This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Potato Fest at Medaryville 2010 Part 3

The tour of the day, and the main reason I had gone to the Potato Fest, was conducted by Brian Capouch, who had bought a house near the downtown, discovered that in that house the first telephone exchange for Medaryville had operated, and had tried to restore what that telephone office would have looked like.

First we walked across the street and around a corner to get to the old Medaryville Calaboose. I took a picture of it from the front, but it did not turn out. (Missed pictures are one of the drawbacks of taking pictures with a camera that has a nonfunctional display. But otherwise the camera works well.) The Calaboose was built in 1905 and served both as a jail and as the town hall for a number of years. Eventually it was turned over to the fire department, and the Medaryville fire bell still stand behind the building. You can see the tower for the fire bell below, and also the deterioration of the brick.
Below is a very early phone. It had no dial. You cranked a generator, which sent a current to the operator's switchboard. The operator then asked, "Number please," and connected you to the party you were calling. When you were done with the call, you were supposed to give the crank another little turn to send a signal that the call was finished just in case the operator was not listening to your call. (The early telephone was a lot like the Internet--there was no guarantee of privacy then just as there is not guarantee of privacy now.)

On the left you can see a jail cage.
The calaboose had two of these, and each could hold two prisoners. The two were bought from the Champion Iron company in 1905 for $128. (You can see the lower bunk. There was also an upper bunk that is not readily visible.)
Our group was too big for everyone to go next door for the switchboard demonstration, so it was split in two. Half went to the demonstration and half waited outside, entertaining themselves with snow cones or playing with this cast iron apple peeler. It worked really well and could peel and core and apple in seconds. I am sorry I did not take some video of it in action.
Switchboards were in common use until the 1950s or 1960s, when they were replaced by dial phones and automatic switching. I vaguely remember that in the late 1950s I went to an open house for the telephone company in Little Falls, Minnesota, and I think it was because they had made the change to automatic switching. At least one lady in the audience had worked as a switchboard operator and was a valuable source of information of how the old systems worked.

The photo below is of a switchboard from the 1940s. Brian thought it would be as close to the original as he would be able to get.
But then a person he was working with found a much older switchboard at an estate sale for a reasonable price and bought it. It is very close to what the switchboard for that Medaryville Telephone Company would have been using a century ago.
 It suffered some damage during shipping, but it operates. And it requires no power. The electricity to signal a call came from the phones.
Brian has also assembled a number of phones to illustrate the development of the telephone from its beginnings up to the dawn of the dial phone.
You can read a bit more about this bit of history here.

A post on the Potato Fest would not be complete without a link to the Potato Song.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was not able to go to the Medaryville Potato Fest, so thank you for bringing it to us. I did want to see the work Brian Capouch has done. He is to be commended for the dedication to this town. His effort is remarkable.