More efficient than any of today’s communication method was the five rings of the telephone that meant every receiver in the community would be lifted. Five rings by the operator or by anyone in trouble signalled and emergency. One long ring meant someone was calling “Central” to connect them with a friend or neighbour on a different party line. Often too this meant the receivers were up with ears fastened to them.
While few admitted to the practice called “rubbering”, probably even fewer refrained from it. Even those caught “red-eared” didn’t own up. In the middle of a call Mrs. —- said “Mary, you’re listening again!” to which Mary indignantly replied, “I am not.” People speaking another language was a source of frustration for those rubbering. A pair of Finnish women were rudely interrupted by an irritated, “Why don’t you two speak English?: Another eavesdropper, Mrs. C., overheard Mrs. H. addressing her neighbour Mrs. J. as “Grumrah”. The next time Mrs. C met Mrs. J., Mrs. C called her “Grumrah”, thinking that was her name. The cat was out of the bag, and Mrs. J. laughed , explaining that the word meant “old woman” in their language.
Everyone remembers trying to get the line while a couple of neighbours would be looking through the catologue together. ” What do you think of the blue dress on page 50?”
One man, tired of waiting, tried, “I smell the beans burning!” and was gratified to hear receivers clicking all along the line, but on a rainy day even the men used the phone conversationally, and people would “fix tractors” over the phone.
The telephone became a connecting link in the community like nothing else. Women without transportation or the time to go anywhere, were bale to break the loneliness of winter while their husbands were off to the camps. Homemakers relieved there aching feet with a visit to with the neighbour. Through the phone, the knowledge and experience of all the community was made available to any young homemaker or Eastern Greenhorne.
Westover’s International, across the river, was the first phone line in Chapple. It consisted of a pole erected on an island river, linking the two Westover farms. This line was unceremoniously snipped when “Ma Bell” took over.
The minutes of the Chapple municipal Telephone system give the details of the organization and the growth of the phone service to it’s subscribers.
At the Weston Hall, February 8, 1915, George W. Hughes was elected Chairman and J. M. McNabb Secretary of the newly organized Chapple municipal Phone System. The Secretary’s salary would be $30 per year and not more that $50. It was decided that there would be two regular meetings in 1915, on June 2, and on October 6. the annual motion was passed which would enable ten of more subscribers to call a special meeting. Three commissioners were appointed to serve during the years 1915, 1916 and 1917: George W. Hughes, John Potter, and A.T. McKenzie. B.W. Hadley was appointed as Secretary of the Commission, but died before his term was finished. An entry of $2.90 given to Mrs. Hadley is mute evidence of the loss of her husband. Evertte Kernahan replaced him as secretary. Motions made concerning a Commissioners wages, amended or rescinded, were as follows:
$2.50 /day without mileage
$2.50 /day plus 10 cents /mile one way
30 cents / hour from the time they leave home until the time they quite work
The first Commissioners’ meeting made a decision to make contracts for poles for the various lines, and to have secretary draw maps showing the location of and the distance of their house from the road. A copy of these maps was to be sent to each of the two electric companies on order to get estimates of the materials required. On February 11, 1915 a contract was given to G. Hughes to put up one of the first new lines. it was to go south from Kilpatrick’s corner providing people along the Barwick road with service.
On March 13, of the same year, steps were taken to purchase the Stratton Telephone Company. Tenders were requested for erecting poles and wiring, and for Central operation. Thomas Weston was accepted as Central Operator and the tender of Beninger and Hoard was accepted for the construction of the line. In June, Frank King was appointed as inspector of the line @ $3.00 per day. Recruiting officer, Lieutenant McLean was provided with a free phone.
At a meeting of subscribers held on October 6, 1915, a motion was passed that no subscriber was to permit a non-subscriber to use a private phone. Another carried motion was to that effect that, though George Hughes paid for the cost of the private wire and installed a pay station he would still be required to pay the same as other subscribers. His private line from Barwick to Blackhawk was purchased in 1927, by the CMT for $175/ Broken insulators were always a problem and in that same year rewards were offered for the prevention of the same.
the annual meeting of subscriber held, Jan 9, 1917, passed a motion to pay the Stratton Telephone company $15 per year for free exchange over all of their lines. Stratton Telephone company was to be charge one cent per call for all calls originating from their line. In September of 1917, a motion passed that a special rate of 10 cents be charged to all Indians phoning from Manitou on the CMTS lines. On March 13, 1920, the Secretary was instructed to prepare agreements between Chapple and Stratton telephone systems, ratifying free exchange between the two systems.
It was the operator Mrs. Davis, who had the responsibility of carrying out many of the motions passed by the commissioners. She, however exercised her discretion and sometimes allowed calls from people who had not paid their accounts. The commissioners frowned on this, but their kind-hearted operator remained at her post. On April 25, 1924, a motion passed that Mrs. Davis be notified that girls at the switchboard must pay strict attention to the time limit when another party wants the line, also to be more prompt when answering, and to see that parties calling through Central get the party called before hanging up. in 1924 a time limit of five minutes per call was set with the penalty being termination of the call by the operator. One grouchy customer who wanted his neighbours removed from his line evoked this reaction from the secretary: CMT will be very glad to get rid of him as soon as he pays for the service already rendered to him.
The affairs of the Chapple municipal Telephone System came to a close in 9158 when the Sec. Tres. Charles Bebb wrote to the Ontario Telephone System to that effect, although Ma Bell had already been managing the system for a few years.
Billy Wilson, The Telephone Man
For decades telephone and Billy Wilson were sysnymous terms in Chapple. Was there any trouble with the lines? Billy was called upon. From 1923 to 1959, his services were available to all the local telephone systems in the district. He went from Barwick to Rainy River by train and backtracked by bike of on foot to find the source of the problem. in winter, with deep snow drifts, it was not a job for the faint of heart.
A lineman’s work required the ability to evaluate and purchase good quality cedar posts, purchasing from local timber men, Rusting old galvanized wires had to be replace with better quality line. Billy replaced batteries and other parts of malfunctioning phone in peoples’ homes. His job in his own word, was to keep the equipment in tip-top shape, and keep it repaired as cheaply as possible. Billy used his knowledge of the community to assist individuals where there was need,. The Wilsons organized many local benefits and relief efforts
On a personal note: Long after his retirements, I met Bill Wilson at the Emo hospital where we both suffered from pneumonia. He tried to teach me proper use of a spittoon. I could not pass the test, but his good-humoured helpfulness was an example to me.