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I suppose one could say that I fell into antique telephone collecting by accident. I was working for Redwoods Telephone Company, a very small independent telephone company in Cave Junction, Oregon. My title was "storekeeper." I was also considered the warehouse manager, amongst other things.
Redwoods Telephone Company was somewhat antiquated. The year was 1974 but we were still using telephone instruments that dated back to the 1930's. We still used "coded ringing," meaning that you had to count the rings to determine if the call was for you, or someone else on your party line. My code was two longs and one short. The telephone company was finally going through some upgrades, so the installers were installing more up to date telephone instruments. Every day they would bring in the old telephones that they had replaced, and turn them over to me to be destroyed. I became very proficient at smashing these old sets. I would use my trusty sledge hammer and strike the telephone in the middle of the dial, and then again in the middle of the handset. Needless to say, it sickens me to think about all the wonderful telephone instruments I destroyed....hundreds of them!
One day an installer brought in a Western Electric "202". This is one of those cute little oval-based sets that a lot of people nicknamed the "French Phone." I looked at it and thought that my wife, Olga, would probably like it. So, I took it home instead of depositing a broken carcass in the trash. I was right! Olga loved it! It looked neat sitting on the end table next to the couch. A week or so later, another neat looking desk set came in. I took it home and set it next to the 202. The very next day, two more interesting telephones arrived on my desk. This time, one was a metal wall set with the separate transmitter and receiver. This was becoming fun! I had four antique telephones all lined up in a row, and I would find myself staring at them instead of the television. Every day as I went to work, I would wonder if anything interesting would show up. I wasn't disappointed. The two installer / repairmen knew that I was looking for any kind of set that was different than what I had collected so far. They were very helpful. Before long, I had a dozen different types of telephones displayed in a small area of our home.
I then started work at home calling warehousemen at other small independent telephone companies on the west coast, and asked them if they would send me anything that was old or unusual. It worked! Soon after, word spread that there was someone interested in collecting these things that were otherwise going to be destroyed. I was now receiving old telephones from all over the Pacific Northwest. One thing led to another, and I started figuring out other ways to procure more antique telephones.
Soon afterward my son Jonathan was born. Some of his favorite toys were my spare telephones. As he grew older he became more and more interested in antique telephones and their history. He was my extra set of eyes and ears at yard sales and flea markets. He is responsible for quite a few of our best 'finds'. Soon, it became apparent that he would surpass me and my ability to find, collect and restore these historic pieces. I gave the entire collection to Jonathan before his 10th birthday.
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