Musings of An Old Man

by Brian K. Moore

A Tough Call

Any call made in the High desert in the 50s was a tough call. Phone service in the High Desert was virtually non existent! There was no area code. The few phones that existed had either 3 digit or 4 digit numbers. Bank of America had number 513.

In the early 50s Apple Valley had no long distance service. The normal way to call long distance from Apple Valley was to drive to the Summit Inn at the top of the Cajon Pass. The phone booth there was on the San Bernardino exchange, and your call would get right through.

By the mid 50s, when we started our building business in Apple Valley, the service had improved from almost nonexistent to terrible. An individual could not get a phone. There were a few party lines with 10 parties on them. Our phone service, when we lived in Summit Valley, was a phone booth in Hesperia, across the road from a railroad track, with lots of train noise, about 10 miles from home, or a phone booth in Crestline, about 10 miles the other way.

We shortly moved up to an answering service with Beaman Plumbing, located on Hesperia Road in Victorville, about 10 miles from our first job and about 20 miles from home. Getting our messages involved considerable driving. Finally after we got our office on highway 18 in Apple Valley, we got an answering service with Clair Wilcox Realty right next door! Our phone problems were solved! Except that Clair Wilcox was on a 10 party line, which included Apple Valley Lumber Company and Dr. Dudley’s office.

We finally got our own phone on a 10 party line and this improved our communications a lot. We became “near celebrities” when we discovered that entertainer, Pearl Bailey, who had bought the Murray Guest Ranch for “people of color,” was on our line.

Finally after a few years, we got our “very own phone,” and no one talked on it but us! Then, since our jobs were widely scattered, we began looking at ways to move up from there. Some of the contractors and other businesses got radio communication between their vehicles and their offices, so that if the job was way out, the guy with the vehicle could radio the office and say, “Have the lumber yard send out 20 ten foot 2 by 4s.”

We skipped that phase, but when a radio/telephone patch system became available, we bought in. It worked like this: I carried a radio transmitter/receiver, about the size of a blackboard eraser on my belt. When I wanted to call someone from a way out location, I would press the button and wait for the operator to say, “Victorville Operator.” Then I would say, “Please connect me to number so and so,” and the operator would “patch” me into the phone system and I could call anywhere. This worked fine in the beginning, because I was their first and only customer. But when there got to be 33 people on the line, and I found myself stopping at phone booths to make a call, I decided the service had lost its value for me and I dropped it.

Phyllis and I saw several of these new and innovative means of communication develop and then become obsolete within a few years. It finally got to where we had very good phone service except that still some of the jobs were way out and so the radio from vehicle to office or shop hung on for quite a while.

Of course nowadays cell phones and email and even satellite phones make communication easy. Anyone can talk to anyone, anyplace, any time. It’s hard to believe that so short a time ago it was so different!

A parting thought:

While telephone communication has improved vastly over the last half century, there is one area where it has deteriorated. It used to be when you placed a call you would hear a “hello.” Now, what do you get? “If you want: blah blah blah press one. If you want blah blah blah press two” and then you get a whole new menu with all of their blah blah blahs. It seems they are telling us: Our time is worth more than your time.

My feelings are pretty well exemplified by the last two stanzas of my poem “Of telephones and menus:”