TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Disaster Recovery in 1871

Re: Disaster Recovery in 1871

Dan (
Fri, 07 Oct 2005 10:37:22 -0500

On 10/6/2005 2:11 PM, Norm wrote:

> Nice item, thanks! I've looked for something you posted a dozen years
> ago, that happened during the initial A- bomb testing, where they
> couldn't make phone calls and someone drove out and traced the
> telephone lines to the "central" office in a house and woke the
> operator. Is that still around somewhere?

> Thanks,

> Norm

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: The story goes like this ... in the
> early to middle 1960's I was employed as a telephone operator at the
> University of Chicago. I lived in an apartment hotel on East 56th
> Street, 56th and Hyde Park Blvd. to be precise. Another resident of
> the hotel was Mrs. Laura Fermi, widow of the late Enrico Fermi, of
> atomic bomb fame. Mrs. Fermi was a typical, 'well-to-do' widow. She,
> on various occassions 'invited' me, a Young Man to join her for dinner
> and cocktails at 'The Anchorage', the hotel's dining room and cocktail
> lounge. I almost always accepted her invitation. In those days, forty
> years ago, the Windermere Hotel (phone FAIrfax 4-6000) was not only a
> very good place for a Young Man to live, but the bar and restaurant
> was very 'cozy' also. Of course dinner and drinks were on her on-going
> always-open tab at the restaurant/bar/hotel. I understand now that
> maybe 20-25 years ago, UC bought the property and converted it into
> faculty housing. I understand the bar, restaurant, front lobby, etc
> have, like much of Hyde Park these days lost their luster, if in fact
> The Anchorage is even still open, which I sort of doubt. Anyway, this
> would have been in 1962-63 or thereabouts. Mrs. Fermi told me a very
> interesting story which I will relate to you. After I first related
> this here in the Digest, middle to late 1980's there were some readers
> who discredited it to varying degrees. The discredits ranged from
> polite attempts to set the record straight, to more crude replies
> about older ladies spending forty dollars (in 1960's money) to
> entertain and amuse a Young Man with food and drink for whatever
> reason, once or twice weekly. Most readers did not discredit the
> account, nor me, nor Mrs. Fermi however. Certainly, as a telephone
> operator at a prestigious university, and a salary to match the
> cheap standards of UC (i.e. 'you should be glad to be allowed to
> work here, do not bother us asking for still more money') I certainly
> could not afford to eat/drink at The Anchorage, although I did live in
> the building. The Hyde Park Coffee Shop up the street was more my
> speed. Anyway, Mrs. Fermi was good friends with Doctor and Mrs. Beadle,
> (in those days _he_ was president of UC) so it just seemed 'prudent'
> IMO, for this Young Man to do what was expected of him.

> With this preamble in mind, Mrs. Fermi told me this acccount of the
> closing days of World War II:

> "Enrico and several fellow employees in his lab were asked to go out
> to Alamagordo, NM, to monitor one of the test explosions. It was all
> very hush-hush, secrecy was still in effect and quite widely
> enforced. He took me along, and was to report to a certain place about
> forty miles out in the desert about 3 AM that day. We checked into a
> motel outside Alamagordo, then drove out to the place where Encrico
> was to set up his observation equipment. As luck would have it, it
> started raining, a very hard drenching rain. We sat in the car and
> waited until the rain stopped, then he sat up his testing gear. The
> test explosion was to happen at 4 AM, but 4 AM came and went; no bomb
> test.

> "Finally Enrico got to thinking it out and he said that maybe because
> of the heavy rain the test had been called off. He would need to check
> with the other scientists and see what was going on. He packed up all
> his equipment and we drove back toward Alamagordo. The only place that
> was open at that time of night was the motel we were staying in, so he
> drove the car up and stopped next to the public phone in the parking
> lot. He put a nickel in the phone and waited and waited and waited
> for an answer from the operator; which never happened. He finally
> slammed the phone down in disgust and said 'I am going to find out
> what is going on here.' We got back in the car, and starting from that
> payphone booth, he began driving slowly down the street, all the while
> stickihg his head out of the car window studying the overhead wires.
> We went down one street, then the wires turned another way and we
> started going down that street. I know why he put the nickle in the
> phone; all the scientists on this mission had agreed that if anything
> went wrong they would talk in code to each oher; him in Alamadordo,
> the other guys elsewhere. Anyway, driving down the street he suddenly
> saw what he was looking for; there was this one house and out of the
> sky from various directions came bunches of telephone wires; all the
> wires went in through a hole on the side of this lady's house. A bunch
> of wires as thick as your wrist; all came out of the sky from various
> directions and went into this house.

> "It just looked like any regular house; but the front porch light was
> turned on, the front door was open but the screen door was latched. In
> the house itself sat a telephone switchboard, with bunches of lights
> blinking off and on. A radio was playing soft music in the background
> and there was a sofa nearby; stretched out on the sofa was a woman who
> was sound asleep.

> "Enrico banged and pounded on the door for a couple minutes, then the
> lady must have woke up; she sat up sort of startled, looked over at
> Enrico by the door, then turned and looked at the switchboard all
> glowing with people waiting for service. She looked back at Enrico and
> literally jerked to her feet, stood up, walked over to the switchboard,
> sat down and began taking the calls as fast as she could. Enrico said
> to me as he got back in the car, let's go back to my observation
> point. And we drove out there right away; Enrico set up his test gear
> once again, and about eight or ten minutes after we got there, the
> test explosion went off.

> "We found out later that all those guys had been trying to get in
> touch with one another since a few minutes after 4 AM, but the
> central swithboard for that area was going unanswered while this woman
> had her nap. I cannot blame her, really, yes, she should have been
> awake and alert, but given that she worked nights and had to sleep in
> the daytime, it was a 'mere' 115 degrees the day before, too hot to
> sleep during the day when she should have been, and then that night it
> rained, blessed cool air and she fell asleep. I doubt if on a typical
> night there were ever more than one or two calls through the board all
> night (there was a 'night bell' and a 'flashing light' which should
> have woken her up in those cases) but somehow they did not do so.

> "I seriously doubt to this day that the lady knows the reason the
> atomic test explosion was delayed for an hour and fifteen minutes was
> because _she_ was asleep. Enrico said to me 'I am not going to tell on
> her and get her in trouble.' She looked to me like just a teenage girl
> anyway."

> ----------------

> Now that was the story as told by Laura Fermi, eighteen years after it
> happened, and twenty-five years (my first relaying of it) after I
> heard it and now forty years (my second relaying of it.) Is it a true
> story or not? Or was Mrs. Fermi a wee bit forgetful that night? Or
> did I have too many shots of brandy or some other after-dinner liquor
> in me? PAT]

Why would she make up such a story? What is interesting is 'what
would have happened if Fermi didn't get equipment deployed and
operational in time?'

Does anyone know if phone switch operators protested/picketed when
auto-switches were being put is place?

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Indeed, in Chicago at least, there
was a work stoppage by telephone operators over this very issue, in
1954-55 in some of the non-automated (at that point in time) suburbs.
All that accomplished was to build the company's resolve to work
harder and faster at getting those points automated as well. But Bell
did not lay off a _single worker_ (usually an operator) as a result
of automation. They kept everyone around, and it was only through
attrition (people retiring, otherwise getting fired, etc and Bell
not hiring new workers) that things leveled off. There were a lot
of rumors in Chicago during the 1940's from operators saying that
'when the company is totally automated most of us wil be let go.'
That simply was not true and did not happen. PAT]

Post Followup Article Use your browser's quoting feature to quote article into reply
Go to Next message: anon1@sci.sci: "Re: Life Beyond Earth"
Go to Previous message: John McHarry: "Re: United States Says No! Internet is Ours!"
May be in reply to: Patrick Townson: "Disaster Recovery in 1871"
Next in thread: John McHarry: "Re: Disaster Recovery in 1871"
TELECOM Digest: Home Page