Phones for Phixin', Phantasy
or Just Plain Phun!
It all started several years ago when a bolt of lightning struck nearby and danced around the wiring in our house looking for suitable ground. I had unplugged everything (or so I thought), and while the three foot blue spark which shot down from a ceiling fan provided a certain amount of terrifying amusement, what I didn't realize was that, at that same moment, the phone line to the computer was still hooked up. Through the miracle of daisy-chaining, the lightning took out the computer and fax machine/printer. In a nanosecond, it headed straight for an official Northwestern Bell Touch-Tone telephone which had been fixed to the wall since the house was built nearly 20 years earlier.
The computer was fried, but curiously, while the lightning didn't destroy the phone, the audio was never the same. For years afterwards, callers would complain about the audio and insisted that I was putting a handkerchief over the phone. I could hear just fine and accused them of developing hearing problems.
Several weeks ago, it dawned on me that not *everybody* could be going deaf. I decided to break down and try to fix the phone. Of course, my local phone company was unhelpful and no one I talked to had any idea where to go for repairs. Even friends were not helping: "Geez, you can get a new one for ten bucks what's the big deal?," was a typical response.
Those of you too young to remember the days before the break up of American Telephone & Telegraph (January 1, 1984) will not understand that telephones used to be made to last for generations -- they had real bells which rang, not buzzers or chirpers which bleedle at you. And they were expensive. When the break up came, AT&T customers were obliged to buy their existing phones at outrageous prices which is how I happened to pay US$90, which in 1984 was actual folding money, for the phone on the wall.
Special reprint edition of
"Old Time Telephones, Technology,
Restoration and Repair"
Aside from the resentment of not having gotten my $90 worth from this phone, I tend to be a D-I-Yer and thought that I might be able to fix this phone if I just had some basic information. My first stop was amazon.com in search of a book on fixing phones. Naturally, there was one, and naturally, it was out of print. They did provide a link to the author's Web page, and from there, I learned that a special reprint edition of the book Old Time Telephones, Technology, Restoration, and Repair by Ralph O. Meyer could be had at www.phonecoinc.com. It is here that I'm forced to digress to acknowledge the terrific job McGraw-Hill has done with their "Special Reprint Editions." In their own words "...answering the need for speedy delivery of selected book titles of lasting value, McGraw-Hill has made this book available....It is a custom-made book identical to its original edition utilizing state-of-the-art digital printing technology for short-run production..." Gotta love that on-demand printing!
So, I called the folks at Phoneco, Inc. in Galesville, WI, placed my order and a week later was pouring over the index of Old Time Telephones. This $20 book is a 290-page encyclopedia of telephones. Mr. Meyer has done an excellent bit of work, preserving the illustrations, schematics, diagrams and descriptions of every phone, from Bell's original "Come here Watson, I need you" phone, to modern Touch Tones.
From the index, I went straight to the section on "Tests and Measurements." I knew there was something I could test or measure, and with luck, wouldn't have to take the phone off the wall, a project which I knew would require small explosives. Within minutes, I learned that the transmitter (that's the part you speak into) had a certain resistance value which could be measured on a cheap analog volt/ohm meter. A table showed what the resistance should be. I took the round transmitter out of the mouthpiece and touched the leads of the meter to the two contact points. Zero resistance! Whoa, this thing is toast! It's a wonder anybody could hear me at all!
A quick glance at the Phoneco, Inc. catalog, which they thoughtfully sent along with my order, showed that they stocked the part. Costing $7.35 (including postage) it arrived the next week. Unscrewing the mouthpiece cover once more, I took out the old transmitter and slipped in the new one. I wasted no time calling someone all too familiar with my phone problems and was gratified that the audio was crystal clear.
1940's Western Electric desk phone,
available in Bakelite or steel.
If you have an old phone you'd like to get working but don't want to hassle with it yourself, Phoneco, Inc. will fix it for you. Don't have an old phone but would kind of like to have one of those old candlestick "Stop-the-presses-get-me-rewrite!" phones? Well, they just happen to have hundreds of phones new and old, reproductions or novelty, in their 44-page catalog which they'll be happy to send to you. It was here that I found a picture of the old 1942 Western Electric bulletproof steel base and Bakelite handset phone which I have in the study as an extension phone. They're now worth $180! Imagine what my newly-repaired wall phone will be worth in another 30 years!
The catalog is crammed with full-color pictures of phones from every era. You can get genuine antique wooden wall phones, old Euro phones, even genuine working payphones from the '20s , '30s and on. Need a phone with a flair for the modern? How about a genuine 1955 Ericofone or the Sculptura. These phones, for serious collectors, aren't cheap. Expect to pay $100-450. Looking for phones with real character? Try the Kermit, Snoopy, Mickey, Garfield, Spiderman or Darth Vader phones. While there's no end to the novelty phones, these are much cheaper, with many under $50. Want to do a little research on phone collecting or repairing? Phoneco, Inc. carries dozens of books, charts and handbooks on the subject. If you're looking for parts they've got pages of parts, new and antique, everything from modular crimping tools to replacement ringer cranks.
1962 Automatic Electric speakerphone.
There are a number of phones it would be fun just to have. How about the lineman's test set, the 1962 Automatic Electric speaker phone, or the Touch Tone desk phones made of clear blue plastic with neon lights which flash when it rings. Could be perfect alongside an iMac! There are phones from the '60s in blue, lime green, and orange, phones with dials that light up, phones with "crabclaws" to turn a desk phone into a wall phone just by turning it upside down. For the Phone Phanatic with absolutely everything, may I suggest the original 1893-1932 Ericsson "Eiffel Tower" phone described as "...the most naturally ornate phone made" for just $2,500!
"I am not a number, I am a free man!"
Begun in 1971 by Mary and Ron Knappen as a hobby gone wild, Phoneco, Inc. now occupies a four story building covering 41,000 square feet and employing over 40 people. Finally, there's a phone company you can really like. Phonco, Inc. is unique, their prices are reasonable and their service is fast and professional. Contact Phoneco, Inc. at 19813 East Mill Road, P.O. Box 70, Galesville, WI 54630 or call 608-582-4124 FAX: 608-582-4593 or visit their website at www.phonecoinc.com.
- Ken Reitz [8/23/99]
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