Western Union's satellite loss [Telecom]

Did you ever utilize poles owned by street railroads or > electric railroads? Street railroad power is only 600 V, > but many electrified railroads were 11,000 V.

No. The railroad poles I was > I think most of W.U. pole lines ran along railroads, so they > might not have been where you would have encountered them.

Were those polelines actually owned and maintained by WU? Or were they owned by the railroad?

In my encounters with poles located on railroad ROW, the poles were owned and maintained by the railroad companies. I used a few of them for CATV cable crossings under permits issued by the railroad companies, but I did my best to avoid them because of the exorbitant rental fees (FCC pole-attachment regulations do not apply to railroad poles) and the bureaucratic hassle of dealing with railroad companies. In situations where I had to cross a railroad, I'd try to locate it at a road crossing where I could support it from existing power poles.

Some of the railroad poles I've seen have numerous conductors on several crossarms, so I suppose it's possible that some of those conductors might have been WU's in rented space. Example:

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While we're on the subject of telegraph lines along railroads, here's a link to some photos of a replica telegraph poleline located at Golden Spike National Historic Site.
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Neal McLain

***** Moderator's Note *****

I'm curious about the technical part of telegraph wiring: please tell us if you know more about how the circuits worked, how far apart the repeaters stations were, etc.

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to
Neal McLain
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Interesting question. If memory serves, ownership switched over time. Perhaps someone could elaborate.

Note that there was another company, Postal Telegraph, that had its own network. It wasn't as large as WU and was eventually merged into WU. (FWIW, when my father was a boy he worked as a messenger for Postal. I wish I had asked him more about it.)

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I've seen many railroad poles carrying a forest of wires, but the poles and wires look old and disconnected, such as a wire terminating around an insulator. I think many active railroads replaced pole wires with fibre optics buried along the ROW. When the RR crosses a road over a bridge, you can see the pipes hung on the bridge.

In the NE US some railroads are electrified which adds to the complexity. In some cases power companies use the RR poles as distribution lines, so it's not unusual to see the poles with wires but no track on an abandoned section. As aside, Amtrak between NYC and DC as well as SEPTA in Phila use the old 25 Hz power and many of the substations are from the 1930s.

The first two volumes of the Bell Labs Bell System History go into quite a bit of detail on that. While it's mostly focused on voice communications, telegraph is mentioned, too. Much of the early telephone loop plant was based on telegraph designs. Large libraries may have ancient technical books (circa 1900) that go into this. While the Western Union Technical Journal, in this newsgroup's archives, focuses on more modern postwar technology, some of the early issues might describe the original method and what they're replacing it with.

I believe a plain telegraph circuit needs only one wire and uses the ground as a return. The early telephone circuits did likewise but found it gave noisy connections and soon was replaced with 'metallic circuits' of two wires.

Reply to

In my (very limited) experience W.U. had its own pole line on one side of the railroad R.O.W. and the railroad had its own pole line on the other side. However there were arrangements to interconnect W.U. with the railroad's own telegraph system. I've seen situations where the W.U. office kept office hours, and after hours you could go to the railroad to send or receive a telegram. (Which means W.U. had to relay it to the railroad using Morse) I gather in smaller places it was common for the railroad office to also serve as the town's telegraph office.

You know that telegraph lines ran along railroads before the railroads established their own telegraph systems. This came about for several reasons. (1) the railroad already had an all-weather right-of-way cleared through the wilderness, at a time when intercity roads were poorly developed where they existed at all. (2) The railroad could deliver your poles and wire where you needed them, along with your installation and repair crews. (3) You could negotiate a contract with a railroad for exclusive use of their R.O.W. for telegraphy (at a time when there were many competing telegraph companies) (4) The cities served by railroads were the places where business was being done and the economy was growing - just the places where you would expect a market for telegraph service.

See article "Western Union and the Railroads", Western Union Technical Review, January 1956 p. 28. in the Telecom archives. See also "The End of an Era", Western Union Technical Review, October 1961. which is about the Western Union "camp car" rail units that were used for pole line maintenance until 1960.

Reply to
Jim Haynes
  • Moderator's Note *
  • *
  • I asked Jim Wades, the President of the Morse Telegraph Club, *
  • to provide some insight into telegraph lines on railroad *
  • rights-of-way, Postal Telegraph, and the technical part of *
  • telegraph as well. *
  • *
  • Jim's answer is a bit more involved than the usual post we *
  • see, but please bear with me - Jim is an expert in railroad *
  • signals and telegraphy, and it's a good introduciton to the *
  • subject for non-technical readers. *
  • *


The [previous posts are] a bit disjointed, but I will do my best to provide some insights. In the interest of linearity, I will break it down in to several subjects:

First, with respect to the nature of telegraph circuits:

I am leaving out significant technical detail here in the interest of space/time, however, telegraph circuits in commercial service can generally be subdivided as follows:

  1. The simplex ground return circuit: This is the classic telegraph circuit, with a single current loop in the range of 100 to 300-VDC at 60 to 100-mA operating over typically an iron wire with ground return.

  1. The duplex circuit, using the bridge principle, thereby allowing two telegraph circuits to operate on a single wire.

  2. The quadraplex circuit, based on a similar principle to the above, allowing four circuits to operate on a single wire.

  1. The carrier system, which began to emerge with stable vacuum tube oscillators and audio filters in the mid 1920s, which allowed multiple telegraph carriers to be carried on a single wire.

  2. The composite telegraph circuit.

The later circuit was most typically utilized by the Bell System, because it allowed a telegraph circuit to be composited over voice circuits. This allowed telegraphy to be utilized for internal communications as well as leased telegraph/teleprinter circuits on the same circuit carrying long-distance voice calls and the like. As the wire/cable infrastructure was (and is) one of the most expensive parts of a carrier's infrastructure, this allowed long-distance telephone circuits to remain in valuable revenue service while being used as order wires and the like or providing a dedicated telegraph circuit for various business, press, or similar applications, thereby minimizing overhead and maximizing toll revenue. These methods were in widespread use through the 1950s in the Bell System.

Many of those employed in telecommunications today recall carrier systems and the like, so they need not be discussed in detail here. Railroads and telecom providers were still using such systems well into the 1970s and '80s, and there is likely significant Information available on the web. Carrier systems were even deployed during World War Two for telecommunications, railroad operating battalions (telegraph, etc.), and the like.

As to the simplex and duplex systems, these are relatively self-explanatory and probably require little elaboration.

Now....as to pole line along railroad right-of-way:

The pole line one encounters along railroad right-of-way typically carried three types of "communications:"

  1. Telegraph
  2. Telephone
  3. Signal control ("Code Line")

In many cases, the order of precedence on the poles was:

Leased lines / WU, and the like at the top. RR Phone and Telegraph middle Code Line (RR signals) on the bottom

Not always.....but this was the norm on the railroads I was associated with.

The last telegraph lines used in railroad service were decommissioned in the mid 1980s. However, the telegraph was in slow decline in rail service beginning in the late 1950s, typically replaced with teletype and VHF two-way radio, then, of course, computers. However, manual Morse circuits were simple, reliable, and in many ways more accurate and faster than voice for certain types of specialized traffic; particularly message traffic that had to be transcribed.

The telephone has been a part of rail operations since the early 1900s as well. Both were used to varying extent for varying applications on major railroads. In later years, the telephone circuits were primarily used for wayside communications between train crews and dispatcher at switches, control points, and the like. This, of course, was later supplemented, then eventually replaced with VHF-FM radio in the 160-MHz range. In later years, the phone and radio were used for dispatching, whereas telegraph and TTY were used for car reports, internal business coordination, and occasionally dispatching on branch lines and the like

Code line was, and still is in some cases, essentially current loops similar to telegraph loops. One can find 20 to 60-mA loops running between control points to actuate vital relay logic and the like as part of CTC systems. These methods are likewise disappearing as they are replaced with "coded track," which uses the rail as a conductor for a form of data communications between control points, as well "radio code line" applications, which utilize a type of packet switched radio network for communications between control points and the like.

One will see much abandoned pole line in the field. However, some pole line is also in use in many areas as of yet. Also...beware, it was common practice to send 220 or 440-VAC on opposite outer conductors to power the various signal apparatus along the right-of-way. Some of this remains in service, and coming in contact with it can be a "shocking" experience for those who might want to climb a pole to liberate a few antique insulators.

Now....as to ownership of poles.

Years ago (through 1950s or so), it was common for Western Union to provide the poles and similar components, and the railroad to provide the maintenance and right-of-way. It was a winner for the railroads. When I worked for CSX some years ago, we still had WU telegraph poles supporting active code line. LOL: it had long ago surpassed the initial return on investment. As WU moved away from traditional pole line, the RR took ownership and eventually had to replace many of the poles, cross-arms, and the like at their own expense.

Please note that Postal Telegraph typically did not run along railroad right-of-way. Rather, Postal ran their pole line along highways, such as the famous "Lincoln Highway," "Telegraph Avenue" in the Detroit area, and the like.

OK....on to Postal Telegraph:

Postal was established with the encouragement of certain forces within the government, but as a private entity and part of the MacKay system out of a degree of fear of the WU monopoly. This fear was especially problematic in the early part of the 20th century when WU merged with the Bell System (to be ultimately broken up under anti-trust laws during the Wilson Administration, if I recall correctly). There is much history here, and it is too in depth to go into. Again, I suspect one can find considerable information on-line or in a good quality text book on the subject (contact me for a recommendation). Simply put, WU was the "Microsoft" of its day. It did many good things by standardizing the telegraph industry. It also suffered from some similar problems associated with excessive market place dominance. I suppose the same could be said of the Bell System.

Postal was always the poorer cousin of WU. It tended to serve metropolitan areas and medium sized cities. Through the McKay system, it did offer access to submarine cable circuits, marine radiogram facilities, and the like, which were advantageous. However, even in private, leased services, WU and the Bell System were far ahead, particularly as technical advancements brought forth Varioplex (concentrator) circuits, reperforator centers, and the like.

WU also pioneered a high degree of automation and even microwave carrier. Information on their transition to teleprinter operation and reperforator centers is readily available. Postal tried to match them in this area. However, when Postal was merged into WU in the 1943 time period, much of the Postal TTY and reperforator equipment was sent to the former Soviet Union under lend-lease. Rumor has it that when one sends a telegram to the former Soviet Union today, it occasionally passes over this network! LOL.

Finally...as to repeaters, etc.

Yes, repeaters were necessary. In North American Signal practice, the telegraph is a closed-loop system. For example, one must close his/her key to receive. This is why one sees a "circuit closer" on telegraph keys. Contrary to the popular belief of ham radio operators, it's primary purpose is not for "tuning up" a radio transmitter. LOL. When one wants to send, he must open his key. He then opens and closes the circuit with dots and dashes (or later..in the TTY era, the baudot code!).

When one "breaks" a communications circuit, he opened the series loop, the transmitting office's sounder went quiet, and the transmitting operator knew the receiving operator had missed something. Good operators didn't break very often! There were exceptions. For example, one couldn't "break" some types of circuits (duplex, etc), so the receiving operator had to be on his game.

The spacing and distance between repeaters was based on number of instruments in the series circuit (main line relays/sounders, etc.), nature of the infrastructure (leakage, resistive losses in the lines (iron or copper wire, wire diameter), etc.), but a couple hundred miles is a good rule of thumb, I suppose.

Typically, a "wire chief" was assigned at COs and divisional points. He was equipped with a test board and a good bridge (like a Leeds and Northrup ZM-3). By knowing the type and nature of the pole line, he could pin-point opens, shorts, and similar faults to a fairly narrow area, speeding the inspection and repair of damaged pole line.

Speaking of repeaters....If one would like to see a Bell System Athearn Repeater, which is currently in service linking the Morse Telegraph Club's Internet based "KOB" network with an older telegraph "hub" system constructed by former ATT engineer Ace Holman, just go to "you tube" at:

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... [and] you can see a brief overview provided by yours truly.

Repeaters in and of themselves are an entire discussion. It seems that in the late 19th and early 20th century, every erstwhile telegraph/telephone engineer was looking for a way to invent a better repeater! LOL There are many ways of accomplishing the task.

In summary...I have provided only a brief summary of information on a complex subject. The telegraph is often represented in a highly simplistic manner. However, the technology of the telegraph served as the foundation for every aspect of our modern life. Today, people are impressed that they can buy and sell stocks on-line, but they overlook the fact that the New York Stock Exchange is an International exchange because of the telegraph. Folks are impressed that they can get the latest news on their "I-Pod," but the telegraph made news syndication, wire services, and the like possible! The infrastructure that supported the telegraph industry was vast and complex. One could establish a circuit from Alaska to NYC in a few minutes for a press application, brokerages could transmit a buy or sell order to the NYSE or Board of Trade and get a response in minutes, and telegrams moved with incredible speed and efficiency considering the state of the art.

There are still quite a few telegraph operators around. Many of these men and women are members of the "Morse Telegraph Club, Inc." Interested parties are invited to visit our web page at:

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Membership is open to anyone with an interest in the history or telegraphy and telecommunications, and the group publishes an excellent quarterly periodical.

They may also find the "Morse KOB" program interesting. This system allows one to connect authentic telegraph instruments operating in a local current loop into an Internet based system. The instruments function just as they would on a "real" telegraph circuit, and 24-hour news and weather broadcasts are available to drive a telegraph sounder. Check:

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Folks with questions about telegraphy or MTC may also contact me directly, if they wish.

Thanks for the inquiry, Bill.



James Wades International President, Morse Telegraph Club, Inc. snipped-for-privacy@remove-this.gmail.com

Reply to
James Wades <jameswades

By 1972, when I was hired into toll, composite signalling was used only for supervision on tie lines between PBX's, at least in the Boston area, on tie lines run by N.E.T. I didn't even know that toll technicians were expected to know Morse code (I assume it was American Morse) for communicating between toll offices in earlier times. I never saw any Morse sounders or other instruments, so they'd been gone for a while by then.

I assume you mean analog frequency-division-multiplexing systems designed for use on cable, such as N carrier. I never worked on N carrier, as it was almost entirely gone before I hired on. We had a _LOT_ of T carrier, and the systems were almost all terminated on D-1 banks, which required frequent alignment and testing. By the time I left the craft, almost all banks had been converted to D-4.

Come to think about it, it was probably T carrier that obviated the Morse circuits: the 24-to-2 physical pair compression (which was the same as N carrier, since D-1 banks used the same bays as N) must have freed enough circuits for toll offices to communicate using ordinary phone calls. In fact, the order wires that ran through the manholes were almost never used for talking to the field techs during repeater outages: the order wires would "cut through" to dial tone if the field tech put a handset on it, and they just called us on the phone instead of tripping the aisle alarm for an OW connection.

Something puzzles me about single-wire telegraph circuits, including duplex and quadraplex: if they had to have so many repeaters, why didn't they switch to metallic circuits? Someone must have thought of it at some point, and it would have meant a lot less repeaters. What am I missing?


That's another thing that puzzles me: how could a railroad save money by replacing simple, reliable metallic control circuits with new equipment that's more complicated, more expensive, and which requires more expert installation and maintenance? How does that create savings?

The poles have been torn down and abandoned next to the tracks in my area, so there's no danger. How do you remove an insulator from a crossarm?


Where did they go? Why are sounders and keys so easy to get (they're all over ebay), but repeaters so hard? What happened to them?

Not only the stock exchange: the commercial paper industry, the credit reporting industry, and the Federal Reserve System were all made necessary and possible by the telegraph. By allowing orders and credit to flow faster than the old paper-based financial instruments, the telegraph caused a revolution in the industrial way of life: many of the "recent" inventions we now take for granted, such as "instant" hotel reservations, easy access to credit from any point on the globe, and just-in-time inventory, were impossible before the telegraph and became common very quickly after it was introduced.


The Morse KOB setups are wonderful aids during "Living History" demonstrations: it's possible for a single reenactor to demonstrate sending, receiving, and delivering a telegram with just a KOB device and a phone line.

Bill Horne (Filter QRM for direct replies)

Reply to
Bill Horne

First, many thanks for obtaining the information from Mr. Wades. Very interesting!

I believe it was the No. 5 toll test board that had Morse keys on the keyshelf as part of the testing tools. The Morse probably wasn't used for many years although the No. 5 test board remained in service. Perhaps in later years the Morse keys were removed.

I would suspect because the new equipment could do more things and do them faster.

"CTC" is Centralized Traffic Control, whereby a dispatcher in a _distant_ place has control over switch junctions over a long stretch of railroad. This is more efficient than have an individual manned tower at each switch point, but it was expensive. CTC sent out coded signals directing a particular switch or signal to do something and received back an acknowledgement that it was done. The pulse rate, by today's standards, was rather slow and limited. A more modern system would operate faster and provide more options, such as multiple levels of permissable speed. It might be more reliable than open wire on poles. Also, the old systems, though fail safe, were very labor intensive, and many were old, dating from the 1940s or 1950s and worn out.

Oslin's book goes into detail over this. I believe it was in the

1960s when WU introduced its "900" stock ticker system to provide faster throughput given the higher volume of trading on the stock exchanges.

WU built numerous private line teleprinter networks for government, large corporations, banks, and brokerage houses. In the 1960s it hoped these networks would be its future. It also hoped to (or actually did) install broadband and voice on these networks. This was one area where WU competed head to head with AT&T. WU felt that FCC decisions in that era favored AT&T over WU at WU's expense (per Oslin) in "record message" (data) communications.

WU was also involved in "Computer I" policy debates which were to define the boundary between common carrier and end user as applied to computer communications. Back then the common carriers were worried that computer owners would use their computers and private networks to do message switching and transmission.

It's ironic because in communications today the concept of a tightly regulated "common carrier" has far less significance than in those days.

Although, with the big Bell System gone, who manages the national communications network? What happens if a big physical chunk of it becomes disabled or segments become overwhelmed with traffic and fail?

Thanks again for the background information.

Reply to

Thanks for the Jim Wades article; he's an authority in the field.

It was along a stretch of Missouri-Pacific (now Union Pacific) where I saw the railroad pole line on one side of the track and the W.U. pole line on the other.

As has been mentioned, Postal Telegraph built along roads, and I presume that is because it came a lot later historically, when the public road system was a lot better developed than it had been in


George Oslin's book "The Story of Telecommunications" was mentioned, and it is a must-read in spite of its faults. A complement to this book is "The Telegraph" by Lewis Coe. I don't know if Coe was associated with Postal but he seems to be telling much of the story from a Postal point of view.

Western Union operated ground-return duplexed time-division-multiplexed teleprinter circuits until about 1950, when they switched over to frequency division multiplexing, otherwise known as carrier. The changeover was painful, because their pole lines were not designed for metallic circuits (meaning two-wire, no ground return) as required by the carrier systems. They couldn't just start with two wires that were on adjacent pins at one end of a pole line and assume those two wires would stay on adjacent pins for the length of the run. And two wires on adjacent pins were not necessarily of the same wire gauge or material.

Postal may have been behind W.U. in its state of development because of limited funds, but it was not lacking for good people. One example was Gilbert Vernam, who invented the Vernam cipher when he was working for AT&T back in the first world war period, then went to Postal and then to W.U. when they acquired Postal. He was a prolific inventor in the field of automatic switching. Another was Walter Marshall, who was president of W.U. back when it was still a successful company.

***** Moderator's Note *****

You bring up an excellent point about the ground-return wire layouts, and you remind me of something else which would have been a problem: inter-pair capacitance.

On open-wire telephone lines, when there's more than one pair of wires on the pole, each pair had to be periodically reversed to equalize the capacitance between it and adjacent pairs. If this wasn't done, the lines suffered from crosstalk, so (especially for carrier systems, where managing noise is critical) W.U. would not only have had to create pairs from individual wires, but they would have had to install crossover arms on a subset of the poles, educate their field forces to perform multiple transpositions (it got quite complicated, because every lead had to be equalized to every other).

I wonder if Western Union retrofit their existing pole plant, or just installed new poles for the carrier circuits. Come to think of it, how did they deal with electrical noise from electrified train lines?

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to
Jim Haynes

You will recall that Alexander Graham Bell was trying to invent a multiplex telgraph system, probably hamonic in nature, when he got the idea for the telephone.

We had a very skilled Teletype operator in the Dallas bureau of United press who started out as an operator for Merrill Lynch in Tulsa.

Wes Leatherock snipped-for-privacy@aol.com snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com

Reply to

The two pole lines on either side of the right-of-way were normally telephone company and W.U./railroad shared. Many exceptions exist. Wes Leatherock snipped-for-privacy@aol.com snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com

Reply to

WU was heavilly involved in private wire networks that interconnected banks, stock exchanges, and brokerage houses. It was WU that transmitted the stock ticker quotes from NY (and other exchanges) to the rest of the country. In brokers' offices, the ticker was printed on transparent tape which was then projected onto a screen for clients to observe. I don't think brokers' today have rooms for clients to do that.

I wonder when the various financial organizations discontinued using WU facilities and went to other means. Wiki suggests 1970 but I think it lasted somewhat later than that. In 1960 WU recognized that the classic public message telegram was obsolete and sought to greatly expand its private wire networks as the mainstay of its business.

In reading old WU employee newsletters I get the sense WU had more and earlier job opportuntiies for women than the Bell System did. For instance, WU had women in crafts jobs and local office managers long before Bell did. I get the impression that many women in the Bell System worked only a few years until they had a family and then left, while WU seemed to a much higher number of older women, many working for WU for decades despite being married. A late 1960s article described a new mother who chose to continue to stay on at work, which was a new idea at the time. On the other hand, I'm not sure what WU was able to pay its operating employees; the company was never wealthy in the post war era and had its share of labor difficulties.

As mentioned, WU had a huge branch office network throughout the nation, even small suburban towns had a WU branch office. WU modernized their appearance and equipment in the 1950s, though in the

1980s most were closed and replaced by independent agents and the equipment written off as obsolete. I wonder what the atmosphere was like working in a small town branch office where the whole workforce was together in a single storefront. Were duties shared or strictly delineated? Was the work atmosphere informal or highly structured?

I interviewed a retired telephone operator. When she worked in a tiny town's manual switchboard the atmosphere was rather informal (what we call today "custom calling" services were routinely provided by the town operator). But when the town went dial she was transferred to a nearby city where the atmosphere was highly structured and regimented. I wonder if the same applied to WU in its various locations--a large office in a city being structured while a small town office being more informal.

Since a big part of their job was handling money (payment for telegrams and wire transfers) and "mission critical" message transmittal, I assume WU did have a fair amount of structure and controls even in small branches. Accounting offices are usually somewhat stiff and formal with tightly defined routines. One newsletter article describes a fraud attempt against the company, foiled by the operator sticking to procedure. (So we had "email fraud" 50 years ago).

In 1978 I knew a WU operator who took requests over the phone and keyed them into a computer in a large data center. She described the office as extremely structured. The computer tracked every keystroke and tallied edit errors as part of productivity totals. Restroom breaks were tracked by the computer. However, WU paid very well for kind of work at that time. The job was union.

Reply to

Women were sought by W.U. as operators from very early on. See "The American Telegrapher: a social history 1860-1900" by Edwin Gabler. Of course women got paid less than men, and after some initial skepticism proved able to do a man's job as an operator. Western Union and the Cooper Union Institute in 1869 jointly started a free telegraphy course for women. It lasted through the early 1890s, turning out about 80 graduates a year. The school was much despised by men because it contributed to a chronic oversupply of telegraph operators, helping to hold wages down. The course took 8 months to complete. I imagine it took that long because many of the students came from blue-collar families and were raised in the slums; so they had to be taught social graces to deal politely with the public in addition to telegraphy.

It's interesting that one of the early telegraph unions demanded equal pay for equal work, male and female. I wonder whether the male operators supported that demand because it was the right thing to do; or if they supported it because they knew if the companies had to pay men and women the same they would hire only men.

Reply to
Jim Haynes

In manual days the Bell System was strict about its operators. In very small towns they had a contract operator who operated the switchboard out of her living room, with her kids helping out. They lived in a furnished house rented to them by Bell. Bell had inspectors who would check everything, including the contents of bureau drawers per regulations. (Per "From Muttering Machines to Laser Beams")

In large cities, where Bell employed young women often away from home and in the big city for the first time, Bell also had 'matrons' as supervisors/ counselors for the young women. In the literature they say the matrons helped girls who were homesick and lonely and provided other motherly services. I strongly suspect they also kept a sharp eye on the girls to ensure proper decorum (wholesomeness) off the job. (Many large companies back then expected such decorum off the job and inspected their people in their homes.)

Central offices contained considerable space for break rooms and cafeterias for employees. One motivation to convert to dial was that that space could be utilized for other purposes.

But one motivation to maintain manual switching was the very high capital cost of switchgear; and enough had to be on hand to service the peak hour even if the gear was idle much of the time. Switchboards were compartively cheap and they simply had fewer operators during off peak times.

(This was the same bane of commuter railroads--the capital investment of trains and stations had to be big enough to handle the rush hours, but most of the time the investment was idle.)

***** Moderator's Note *****

I doubt it was that simple: operators may not have been needed in off-peak hours, but they still had to earn enough to make a living, and telco managers knew that. Automated switch gear, although initially expensive, also meant the operating companies could avoid training costs, wages, and retirement benefits for operators.

The bane of commuter railroads wasn't the cost of equipment or stations, nor even of the right-of-way and track, which is (by far) the most expensive plant a railroad owns. The bane of commuter rail is the oil industry, which sabotages public mass transit at every turn (pun intended).

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to

Back in the peak days of manual service--the 1910s when telephone usage was high but virtually all manual--compensation was very low. The young women could only afford to live in rooming houses or doubled up. There were virtually no benefits, nor any payroll taxes in those days. Most were doing the job only until they found a husband which was the norm in those days. The job of a basic A or B operator was very simple and required little training, supervision was intensive. Even back then the boards had automatic ringing. The more experienced operators would handle long distance or supervision.

WW I drove up wages and increased traffic which changed the wage/ capital balance and motivated Bell to develop panel for big cities and use step for community dial offices too small to justify paying an operator 24/7. But intermediate offices remain manual for many years.

The cost of converting to dial was substantial. New dial sets had to be installed at every subscriber, a big labor cost. Subscribers had to be educated on how to use dial; they even sent out people door to door to do so plus extensive publicity campaigns. Engineers had to study the geography and commerce of the area to plan for future growth and capacity requirements. The switch had to be custom designed for that location, then built, then installed. Men had to be trained to maintain the switch which was much more complex than a switchboard. Arrangements for dial connections to/from nearby offices had to be arranged, including trunking. Cutover required busying out interoffice trunks, holding most calls, providing for emergency calls, making the cut, checking it, and resuming service. If an emergency call came in the cutover had to wait. (Ref: Cinn Bell writeup on cutover). The Bell System cared about its operators and made arrangements long in advance to mimize layoffs. Offices planned for dial would freeze hiring, and temps used if needed.

Cutover to dial still required many operators for DA, assistance, and long distance. (In 1970, Bell pay phones at a resort hotel were _manual_, answered by a toll operator on the presumption that any guest using a phone would be calling long distance and needed the toll operator anyway.)

Reply to
[ probably not for posting ]

For commuter railroads, the biggest problem was competition from highways that were publicly funded and paid no taxes. I agree that streetcards were killed by the well known NCL conspiracy between GM and oil companies.

R's, John

Reply to
John Levine

Just realized: Can't recall ever seeing that same line of argument (capital investment, operating and maintenance and insurance and medical costs, and fraction of time idle) applied to the family car (and then integrated over a community, of course).

***** Moderator's Note *****

Ah, but having a car means you are in charge of your life and can do whatever you want. ;-)

Ask any advertising executive: the investment isn't in the _capability_, it's in the _possibility_.

Bill Horne, who has got to get that muffler fixed today ... Moderator

Reply to

That was clearly demonstrated in Philadelphia. After the NCL takeover the system immediately purchased 1,000 GMC buses to replace streetcars.

Telecom refs:

The transit company had a massive private dial telephone system throughout the city, as did most transit carriers. The suburban carrier and the Reading Railroad used magneto (local battery) phones. The stuff was upgraded in the 1980s.

It used to be standard that subway tunnels had phones in case a train broke down and the motorman had to call for assistance. Trains have radios now. I wonder if the tunnel phones are still there and working or have been vandalized or eliminated.

Many commuter train tunnels, such as under the Hudson and East Rivers in NYC, are wired so that cellphones work in them. But many subway tunnels are not, though transit carriers are negotiating deals with cellphone companies. A lot of people are opposed to this since they don't want cell phone yakkers on the subway trains. I agree.

The pioneer automated Metroliner train phone was a prototype for tunnel antennas and the celluar 'handoff' technology. Getting radio waves to propagate properly in a tunnel is not easy.

Speaking of modern technology, one thing I dislike on new subway cars are automated announcements. They are frequent and constant, and give the train a "1984" atmosphere. In old sci-fi movies the idea of computerized announcements was always shown as an _undesirable_ aspect of future life when humans were enslaved. I recently rode an older subway car without the automation and while the train was noisier overall, the absence of constant announcements was quite pleasant.

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The same thing happened in the early 70's when TSPS came along, GTE in Calif. dropped over 50% of toll operators.

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This is long since disproven, see:

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Reply to
John David Galt

See The History Detectives piece on this:

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David Lesher

I'm going to add some input, but note it's second-hand (from one of my grandfathers and his son, one of my uncles) who lived in Baltimore MD and worked in transit for a combined 100 years.

That grandfather came to the USA in the late 1800s and worked the streetcars in Baltimore. The streetcars were the only things that worked in the heavy snows that would cover the streets -- buses couldn't do it. That uncle (his son) entered the workforce at Baltimore Transit after WW-II, started on the ground floor as a mechanic on diesel buses, and was VP of Baltimore Transit when he retired from Baltimore Transit (1990s).

Both gentlemen told me in the early 1950s that GM was behind the push to eliminate streetcars in favor of diesel buses. Now that's almost 60 years ago they said that during normal conversation, neither gentleman had any axes to grind, and they had no reason to lie to me.

If anyone's in the area (Baltimore MD) and wants to verify this, last name is Byczkowski, uncle's first name is Charles, and for the life of me I cannot remember my Granddad's first name.

Reply to
Thad Floryan

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