Whatever happened to …

… party lines?

It was from a comment from Lisa Noble a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking about this.  I had to wait until now to post since we had to honour Hallowe’en.

I am often grateful for my in-laws, with their stovetop perk, party line phone, and other “anachronisms”. My teenaged kids have a much better sense than most of their peers of different generations of technology.

Similar to this, yes, it was with my in-laws that I learned about party lines!

They moved from the farm into town and kept their phone number.  It was one of the great ones; local code and then 3120.  There was no excuse for ever losing my girlfriend’s number!

But it was a real experience for me.  They had a rotary phone, a pulse connection, and they were on a party line.

We didn’t.  I felt so rich.



This meant that they shared the physical line with someone else.  I don’t know that they ever knew who that person was but the lady sure liked her phone.

It seemed like every time someone on our end would pick up the phone, she’d be right in there “Line, please.  Line please”, expecting you to hang up so that she could make her calls.  It used to drive my in-laws crazy – but not crazy enough to dump it.

And forget about calling in.  The connection was always busy!

Eventually, Bell cleaned things up and the party line became a thing of the past.  But, getting tone service instead of pulse was out of the question because it cost more.

So, for a Sunday, your thoughts (I’m sure those guys who live/lived in NYC and drop by here every now and again are laughing) …

  • do you have or did you ever have a party line?
  • do you know someone who has a party line today?
  • did you ever have pulse service?  How about a rotary phone?  If you had it in the 70s, it probably was chocolate, avocado, or sunshine, right?
  • when getting connected online meant using a modem and dialing in, did you rent a second line for the modem?
  • did you ever run a Bulletin Board Service and required a second line for the purpose?
  • do you remember when Bell was a monopoly for phone service?  Are you still through them or do you use a different carrier?
  • do you still have a land line today or have you given that up in favour of being available 24/7 through your smartphone?

Please dial back your memories and share where you came from via the comments below.

This is part of a regular Sunday fun series of posts – you can access them all here.

And, keep talking about the good old days and the good old things.  You might inspire a post like Lisa did or you can share your idea in this Padlet that’s collecting ideas for just this purpose.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

7 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …”

  1. So many great question so here, Doug! I never had a party line, but I did have a rotary phone. I still have an old one down in my parent’s basement. No big surprise that with my old cell phone, I do have a landline, and it’s through Bell. My grandpa worked for Bell for years until he retired — he even went to Saudi Arabia to set-up the phone lines there when my step-dad and his siblings were in high school (their family moved there for years) — and I can’t seem to move away from Bell because of this family connection. My parents also still have a modem in their basement, and while they never use it (with wifi now), they still have the second line they got when it first went in.

    Thanks, as always, for this weekly trip down memory lane. Curious to hear the stories that others share.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good morning Doug!

    This is another one that has sent me travelling back in time.

    We lived in the country when I was young, and we were on a party line. Our identifier was two short rings. I think the others were one long ring, and one short one long. Rarely did anyone ask for the line, but rather you would hear a click–and then you waited until you heard the second click to know that they had put the phone down again. If there were too many repeated pick ups and put downs during your call then you knew they really needed the line.

    Our phone was a rotary dial–pulse went along with that. It was white and was mounted on the wall in an alcove underneath the stairs. There was one phone in the house. I remember when 911 was implemented because we got a red sticker to stick on the phone and they put the little green civic address numbers on a post where the lane met the concession road. I also remember the lane was like 3/4 of a mile long—downhill in the morning, and uphill after school. (I will let my recollections of the school bus wait until you do a “Whatever happened to… Getting to School?”)

    Later at some point when I was at university, I had a push button phone that could also send pulses because the pulse line was cheaper (or was provided for students?) than a tone-based line. It was interesting because you could “dial” the number quickly with the push buttons, but then you had to wait while all the pulses were sent just like you did with the dial phone.

    When modems first came along, it wasn’t too long before I had a second line installed so that the phone line wouldn’t be tied up. I remember setting up a switch box at work at one point so that a colleague and I could share the modem/Internet between our computers—this was before ethernet was put in the building. I also remember purchasing a “shotgun“ modem while I was working from home (before ADSL came along) — it used 2 phone lines and it was able to download packets through both lines and then recombine them. I don’t know that it ever delivered twice the speed of a single line, but it was a bit faster. I don’t think I had a dedicated fax at that point, because faxes were on the way out. I think I just used one of the other three numbers.

    Along the way I have cut the cable for television, “enjoyed” fixed high-speed wireless via a roof based antenna (Doug, you know that of which I speak), and now have a cable only for Internet. The landline is gone, and my phone is in my pocket.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. We had a party line that we shared with our neighbours, including my grandparents. My grandmother didn’t drive so she spent a lot of time on the phone staying connected with her friends. It seemed like she was always on the phone whenever I wanted to use it. Each home on the party line had their own ring, so if the phone rang one long and two shorts, we knew the call was for us. The day we got a private line I felt like I was living a life of luxury!

    I do remember having dial up on the one and only phone line in our house and the chaos that would ensue if you accidentally picked up the phone to make a call and disconnected someone’s internet connection.

    Once both of my girls were old enough to have their own cell phones, we got rid of the land line. We never used it and anyone who wanted to call us had our cell numbers. The land line just seemed like a waste of money. When I called Bell to cancel, the salesperson tried to convince me to keep it for 911 emergencies. What if my cell phone was dead? Plus the land line automatically gives the 911 operator your location. I figured that was a gamble I was willing to take.

    Thanks for the memories Doug!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh, the days of “Give me a ring…”

    My high school friends who lived in “the country” (out of town limits) had party lines. I remember being in one home taking all that in, “Cool”. I guess you get to know “your ring” and tune out the rest when you are used to it.

    I only recall black rotary phones in my childhood home.

    Somehow we skipped/avoided the dial up era.

    We are still “attached” to our landline. It is has been our home number for a very long time. I still prefer to give out my landline number instead of my cell.

    Our adult children often turn their cell phones off during the night at their homes. We have had discussions re: what if we need to reach them in an emergency, etc. They thought it was funny when I suggested a landline.

    Communication technology/history is always interesting!


  5. Thanks, everyone, for the comments and bringing back memories.

    I omitted the unique rings. My grandparents has that sort of thing but my in-laws didn’t. Maybe they had a hybrid party line or something.

    And, of course, Lisa, we all have nightmares of someone picking up the phone in the middle of a big download. Of course, in this time frame, big download might be 100K compared to the size of a Mac OS upgrade.

    I’ve got to say, we still have a land line. My wife is worried that people that we owe money to wouldn’t be able to find us despite my assurance that they absolutely will find us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As I clicked send on my reply, yours came in Sheila.

    I think if I was around the dinner table having the debate with your children, I’d be on your side. I think the problem is that the land line only has one type of notification – why someone calls – whereas your smartphone has so many different notifications. (at least mine does) But even that can be selective with a little programming.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. We never had a party line but when we moved to New Hampshire we heard the stories from people who had them

    I remember getting a phone with buttons that would send either tones or pulse. For a while such dual purpose phones were pretty common.

    I did get a second line for the Internet. For a while I also used to dial in to computers at work using an acoustic coupler. The handsets on the rotary phones fit in rubber cups.

    My main residence has a landline still. I keep talking about getting rid of it because we mostly get telemarketing calls on it. Our vacation home does not have a landline. Cell coverage is only so-so but we get by. When I have to call out I often use Skype though. Yes, Internet is more important than a land line these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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