A Day In The Life [telecom]

[Note: I'm trying out a new capability here at the Digest: I'm going
to be sending out posts like this one, and maybe some "Golden Oldies"
that have been in the archives for a few years, while I'm away from
home for family functions or a vacation. Here's a remembrence from the
start of my career in telecommunications. -bh]
My father called me at work, in the Radio Repair shop at the
Massachusetts Department of Public Works, off Route 9 in Wellesley,
just next to the Route 128 interchange. He said "You got a letter from
the phone company," so I said "Open it," and he did, and then he said
"They want to hire you."
It was September, 1972. I had gotten home from Vietnam in June, and my
dad had been nagging me (that's putting it politely) to get a job from
the moment I got home until I got an offer from the Commonwealth to go
and fix radios.
I hadn't known that the Department of Public Works had so many
radios. In fact, I hadn't really known that they used radios at
all. There were lots of radios in Vietnam, of course, but we didn't
have even one of them where we worked in Da Nang: I was an MP, but the
teams the unit sent out went to places where there were phones - real,
honest-to-god 500 sets in our HQ and at our offices at the Airport and
the postal building and warehouse where we checked GI's "hold" baggage
on it's way back to The Land Of The Big Px.
By some accident of paperwork or act of God, I had been assigned to a
"CI" unit, which means I was in a "Criminal Investigation" Group. By
the standards of Vietnam in general and even Da Nang, we lived in
luxury: in the old Marine Corps Officers barracks, which had a latrine
with actual showers and flush toilets. The Marines had already left
Vietnam, even though the sign outside the latrine said "Marine
Officers Only."
The only radio I used while I was in Vietnam, the entire tour, was the
Collins KWM-2A at the Navy MARS station, which was at the Fleet Air
Support Unit, just down the street from the old Marine Corps Officers
Barracks that had become the home of the Da Nang Joint Customs
Detachment of the U.S. Army's 18 MP BDE, 8 MP GP(CI). There was a sign
above the FASU entranceway: "Welcome to Rocket City." I was the MARS
operator when I was off-duty from the Customs Detachment, and that's a
whole 'nother story.
The real MP's in Da Nang, the men who hauled the drunks out of the
bordellos and the junkies out of the opium dens, were about three
miles out of town, living in tents, and they had to use half-moon
toilets and buckets with holes in the bottom for their showers. We had
our own hardships to deal with, don't get me wrong: I and the other
"Customs" MP's would sit up past midnight, playing Risk and waiting
for the 122 mm Katyushas to arrive.
Needless to say, I had been very excited to get home, and even more so
to get the chance to see the insides of Motorola "Twin V" VHF
transceivers, GE "Pre Progress Line" units (which still used
Dynamotors, just like the military radios I had trained on at Fort
Gordon, GA before I shipped out), along with GE "Progress Line"
transceivers, and a fair number of GE "Mastr" rigs, all of them
mounted in DPW cars and trucks, with seven-and-some-odd feet of whip
antenna on each one, complete with the massive spring that I had seen
as a kid watching "Highway Patrol" and other such programs on
black-and-white TV when I was ten years old. We had a Cushman monitor,
plus grinders for dealing with rust and hole punches for mounting whip
antennas to the sides of cars and the tops of trucks, and life was
Which was neither here nor there as far as a job offer from the phone
company went, but it was the first of many times in my career when I
had to make a life-changing decision on short notice, and guessed
right, either because I was prodded by my guardian angel, or because
the stars were alligned or - and this is the most likely explanation -
because of blind dumb luck.
You see, I was only a "temp" worker at the D.P.W., and although I
liked the work, I didn't know that I could have done it for my whole
career if I wanted to. As a D.P.W. employee, I could have used a
state-owned car to drive to work and home again, and state-owned
gasoline and maintenance too: privileges reserved for permanent radio
shop employees, even though the privilege came with an obligation that
I be willing to take 3 AM phone calls and drive the state car to a
remote radio site on the other end of the state, but I was too young
and too inexperienced to figure out that the "temp" status was just a
bureaucratic holding pattern that would have gone away so long as I
proved able to do the job.
New England Telephone & Telegraph, on the other hand, was offering me
a full-time, permanent job, and everyone - and I mean "Everyone" - who
I asked about it told me that the phone company was a really good job.
I accepted their offer: $129 per week, which was, coincidentally the
same amount of money I was paid every month when I joined the Army in
1970, and in November of 1972 I reported for training at the New
England Telephone & Telegraph Company building in South Boston,
Massachusetts. It was the start of a career that lasted 25 years.
Bill Horne
(Remove QRM from my email address to write to me directly)
Reply to
Bill Horne
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