A Trip to the Telephone Museum

 

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A Fun Time Looking Backward

By Annette Rey

Can you imagine this little side trip to be interesting to anyone, adult or child? Yet, it was just that. And more. The Telephone Museum is the type of place that appeals to many types of minds; those who are mechanically inclined, history buffs, the technologically curious, the aged for a reminiscent look back, the uninformed child, the writer (see my other site, https://writersblocknomore.com/2017/01/29/writers-seek/).

One of the first telephones that amazed me was an 1876 unit (on right in photo). It held a container of acid in its casing. The chemical 100_7549reaction in the container generated electricity that enabled voice to travel over wires. As the chemical reaction weakened, the voices faded out. I can’t invent a better hairpin, so I am in awe of even this dated technology.

A later model used batteries instead of an acid container (on left in photo). Notice the three large batteries wired to the cabinet below the mouthpiece.

As early as 1878, pay telephone stations were available at places like hotels. I found it humorous that the attendant locked the caller in a booth until he received payment for the call. All the bulging eyes and foot-kicking from the inside of the booth did not deter the attendant. It was a no tolerance policy and, with such a new technology, people had to be made to understand they were buying a service and payment was due.

Service in rural areas was non-existent unless an 100_7530entrepreneurial spirit took the reins. Generally, a farmer connected his house with his nearby family. A whole two houses would be on that circuit. Another farmer made a side-business out of the new technology. He bought three switchboard units and installed them in each of his daughters’ bedrooms. Twenty-five households were on that rural circuit. One of the units is pictured here.

At first glance, the museum is just a place of glass cases full of pieces of equipment staring blankly back into the room. But the guided tour makes the displays come to life. That’s interesting in itself, isn’t it? Inanimate objects can be given life by language. In addition to years, words make them antiques, pieces of history. As if by osmosis, in the presence of an object that came from another period, I feel a connection to that eventful time and place. I am transported, and my imagination pictures the scene; the lonely country road with the first telephone poles, the farmhouse wall holding the new crank unit, the candlestick model on the harried newsman’s desk. How many fancy flappers, G-men and gangsters, doctors and dockworkers, came to depend on this miracle invention?

100_7528I saw the large switchboard that was wheeled out of storage for each of four presidential visits to my city, from Johnson to Carter (pictured at the left).

A U.S. Army, olive-drab, World War II, field telephone sits behind the glass and I wonder, what soil did it lay in? Normandy? The Battle of the Bulge? What young soldier depended on it, turned its trusty crank, and urgently called for heavy artillery support?

As time marched on, telephones became lighter in 100_7514weight, and changed in color, shape, and size. In the 1960s the car phone hit the scene, but was not commonly used by the everyday telephone customer. They depended on home, business, and pay phones in telephone booths.

The 1990s saw novelty telephones on the market, but again, these did not replace the preferred home and business models.

Today a telephone is loosely referred to as a cell. It can be flat, just a few square inches in size, and weigh only ounces. Verbal communication reaches from the earth to space stations and back. The people of the eras behind us could not imagine such things, and millions of people who live today cannot imagine what life was like for people who had to travel hours and miles just to see a heavy, new-fangled, communication gadget adhered to a wall.

A look at history is intriguing and fun. Education is not boring. Take your kids to these out-of-the-way places and show them another way to look at commonplace items that are in their lives today.

Perspective is everything.

 

 

 

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Whole Lotta Livin’ Goin’ On

Let in a little sunshine and read on – there’s a big surprise at the end.

As President of the Writer’s Society of Jefferson County (Missouri), I try to participate in the interests of our members. Recently, one of our published authors, Marty Ray, Three Gold Nuggets, invited me to a performance of his band at a local rural restaurant. I attended and found some additional gold in them thar hills.

I drove south from Festus on Interstate 55 to Laddie Boys II Restaurant (2595 Highway 61 South, Festus, Missouri, call them at 636-933-9394 for more detailed directions).

Laddie Boys II Restaurant

A very large, open room greeted me when I entered Laddie Boys; equipped with a bank of tables and chairs to the right and a glass case/counter in the far left corner. It reminded me of the nostalgic, typical automobile travel stops along rural roadways that offer good food and trinkets for purchase made by local crafters showcased behind the glass. Racks of animal horns hang on the walls behind the counter – too small for deer, I think.

Glass Case and Horn Racks

Further to the left is an even larger dining room with a high, raftered ceiling. Of course, all you have to do is follow the music and you are there. Families and friends were seated at over half the tables and booths available. I was pleasantly surprised that though people had come to gather and eat and have fun, no conversation was disturbing or disrespectful to the band. Ages from little ones to oldest ones were in attendance and all behaved beautifully.

“C. T. and the Retirees” is the moniker of the band that regaled us that lovely Saturday afternoon. The band boasted five men and one woman – the other female singer was out of town “looking to bring five men back with her” or “five horses”, I forget which. So said the big jokester band members.

C.T. and the Retirees

Country music has never been the music that moves me, but I have respect for almost all genres of music (gangster rap – NOOOO!!!) I suppose I enjoy looking backward at a strong and well-defined America. We knew who we were, our beliefs were clearly stated and the culture we built reflected our hard work ethics. Part of our culture includes the Midwest, the Heartland. Here, the unique chords of country/western tunes could be heard from strumming “ge-tars” on a front porch and softly wafting from radios behind a café and grill counter.

The C.T. band plays in a style reminiscent of the birth of old-time country. C.T. describes it this way, “We play old country and add a change to the beat. The words are the same. By adding the mouth harp, we present an old-fashioned Delta Blues style that goes well with the Dobro guitar – reminiscent of Jimmy Reed in the 1930’s.” For a real versatile, enjoyment opportunity, they add Bluegrass and ballads to the mix. The band members are dedicated to entertaining people but they also want to resurrect the old music and preserve it for future generations. To that end, they record all their performances.

To you city folks, the mouth harp is a harmonica; we’ll all have to guess what a Dobro guitar is. Show up at the next band performance, talk to the band members and get the answer to that one.

Mary, the lone female singer (and guitar player), struck me with her representation of long ago, truly down-home singers. She puts a vibration into her voice; a trilling, tremulous sound that strokes the memory chords of her listeners. I have dubbed her “The Warbler.” Of course, the quipsters in the band are now calling her “The Wobbler.” She takes their jesting with a genuine, gentle smile.

Some of the tunes that enthralled the audience were “Take These Chains From My Heart”, “Trying To Get To You”, and “Train, Train” accented with a realistic, high-pitched train whistle. I really liked that touch. “This Old House” got people clapping and tapping – and a cute one, “If I Fall For You, Will You Catch Me?” The band dedicated a song to me, “You Get A Line, I’ll Get A Pole”. Go figure. But I tapped and swayed right along with it.

And times, they are a-changin’. “C.T. and the Retirees” perform at locations that made my eyes widen in surprise. They play at Wendy’s in Herculaneum every Wednesday and every other Monday and at Laddie Boys Restaurant two Saturdays a month. They’ll be appearing at Windsor Library in Barnhart, Saturday, October 1, 2p.m. (how does that work? Don’t expect silence in the library on that day); and at the Soldier’s Home (that’s what C.T. called it – reminded me of the Civil War) in Warrensburg on September 9 and 10. For details call 314-225-7527.  All events are free.

Every successful performer has a following of “groupies” and they have theirs, too. Some of them are over ninety years old. See, they remember those days and they’re not dead yet. If they can’t dance, they stomp and sway in their chairs.

A few ladies I interviewed admitted they are groupies, too, and put it this way –

Bev – “I brought my fifteen year old granddaughter to one of their performances. Before the band reached the middle of their set, she was whistling at them with two fingers placed between her teeth. She almost drowned them out.”

Mary – “They play down-to-earth and sing-along music with rhythm and talent. I enjoy them very much.”

Pat – “They remind me of how the really famous country performers got their break – they started out in honky-tonks. I like the interplay between the members. You can tell they are really enjoying themselves.”

And though Laddie Boys is not a honky-tonk, (there’s not an alcoholic drink in the house), the audience ate their meals and their bottoms didn’t leave the chairs (except those that danced) until the band started packing up their gear. It was obvious they came for the entertainment – it doesn’t take two hours to eat a hamburger.

Eatin' and Enjoyin', Listenin' and Laughin'

I ordered a quarter pound burger with fries for $3.99 and was very pleased when I saw the fries were not those skinny, shriveled “string” fries but what I call “real” fries. The ketchup brand on the table was labeled “Gourmet table brand ketchup” – never heard of it before – but it was sweet and really good. And I tapped my feet and bobbed my head to the music while crunching those really crisp and tasty raw onions. What more can you ask for?

Oh, and they had a 50/50 drawing – I lost. So maybe I could have asked for that.

Bob, one of the guitar players, lost his wife only a month ago. One of the ladies in the audience lost her husband in December. Joyce and Alice, the “over fifty” dancers, might otherwise be in wheelchairs or worse. But all these people, and more, are expressing their humanness and indomitable spirit. They gather to meet old friends and make new ones. They are taking a mini-vacation from the troubles of life and enjoying a natural high as they appreciate the music and each other.

What I witnessed on that day, showed me that “C.T. and the Retirees” mean more to people than a “good time”. They touch people in a way that seems forgotten by today’s flash, deafening and shocking performers. C.T. and the other band members touch people “where they live” – in their hearts and simple lives.

I have saved the biggest announcement for last –

CHASING ELVIS

On August 27, 2011, at Laddie Boys Restaurant, Festus, Missouri, Elvis will be entering the building at 2:00pm! Be there – seated and ready when the show begins at 12:30pm.  “C.T. and the Retirees” will be presenting for your listening (and drooling) pleasure

—   Marty Ray as Elvis  —

White suit, black wig, scarves and all!!! Y’all come!!!

I, personally, can’t wait.