which my dad like because we in effect had a private line at the cost of a party line. Around 1965 Southern Bell started eliminating in-town party lines, and they made everyone who still had one switch to a private line.

As far as the rural exchanges go, there was a company called Kellogg (not the cereal company) which sold tons of manual switchboards and phones to rural co-ops and private telephone companies. At one time, this was a booming business for them. If you looked in on a co-op exchange in the U.S. anytime between about 1900 and 1950, it probably had Kellogg switching equipment.

Post# 1023502 , Reply# 40   2/3/2019 at 14:40 by ea56 (Sonoma Co.,CA)        

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I was a telephone operator from 1976-78 in the Santa Rosa, Calif. toll office for the 707 area code. This was the same office and switchboard that serviced our 5 party line from 1963 until 1971. When I worked there we still had a few toll stations further north that had multiple party lines like my family had, and we still manually rang thru the party line calls for these numbers from the switchboard, uxing the ring key on the board, there was nothing automated about it at all.

We did get used to listening for our ring, but it was still annoying to have 4 other customers rings in our home round the clock, and we never really got used to that, it was a PITA that we just had to accept in order to have a telephone in the house.

Conversely, when I had a two party line in Petaluma, Calif. from 1971-72, only the customer on the party line that was receiving a call could hear their ring in their home. I never heard the phone ring in my home for the other party line customer.


Post# 1023503 , Reply# 41   2/3/2019 at 15:15 by Iej (Ireland)        

Record some of the last generation of PSTN. It's something that we'll be looking back at in 10 years with huge nostalgia.

Post# 1023509 , Reply# 42   2/3/2019 at 16:25 by fan-of-fans (Florida)        

So some places don't have any dial tone when you pick up the receiver? I didn't know that. I've always heard that here.

Post# 1023513 , Reply# 43   2/3/2019 at 17:35 by ea56 (Sonoma Co.,CA)        

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On our 5 party line we didn’t have a dial tone, because we couldn’t dial. When you lifted the receiver, you got the sound of a phone ringing, the operator would answer by saying “Operator”, and the caller would identify their number, and the number they wished to call and the operator made the connection from the switchboard, and manually completed the billing information on mark sense cards, like IBM cards. The numbers were filled in with a pencil. Also the time on and off for the calls were recorded by superimposing the face of a clock on the ticket when the call answered and when the caller hung up, with a machine called a Calculiograpgh, just like we did when I was an operator for all operator assisted calls.


Post# 1023519 , Reply# 44   2/3/2019 at 19:11 by iej (Ireland)        

Way back at the dawn of automatic phone services, a lot of switches didn't provide a dial tone at all. You just picked up and dialled. However, as things got bigger and busier they started to have to share equipment a lot more between growing numbers of customers and you couldn't guarantee that you'd pick up a phone and just be able to dial, so dial tones were introduced to give people an indication that the system was ready to receive digits.

If you go back to electromechanical switching days, you picked up the phone and got silence and clicks as line finder systems went hunting for an available slot on equipment - which could have been directly into a stepping switch, or a register which received digits into what was effectively an analogue, relay based computer in crossbars and other 'common control' switches. Then when a free stepper switch or a register was found, you got a dial tone.

A step-by-step switch (Strowger) typically move as each digit is dialled. There's no intelligence and you're literally controlling the mechanism with your dial. You were literally navigating through a switch with each digit you dialled.

Crossbars received the digits in a register, which was originally relay-based logic and later may have been computerised, that then passed the digits to a 'marker' which figured out the route through the switching matrix and setup a path. So they were actually using intelligence and logic, even if it was often 100% analog. They were basically analog computers. Amazing pieces of technology when you consider how reliable they were given the technical limitations of relay logic. Some of the basic concepts from that stuff have ended up carrying through to modern microprocessors too.

Panel and Rotary type were also common control, albeit it done quite differently.


On digital switches it would be very, very unusual not go get a dial tone immediately when you pick up the phone. So, in reality dial tones probably haven't been needed for a very long time.

If you were going through to an operator service on an old system, you'd have picked up the phone and either got silence and then the operator, or a ringing tone and then the operator.

Post# 1023594 , Reply# 45   2/4/2019 at 19:04 by jeb (Mansfield Ohiio)        
Party line

On our party line system only the phone being called rang. When you picked up the phone to dial out if you heard talking you where suppose to gentle replace the receiver and try again a few minutes later. If it was still the same party talking after a while you would get frustrated and pick it up and hang it up frequently and loudly to let them know somebody wanted the line. If somebody picked it up and listened to your call you could tell because the call quality suffered. If you needed to call home in an emergency you could call the operator and they would listen in and ask the two parties to hang up so a call could use the line. Of course they would pick up in a few minutes to listen in to see what the emergency was! Louie Bromfield's "Malabar Farm" is in my area and he had a party line. When famous people from Hollywood would call everybody listened in and he would have to ask the other people on the line to hang up so he could hear his party. He was also known to cuss a lot but being a gentleman would tell people he was getting angry and was about to cuss so if they didn't want to hear it they better get off the line.

Post# 1023605 , Reply# 46   2/4/2019 at 21:57 by RP2813 (West Coast)        

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The millennials have really missed out on something.  They have no sense of or feeling about the analog world. 


Just within the past couple of weeks I activated a rotary phone on my AT&T fiber service and it worked fine, but one thing I noticed was a real throwback to the crossbar days:  after dialing the first digit, I heard a brief dial tone.  I've read that this used to be an indicator that five digit dialing was an option.  I never knew this when we were on a crossbar switch or I would have taken advantage of it.  Odd that fiber service, which runs through the U-verse gateway, would provide this archaic indicator.  There must be an explanation.


I am loving the stories and tech talk here! 


Much as some of us here have our horror stories about working for The Phone Company, it was an amazing operation to be a part of, and I have nothing but respect for the Bell System. 

Post# 1023608 , Reply# 47   2/4/2019 at 23:36 by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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I specifically remember our phone book pointedly stating it is a crime to falsify an emergency so you can break through the party line to make a phone call, and probably shouldn't listen in on, either...

Mr. Ed did on one episode, in which Wilbur scolded him for, whereas I had a cousin who knew just about everything about the party line that you all do and are discussing here... (as did the gal who used to live across the street)

-- Dave

Post# 1023610 , Reply# 48   2/5/2019 at 01:35 by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        

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I love this stuff!

Post# 1023611 , Reply# 49   2/5/2019 at 01:46 by Supersuds (Knoxville, Tenn.)        

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Ralph, what did you do to “activate” your rotary phone with U-verse? Mine doesn’t work and I assumed it was hopeless.

Like jeb’s, our family’s party line didn’t have a special ring and we didn’t know when the other party was getting a call. The other family, an older couple, were not heavy phone users and I don’t recall the party line as being a big annoyance, but my folks did get a private line as soon as South Central Bell made them available in our new neighborhood, about 1971 I think. It required a new phone number, with the 524 exchange rather than the 588 exchange we’d had up to then. The next year’s Yellow Pages accidentally listed our new number as being that of a large Catholic Church, and that made things rather too lively, so we had to change numbers again, this time to the then-new 693 exchange. So, three different exchanges in as many years, for one house.

As Jamie said, in Tennessee you could call anywhere in your home county as a local call, I believe.

Post# 1023612 , Reply# 50   2/5/2019 at 02:42 by RP2813 (West Coast)        

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John, I have U-verse TV and internet service along with a land line.  TV/internet and land line service are provided by two different divisions of AT&T, and I get two bills (dumb and wasteful on AT&T's part).  I was expecting that the land line would be provided over copper, but the day that both the land line and the U-verse were installed, I was advised that the land line would be running on fiber and as a result, it relied on the U-verse fiber gateway box, which is in our basement and runs off of our 120 volt electrical service.  I was bummed, but for now I'm leaving things as they are.


I think my post further up mistakenly gave the impression that if you subscribe to U-verse over fiber, you can hook up a phone, but that's not the case (except with VOIP, I guess).  You need to have a separate land line service.  Per the installer, the land line's fiber delivers dial tone from the switched network just like copper, but it relies on the gateway for its connection.  From the gateway, it's plain old category 5 wiring to standard RJ11 jacks inside the house.  I'm in the process of adding onto it for more extensions, but it's been cold in our unheated basement so for now it's on hold, so to speak.


Post# 1023683 , Reply# 51   2/5/2019 at 16:06 by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

Over fiber you can still get traditional POTS or you can get Uverse VoIP. Since you say you have a separate bill and can use a rotary phone, you probably have POTS over that fiber, which is exactly the same as a copper POTS line except for the fact that it's coming in over the fiber and being terminated to copper in the basement. (and doesn't have a whole CO's worth of batteries backing it up in case of power failure). 


The Uverse VoIP service doesn't support pulse dialing IIRC. 


The DMS100 here at work made that brief moment of dial tone after the first pulse digit dialed, probably the same switch your CO uses. I don't think it has any meaning today as this area has been 10 digit dialing for the last decade. 

Post# 1023688 , Reply# 52   2/5/2019 at 16:33 by RP2813 (West Coast)        

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Yes, I think our CO has been upgraded from the 1A switch it had been on since the early '80s.  DMS100 or 5E would have been the likely replacement.  POTS over fiber is what I'm on for the land line.


This all started when a friend of mine with U-verse VOIP lost her land line and required a technician visit.  She pays extra for inside wiring coverage.  She went out to an antiques co-op and bought a rotary phone because she wanted to make sure her cordless phone system wasn't the problem.  I scolded her, since I have more spare rotary sets than I know what to do with. 


The technician told her that a rotary phone wouldn't work on her service.  Thinking U-verse was U-verse regardless of copper or fiber, I hooked up my 1950 WECo model 500 and gave her a call, which completed successfully.   I haven't checked with her to see if her rotary phone does or doesn't work.  I've heard reports of yes and no from people with VOIP, but it sounds like it depends on the carrier.

Post# 1023690 , Reply# 53   2/5/2019 at 17:02 by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

There were maybe a dozen or so 1A switches that were in service in Chicago up until just after 2010-11 and they got replaced with Siemens EWSD switches. I would venture a guess and say yours could have too, though I'm still gonna guess yours was replaced with a DMS100 and was done a bit earlier on than 2010 since Nortel had already filed for bankruptcy by then. 


My home CO was built in 1977 so most likely was a 1A office and they replaced all that with Siemens by the late 90s. For some reason Ameritech liked Siemens, and even SBC/AT&T after them. 

Post# 1023898 , Reply# 54   2/7/2019 at 16:41 by Iej (Ireland)        

Back in the 80s and 90s and up until maybe the early 2000s we used to have a 'routing tone' here. It would crop up where the older generations of digital switches used database look ups or back in the 80s where it was waiting for a mechanical switch to catch up.

So you'd dial and it would go bebebebebebebe ... Ring Ring

The old crossbars here gone since the 1990s used to accept touch tone but they played a 'tick tick tick tick tick tick' signal that sounded literally like a clock ticking while they were routing the call. It wasn't just the sound of the actual relays, it was meant to mean please wait and that's why it sounded like a ticking clock.

The link below must have been recorded in the early 2000s or even 1990s. It's an Alcatel E10 digital switch here in Ireland telling you to wait while it pulled routing information from a database - possibly calling a mobile phone or special rate number. I assume they can do the lookup much faster nowadays as I haven't heard that tone in years.

Unconditional Call Forward is Active tone:

Voicemail messages waiting :

Post# 1025565 , Reply# 55   2/25/2019 at 00:39 by abcomatic (Bradford, Illinois)        
Great Thread

My first school that I taught in was in a rural town in the middle of Illinois. The phone system was called: the Inland Phone Company. If you wanted to talk with someone in town, you dialed the number and after 3 min. the phone went dead. If you wanted to talk more, you had to keep dialing the number every 3 min.

When I was in high school in 1967 I lived in Pontiac, Il. My girlfriend was an operator for the local General Telephone Company. I was going to go to the prom with another girl from a different town and had to call her to get the info. about time, date etc. In order to call Meadows, Illinois, you called the operator and the call was put through. It went like this: Her phone number was 4 red. I called the operator in Pontiac, she called the operator in Gridley, Illinois and then she put the call through to Meadows. "I would like to call Meadows, Illinois, 4 red." I then heard, "Gridley, what number Pontiac?" " Meadows 4 red." " Ringing Meadows, 4 red, thank you Pontiac."
Meadows answered. "Meadows, what number Gridley.- 4 red." "Thank you Gridley." Meadows then rang her number 4 Red. That took 10 min. to complete that call.
At school on Mon. during lunch, my girlfriend asked me what I did on Sat. night. I made up some lie. She said, "I was the operator who put your call through to Meadows last week, and by the way, who is Rose?" OOPS, busted.

Post# 1025567 , Reply# 56   2/25/2019 at 01:12 by abcomatic (Bradford, Illinois)        
Another part of party line calling.

My aunt and uncle lived on a farm south of Graymont, Il. which was 12 miles from Pontiac, west. The time was 1964. My mom called there and didn't know their number. the call went something like this. "I would like to call Wesley Black in Graymont. The operator put the call through to Graymont. Pontiac called Graymont. "What number Pontiac?" "Wesley Black." the operator told Graymont. Graymont said. "Please wait a second, the potatoes are boiling over on the stove.!" lol (The switchboard was in her house.) She also said, "Wes and Arlene (my aunt) aren't home now, they had to go to Flanagan for some groceries and won't be home until around 4." My mom could hear all of this and thanked the operator in Graymont. "What is Wes and Arlene's number?" my mom asked her. The operator in Graymont knew everyone's business and wasn't afraid to listen in. "Donna, is that you?" My mom was rather surprised at this. "Yes it is." "Their number is 3 long and 1 short." "I have heard your voice before." she said. "Oh really?" "Yes, You are Gordon's (my dad) wife aren't you?" "Yes, I am." "Tell him hi for me, we were in high school together and my name is June .....
Oh my, how times have changed. If you read the above story about Meadows and Gridley. Garymont and Flanagan are all about 15 miles apart from one another. No wonder everyone knew you business.
Thanks for listening now. Gary

Post# 1028369 , Reply# 57   3/30/2019 at 05:37 by DaveTranter (Central England)        
UK 'party line' service

Just for information......

I have no idea whether 'multi-party' lines were ever used over here for very rural areas in the manual board era, but for Strowger and crossbar switched exchanges the system here worked as follows...

One pair of wires - two subscribers.... Speech transmission was over the pair of wires as normal, both parties having access to the pair, and consequently being able to hear each other's conversations...

Exchange calling and ringing was between one wire ('leg') of the line and Earth....
Both telephone instruments on the line had a pushbutton on it, which would earth one leg of the line, activating that subscriber's equipment, and returning dial tone. loop disconnect dialling and/or DTMF signalling then took place over the copper pair....

Incoming ringing current was sent 'one leg to Earth'. A frequent fault report would be 'no ringing in dry weather' due to the increased resistance of the earth spike. Subscribers were frequently told to 'go outside and water the earth spike'!!

Needless to say, special jumpering at the exchange ensured that when either subscriber was using the line, the other's would return 'busy tone' to any attempted incoming call.....

During the early 1980s there was a big 'push' to update and extend the line plant, and most Shared-Service ('party line') lines were brought up to individual line status.

User 'iej' mentions the '1+1' carrier system, which allowed simultaneous use of one line by two subscribers, which was useful, but not very widesperad.... I think I only ever encountered about half-a-dozen of them before I left...

Hope this interests and/or amuses

All Best


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