The Good Old Days of Party Lines, Live Operators and Busy Signals!!!

The other day I was talking with my aunt who is in her 80’s.  She is very spry, goes to fitness classes and very active physically and mentally.  We were talking about calling someone and I told her the call went straight to voice mail and that maybe the person was on the line.  She then said to me, “Wouldn’t that give you a busy signal then?”   When she said that I was so surprised, “busy signal” when is the last time I had heard one of those?

party-lines

I laughed and told her no, that it would just go to voice mail and even wondered if the busy signal still existed.  It made me think and since my uncle and her and my family both had vacation homes on the same lake, it made me think back to a time when I was super young and on the lake people had party lines. Can you even imagine?

Our party line was with my Aunt and Uncle and for those that don’t know; a party line is a phone line that people share.  They were very popular in vacation areas and one household had a regular ring and the other a variation.  We had the regular ring and my Aunt and Uncle had the 2 short rings.  When I think about it now it seems surreal.  Can you imagine?  I remember listening for the phone and  either saying it was ours or theirs.  You also had to be careful when you picked up to dial out because the other family may be using the phone.  I remember stories from other  kids on the lake who were on party lines with  unrelated families proudly recanting conversations they eavesdropped on.

pink rotary phone

We had moved to a private line by the time I was probably 5 so I do not have that many memories but when I think of it today, I cringe.  What if you were on a party line with someone who received incessant calls at all hours of the night, or that used the phone all time so you could never call out or get calls in?

My kids know nothing of party lines and would probably think I was out of my mind if I told them how it worked.  How times have changed!  Speaking of busy signals, do you remember how you could click the little disconnect buttons three times to reach an operator?  Do you remember how the operator could ring a phone that was off the hook if say a small child was monkeying around with it? Also, how when you reached a number that was busy for so long and you would call the operator to interrupt the line because it was say your home line and you knew a younger sibling was using the phone or your mom doing it to you when she was trying to call home.  The operator would click into the line and say, “I have so and so on the line and they say it is an emergency will you give up the line?”  Ah good times!

operator

The Rotary Dial was another time saver, NOT!  Ever try to call in on a radio station contest with one of those?  Then when they had the push buttons with pulse mode you still had to wait but you could push a button.  No auto redial and redialing on the rotary dial really gave those fingers that do the walking a workout!  Speaking of letting your fingers do the walking, remember the bit phone books that doubled as booster seats?  Do you even use a phone book now?  I can’t even imagine.  Phones and technology have truly come a long way baby!

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