Days Gone By - stories from the past

Imagine sharing your telephone with eight families? That is how it used to be before when phones were first in homes

Eight Party Line Back Then

When I was in high school we had one rotary black dial telephone that was an eight party line.  It was located in the living room.  This was around the late 1940. We had to wait a considerable amount of time after applying for a phone for the telephone lines to be hung along our unpaved country road in Tuscaloosa County.  This was several years after WWII and wiring was still scarce.


Didn’t even have electricity

I ask a friend of mind about her experience with the eight party line and she replied, “Honey, I lived in Kentucky and we didn’t even have electricity, much less a phone until I graduated from high school!”

The bad part about having a phone in the country was that it was an eight partyline! My daddy would come in the living room sometimes at night to find that I had been on the phone an hour with my boy friend. He stressed that this was not being considerate of the other seven party line holders. I would smile and say good night and hang up.

Had to ask with emergencies

If there was an emergency and you needed to use the phone you could kindly ask to the persons talking that you had an emergency and needed to use the phone.  Always, the other persons would comply.

Fast forward to today. I have several phones in my house… some portable and one stationary with a “hard line.”  My phone gives me a blinking red light to indicate that someone has let me a message. Punching a button I can listen to a vocal recorded messages.  When my phone rings I can even identify who is calling me by a digital ID system. So if I am busy and don’t’ want to talk to that person, I just let my phone take a message. Sometimes this new communication makes us rude.

black telephone

Cell phones are the norm today

All my grandchildren have cell phones, some have graduated to I- phones.  Now instead of talking they are texting. If someone from outer space came to earth what do you believe they would think to see people walking, riding in cars, eating lunch, etc with a cell phone held to their ear?

In this day of communication do you feel the need for peace and quiet? Do you take the time to watch a sunset or marvel at the stars without being interrupted with that familiar phone ring sound you selected? Maybe not.

The other day a neighbor’s child asked to use my phone to text my grandchild.  I replied, “ you will have to use my cell phone, I don’t have texting ability.”  To my surprise he took my phone and replied,  “you can text on your phone.” I learned something that day. As of today, I haven’t learned to text.  Slow grandmother!

Some time I wish to be back in those eight party line days. These days, too much technology for me!

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Read more stories by Jean Butterworth in Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama

 

Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama


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About Jean Butterworth

Jean Champion Butterworth is originally from Tuscaloosa County, graduating from Tuscaloosa County High School, Druid City Hospital School of Nursing and The University of Alabama. She is a retired nurse. Working 27 years at The Children’s Hospital as Department Director, Specialty Clinics. She has traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, The Middle East, and Eastern Europe. You can contact Jean at [email protected]
See additional stories by Jean Butterworth on www.daysgoneby.me

She also now has a Kindle Ebook Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama

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45 comments

  1. Beamon Bryson

    In 1962, while living in St. Croix Falls, WI (In Air Force at nearby Radar station), we had a central telephone operator;, the phones had no dial capability. You just picked it up and if no one was using asked the operator to connect you. My phone number was 16J ring two. BTW, everyone’s rings came in. There was an old lady who listened to everyone’s calls too.

  2. Hollis Hill

    …. and our phone number was #60.

  3. Linda Burton Williams Walker

    I remember a party line at my grandmothers. Not many details however. How about you Annette, or Jean Arthur Judah, do you remember this?

  4. Rwandall West

    We had one in quincy WA when I was 8yrs opd

  5. Cheryl Kosier Odom

    I remember in Illinois, same thing, a party line & if a couple of the older ladies were talking, you had to wait to get the line!!

  6. Kenneth H. Haughton

    In the 30’s and 40’s we had party lines but never more than 4 usually 2 other families. We became casual “friends” like some we have now on FB. When ever arose the rare event of anything pressing or urgent, a simple request brought instant access; as I recall there were very few instances of “listening in” – I think the knowledge that it can work both ways provided a measure of privacy. I became an accomplished “emergency” phone caller by age 4. Our operator knew everyone and who we probably needed to talk to…it was a nice time to be a kid….and probably a grownup too. (Selma, Alabama)

  7. Danny McHale

    In the 1970s our home still had a party line. The phone number was 4 digits.

  8. Jean Moore Sanderson

    Yes, we were on the party line with Lewie Cashwell, Sally and I can’t remember the other girls name (I think Judy). Lewie sure had a line for the gals. I learned a lot from his calls as a young person and pre-teen.

  9. Cassandra Nancy Kenfield-Lea

    not so long ago, either, out in the country! I remember, as late as the mid-70s my aunt and uncle were on a “party line” and I remember her exchanging a few “pleasantries” with who ever was on the line (Oh, hello, Isabelle..how are you?”) when she picked up and with a cheery, “Oh, that’s alright, it’s not important..I can call later, ‘bye now” and the others would carry on their conversation. It was sort of “expected” that if you picked up and knew who was on the line, you’d chat briefly before you hung up.

  10. Jeff Burgess

    We had a 3 party line and me being a teenager it seemed these old women were always on there when I needed it lol

  11. David Rabren

    At our rural home in Evergreen, Al. we had a 4-party line in the 60’s. No dialing as a local operator would ask “number please.” Our number was 365R4, meaning that 4 short quick rings was someone calling you.

  12. Remember Tuscumbia

    We had one when we were growing up.

  13. Regina Poole

    We share one with one other family.

  14. Kelley Black

    My grandparents in West Tennessee had one with 2 other families through the 60s and early 70s.

  15. Annette Mathews Gunter

    We still had a party line in the sixties.

  16. Dwade Frederick

    I remember these days .

  17. Sherron Hayes

    My Granny Slatton was on a four party line! As a child I never talked on the phone much…..it wasn’t something children did back then!!!!! No gabbing for hours with friends….or texting! LOL….

  18. Michael Causey

    We couldn’t afford a private line……just fortunate to have a party line!

  19. Donald Wheeles

    I remember part lines. We have had them at times. Both in Athens, Georgia and here in Clay County, we have had someone who would listen in on our calls.

  20. Robbie Cates

    We had a party line in the early 70’s in Blount county

  21. Robbie Cates

    Still have to buy Internet from Verizon

  22. Amy Parker

    My Speegle grandparents in Trimble (Cullman Co.), Alabama had a party line late 70s / early 80s. It never failed to pick up the line and two sisters were on the line talking to each other.

  23. Hollis Mckinley

    We never phones untill after I enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1962, no lines existed. Rural Route, Atmore, Alabama.

  24. Sandra Sandy Sheppeard Jones

    I remember party lines. Even had one in 1980 in Texas.

  25. Carolyn Hestla Yates

    I remember, still had a two party after I married

  26. Frances Simmons Hughes

    We moved out off County Road 74, Selma, in 1972. We did not have a phone at all for 4 years, because Bell South would not run a line out there. They said it was not financially feasible. When we did finally get a phone in 1976, it was an 8 party line. A couple of years later it went to a four party line, and finally around 1984 we got a private line. Talk about hallelujah!

  27. Susan Bryant Myers

    my grandparents had a party line. we were not allowed to use the phone or listen in

  28. Barbara Starling

    We had a party line in Cullman in the fiftys. If we used the phone we were allowed 5 minutes.

  29. Patsy Huggins

    I grew up in Mobile/Toulminville area. We had on too – the tall black dial phone and party lines. Each had a different ring sequence. Didn’t stop others from picking up on our calls.

  30. Marie Galliher

    We had one growing up , and I had one for 5 years when I first moved to Opelika in1960

  31. Ann Barbour

    I remember when we had one.

  32. JoAnn Donaldson

    Yes we had a 8 party line

  33. Roger Barnett

    We had a Party Line Back in the 70s, I think it was three families on it. Yipes! I can not imagine 8 families on one line.

  34. Lisa Hayle Stewart

    My sister and I thought we had it good. We were on just a two-party line.

  35. Anne Rawle

    I remember my older siblings picking up the phone and chortling “Mrs. Fane and Mrs. Nesselroad, gabble gabble gabble.” then hanging up and being sure the above stated parties would never guess who was cutting in.

  36. Karen Gosnell Kennedy

    We had a 3 party line when I was in elementary school

  37. Horace Page

    1971 we had six party line took a long time to get the lines run.

  38. Dave Cooper

    Remember the 8s in mid 60s, hell, but even that low cost convenience quickly outpaced our budget & we ended up losing it cause we could not afford the fee. no obama phones back then, when tshf it’s going to be ROUGH for young survivors, they won’t be survivors for very long though.

  39. Steve Bryant

    We had a 5-party in early to late 50s, then 3, then 2 in 60s, to 1 in 64/65, in Rose Hill area.

  40. James M. Greenwell

    Done that,. Not with eight, until I threaten the telephone co I would sue their pants off if I had any more troubly gettin on line, all it would take not being able to call for medical assistance for a riding student or an emergancy for a horse. 2 weeks later we had a private line.

  41. Arlee McCoy

    This was before soap operas. My mother in law use to get all her gossip listening in on an eight party line!

  42. Sarah Holland

    I got one better. There was old man at end of line who would get drunk take phone off hook noone could use it or you would be talking and he would put his old goat on phone make it bray until you hung up. Someone would have to go to next party line call phone office for manager. He would have to come out make him hang phone up or get goat off the line. He got the first private line.

  43. Cindy Sanders Word

    I remember my grandparents were on a 3 party line every Sunday afternoon for 3 hours or more a elderly lady would be talking to her sister.

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