53: Barbed Wire Phones
One more example of how farmers MacGyver everything. No phone lines? Use the fence.
Barbed Wire Phones:
Welcome to Brain Junk, I’m Amy Barton.
And I’m Trace Kerr, and it’s time for a Brain Storm. This was a subject that in the middle of the night practically, my daughter says “You’ve got to check this out!” and so here we are.
TK: So in 1874, we have the invention of barbed wire, and people start using to do fencing all around their farms, you know, to keep their animals in, and in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell came up with the telephone. Well, by the 1880’s, farmers were figuring out that they could set up their own phones, because the rural areas were not getting phone lines it was just too expensive to run that stuff all over the place because you’ve got a 200 acre farm, and then another 200 acre farm.
TK: Well they were taking smooth wire from their phone, to the top wire of their barbed wire fence and hooking it up. And then, you know, the guy at the next farm is taking the wire and he’s going out and hooking it to the barbed wire fence, so surrounding farms were all connected through miles of wire AND..
AB: They already were, so…huh!
TK: Yeah, so they’re hooking the phone up the fence in their yard and up to 20 farmers could be connected that way.
AB: Giant party line?
TK: Yes. So it was a party line, and the quality wasn’t all that great, but still, they credit it with helping with depression, and isolation because one farm wife, she was saying that she was on a 160 acre farm and she was all by herself, all day long, she said that everybody had their own, individual ring that they came up with. So, you know, if it was two shorts, because you cranked the phone, you knew that was Thelma’s house, and if it was three longs you knew it was this person’s house. She said the minute it rang everybody ran for the phone. And everybody knew everybody’s business because you know, it’s a party line.What was great about this, is in an emergency, you got one long, everybody knows that’s an emergency and they all go to their phones, and they all know what to do.
AB: So you don’t have that delay in “well could somebody ride out to John’s farm and get the doctor”, everybody already knows.
TK: Yup. Everybody knows and everybody could help. And Atlas Obscura had an article in there, and this one particular community, five rings meant that someone with a radio had the evening news on, and then everybody could pick up and listen to the news and get the weather report.
AB: That is excellent! That is so resourceful. I love that creativity. Wow.
TK: I do to. So you’d think that as time marched on, that this would kind of fade.Well, several farms in Texas had barbed wire phones until the 1970’s.
AB: Wow! I was just thinking as you talked that is totally something that my grandpa and his buddies, it sounds like that generation, and his parents, would have been the kind of folks who would “Well I’ve got some wire in the garage, I bet we could…”
TK: Just hook up the phone, and then if you had, and you know, if your fence broke, yes that would interrupt the thing, but then everyone would know, and then you’d have to go out and walk the fenceline and fix it anyway, because you’d have to fix your fence.
AB: Yeah-and, you could probably identify, based on who wasn’t responding, where the problem was. Interesting. Wow!
TK: And that is my Brain Storm.
AB:Want to hear more? We’re on Facebook and Instagram as @BrainJunkPodcast, and you can find us on Twitter as @MyBrainJunk. Trace and I will catch you next time for more of everything you never know you wanted to know, and I guarantee you won’t be bored.