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“FLASHBACK to the 1950s,” my sister, Lori, called it.
We were on our early morning chat, Lori on her landline and me on my cell, and we could hear another voice. “Hello.......” Lori said. A man’s voice responded. “Hello?” Lori explained we were on a chat and asked where he was. “Norm” was on Court Street in Loyalton. We were both on Second. He and Lori were both with AT&T and Norm said the phone company would be out after he’d called several times. Phones only rang one time. Lori gave Norm her phone number and asked that he include her in any repair. We were just about to sign off when yet another voice came on. Norm said that was Larry from Truckee. Laughing, Norm said, “This is Loyalton.” We all wished each other a good day. He offered to let us talk but we signed off......just like the 1950’s.
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HELEN ROBERTI remembers not having a phone. “When I was a teenager I thought everyone had a phone except us! All my friends in town had one but we didn’t! There were ‘farmer’s lines’ in some places, just not by us,” she says.
Those farmer lines were a real life line with Louise Ghidossi as operator. During the big winter of 1951-52, Helen stated it was the only line that didn’t go down because it was only one wire and ran from Scolari’s (now Lost Marbles) and it stayed up all that winter, allowing folks to visit.
Helen and the late Elmer Roberti were married in 1954 and didn’t have a phone. Elmer’s mother, Josephine had one, on the farmer’s line from Beckwourth as far as Scolari’s (Lost Marbles Ranch) then it turned east and was attached to the wooden fence posts going through the sagebrush pastures to the Roberti Ranch about four miles away and had existed many years. It never required maintenance and in many places just laid on the ground.
A new building was going up in Loyalton for the telephone company so the offer came to them for the farmer line. Helen remembers, “We had to build the line to Loyalton to be connected. So, Elmer and his dad, Alfred, did build it in the fall of 1955.” Each party on the party line was supposed to build their own line from their house to the main line. “Well,” Helen says, “some did but most didn’t! Elmer and Alfred built the main line and their’s too!” The main line ran from Dyson Lane up the six mile stretch to Loyalton City limit. Then Pacific Bell took over. Elmer and Alfred helped or built most of the seven legs to hook on to the main line.
At the time, Elmer was a member of the National Guard and drove to Quincy every Monday night. There was a small mill there and he would pick up “pecky cedar” posts to take home to serve as tele-
phone poles on the new project. Elmer had an auger on the tractor to help dig the post holes but the hard pan half way to town was very difficult to penetrate, so they filled 10-gallon milk cans with water and filled the holes and left them to soak which helped a little.
Helen was pregnant with their eldest son, Jim, and remembers painting those posts with creosote, a category of carbonaceous chemicals formed by the distillation of various tars used to protect wood outdoors. She remembers having had a “big brush,” and how “it smelled so strong.”
Finally the telephone was hooked up and was the first phone Helen had ever had. It was a wall unit with the crank and many years later, son, Dave, refinished it at school. Josie’s was a table model, complete with crank. All calls went through Operator Clara Short. The switchboard in Loyalton, located behind Timber Cafe, was bigger than Beckwourth’s.
There were seven parties on their line starting with Elmer, Josie, Edith Huntley, Lucky Hereford cook house, Lucky Hereford “DeBerg” (the former Albert Dotta Ranch), Leon Dotta and Charlie Wily.
Helen states Elmer had a “hard job” as he did all the upkeep and repairs on the main line and of course, did the legs too because if one of the legs was down the whole line was. Sometimes the line might be pulled half way across a field because a piece of farm equipment caught it and the driver didn’t notice - or care.
When the phones were hooked up there were a few minor problems since they were sharing the line with six other people and needed short conversations or at least to get off the phone when they knew someone else needed it. Some did and some didn’t. When someone’s phone was inadvertently left off the hook they usually found it and put it back on. If they didn’t Elmer had to track it down.
For Helen, “rubber necking,” or listening in on other’s conversations was a problem. Josie thought it was o.k. to do it. She just didn’t want anyone listening in on her conversations. Among others, Helen shared a line with Edith Huntley and Josie shared with Helen’s parents which was awkward so the lines were switched.
Some spoke Swiss to avoid being understood. Helen had gone to Santa Rosa and learned “Double Dutch.” She taught it to her friend, Betty Ramelli, and the two would speak it to confuse any who may be listening in.
Phones would each have unique rings. Helen remembers being called, “Helen of the two rings,” by Gwen Warren’s granddaughter.
In the early eighties they had a new line to build. So, Elmer and the Roberti boys built that one but it was for a buried cable, no poles from their ranch to Highway 49. This ended the need for the farmer party line - they had private lines! Helen says, “While we were grateful for the farmer line, we sure enjoyed the private line!”
For the private line, they dug a deep trench for the telephone company to lay the cable for about four miles and, Helen says, “With no more line repairs!”
Some of the old farmer line remained along the six-mile stretch. Those old pecky cedar posts served another purpose when Roy White used them to hang television lines. The last remaining poles of the original line were recently taken out of the former Wily Ranch, now Grandi’s, and those few just coming into town.
IT’S COLD! Monday’s temperature at the Filippini Ranch was 11 degrees below zero. In town, it was as low as -5. All Loyalton schools had a late start.
Tuesday, in town, it was reported -6.