Number Please

In the early 1940’s telephones in Fayetteville were very primitive. The operator was signaled by cranking a small magneto mounted on the wall near the telephone. The magneto only signaled the operator. Communication was operated by batteries usually mounted just below the magneto. It was necessary to replace these from time to time. When signaled the operator would answer, “Number Please.” The caller would give the operator a number and operator would then make the connection and ring the number. It was not uncommon for people to call by name or location rather than by number. Often the operator would get a request like, “Ring the house” or “Ring Mother’s”. It was necessary for the operator to periodically monitor the connections to disconnect parties no longer talking. Because of this monitoring operators often knew more than they should know about community “secrets.” It’s amazing how professional these operators were. These “secrets” were never told to the public and that’s true even today! My mother, Helen Brown, was an operator during this time. She worked as an operator until the local telephone system converted to dial around 1950.

An operator was always on duty, day and night. There was a folding cot kept in the telephone office for use by the operator on night duty. After around 11:00 at night the operator would turn on an alarm designed to wake her up if calls were made after that time and go to sleep. In those days few people made calls after 11 P.M. knowing that the operator had retired for the night.

Any call made to a number outside the local one hundred or so telephones was considered “long distance” and a surcharge was accessed for each three minutes of talk time. All long distance calls were routed through Atlanta and there were only two long distance lines available. A three minute call to Atlanta cost ten cents.

The telephone office was located in a house at the corner of Highway 54 and Church Street . The Chief Operator, a kind of supervisor, lived in this same house with her family. Miss Evelyn Hightower was Chief Operator during this time until she married and moved to Gainesville. She was replaced by Hartley Donaldson who later married Hue Garrison. Mrs. Garrison was the last of the Chief Operators. After that the system became a dial system and the local operator was no longer needed. Never again did we hear that familiar “Number please.”

A few years before my mother’s death I found that she could still recall most of the numbers of people and businesses having telephones at that time. I asked her to make a list of these and you will find it by clicking on the link below. I thought some of you might enjoy seeing them again. Some she could not remember. If you remember any of the missing numbers please contact me. I would like to have a complete list.

Telephone Numbers