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Stories told by our own members about incidents they remember having to deal with back in the "Good Old Days".

Dec 17, 2014

I too was told s similar story by a switch installer back in the 60's, sounds like legend based on some incident or "could have been" thought. I personally had a friend and fellow switchman almost lose a finger when he reached in a Lorain Flotrol rectifier (Live Oak Fla Toll Center) and his wedding ring touched both sides of the buss bars! In that office all rectifiers were DIRECTLY connected to the battery bankS so the current available to vaporize the ring must have been in the millions of Amps! (Instaneous) There was good flashed all oner the buss and one small piece welded there! It happened so fast the he only got s flash burn on his fingers. A lower amperage source (say rectifier output) would have cooked his finger to the bone! Keith Cheshire

Dec 17, 2014

In the waning days of the Bell System, the numbers of PBX techs were already shrinking due to the switch to computer controlled systems. Many very highly qualified older techs were leaving. And there were no schools on the electrical mechanical step PBXs that remained. Luckily for me there was plenty of work to keep me fully occupied between Dimension PBXs, Sg1 & 1A, Horizons, and 557 answering service cord boards. A few of the top end PBXs had battery plants, inverters, etc to keep the system running. One was a Dimension 2000 and battery plant for it at the AT&T CSSO tech center in San Ramon...where all those techs who remotely programmed and shot trouble on customer PBXs worked. I ended up often being the tech when the system had trouble, as it was in my area and by the early 1980s there were few outside techs who knew the line as well as I did. I wasn't a propeller head, I was just the closest to one in the field. It was hell. By the time a trouble would get to me way too many techs had accessed the system from their work MAAP panels and mucked about. Eventually word went on the floor that if anyone accessed the system other than the tech assigned it, there would be suspensions. Things got better: I had known Leo for years and we worked ok with each other. Yet there was that big rack of rows of batteries. Commercial power rectifiers to charge them, an inverted to convert back to AC to run the PBX. I absolutely refused to have anything to do with it other than to through a switch to bypass the system and power the PBX from commercial power. Management there and my boss all tried to get me to maintain it. I refused until I received training on it...if I could melt drill bits drilling into 110VAC in customers' buildings, I didn't want to find out what havoc I could cause there. As far as I know that plant ran years without any checks...but maybe they snuck a CO guy in now and then to look at it. Fast forward a couple years and I was management in that same center. (Big mistake.) There was a power failure on commercial power. I invoked a contract with a company that had some CO SURPLUS diesel generators on trucks to come out before the batteries ran down. What a disaster. Commercial power was restored in about 3 hours, but I told my bosses we were going to let the call and hookup to continue, as it had never been tested. Took the"be there in 2 hours" generator about 6 hours to show up. Seems they had calls to go elsewhere on the same outage, and one of their trucks either wouldn't start or had a flat. When they got there, their connectors were not compatible with the connector wired on the side of the building. The generator wouldn't fire up. And I couldn't get anyone to agree to rewire the connectors, find a new vendor with generators, cancel the contract for non performance, etc. But around then the next year's budget came out, and my center ou had budget for 3 quarters. When HQ was asked they said it was a mistake and sent a 4 quarter budget. And said there were no plans to close the center. Within a month I transferred to the AT&T Center at Pleasanton, 10 miles away. Within 10 months the place was shut down, and work moved to Denver. Once again my talent for jumping from one lily pad to another like a frog, while groups collapsed and centers closed had worked. That happened many times between 1984 and 2003, by which time there were no more lily pads for this frog to jump to. And I doubt that battery plant ever had anything done to it other than to be wrecked out as they padlocked the doors. Paul H

Bridged Punishment

Dec 16, 2014

During the fall and winter of 1983 I was being punished again (a theme that runs through my career) because I had gone to bat for a customer who was fighting some extraordinarily high bills on his business account. As it turned out, he was right, the company was wrong, and I was reprimanded. The exact quote from my immediate supervisor was "Ya know what your problem is, Bloom?...you worry too much about the customer!!!"

So, they punished me by taking away my responsibiilty of maintaining a 2,000 line PBX in a college staffed by the most ornery and demanding egg-heads on the planet, and giving me the least-attractive assignment in the district, that of maintaining all the police call boxes along the West Side Highway, the Harlem River Drive, and the New York half of the George Washington Bridge. They figured (incorrectly) that fresh air and sunshine, and working at my own pace on one type of telephone instrument, with no customers to break my balls, was "punishment." Even though I was scheduled to work every day from 8 am to 5pm, the police didn't want me out on the highways except during the non-rush hour period of 10 am to 3 pm. So I got 4 hours off every day, to "clean and restock my truck" and hang out with the cops until I could get out on the roads and bridges. (By the way, the deck of the GWB rises and falls about a foot or so when groups of big trucks set up oscillations at 70 mph. It's very difficult to concentrate on tiny wires, in the wind, in the cold, 200 feet above the Hudson River, when your whole work site is going up and down like a confused elevator.)

The van I used had a large arrow light bar mounted on the roof, to warn distracted drivers away from my van while I was stopped along the highways. The police sent a highway car when one was available, to guard my back. It worked pretty well, and I was only struck three times in nine months, with only a few bruises and lacerations. No broken bones, thank goodness. One guy in a small Honda going about 65 in a 45 zone actually managed to get his car wedged between my van, the guard rail, and the highway patrol car that was parked behind me for added protection. He sued the company and got a small payment, I think $10,000, to make shut up and him go away.

Coming back to the garage one afternoon, I tooted the horn, and the security guard opened the garage door. The door was at street level, and right inside, there was a steep ramp to the main floor. Since the guard could only see the front of the van, and since it was a cold winter's day, the moment that he figured that the van was clear of the door, he started the door downward again, to conserve heat. He was able to do this in spite of his lack of intelligence and his high blood alcohol level.

The lower edge of the door came down just in front of the point along the van roof where the large arrow bar was mounted, and the bar was swept off the roof, and went clattering down the ramp. It had been held on with four shear bolts, designed to break off in the event that an incident exactly as described might happen. Being a resourceful country boy, understanding just what had happened, and just what was needed to repair the damage, I stopped, picked up the light bar, placed it off to the side of the garage, parked my van, and left for the day. On the way to work the next day, I stopped at a hardware supplier and bought four shear bolts of the correct size, and when I got to the garage, I removed the broken bolts, installed new ones, and rewired the harness. It took maybe a half hour to do the whole repair.

When I was done, the foreman called me into the office and suspended my for three days without pay for failure to report an accident. I explained that had I reported the "accident" (which was not accidental, it was an "intentional") exactly the way it had happened, the poor old minimum-wage drunk security guard would have gotten in trouble, possibly losing his job. That defense didn't work. So I took the sentence of threes days off, and asked the boss if I could use the phone. He said yes. I called a friend of mine who owned a small interconnect company, and, taking out pen and paper, asked him to read me a few repair tickets, as I was unemployed for a few days.

The boss got excited for some reason, saying that I wasn't allowed to work for the competition, and that if I did, I would be in big trouble. I asked him to explain how there could be a conflict of interest, since I didn't work for him that day. I walked out, did a day's work for my friend, and at the end of the day the Union hall called and said my sentence had been commuted to one day, because a couple of the guys had witnessed the "accident" and had told the Big Boss the real story. A few months later, I got the money for the first day off in my pay check.


Burglar Alarms, in series?

Oct 7, 2014

I was dispatched on an open on a burglar alarm loop. This was a circuit from an alarm company, that had maybe 50 customers' alarms, all wired in series. It would be in one CO, and series out to clients there, then to another CO and clients, etc. Each client's alarm would send a signal of some sort to the alarm company so they knew whose had been tripped. But an open anywhere would disable ALL the alarms. (Gee, and customers paid dearly to the alarm company for this.) When there was an open reported to TPC, the line would be tested until isolated to a specific customer's leg. (This is where the phrase "trouble is leaving here fine" was often heard, as a CO worker had tested that none of his/her circuit legs were open. They were wired to a block in the CO so one short would eliminate all their legs.) Once isolated to a leg, the alarm company was supposed to dispatch first to ensure the trouble was not in the alarm equipment...but they never did. Odds were it was in our piece...and the charge they were hit with if not, was less than their cost to send their guy first anyway.

So I get dispatched on an open leg. By the time I was dispatched it was already the afternoon of the 2nd day out of service. I pulled up to the house, and the customer, with his week-old alarm system, was livid! To "test" the effectiveness of the alarm, he had cut the drop before it reached his protector, and timed how long before the police or alarm company showed up. Rather than police or alarm company he got me. After he finished ranting at me I explained that there were probably 50 other alarm company customers whose circuits were out from his vandalism, and that we were going to charge him. And if he wanted faster responses, he would have to spring for a private not shared loop to the alarm company, if they even offered that. He was saying he would have the alarm ripped out as it was useless...and I didn't disagree.
Paul Hoffman

Slightly batty Secretary

A slightly batty secretary reported that her coworkers had glued the touchtone dial buttons on her key phone so she could not make calls. Her dial was completely stuck and dysfunctional. As I watched her use another phone while I repaired hers I found out why. She was a germ freak. Each time before she would touch the phone she spritzed it from a spray bottle of disinfectant. (This was in the late 1970s.) The disinfectant had softened the buttons and eventually plastic welded themselves solid. Her transmitter and receiver holes were filled with her disinfectant too...I don't know how anyone could hear her or be heard. I told her the next time we were going to charge her...but she was merrily spraying and wiping her repaired phone as I left.
Paul Hoffman

Two war stories related to bells on the line, and unexpected dispatches

Dec 4, 2014

1. Needing a phone (or at least a ringer) on a line: When only with the company about a month I had a job to install a new 1MB (business) line in what turned out to be a new office building under construction in NJ. The order was for 1 non-dial 500 set, and a BKF (bell cutoff.) It didn't make sense to me, but lots of things didn't make sense then (or for the next 31 years.)

When I arrived I found there had not even been cable pulled into the 0.1 terminal yet...Assignments had me coming out of a PIC terminal in the air at the street. But it wasn't at a pole, it was about 6 feet from one, hanging high up in the air. The original pole had been relocated due to grading at the construction, and the terminal had not yet been swung to the new pole. And the area had been lowered during grading, so the cable was higher than usual above the ground.

Also there was no place for me to put up a "1st attachment" on the new glass and stone building, let alone run in a protector and everything else. Client nowhere to be found, just construction guys everywhere.

The client drove up a few minutes later, and told me what was going on: Yellow Pages was about to close new ads and go to print. Customer wanted a nice ad in them, but could not place it until he actually had service, as NJ Bell would/could not guarantee his number before it was actually installed.

So he really didn't want service at all, especially since if I installed a phone it was likely that the construction guys would run up large LD charges on it.

I was pretty new, and didn't know what to do, so called my boss, TJ, a wily old Irishman who had been given my crew as punishment. He had been caught sunbathing next to his company car in the NJ Meadowlands one afternoon. (Where the Giant's stadium was built a year later.) His boss said if TJ's experienced PBX crew wasn't challenging enough for him, he could run a crew of brand new installers, all wet behind their ears, instead.

He came out, saw and heard what was going on, and nixed my suggestion that we not install service...or just close out the order as complete without doing anything. He explained that testing on the line would fail to see the phone and repair would be dispatched. Instead he said I should locate the new dialtone in the PIC terminal and just install an E1A ringer (like used on 701 Princess phones) on it in the terminal. But I couldn't reach the terminal from the pole, and my 28' extension ladder was too short. We ended up borrowing the constructio0n boss's pickup, and I set the ladder up in it's bed...vertically, with the ladder hooks barely reaching the cable. And TJ held the bottom of the completely vertical ladder as I climbed up and installed the ringer.

It was done, and I went on my way. In later years I wondered why he didn't just have me put a capacitor across the pair...but maybe the yellow capacitors that were standard truck stock in my PT&T van were not on the NJ Bell trucks...

And a year or two later, after I had transferred to CA, I revisited my old garage in NJ. TJ was still there, and celebrating his birthday. His 50th birthday. Gee, it doesn't seem that he was so old when I view him now, just having had my 64th last week. When I was 20 he seemed ancient.

2. Unannounced repair dispatches: A few years later, in CA, I got a callout in the middle of the night about an out-of-service doctor's home line...it was shorted, possibly an ROH. And there was an emergency call that couldn't raise him, and a complaint turned in by the caller about it. So around 1am I rolled up to the doctor's house, which was dark, and started knocking on the door. Eventually a very sleepy pissed off guy answered, and I told him I had been dispatched as there was an emergency, his line was out of order, and his client or the hospital was desperately trying to reach him. He said "I took the phone off the hook because I didn't want to be disturbed!" (I don't know how he wasn't being disturbed with a permanent signal, howler, having being put on his line.) He was very pissed off that I had awakened him...I was very pissed off at having been awakened and called out for a customer caused situation. Before I stormed off and he slammed his door, I suggested he get a bell cutoff so he could silence the ringer. And didn't offer to do it (a simple adjustment in the phone), told him he could place a service order for it.

I don't know if he hung up the phone or not. His line card was noted that he did this, in order to avoid a future needless dispatch. Later on I felt differently about callouts like these. I got a minimum 2 hours pay at time and a half on a callout, so at least 3 hours pay. And in this case, it only took 5 minutes with no work once I got there. Easy money, and back then I needed all the OT I could get to make ends meet.

Paul H

From Chapter 5 of my never-written book:

Dec 4, 2014

I was on-call one dark and snowy Xmas day in the 1970's, and was equipped with the original BellBoy® (sound only) belt pager. The protocol was that when I heard the pager, I was to go to a coin phone and call in for the emergency coverage repair request. I was the only repairman from 59th Street in Manhattan to the Northern tip of the Island, and one other repairman was covering 59th Street down to The Battery. Two guys covering the The Center of the Universe, the most populated island (4 million people?) in the world. I was paid for the day, and an additional time-and-a-half for every hour up until 6 pm, and double-time (plus straight time) after 6 pm. It was a very lucrative shift. We were only dispatched to police stations, hospitals, radio stations, firehouses and the occasional VIP residence.

I went home at 5 pm, and changed into my suit, because I was invited to a wealthy girlfriend's parents' home for dinner. Their eight bedrooms/nine baths with river view and two wood-burning fireplaces and maid's quarters was a few blocks away, so I walked over in the snow, still carrying my pager, because I was still on call after my regular shift. I drank, I ate, I danced with rich gals, I sang along and ate some more and drank some more. It was a jolly time. Then the pager sounded. I called in, and was dispatched to a Doctor's residence a few miles away. I took a cab to my apartment, grabbed some hand tools and a test set, and took the cab to the sub's house. It was a beautiful brownstone house in a neighborhood that has never seen a majority of its houses cut up into apartments.

I rang, and was admitted by a servant. The doctor was holding court in a parlor filled with guests in tuxedos and evening gowns. Refering to my suit and tie, Dr said quite loudly, "Well, I guess Ma Bell pays her boys too much...look at how this guy is dressed!" I asked him what the trouble was, and he said that one of his five ( !!! ) telephones had static. He was bragging to his guests that he could get the phone company out to his house on Xmas, because he was so important. Then he told me how important he was. Then his wife told me that her husband, the doctor, knew the president of N Y Tel Co, and was very important. Then a couple of guests reminded me how inportant he was. There was a large salad bowl filled with cocaine. Some of the rocks were the size of golf balls. There was champagne. I was invited to partake. I declined. I thought about asking for a "to go" rock, but thought better of it.

I moved a couch away from the wall in the parlor, reached down and tightened the spade lugs on a 42A block that was feeding the staticky Trimline. I tightened the cover, and put the couch back in place. The whole crowd was watching as I asked the Dr. to initial the time sheet. Then I made a dramatic point of checking my watch, and declaring loudly, "Let's see...six minutes' work...that's one-tenth of an hour. 22 dollars per hour...(counting on my fingers and furrowing my brow for effect) at triple time, because it's a holiday...New York State minimum call-out is four hours...that works out to be...hmmm...66 dollars an hour, times 4...times 10...is WOW I just made $2640 per hour to come and tighten two screws for a very inportant person."

Doctor then said "That's absurd...even I don't make that much per hour."

I said, gathering my tools and putting on my overcoat,"Well, neither did I, when I was a doctor."


Dec 6, 2014

Another long mid 1970's installation tale, for your pleasure. The subject of the job of line assigner came up on an AT&T retirement site, and I posted a version of this story to it.

But first, for those unfamiliar with line assignments and line assigners, at least in PT&T back then. In the PSC (Plant Service Center) there were 611 repair clerks, testboards, SEPARATE dispatchers for repair and installation, line assigners, and more.

Line assigners sat around large round tables, that held "the wheel" in the center...a motorized lazy susan that held dozens of large cable books. When a tech needed a new pair, for instance, he would call an assigner. The assigner would swing the lazy susan to the cable book for the cable he needed the pair in, and open it to the page that had the terminal information for the terminal the outside tech was at. This might be an "underground" cable, or an "aerial" cable. For these purposes underground cables could be aloft a pole, aerial cables could be under the ground. The difference were underground cables came straight from the central office...aerial cables extended from a cross-connect box, or access point, or B Box, and needed to be cross-connected back to an underground cable back to the CO.

And now my story of an argument that became very heated, while I was up a pole at a ready access PIC terminal in a very remote isolated canyon, to put a second line in a year old very isolated house. (PIC terminals stripped back the cable outer sheath, and you had "ready access" to ANY of the pairs in the cable...as opposed to hard wired terminals with lugs, that only accessed maybe 13 or fewer, or maybe up to about 50 pairs, of the cable.)

I argued with assignments, who had written up that I would have to do line transfers elsewhere in the canyon, to free up a pair for my house. I was at a PIC terminal, so should have been able to access a free pair without doing transfers elsewhere...if I knew which color pair to check. Assignments insisted I was at a hard terminal with only 13 pairs...and not the pair I wanted. I was adding a second line into a very remote house in a canyon. I had a PIC terminal in front of me, and just wanted the right colors.

Finally I asked to talk to Karl, an ex-tech-buddy who had recently transferred to assignments. I explained, he said they just showed the hard can. I asked him "Damn it: If it WAS a ready access PIC terminal, what color would pair xyz be in it?" He told me, I found my DT, and completed the job. And assignments was further pissed when I closed out the order saying which pair I used, and to cancel the line transfers. They still said that was impossible as it didn't appear at my pole...and of course they could not mark the cable book correctly since it was not there. But as it was for an aerial pair where I put in the cross connect, no CO frameman or splicer could stop me from using what I wanted by refusing to do his part.

Complaining about "stupid assignments" later at coffee, Bob, an ex splicer co-worker, got very sheepish and quiet. Turns out for the initial installation a year earlier he was supposed to run the drop 4 spans through trees to the nearest terminal...to the "hard can terminal" assignments (and I) thought I was at. Instead he took a new RA terminal off his truck (that he carried for cases just like this), cut back the cable sheath at the pole nearest to the house, and made his own terminal. He didn't tell anyone...he was not supposed to do that, PT&T was supposed to be taxed on every terminal.

So he had (illegally) put in an RA terminal to avoid a few hours work running 4 spans of drop through trees...to the pole with the hard can terminal.

Guess I shouldn't have been so pissy with assignments, but I never told them what had really happened, I didn't want Bob to get in trouble.

There were lots of wrong things done in this canyon, Bollinger Canyon out of Moraga. One for example was, halfway out the length of the aerial cable, was an RA terminal called the "Leo Malone Memorial Access Point". Someone, rumored to be Leo, had liberally cut and spliced pairs in an RA terminal in order to get good pairs further out the canyon. Obviously the cable records in the PSC became works of iction between the memorial access point and extra illegal terminals. I think a year later assignments threw in the towel, refused to assign ANY pairs past the cross connect box, and told the field "Good luck, you're on your own."

It may be that screwed up to today, which from what I've read elsewhere, might just mean it was 4 decades ahead of the rest of the country's aging copper plant in its degree of awfulness.

Paul H