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TUCoPS :: Phreaking Technical System Info :: fone1942.txt

This is what it took to make a long distance call in 1942!

Subject: How to Make a Long Distance Call in 1942
Date: Thu May 25 23:57:32 1995

In my hobby of listening to Old Time Radio programs, I came across
this gem which I've transcribed below, which gives a fascinating
insight into what it took to make a long-distance phone call in 1942.

This is an episode of the dramatic series "Suspense". This particular
broadcast occurred on September 2, 1942, starring Orson Welles and
entitled "The Hitchhiker". Welles plays a man named Ronald Adams, who
is traveling alone cross-country in his car, and as the story
progresses, he is becoming increasingly tormented by a mysterious
figure he keeps encountering along the way, usually along the side of
the road. At a tense and dramatic point near the end, he decides to
call his mother in Brooklyn, New York from a payphone in Gallup, New
Mexico, several thousand miles to the west. Note that the complexity
of making the call has nothing to do with the story; it's just
presented as how things were routinely done. PAT, feel free to jump in
and clarify, if you can, why it takes at least four operators working
in sequence to pull this off:

(Adams deposits a coin and waits)

OPERATOR #1: Your call, please...

ADAMS: Long distance. 

OPERATOR #1: Long distance... certainly...

(a buzzer is heard on the line...)

OPERATOR #2: This is Long Distance...

ADAMS: I'd like-- *cough* *cough* (louder now:) I'd like to put in a
call to my home in Brooklyn, New York... I'm Ronald Adams... um, er,
the number is BEechwood two, oh eight two eight.

OPERATOR #2: Certainly; I will try to get it for you...

(another buzzer, fainter this time)

OPERATOR #3: Albuquerque...

OPERATOR #2: New York, for Gallup...

(two faint electronic beeps heard on the line)

OPERATOR #4: New York...

OPERATOR #2: Gallup, New Mexico calling BEechwood two, oh eight
two eight.

ADAMS: (talking quietly to himself:) I read somewhere that love
could banish demons...

(his payphone abruptly swallows the first coin into its box)

 ... it was the middle of the morning ... I knew mother'd be home...
I pictured her, tall and white-haired, in her crisp house dress, going
about her tasks. It'd be enough, I thought, just to hear the even
calmness of her voice--

OPERATOR #1: (brisk, sing-song businesslike voice) Will you please
deposit three dollars and eighty-five cents for the first three
minutes? When you have deposited a dollar and a half, will you wait
until I have collected the money ...

(we hear six quarters go in one at a time, each striking the heavy
bell inside the phone. After the sixth quarter, we hear a slight
avalanche of coins falling inside the phone.)

OPERATOR #1: (more sing-song business script:) All right, deposit 
another dollar and a half ...

(six more clangs and an avalanche)

OPERATOR #1: Will you please deposit the remaining eighty-five cents ...

(three more clangs, then a ringy-ding from a dime)

OPERATOR #1: Ready with Brooklyn. Go ahead, please ...

ADAMS: Hello?

VOICE ON THE OTHER END: Mrs. Adams' residence ...

Whew! It all moves briskly along, but still takes a full two minutes
and six seconds of airtime between the time Orson puts his first
nickel in the phone and the time the phone is answered at his mother's
house.  Contrast that with how little time it takes us today to pick
up the phone, rip through a speed dial and have someone halfway around
the world answer in seconds. (And it probably costs less than $3.85!)

Andrew C. Green            (312) 266-4431
Frame Advanced Product Services
441 W. Huron               Internet:
Chicago, IL  60610-3498    FAX: (312) 266-4473

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: The above is mostly accurate. Usually
if the coin deposit required was more than the collection table inside
could hold, the operator refrained from asking for payment until the
called number or party answered. The reason was, if there was no answer
the money had to be returned, and what had been dumped in the box 
already could obviously not be returned through the coin return slot.
If it was a small enough amount the operator would ask for it and it
would be held inside on the table. The operator's switchboard had two
buttons on it marked 'return' and 'collect' and by pressing one button
or the other, the money would fall in the box or the table would tip
in the other direction and dump the coins back out to the caller. If
the amount or number of coins made it impossible to hold them all (and
this usually only happened on international calls costing ten or fifteen
dollars) then the operator would get the distant party on the line,
tell them to hold on a minute and come back to the caller asking for
the money. If the caller tried to be smart and talk to the other end
before the money all got deposited the operator would either tell them
to shut up and try to talk over them or she would 'split the connection';
that is, cut off the one party from hearing the other until all the money
was deposited. Then if she had to collect it in increments of a few
dollars at a time, tell them to wait while she collected and then ask
for more, she would. For calls costing less than a couple dollars they
asked for all the money up front because even with a busy/no answer at
the other end, this could still be funneled down the return slot by
tipping the table inside the phone to the left. 

It took as many operators as it did because there were apparently (in
the example on the radio) no direct lines between Gallup and New York.
Had there been a direct line between Albuquerque and New York then you
might have heard an operator answer 'Kansas City' or 'Chicago' (or maybe
both!) along the way, with a request from the earlier operator to please
extend the call. Had it been in the late 1920's or 1930's, it is likely
there would have been a half dozen more operators on the line in the
process of making the connection.  

In some places, the operator who collected the money could not return
it. Here in Chicago as late as about 1970, from some payphones in the
south end of the downtown area if you called a suburban point which
required the deposit of extra coins (over and above the five cents needed
for the local connection) you had to dial '211' and tell the operator
the number desired (to call Skokie for example). She would ask for the
additional twenty cents due then ring the number. If there was no answer
or the line was busy, she would tell you to hold on a minute for the
return of your money. She plugged in on the switchboard somewhere and
got another operator who answered 'Wabash' and your operator would then
say something like 'return on trunk 178'.  You would hear a rather rude
popping noise in the earpiece and the coins would come clattering down
into the coin return slot. Now and then an accident would occur: the
operator would collect the coins when she meant to return them or even
return them when she meant to collect them. In the former case, it was
handled rather casually. If the customer indicated he would be attempting
the call again in a few minutes, he would be told "when the operator
answers, tell her you have ten cents credit coming from your prior call."
If the coins were returned in error, the operator would ask you politely
to redeposit them.     PAT]

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