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170327 March 27, 2017

I Just Called, To Say . . .
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    In 1963 my journal reflected my latest technological advance in personal communications. It was accomplished by adding a 20-foot cord to our family telephone. This additional wire allowed me to carry the phone into my bedroom instead of remaining tethered to a four foot cord keeping the phone anchored to a telephone stand in the living room where there was no privacy. I should point out we only had one telephone in the house and no one had ever even heard of a wireless telephone at the time. With the new cord I could carry the phone all the way to my bedroom and close the door to insure somewhat private conversations with my friends, both male and female. I was proud when I did the modification all by myself without anyone showing me how to do it. I should have seen what I did as an indicator of the skills I possessed and the job path my life should have pursued. 

    In my early years of growing up, telephones and phone numbers were quite simple, and as few as three numbers. My first memory of our telephone was a home phone connection we shared with some unknown person on what was a common practice back then – a party line. Some people shared their party lines with more than one other user. 

     Yes, as strange as it seems in a world where pre-teens walk around with their own cell phones and their own phone numbers, we did not even have a private line in 1953. Many times we picked up the phone to make a call and there would be someone talking on it already. We’d have to wait until they finished their call before we could make our own. We had a distinctive ring, as did the other person who shared our line, and we knew to answer only if it was our “ring.” We would also hear the phone ring when it was for the other party. It should go without saying we were often interrupted in our conversations by hearing the click of the other party trying to make a call while we were talking. 

    We didn’t worry about dialing the three numbers either. We just told the live operator what number we wanted to call, but only after she asked, “Number Please?” 

    In 1954 Huntsville made a technological leap in telecommunications. They replaced the old plain-front, black colored telephone sitting by the front door with a modern dial phone. The female voice on the other end which had always asked "Number please?" ceased to talk to me whenever I picked up the receiver.  Her voice was replaced by a dial tone and a silver dial on the phone with the magical abilities to connect to other people's phones at my command.  To accommodate these changes, the telephone numbers went from five to seven digits. It was such a big move they had to print the instructions on how to use it on front of the telephone book.

    My family finally got our own private line with a phone number of “4-2656” and got rid of the other ears and voices on our party line. Later on, our number was expanded to "JE 4-2656" with the "JE" being dialed as "53" and being short for Jefferson. According to Wikipedia several systematic telephone numbering plans existed in various communities, typically evolving over time as the subscriber base outgrew older numbering schemes. A widely used numbering plan was a system of using two letters from the central office name with four or five digits. Experiencing significant resistance in many areas, the Bell System employed a strategy of gradual changes to ease the transition for customers. Originally, directory listings were printed with the central office name spelled out in full, e.g. "Jefferson."

    Without looking, do you remember which letter did not appear on a telephone dial?

    Even two years later, in 1956, you still had to talk to the operator if you wanted to make a long distance call. There were two different types of long distance calls, by the way. The cheapest way was a Station-to-Station call.

    The phone book even explained how to make these calls, saying:

    First: Give the operator the name of the place you are calling.
    Second: Give the telephone number you are calling (if known) otherwise, the name and address (if known) of the party whose telephone you are calling. For Example: J.W. Brown Residence – 425 Main Street.
    Third: Give your telephone number when the operator asks for it.

    The next option was a Person-to-Person call in which you asked for a particular person at a long distance telephone number. The person-to-person charges were much higher than the station-to-station.

    Another choice available to telephone users back then was to make a Collect Call. Collect calls required the person being called to pay for the call, and was usually done when someone was calling from a pay phone who did not have the money to feed into the coin slot. For these phones the operator would always ask the person who answers the phone “Will you accept a collect call from _______?” If the answer was anything other than “yes” then the call was terminated. 

    Regardless of the type of call made, all of them were expensive and the longer you talked the more expensive they became because you were charged by the minute. To cheat the system people often made collect calls to their  home when they were traveling to allow the person who answered to not accept the call, but recognize it as a sign the caller had arrived at his or her destination


    To answer an earlier question "Q" was not present on the rotary dial.

    As earlier stated, families usually had one table model telephone back then and it was almost always located in the living room. Later wall phones were installed in kitchens, and finally the “Princess” phones started showing up in the bedrooms of lucky teenage girls. 

    Suppose you were stopped for a "man on the street" interview today and were asked "Tell me about one telephone call you still remember from your high school days." What call would come to your mind first? What story would go with a call made over 50 years ago and yet still remains in your memory? Would it be a call about a date, about a trip, about school or about something happening to a friend or relative? What call would be that important to you.

    Remember the scenario about. If I were to ask you to quickly recall the first telephone call of your high school days that comes to your mind, what would you have told me? Please share your "one phone call" story with us, or two or three if you like. I have several which come to mind that happened in my high school years, but I would rather let you participate in this trip down memory lane. Send me your story at I am looking forward to reading what you have to write.

    The above poem was written for Lee's Traveller in 1963. I do not know what inspired me at the time, but it seems fitting to share it with you today, in light of the article above it.

Remembering Chuck Berry
John Drummond
LHS '65

    I want to feature Chuck Berry, who just passed away at age 90, in this week's edition,.   His first #1 hit was "Maybelline" which was was originally titled "Ida May" before the record company convinced him to change it.   A recording of "Johnny B. Goode" was sent up on the Voyager space craft, and there is a great scene from the 1985 film "Back to the Future" with Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) performing it at a 1955 high school Prom, to the stunned, jaw-dropping astonishment of the student dancers.  When the Beatles performed in New York City for their first performance in America  (I think 1964), they opened the concert with "Roll Over, Beethoven."    Chuck Berry's contributions to popular music are incalculable; he was among the first inductees to The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, around 1985.

    (Editor's Note: To accompany this week's topic of the telephone, here is a video from 1963 of Chuck Berry singing his hit "Memphis" about a phone call he was trying to make. I love that this video features some of Chuck's famous moves, including his duck walk - which I used to be able to imitate in my earlier years. )

Memphis - Chuck Berry

        Memphis, TN -  We had no car stories this week, so I have changed the topic to an object both male and females can relate to - the telephone. Besides the serious calls, there were also the prank calls, the telephone hacks of the day, and many telephone booth stories out there. I hope we get some good participation in recalling some of these stories. Here's one I wrote in my first book.

    When I got even older and was dating Connie, I always had something to do (when visiting my paternal grandmother).  Many of my late nights were spent on the phone talking to Connie in a muffled voice.  She had a phone in her room and would call me early in the evening.  She always knew where to find me.  Mama Towery only had one phone and it was in her living room.  After she went to bed, we two teenagers were free to talk about the things that teenagers talked about.  We talked until her mother came in and found out she was still on the phone.  That discovery brought the conversation to an abrupt end.  I then took the phone and buried it under as many pillows as I could gather, waiting and knowing that she would call back.  The ring was muffled by the pillows and was quickly answered so the conversation could continue until one of us either fell asleep or her mother came in again.  In the latter case, we hung up and did the pillow routine again.

    Again, what do you remember?

My brother Don (back), my mother, and me and our TV on East Clinton Street.

The Vintage Television
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

1966 TV Intro's
Part 3

1966 TV Part 3


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    The Bomb

Spencer Thompson

LHS '64

    Great job my friend and great story about the bomb. I remember that hill from the water dept up to the courthouse.  I'm still leary of that hill.

Subject:    Your Bomb

Chip Smoak

LHS '66

    Tommy, you may have helped start the two-tone paint jobs in the auto industry.  I believe that prior to 1953 most cars were painted one color.  

    My father had a two-tone (light blue and white) 1953 Chevrolet that he kept until he passed away in 1982.  It was his reserve car for when one of the newer models that he bought through the years broke down.  He said that he could work on that '53 a little bit and have transportation until he could get the newer car running again.

    That was the car in which my sister, my brother, and I learned to drive because it was a standard transmission.  The reason given for this was that people who learned with a car that had an automatic transmission could not drive one with a standard transmission and one never knew when an emergency might arise that required driving a car with a standard transmission.

    Yes, I helped work on that car, mostly just standing around to hand tools or parts to my father, especially when he was doing something under the car.  It had a straight-six cylinder engine which provided a grand canyon of space under the hood if you needed to work on the engine, not like today's motors that barely fit in the area under the hood with all of the stuff the car manufacturers attach to the motors now-a-days.  The A/C was two windows down and whatever speed you were driving.

    It brings back some good memories.



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