In March of 1965 the company asked me to take charge of the Telephone Exhibit for the State Fair of Texas that would open in October. I had to start in April to have all the exhibits built, and the people trained for the show in the fall. We had to decide what would be in the exhibit, and then develop the scripts for all of the people. We had to select two changes of uniforms, and then the hardest of all, select the people to serve. Each person trying out would memorize a short script. They would then try out in front of us and we had to select 40 out of over a hundred that tried out.
I was the State Fair Director; I had an assistant director, two other men, and one chief operator. The rest, about 40 people, we selected to be the “presenters”. The fair was in October, and we just barely made the deadline to be ready when it started. We worked all day every day from May 1 until the fair on October 1st. The last week before the fair opened we were working nights too.We located on a vacant floor of the building where we could select the people, rehearse the scripts and build the exhibits. “Jinx” Weekly, the marketing department head, said it was the best State Fair program we had ever had. He sent me a very complimentary letter with a copy to my boss.
Shortly after this assignment, I was asked to temporarily return to Engineering because they were desperate to finish retooling some of the dial offices and St Louis had given them a deadline. The head traffic Engineer was a good friend of mine, Rusty Dunlap, and of course I told him that I did not mind helping out, but I was not going to stay in engineering. He said it would only be for about a year so I agreed and told him I would do the best job I could and not complain for one year. However, if I were still in engineering in one year he would have my resignation letter. He said well enough.
I was a member of the management group at SW Bell and every once in while there would be a strike by the CWA Union against the company. Whenever this happened we who were in Management would have to man the switchboards so the customers would have emergency service. One year my assignment was to the old board at Cleburne, Texas. I had experience on the switchboard so they assigned me to the night tour. I had the Cleburne switchboard all by myself from 11pm until 7am. It was kind of surreal being the only living being between all the customers and the world outside their homes. I had several emergencies during the two weeks I manned that board alone all night. What I remember the best was a little old lady who lived by herself out from Rio Vista, Texas. Every single night about 3am her signal light would come on and I would answer, “Operator.” She would then ask me the same question every night, “Are you still there, Operator?” I would reassure her and she would thank me and return to bed. I have often wondered what happened to her when later they cut that office to dial and served it out of Ft Worth.
The manual operators in all of the small towns of America performed a great service for many years. They not only connected phone calls but sometimes kept tabs on all the town folk. I remember one time when I called my Uncle Jimmy in Calvert and had a unique experience. The switchboard was a single position in the front room of an old Victorian house just north of the RR tracks. When the Calvert operator answered I gave her Jimmy’s home number. It was 21J as I remember. The operator asked me whom I was calling. I told her Mr. Hucks. She said Jimmy is not there. I said well ring it any way someone may answer. She said “There is no one there it won’t do any good. Bernadine (Jimmy’s wife) is in Houston shopping and Jimmy just crossed the track here by the office.” I then said, “Well, just ring his office.” Jimmy was the Gulf Oil bulk plant distributor for Robertson County. She responded, “He’s not there either.” I said in some frustration, “Well where is he?” She said he always stops at the Bank for coffee first and he is there. She then rang the bank and I finally talked to Jimmy.
Photo of solo switchboard operator found here.