OPERATOR, OPERATOR, GIVE ME A LINE
By Betty Kissee Strickland Lawson
In 1935, more than half of the homes in the United States had radios,
people could afford gasoline at nineteen cents a gallon, the average
home was $1,501, and bread was ten cents a loaf; yet, in Franklin,
Kansas, there were only thirteen telephones, most of which were at
Some of those owning these phones were Dobrauc’s Grocery, Bruffy
Brothers Grocery, Pete Ginardi’s, Battatori’s Garage, Mrs. Brisart and
Kissee’s. The other seven are not in my mind of cobwebs.
These phones were large, wooden boxes with a crank and an ear piece in
its side and a mouthpiece extending on a long neck from its middle.
Ours , with much pride, hung behind the front door, as if it knew what
was going on. Hmmmmmmmmm, if this old box could only talk. Oh! The
tails it could and would tell. Let me iterate just a few.
All thirteen people were on the same line so when you desired to make a
call, you picked up the receiver (ear piece) and listened to be sure no
one was using the line. Finding no one there, you turned the crank one
time and waited. A lady’s, friendly voice uttered, “Number, please”.
You gave her the number you desired then she graciously rang it for
you. If calling Pittsburg, a larger town just south of Franklin, you
might repeat a number such as 529-J or 126-B. The letters wee because
two people were using that line and you must designate which you
desired. Our phone number was 916F-13. When calling someone on your
line, you simply cranked the proper number of “longs and shorts”.
Now, about the party line in Franklin. Each person had a different
ring. Ours was one long and three shorts (rings, that is). Someone else
might have three longs and three shorts, and even another, one long and
one short etc etc. They were clearly distinguishable.
The phone rang all day and all night and one soon trained himself not
to allow it to break into his night’s slumber. Strange how we can train
our minds to hear only what we want it to hear. No matter what or whose
ring happened along, Mrs. Brisart would answer. No matter what you did
or said, she insisted it rang her residence. There were times most of
us wondered if she had nothing to do but answer. It sometimes was
difficult to entice her to hang up so you could talk to your party.
There were many who had no phone so they would go to one of the
businesses and all their boyfriends or girlfriends and talk for ages
and ages, as if they were paying the bill. There was nothing to stop
anyone from picking up the receiver and listening to any conversation.
I am afraid I was as guilty as any teenager by indulging in this
practice and got quite an education from some of those conversations.
There were those who would talk about any of their promiscuous
escapades, knowing anyone might be listening. I still grin as I write.
There were times when Liz Manci and I just HAD to talk so I would ring
Bettatori’s Garage and ask them to go get Liz. Her daddy did not like
us to those at the garage but sometimes it was absolutely so important
that we could not resist. We had teenage secrets and used secret words
to let one another know when someone was standing close by and we could
not talk for a minute. How we giggled and talked about the boys we
would love to date. It was fun and memories are made of this.
Storms came often and as they did, our phone rang off the wall with “no
light calls” coming in one after the other. We were to be polite and
simply say, “Thank you. He is out working on it at this moment. Thank
you for calling.” Again and again the calls came until my daddy had
repaired the problem and lights were restored. Everyone knew my daddy
and when he passed away, people came to me and said, “Your daddy could
fix anything and did it with a smile and a friendly face.” A sense of
pride filled my aching heart for he had fixed many of my , including a
broken, teenage heart which had been wounded. It soon healed with his
and Mother’s understanding words. There were “connect” and “disconnect
calls” that came through that phone also…people who were moving or
someone who desired to have electricity.
The telephone company was Southwestern Bell, nicknamed “Ma Bell”, and
it definitely was a monopoly. Dobrauc’s had a phone like ours and
another one to Arma. The company was CraKan, I believe. When I wanted
to call my friends in Arma, I ran across the street to the store. To
call Arma from our Bell phone was long distance but we could call
Gossip????????? You’ve never heard the like when a couple of the camp’s
ladies got on those phones. Up the line and down again, it went. No one
was safe and Lord only knows we kids could not do anything wrong
because the whole camp would know it before the sun set. You have heard
of the three ways of fast communication….”telephone, telegraph, and
tell a woman”. To be sure, they got their kicks this way, I suppose. We
just had to laugh most of the time.
As you sit in the comfort of your living room, using your private
telephone line, stop and think how it was and how it would be if you
had to stand to use your phone and possibly be sharing your
conversation with thirteen others. We were just happy to even have a
Well, guess I had better get off this line. Someone else might need to
use it. Bye for now.
THE SLED RIDE
"The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow", Betty read
from her reader and felt sure it fully described Kansas winters.
By Betty Kissee Strickland Lawson
It would begin in November and end sometime in March, although
one April 6, they awakened to a yard full of snow eight inches deep. On
this particular January ,winter day, the white fluff fell but not so
quietly. The sharp, North wind smite her cheeks, bit her nose, and
numbed her fingers and toes as she walked directly into it to get home
after school. The coal stove in the living room roared with its firey
insides and the old black, coal bucket sat close by its side ready to
refuel the fire, if needed. Betty snuggled close to the stove turning
from front to back trying to rid heself of the cold.
After supper the North wind calmed down and the large, white flakes had
fallen one atop the other making a total ground cover. The brightness
of the moon's beautiful glow left but one thing on Betty's, Mother's,
and Daddy's mind. Daddy had suggested that if Mother and Betty would
get dressed real warmly, he'd pull them on the sled with the truck.
They chuckled as they put so many clothes on they could hardly bend or
walk. The sled had been her dadddy's when he was a boy and it hung,
proud of its family heritage, in the coal shanty out back. Daddy
removed it from its hook and used a rope to tie it to the back of the
truck. Mother and Betty boarded the sled and off they went down the
country road just South of the house. Over a bump then gliding over the
new-fallen snow as though it were smooth as glass. Betty and her mother
giggled and laughed like two school friends. As Daddy slowly turned the
curve of the road they leaned too far to the left and off the sled they
both rolled, right into a big, snow drift and it felt like a bed of
feathers. They laughed about the incident then dusted off the deposits
of snow from their clothing.
They got on the sled once again, gave her daddy the signal, and off
they went once again. The return home was full of memories of fun and
laughter. Mother made hot chocolate for Betty and coffee for Mother and
Daddy. They all sat by the fire warming their cold, cold bodies before
hopping into bed for the night.