109 r 14

 Now what could that cryptic post title possibly mean? For those of you who are old enough, you might recognise it as a telephone number, from the days when all calls had to go through an operator, or  “Central” as they were also called.

We lived on a farm. My father supplemented our income by working as an-call fireman for the (now defunct) CNR … Canadian National Railway.  So, the phone was installed to allow dad to receive calls for a “run”, maybe on a freight train, perhaps a passenger train.

Our telephone number shows that we were on the line numbered 109 (along with other subscribers). When we heard the bells ringing one long and four short signals, we knew the call was for us. So did the other subscribers on our line and we all, no exception, sometimes ‘listened in’ to private conversations. (There’s nothing new under the sun. Now government agencies, and others, do the very same. Their methods are just a tad more sophisticated.)

That’s how I learned that WWII was over; I listened in to a conversation between two neighbours. Remember, there was no 24 hour news service streamed to us, on demand. I can still recall running out of the house to happily tell my mom, who was out feeding the chooks.

Here’s what our phone looked liked in those olden days.

blog phone

The first full-time job I had was as a telephone operator in a small town in the south-west of Manitoba, Canada. I loved the job, and was thrilled when I had to make long-distance calls, maybe even across the border to the USA. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what salary I received in those long ago days, but I found one source that said the highest paid woman in such a position was earning considerably less than a man in the lowest paid clerical job. That wage discrepancy still exists, doesn’t it?

Here is the sort of switch board the other operators and I faced every day.

“Operator. Number, please.”


Then, along came rotary dial phones, and new technology, that allowed people to make many of their own calls. You developed strong index fingers, dragging that dial around!


Wonder of wonders, the push-button phones arrived.


And then, suddenly you weren’t tethered to the base of the phone by a cord, but could wander around the house as you talked, thanks to the cordless telephones. Here are some pretty nifty models from Bang and Olufsen; every home should have one of those! A new problem arose with the cordless phones. Where in heck did you leave the darn thing?

Bang and Olufsen cordless phones

Bang and Olufsen cordless phones

Now, we have phones that are smarter than us, and they represent not just a telephone, but are small mobile computers, that do as many tasks as you want/need.


You can even get a bracelet model. (Eat your heart out, Dick Tracy.)


 So, in my lifetime, I’ve seen an amazing progression in the manner in which we communicate. I wonder what the next step will be?

NB Every single image on this post was sourced through online searches.





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41 responses to “109 r 14

  1. That first phone has a face! And it looks as if it is in the middle of sighing and saying ‘I don’t know where all this is going to lead me, but I think its all going to get a bit complicated somehow…..!’ ❤


  2. Caroline

    Goodness, you were technologically advanced – we didn’t get a phone until the late 60s! It was a Trimphone with a dial and lived on a special telephone table with incorporated cushioned seat, which I remember going with my dad to ‘buy’ for Embassy cigarette coupons (remember those?). For the first few years we shared a party line with neighbours across the road. My mother had a specially ‘refined’ voice she put on for answering it: “Scunthorpe double-six-two-oh-naaine?”

    The Bank Hotel in Edinburgh has a themed ‘Alexander Graham Bell’ room, or at least it had a few years ago when we were temporarily homeless due to dry rot. It featured a wooden wall modelled on an old switchboard – or phone? – with holes & wires you could plug in and pull out to your heart’s content, and some tall wooden structures which I assume were based on telegraph poles – it was quite fun, although I think the designer may have been on drugs. Staying there might take you back! (Although probably not.)

    Now we don’t even have a landline – there doesn’t seem to be any point.


    • I absolutely adore the comments I get!

      So, did you have any hand in building up a supply of those cigarette coupons? Or, was it all down to your father to puff for the family? I’ll bet you can still hear your mother’s voice answering the phone, echoing in your ears.

      Re: the Bank Hotel and its supposed switchboard. I can’t decide whether you thought that image would take me back (perhaps), or the designer being on drugs ( a definite no!).

      Thanks for your valued contribution. How is the slave market, aka work, going?


      • Caroline

        I think this was a bit before I started smoking, so it was all down to my dad and his special smoking room (aka the downstairs loo).

        It was the switchboard bit I meant!

        My final late class this term was last night (I’ve been getting home at 10.30 four nights a week), so I’ve been celebrating this morning with a lie-in and starting to attack the email mountain. All my exam classes have now ended, so actual teaching hours are plummeting from 30.5 last week to 20 this week and 13 next week (unless they find me something else) – huzzah!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I wish I was there to make some soup for you! Those late nights must have been a real grind.


          • Caroline

            You are very kind! We’ll have to find you an apartment to rent in our block 🙂 But Chef Phil has been a real star, making my spritz when I stagger in & serving up tea when I’ve inhaled that. Luckily this run of late nights for me ended just as he was starting a new piece of work, teaching 3 mornings a week in a secondary school – with some 8am starts =:-O

            Liked by 1 person

  3. We had two long rings on our farm. When one listened in, not that I ever did, we called it rubbernecking. 🙂


  4. Wow! I had a lot of catching up to do. I had company for a couple of days and couldn’t take time to read the post.
    I don’t remember a time growing up that we didn’t have a phone in southern California. It was the black one with the rotary dial like in your picture and sat on a stand in our living room. Eventually it was moved to a shelf in the hall to allow those teenage girls (me and my sister) to have conversations and still let my dad hear the TV. We always had a private line but there was something in our phone number that was very close to a number for a local tourist attraction. Some people may know Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park Calif. Well, sometime in the late 50’s they added an alligator farm and people were always getting our number instead of the alligator farm. My mother got into the habit of saying we didn’t have alligators but had lots of cats and did they want a kitten. That ended when my father decided to answer the phone “Garner’s Cat House”. Okay, so that my explain my over developed sense of humor.
    In 1967 I graduated high school and applied for a job at the phone company. I was rejected because I couldn’t copy numbers fast enough. Pretty funny when you think that I eventually (years later) went to work for the state of Washington as a Financial Services Specialist….using a pen or pencil at first (till we got computers) to determine welfare benefits…yup, I copied lots of numbers really fast for 24 years.
    I did get a job in 1967 and when I got my first paycheck had a private line installed in my bedroom so my parents would stop complaining about all the time I spent on the phone. I had a “princess” phone. Remember those? It still had a dial.
    In 1979 I moved to North Carolina and lived out in the country. Although we didn’t have to call the operator we were still on a party line and could “listen in”. I was good and didn’t but you never know what they heard from my calls to my mother.
    I still don’t have a “smart” phone but my cell is my only phone and I still have trouble remembering the number. How often do I call myself?
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


    • You have lots of memories centred around telephones, Michelle!


      • More than you’ll ever know.
        I do love that memory of my mom and dad fielding those alligator farm wrong numbers though.
        The bad thing about the phone in the hall was it was on a shelf right above the heat register so in winter it got too warm to stand there and talk on the phone. I think that was the idea.


  5. Elizabeth D

    how’s this for memory lane? Lily Thomlin’s operator was ‘Ernestine’!


  6. An observation; buttons on phones are getting smaller; my fingers and thumbs are not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Denzil. Thank you for becoming a follower! I just had a peek at your blog; my parents were both from Belgium. It’s a small world, isn’t it?

      Funny that, about those darn buttons …


  7. Ah ! Those were the days ! ” s[


  8. Elizabeth D

    Growing up, I remember talking to the Operator and asking for the number you wanted to be connected to. Then the excitement of changing over to dial phones. My first job was at Sears, Roebuck on the switchboard! Not the size in the picture above, but more like Lily Thomlin’s on “laugh in”. Always liked that old plug in. You even had to manually ring the extension. Somehow a lot more fun that my super smart phone today.


    • Hello, Elizabeth. The new technology that replaced the plug in switchboards must have put so many women out of work.

      Oh, Lily Tomlin! Wasn’t she wonderful as the switchboard operator? Can you remember the name of her character, or did she remain nameless?


  9. I remember the rotary dials and then there were the infuriating trim phones. Now the thing I use most at home is the speaker phone. Im not a fan of mobiles for calls. In fact I could quite happily do away with that facility as long as I could text and surf. We’ve come a long way.


  10. In our early marriage we had a chip pan fire. I had to run down the road to the red telephone box to call the fire brigade. It was some years before we had a phone of our own.


  11. Not many people had telephones in the UK until some time after the war. My grandparents had a classic UK black bakerlite phone and their number was Hither Green 6515, I remember being excited when it used to ring. My parents got their first phone in 1966 – Rugby 71677, it was a sort of watershed moment in life!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My dad was a telephone expert and trained as such. Our first phone back in Holland was one of those timber ones. I can’t remember parents listening into others. I think the future phone will be a phone only. All the rest, like e-mail and weather, apps and what have you, will be bundled into something else which eventually we will get born with, like an attachment to our nose or knee. People, especially the young ones will be seen obsessively rubbing their noses and knees, to let you know they are really connected and have many friends with many ‘likes’ all around the world who are also rubbing their noses and knees. Couplings will eventuate when cross rubbing occurs and some moisture gets exchanged which then gets embedded in a special 2mgb ‘ love app’ .
    All talk will cease and in restaurants only a kind of chafing noise will be audible from all the nose and knee rubbing.


  13. We had one of the old wooden phones (your first picture) on the wall in our kitchen when I was a kid on the farm and I remember the “party line.” I had an aunt who phoned a neighbor every day to tell her how well her son had done in school, knowing full well that everyone on the line would be listening. That party line was a great source of entertainment. As for the future – a smart phone embedded in your skull?


  14. I remember the day we got the first telephone in the house when I was small (dial of course.) Before that we had to ask our neighbor to let us use theirs. (We paid them each time.) I haven’t progressed to iPhone yet; maybe I never will if I can help it. What’s coming up next? iRobot?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did get a Smarter-than -I am phone before my last trip to Venice. I definitely don’t use all the features, but some of them came in very handy. The cameras on these phones are quite good, and so handy to have available. (As long as you remember to take the darn phone with you.)


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