TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Party Line Dialing

Re: Party Line Dialing

Neal McLain (
Tue, 20 Feb 2007 00:06:05 -0500

Lisa Hancock> wrote:

> When 0 and 1 became common as the third digit of an exchange,
> confusion was more likely (PI1, HO0) ...

Or ORange 0 in Skokie, Illinois (PAT's old stomping grounds), which
the Dir ectory Assistance operators cheerfully pronounced "oh are oh."

In a later issue of TD, Lisa continued:

> However, in many places, party lines had a letter suffix (J, R?). In
> the literature, the panel readout boards had that letter
> suffix. Some old telephone books show that letter listed after to
> the number.

> I presume in some manual systems one gave the letter to the
> operator.

> But in dial systems, did one dial the suffix letter=20
> to reach party lines so equipped?

PAT responded:

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: No, we did NOT dial the ending
> letter. All those letters (-B,-J, -M and -R) were merged into seven
> digit numbers, and tied together in the central office for
> individualized ringing purposes only, sort of like the 'distinctive
> ring-ring' numbers today. The parties still shared the same wire ...

Some old SxS offices had a somewhat analogous arrangement in which the last
digit dialed determined the party of a party line. But the last digit was
printed as a numeral, not a letter.


- Holly, Michigan. All numbers were in the form MElrose 4-XXXX and
MElrose 7-XXXX; the initial 3 and 6 were absorbed.

- Dexter, Michigan. All numbers were in the form HAmilton 6-XXXX; the
initial 4 and 2 were absorbed.

In each of these examples, the last digit determined the party to be
rung. All single-party numbers ended in 1, and multiparty numbers
used other dig its.

This situation produced some interesting anomalies:

-- Among local residents (especially elderly female
residents), a number ending in anything other than
"1" was considered a bit of a stigma ("she has a
party line, you know ...").

-- Trunk-hunting sequences hunted on the next-to-last digit, not the
last. Thus, ME 7-7011 trunked directly to ME 7-7021.

-- A single-party number could be dialed with any final digit to
produce a different ring cadence. One building where I worked in
Dexter was HA 6-XX91, but HA 6-XX9-anything would ring the phone.
Those of us who worked in the building knew this ("don't answer that
-- it's Frank's wife again").

Offices that were converted from manual directly to crossbar could
assign any number -- party line or not -- to any wire pair, so there
was no way to tell whether a given number was single party or
multiparty. Even if the old (manual-exchange) number had ended in a
letter, the new number didn't. Examples from Downers Grove, Illinois:

-- Downers Grove 6361 became WOodland X-6361
-- Downers Grove 5133-R became WOodland X-5133
-- Downers Grove 5379-W became WOodland X-5379

Neal McLain

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: First of all, FYI, Skokie does/did not
equal 'ORange', it equals 'ORchard' as in the former name of Ohare
International Airport, nee Ohare Field, nee Orchard Field, and still
the international aviation designation 'ORD'. The northwest suburban
Chicago area at one point was very ripe with apple orchards, and in
the 1940's the village of Niles Center, Illinois (the former name of
the village of Skokie), in its wisdom chose to destroy a perfectly
beautiful apple orchard in order to build a commercial enterprise,
known as 'Old Orchard Shopping Center'. Old Orchard in recent years
grew from a few stores to a major shopping center with a few hundred
shops and a crime rate almost equal to the one (crime rate, that is)
of our very own Walmart Super Center here in Independence. I am sure
the farmer who owned the orchard which had been there for over a
century prior must be very proud of what became of his land and his
beautiful trees, etc.

And, speaking of crime, conveniently located just two blocks west of
Old Orchard Shopping Center is one of the several branches of the Cook
County Circuit Court (which locals refer to as the 'Skokie Court
House') more or less next door to Niles West High School on Golf
Road. Always a very busy place, with ten judges on duty (no waiting to
get your ninety seconds to plead to the judge!) the Skokie Court House
has direct bus service to/from Cook County Jail and a filthy satellite
prison of its own right on premises at least a few times each day.

But, I digress; ORChard eventually became OR-2 as was the custom in
the 1940-50's, and it expanded to eventually include 672, 673, 674,
and 675 but there never has been an 'oh-are-oh' unless it is something
new added since I abandoned -- fled for my life, actually -- what you
refer to as my 'old stomping grounds'. But I understand both Old Orchard
and the Skokie Court House were looking for an expansion of their
phone systems; maybe that's where 'oh-are-oh' originated. PAT]

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