Hand-crank phone

BRYANT POND — Brrrrrrrr . . . “Hello, Bryant Pond. (Pause) Thank you.


“Oh, people call us for all kinds of things,” says operator Elinor Andrews, removing a plug from the switchboard.

“Operator. (Pause) Uh-huh,” says second operator Norma Davis after reaching to connect a line.

“A lot of people use us for cooking information, spelling information . . .” Mrs. Andrews continues.

“Where their kids are at,” adds Mrs. Davis, letting a plug slip from her hands into its holder.


“Where their kids are at,” repeats Mrs. Andrews.

Brrrrrr . . .  “Bryant Pond. (Pause) Thank you.”

While constantly plugging new connections into the switchboard in front of them and timing long-distance calls, the two operators must also be authorities on all kinds of local information.

“We should mention United Parcel . . . because they never get mentioned,” interjects Elden Hathaway from his chair in the living room. “Anytime there’s a new driver, they always come here to find out where someone lives . . . Without us, UPS would have gone out of business years ago.”

“When the dump is open. When the post office is open. What the hours are at the town hall,” says Mrs. Andrews.

“For Casco Bank, the game warden . . .” Mrs. Andrews continues.


“The telephone number for the dog catcher,” add Mrs. Davis, stretching to connect a call.

“I’m sorry, the line’s busy. (Pause) Lately,” Mrs. Davis continues, “it’s been the library. ‘When’s the library open?’ Except I’m not sure when they’re open,” she adds with a laugh.

Krrrrrr . . . Mrs. Davis reaches to plug her line into the board. “Operator.”

With all the information the operators give out, a visitor might think Bryant Pond residents have no telephone books.

“Oh yes they do!” says Mrs. Davis as she makes an outgoing call for a resident. “They don’t use them.” Laughter.

“We have a lot of people in town where their kids aren’t allowed to make calls so they (parents) use us as their monitoring system,” says Mrs. Andrews. “You know, ‘I’m the only one that can make a call. Don’t let anybody else do it,'” she said, imitating a caller.


Brrrrrrr . . . “Operator.”

Mrs. Andrews continues, “Kids are always calling us up and asking us how to spell something or how to make Kool-Aid. Which is bigger, a teaspoon or a tablespoon? You know.”

“In the winter, if it snows an inch, every kid in town calls us and asks ‘Is school keeping today?’ They want to make sure they know about it,” says Hathaway with a grin.

Aside from the local superintendent of schools, the switchboard is the first to know if snow forces a day off.

“We have to notify the school bus drivers,” explains Mrs. Andrews.

“All it takes is one snow flake and they’re calling us to ask if there’s school,” says Mrs. Davis.


Krrrrrrr . . . “Operator.” Another plug goes into the board.

The switchboard used by the Bryant Pond Telephone Co. is now at the Maine State Museum.

“And then they want wake-up calls. One night, the operator for that night was asked for a wake-up call for 4:30 (a.m.) and she didn’t have an alarm. (The night operators, who are usually the Hathaway daughters, sleep on the sofa-bed in the living room and roll out to answer the switchboard when it rings.) “I went home (at the end of the shift) and set my clock and called her up (at 4:30 a.m.) and woke her and she woke them up,” says Mrs. Andrews.

Krrrrrrr. “Mrs. Dunham, she had a broken leg and she said, ‘You’ll have to ring me a little longer,’ Mrs. Andrews continued before answering an incoming call.

“Another woman calls in and wants (us) to wake up someone else,” says Mrs. Davis with a laugh.

“(And then we get the) I’m-going-to-take-a-nap, go-away calls, and the I’m-going-to-go-to-Susie’s-for-a-cup-of-coffee-transfer-my-calls calls,” says Mrs. Andrews. “If a call comes in down to the Village Store and George is up to the house, they’ll ring us back and say, ‘Put this up to the house.'”

“We’re just so talented.”


“Yes, sir!” Laughter.

Brrrrrrr . . . “Bryant Pond.”

Click . . . “Operator. (Pause) OK. Bye-bye.”

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the first edition of the Sunday Sun Journal on Oct. 2, 1983, accompanying a longer story about the loss of the hand-crank telephone service in Woodstock, Maine. Hours past deadline and rushing to assemble the pages for the inaugural edition, workers at the Sun Journal inadvertently scrambled lines in this article, making the story confusing to read. The next morning, one reader told staff writer Mark Mogensen – now the day managing editor of the Sun Journal – that she “appreciated the puzzle.” Nearly 40 years later, the Sun Journal has reedited the story.

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