By Allan Goddard
I know the younger readers of this article will have a puzzled look on their faces as to … what does two shorts and a long mean. Before the days of social media, both good and bad, there was the local telephone operator and party lines. Oh, I can envision the seniors of the community starting to reminisce about joys of a party line and rubber necking. Don’t feel bad, the writer of this article is also part of this age group. For the young’un’s, a party line was like having ALL of the community as one of your friends on Face Book, without the advantage of Messenger.
Breton’s telephone operator was Eleanor Reid… let the stories begin. Eleanor and her husband George moved to Breton in 1945 where George worked as a mechanic, and later as a trucker delivering supplies to the lumber camps. In April 1947 Eleanor became the operator of the telephone office. Eleanor had experience working as an operator in Westlock before she was married. The job of a telephone operator was one which many young women had in the first half of the 20th century.
At that time the exchange consisted of four lines, one for long distance and three local business lines. Remember this was just for Breton. You know you live in a small town when your phone number is 4. Within a few years phones were becoming more common, so more long-distance lines were added and the switch board enlarged to accommodate additional local telephones.
Fire destroyed the telephone exchange in 1950 but it was soon rebuilt. During the 1950’s Eleanor not only had Breton customers, but two rural telephone mutuals: one for the rural Breton area and one for the Funnell District, and later a switch board for the Breton Hospital.
In the case of the Funnell Telephone Mutual which started in 1958 with 25 customers, ON ONE LINE, and was connected to the Breton Exchange. After five years, as more customers wanted telephone service the Funnell Mutual was expanded but this time there were only eight customers to a line. Which brings me to the term “Rubber-Necking”, the dictionary definition is … to stare wonderingly or inquisitive. It also was used to refer to the listening in on a telephone conversation. As more people quietly picked up the telephone receiver to listen in, the poorer the connection became. And you thought that Face Book spread news fast.
Eleanor ran the telephone exchange until 1965 when the telephone system was automated. Even after the automation of dialing, the party line continued. By the time we received phone service in the late 1960’s, the lines were installed underground and each line had a maximum of 4 customers to a line. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s, under Premier Don Getty, that private phone lines were installed in rural Alberta.
Recently the Breton Museum received, as a donation, the head set which Eleanor Reid used in the Breton Telephone Exchange. I have to wonder what juicy conversations that headset has heard.
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