The telephone system still in use in Mattawa in the 1950's was operator handled . At the CPR section house , you would pick up the ear receiver , turn the side crank which would ring the operator and speak into the voice receiver on the front of the wall case. When the operator plugged into your line , she would ask for the number you wanted , then plug your line into the phone line of whoever you were calling .
Her switchboard was a mass of wires poked into holes . Only she could figure it out . However , there were only a limited number of connections she could produce at any one time . During busy moments , you would queue up for a turn at one of them . Often the operator ...
would come on the line again to verify if she got confused . Three digits covered anyone in town who had a phone. Once a call ended , the operator would disconnect the two lines and plug someone else in . Of course , she would determine whose call was more important so you could wait a while before getting connected .
In a small town like Mattawa , the operator knew everyone so you didn't require a phonebook . You simply said who you wanted to talk to and she would tell you their number then connect up . At anytime , the operator could listen into your conversation . The risk was that privacy was not guaranteed , so telephones were used for basic matters that you didn't mind anyone knowing . Callers did not convey too much information . If you wanted privacy , it was best to call during a busy time of day , when the operator was too busy to be concerned with content .
For certain emergencies , the operator could connect three lines at once...but this was rare . If you couldn't get through to the line you wanted , you could leave a short message with the operator . The next time that person used the phone , she would pass on the message . This was not an offered service by the company . It was totally dependant on who was your operator . Not all operators offered this service either - just those who like to stay 'connected' with everyone's business .
Each side of the section house had their own wall phone . There was only one line to the house so each phone was given a ring to indicate who should answer. Both phones rang so the neighbour on this party line would know that you were receiving a call. Our ring was two short bursts and the neighbour's was one long ring . We had a neighbour who like to listen in , so she would pick up as soon as we did to try and glean as much as she could before being asked to hang up . Mum and Dad always first said " You can hang up Frieda" before they said "Hello". When she tried to pretend that she wasn't listening , a thump on the adjoining wall would produce the desired effect .
Even after a relay system replaced the need for an operator , we still had a party line for several more years before there was enough infrastructure to allow our own personal line.