It costs almost an identical amount to install a county wide phone service as it does an electrical grid. Who benefits — and follow the money trail — those two most important questions need to be asked. It is not about sticking poles in the ground, nor about stringing wire — nearly identical in both instances. Infra structure is the crucial element. So you have a phone — unless there is someone on the other end it is useless. There has to be infrastructure in many places — that is the determining factor. It must be begun somewhere and then build layers upon that somewhere. In electricity — the generator must do the production of power, and then the infra structure delivers it via layers to sub layers and then individually.
Early photos of New Plymouth show telephone poles before power poles by perhaps a couple of years. But “in town” is very different than on farms. Merchants can band together, and bring a phone line to a single point vastly cheaper than individual farmers who are spread far and wide, and who do not have equal means. So, other than relative few in or close to town, phones did not appear until WWII. Then it must have been given some kind of war priority. My family did not acquire a phone until 1943. I don’t know if that was economic or just not available.
Our phone itself, which was “rented” like all phones for decades until court decisions made Ma Bell desist. The rent was pennies, but went on forever, to the point that you could have bought the phone maybe even a hundred times or more. After we moved into our new house in 1945 we exchanged our old wall mount phone for one of those heavy bakelite phones. Years later in late 70s I discovered that my mom was still “renting” that phone! She had literally paid for it over 100 times when I made her turn it in and buy her own!
Around the beginning of WWII phone lines began to proliferate around Payette Valley. Once the initial poles and infrastructure were in, then additional lines were easy to add, until each telephone pole had 12-24 separate wires (very ugly along the roads). I don’t remember when it was undergrounded (80s?).
Our first phone in 1943 was a wall mounted, hand cranked model. Our number was 8-J2. The 2 on the end meant that on our 10 party line, our ring was two shorts. I remember going into the telephone office which was next to the post office in Pioneer Building. You could walk right in and talk to the operator sitting at the switchboard. Ruby Creps was one of our operators right after high school.
A party line was just that in many meanings of the word. Anyone, and everyone, could pick up and listen in — and often did. We all knew, of course, who was listening in — and could simply say, “Mabel get off the line!” And, she did. Or if desperate, you could simply break in and say it was an emergency, and they could have the line back in a couple of minutes. It did not displace gossip, it merely enhanced and made it faster — altho it is still hard to understand how anything could be faster! Of course we had all sorts on our party line. One lady out on Hwy 30, monopolized it so much, and had so many complaints that the phone company eventually gave her her very own line!
Of course phones changed our lives. Instead of the time honored driving into town late in evening to find someone at Peacock’s bar — the usual place business was transacted, one could simply call them. And it especially helped my dad’s tractor work for folks outside our immediate area. When we got our phone I was in third grade. I remember calling my buddy, David Burke and got the bad news that he was also sweet on Mary Grannon!