Gridley Telephone Co. History

Telephone service in the Gridley area dates back to the 19th century. Prior to 1900, a few telephone lines existed, operated by various groups of individuals. The lines were not very well built and often rather makeshift. One of the several local companies organized to operate telephones around 1900 was run by M.J. Wald, Ward Hiserodt and C.M. Coyle. Hiserodt, a mechanical genius of the times, was the individual most instrumental in helping to establish a credible telephone system in Gridley. The surrounding rural areas were served by a host of small companies and cooperatives.

Hiserodt, along with helpers Will Shanebrook and Blaine Tarman, began putting up telephone lines in Gridley in February 1900. The original automatic magneto dial system installed was manufactured by the National Automatic Telephone Co. of Chicago. It began operation in the summer of 1900, providing dial service to about 60 customers in the village. This was one of the earliest dial exchanges in central Illinois.

Telephone service was interrupted in May 1901 by the Great Gridley Fire, which destroyed the entire business district including the telephone company switch and building. Hiserodt said he would have a new system running by December, but how close he came to that date is not known. A new Stromberg-Carlson switchboard was installed and connected to the eight existing rural switcher lines and all the village lines.

About July 1903, most of the local telephone companies and co-ops in the Gridley area were consolidated under one board of directors, P. Luckert, secretary; and Hiserodt, manager of the switch. Directors were P.P. Ehresman, Con Hayes, Charles Hughes and Valentine Neuhauser. Daisy Whiteman was the operator of the central station.

The earliest telephone directory that still exists for the Gridley Telephone Co. is dated 1906 and was published by C.S. Rowley. The local area telephone companies listed in this directory were Fifer, Gridley Waldo, Independent, Waldo Central, Farmers Private, Waldo Short Line, Buck Creek, Prairie Valley, Northwestern and Grand View. The directory contains instructions that are unique to the times. For example: "Parties wanting El Paso call George Eft, 2 shorts and 1 long on Line 82." Eft would answer, then connect the caller to the El Paso switchboard in order to complete the call.

Ownership Changes

About 1907 or 1908, Harry B. Coyle purchased the shares of Wald. The Hiserodt and Coyle Telephone Co. continued to operate until C.R. Hughes, Sr. and C.F. Hoobler, Sr. purchased Hiserodt's interest.

A new partnership known as Gridley Telephone Co. was formed in April 1913 by Hoobler, Hughes and Coyle. In April 1914, Hughes sold his interest to Coyle. Coyle then sold a one-sixth interest in the company to Charles Hoobler, Jr. On September 15, 1915 Coyle and his wife Alice sold all of their remaining interest, one-half the company stock, to Charles Hoobler, Jr., making the Hoobler family sole owners of the company. The Gridley Telephone Co. partnership was owned and operated by Charles Hoobler, Sr. and his son until the younger Hoobler purchased his father's interest on January 31, 1916.

On January 7, 1920, Gridley Telephone Co. was incorporated. Charles Hoobler, Sr. served as president; Mae Gibbs, his daughter, was vice president and Charles Hoobler, Jr. acted as secretary/treasurer. Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approval for the corporation was granted, and operation as an incorporated firm began October 1, 1920.

A new two-position magneto switchboard was purchased in 1920. The Gridley board was installed alongside a switchboard operated by Consolidated Switchboard Co. On October 1, 1923, the Gridley Telephone Co. switchboard began serving the Meadows Central Telephone Co.

Sleet Storm Wipes Out Competition

Both companies continued to provide service to people in and around Gridley until a December sleet storm downed all the telephone lines in the area. In a 1970 interview for an Illinois Bell magazine, Charles Hoobler, Jr. recalled these memories: "The ICC gave me certification on October 1, 1920, and the next year I started getting real competition from a farmer's switchboard company - really nine companies with anywhere from one to eight lines each...Then, in 1924, the Good Lord provided a sleet storm that laid away my competition. It took me the better part of a year to get all the lines up again." The extensive damage caused by the storm resulted in the demise of Consolidated Switchboard Co. All the rural and village lines were brought together into one switchboard as the result of Hoobler's efforts.

Charles Hoobler, Jr. was a man dedicated to his profession. He engineered, installed and maintained the plant facilities, wiring the mainframe and relay rack himself. During the great depression, he and his wife Lucinda moved into the telephone office because he had no money to hire switchboard employees. He accepted food, instead of money, from farmer customers as payment for their bills.

Hoobler brought another major change to the Gridley Telephone Co. in 1946 when a new common battery switchboard was installed. All the subscribers in the village were able to reach the operator just by lifting the telephone handset. Telephone numbers became colorful, with the party lines being referred to as red, green, blue and white. Most residence lines within Gridley were shared by three or four families, but this situation was much better than what the rural subscribers endured. The rural farmer lines had eight-to twenty party service, and users were still required to crank the telephone in order to reach the operator.

Listening in on Party Lines

The multiple-party farmer lines were quite special. The rural subscribers were reached by coded ringing. For example, someone's telephone number may have been two longs, a short and a long.

To reach that individual, the operator or calling party would have to turn the crank on the telephone for two seconds, pause, turn the crank again for two seconds, pause, crank for one second, pause, then crank again for two seconds. Whenever anyone on a party line would receive a call, everyone on the line knew it because his phone would ring as well. Everyone was able to quickly distinguish his ring without much effort. Anyone on the line could also "listen in" on the conversation and even participate.

Another use of coded ringing was known as the line ring. One of the consistent users of the line ring was local grocer Charles Stahl. Stahl would come to the telephone office each week to line ring each party line to give his grocery specials of the week. This same line call also was used to distribute news and call attention to special events. In those days, answering machines came in the form of your neighbors. They frequently helped each other by answering calls for one another. It was not unusual to have a neighbor tell you the person you were calling was making hay or had just driven by on his way to town.

The local telephone operators performed similar services for the businesses and residents in town. A calling party might be told by the Gridley operator that the person he was calling was not in his office, but was seen going to the coffee shop; so the call would be connected there. The evening call to the doctor might be interrupted with the information that it was the Doc's night for rummy and he could be reached at the Gables.

By the late 1960's, Gridley operated one of the few remaining manual switchboards in the nation. At that time, calling home from out of state was an adventure. It was not unusual for a long distance operator to be confused when asked, "Please connect me to 142 White in Gridley, Illinois." Many a tale could be told about the reactions of operators to such requests. One such tale tells of a local service man being apprehended by the military police when the operator believed him to be intoxicated while simply trying to call home.

Ownership of the Gridley Telephone Co. changed in 1970 when Hoobler retired after fifty years as manager. Rogers Kaufman, a Gridley High School graduate, purchased controlling interest in the firm. In the Illinois Bell magazine article mentioned previously, Hoobler was quoted, "Rogers's a hometown boy who's got lots of know-how with telecommunications and electricity. I'm selling him all but one share. I'm keeping one share."

A Complete System Rebuild

In 1971, a complete system rebuild began. All the aerial wire was replaced by new buried cable. The old building was taken down, and a new structure was built at the same location, 108 E. Third St. All the black telephones without dials and wooden phones with cranks were removed. New tone dial phones in a rainbow of colors were installed throughout the exchange. In July 1972, Gridley Telephone Co. cut over a new ITT PC32 crossbar switch to become the first company in Illinois to provide all its customers one-party tone dialing telephone service. Residential local service cost $7.50 a month, including one telephone and tone dialing.

The elimination of the switchboard forced the retirement of all the operators except Norma Smaga and Charles Hoobler, Jr.'s youngest daughter, Carol Flesher, who were retained as bookkeepers and customer service representatives. Also remaining was longtime installer/repairman Charles (Bud) Steward.

True to the family heritage, Elmer E. Kaufman, joined his father at the firm in 1973. In 1980, Kaufman's other son Eric came to work for the company full-time after many years of helping during school vacations. Rogers Kaufman's wife Kathleen even had a brief stint in the front office.

In September of 1983, the Gridley Telephone Co. purchased an IBM Series One minicomputer to assist in billing customers. Toll tapes filled with long distance messages were sent to Gridley from General Telephone Co. of Illinois. These tapes were processed, and the toll call charges were combined with the customers' local service charges onto a single bill. Prior to that time, the long distance charges were processed elsewhere and manually combined with a separate local bill. Software additions were made to the computer system as in-house processing and record keeping were gradually mechanized.

The digital computer entered the Gridley Telephone Co. switching world on February 23, 1985. On that date, a Northern Telecom DMS10 switch was cut into service at the central Illinois company. The new switch further improved the quality service being provided to the area residents. In addition, the company began recording and rating the toll calls originating from its exchange.

Spirit of the Independent Telephone Company

As time continues to distance people from the past values of personal service and community pride, Gridley Telephone Co. still maintains the small town spirit of the independent telephone company. By remembering the past and still keeping up with modern technological advances, Gridley Telephone Co. will continue to be the leading source of telecommunications in the Gridley-Meadows area for many years to come.


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