May 1, 1999
Building a shrine to bureaucracy
Some 15 years ago, Ma Bell sold me a 75-mile segment of that line, which was parallel to Interstate 80 in eastern Nevada. Calls to any of the seven subscribers were possible only by having the operator press a lever on her switchboard to 'ring down' the line with the desired ring intervals so the called party could answer the phone.
The line included one 20-mile tap, using No. 9 iron wire built generations before by a local rancher with guidance from the Montgomery Ward catalog. Subscribers included a highway maintenance station near a mountain that I-80 crosses with a phone at the office and one at the home of the resident maintainer. A gas station and business at Oasis had three, with the seventh at the Big Springs Ranch 5 miles south. All calls were long distance and manually handled by the operator office of CP National, the serving carrier at Elko, Nev. As long as there was zero growth, the Ma Bell line with No. 8 copper and poles every 150 feet required very little maintenance.
Growth, however, was a different matter. A trailer court sprung up. Angry people talked to the Nevada public service commission. Four telcos were talked to.
Still having not learned, I agreed to take over the line and upgrade service.
Branch Cox helped me by plowing new fiber to replace the hard-to-maintain segment over a mountain. The inmates then helped scrap-out that chunk of the open wire.
A few years later, I got another dozen miles of fiber to Wells. The open wire had shrunk to 50 miles. A couple of years ago, with the successful placement of fiber, the last of the old transcontinental line came down. There were a few exceptions, such as some wire crossing I-80 and iron still on the poles for a ranch 7 miles from somewhere.
Then, someone said the local highway chief had not signed off. And what about electric warning signs, traffic cones, flaggers and the other stuff the book says is needed to work on the interstate? Seeing the chance for a buck, a local contractor said we could rent the required signs from him for $4,000. All this for five minutes with the cops blocking the highway.
So, the catenary is not coming down in my lifetime! We're going to connect the wires to a memorial telephone. Folks from all over the world can dial a special number to our system and be looped across the catenary. The callers can experience having made a call that will partly route through the first transcontinental telephone line in America. We get minutes of use and access.
A true historical artifact will be retained, mostly as a monument to bureaucracy at its finest.
When Art Brothers isn't impeding traffic flow in the desert, he operates Beehive Telephone Co. (Wendover, Utah). Readers may send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Copyright 1999 Advanstar Communications.