Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Chuck Hinman: IJMA. Ever Read A Telephone Book

Chuck Hinman: Ever Read A Telephone Book Chuck gives insight into rural telephone party lines in the 1930s when phones were four feet tall and neighbors listened in.
Next earlier Chuck Hinman column - It's A Jungle Out There!

By Chuck Hinman

Ever Read A Telephone Book

Have you read any good telephone books lately?

I grew up on a farm near Liberty, Gage County, in southeast Nebraska. It was in the 1930s, seventy some years ago.

Even though those years were spent in an economically depressed time, our large two-story farm home was relatively new and nicer than most houses in town.

Dad was a nut about buying and trying the newest thing on the market. He should have been a test engineer. We were the first in the area to have a Jacobs brand electric washing machine.

A telephone four feet high and a foot wide

When rural telephone lines were strung, we had a tall wall-telephone which seemed designed for installation in the centrally located hall of our house. You had to go through that room to get anywhere, including the second floor. The telephone was about four foot high and one foot wide. It had a little winder dealy on the side that produced bell sounds by which you could call people sharing your party line. Or you could summon "central" to assist you with all other calls including long-distance calls.

We were a part of the Liberty Bell Telephone system. The telephone book consisted of five pages showing names and telephone numbers.

Telephone book for bathroom reading

Our family chided Mom because every time she went to the bathroom, she would grab the phone book for reading material! You might wonder "What on earth could she possibly find to read in the telephone book?" Well, I'll tell you.

Mom became an expert analyzing a family's telephone number. She became adept at telling who neighbors were even though she did not know these people personally. She was the "go-to person" if you wanted to know where somebody lived.

An infringement of privacy? What? A telephone book?

Perhaps, but what mind-improving thing do you do when you go to the bathroom? And imagine the countless hours she spent honing this skill. No wonder she was an expert!

Miss a detail in conversation? Just call neighbor

Oh, yes, our telephone number was 420, and unless you had to go through the operator, Annie Fellers, who supposedly could, and did, listen to any conversation of her choosing, you reached the Hinman family telephone by ringing two short rings .. .. Hello!

If you missed an important detail in any conversation, all was not lost. You just rang two shorts and a long (ring) and asked our good neighbor -- Allie Dillow -- for the information you missed.

Party lines are not all that bad! It was high-tech communication in its hey-day and I was there...

Written by Chuck Hinman, from an email on 10 November 2009 but probably written earlier.

This story was posted on 2013-02-24 00:04:58
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by Linda Waggener and Pen Waggener, PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia Magazine. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.