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Dialing up memories of party lines

“I remember growing up with a 10-party phone line on Five Mile Prairie,” wrote Phyllis Rollins. “The ring for our home was four shorts. You had to listen carefully before answering as we also heard all the other rings.”

“Our ring was two longs and a short,” wrote Steven Stuart. “Or two shorts and a long. I forget which.”

“No privacy,” said Marjorie Carper.

“The Facebook of its time,” wrote Gary Rust.

“I grew up in Utah (Ogden, west of the city in farm country),” wrote Barb Beck. “My dad worked for the Southern Pacific RR (as an engineer) and the telephone was the way he got his calls to go to work. One of the families on our party line was Italian. When they would call another Italian family, they would talk in Italian and nothing we said or did could make them get off the phone.”

Karen Botker said her husband grew up with a party line in rural Minnesota. “His family consisted of eight people, the neighbors were a family of nine, there was another family of 11, another family of eight, another family of 14 and an older couple. I believe that adds up to 52 people sharing one phone line.”

An 85-year-old Slice reader named Pat recalled that her grandparents in the Silver Valley had a party line. “And my dad's younger sisters listened in.”

Ken Stout, who is 62, remembers not having a phone at all when his family lived in Lewistown, Mont. Then they moved to Spokane and had a party line until he was about 18.

Laurie Newell's family had a party line when she was a kindergartener in Seattle in the mid-1950s. “You couldn't call the person you shared a line with unless you went through the operator.”

“I remember picking up the phone to make a call and hearing the neighbors chatting,” wrote Arlene Stromberger.

Jean Brustkern grew up with a party line in Iowa. She recalls how, if you were on the line and someone in another household picked up the phone, you could hear a distinct clicking sound. “You always knew when someone came on the line.”

Pam Thompson recalls being baffled by a phone company employee's comment at the end of the party-line era. He said, “Now, when the phone rings, it will always be for you.”

Thompson misunderstood. “My husband will never receive a phone call? There will never be a wrong number?”


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Features writer Paul Turner is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review in the Features department. He writes "The Slice" column, which appears six times a week and produces general features stories for the Today section.

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