End of an era for Maine crank phones


BRYANT POND, Maine -- With mixed emotions, town residents and telephone company workers made final plans Monday to pull the plug on what is believed to be the nation's last hand-cranked telephone system.

'It will be sort of a sad day in some ways and a happy day in others,' said Elden Hathaway, who operated the Bryant Pond Telephone Co. from his home from 1952 to 1981, when he sold the business to Oxford Telephone & Telegraph Co.


'I'll be glad to have it finally come to a conclusion, and a little regretful that somebody couldn't keep it going,' he said.

The conversion to modern phones was scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, when scores of local residents and invited guests planned to gather in Hathaway's living room to watch as Robert Jamison, general manager of Oxford Tel & Tel, makes the final phone call through the Bryant Pond switchboard.

Then, with a flick of a switch, more than 425 phone subscribers in this tiny western Maine town will join the dial-it-yourself age.

'I hate to see it go like anyone else, but this has to happen sometime,' Jamison said. He will make the final call to Correy Snowden, a plant supervisor for the Bryant Pond Telephone Co., who is fighting cancer at a Portland hospital.


'He's the only who's not going to be here out of the whole bunch of them that work for me,' Jamison said.

Working the switchboard on the final day will be Hathaway's daughters, who have been crank phone operators since they were children.

The Depression era phones, consisting of a cradle phone and an oak box with a crank on the side, are being sold to subscribers for $3 each. The rest of the stock, including wall, coinbox and candlestick phones, will be auctioned off.

The Bryant Pond switchboard will become the centerpiece of a museum Oxford Tel & Tel plans to establish in the town.

When Oxford Tel & Tel bought the business in July 1981 and announced its conversion plan, some local resident protested, forming the 'Don't Yank The Crank Committee.'

The group petitioned the state Public Utilities Comission to force the new owners to operate a dual system, allowing subscribers to either switch to dial service or keep their crank phones.

After a year of debate, the PUC rejected the arguments of those who wanted to keep the magneto system operational, clearing the way for modernization.

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