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Del Bonita Telephones

Heritage of the High Country
A History of Del Bontita and surrounding Districts
Pages 103 - 104

Alberta Government Telephones

Telephone service began creeping toward Del Bonita in 1912 when AGT built Line 47 from Cardston to Kimball, with an intermediate office at Aetna. The line was 12.75 miles long. In 1914 the Aetna office was closed.

In 1915 AGT extended the line 7.44 miles to Taylorville and an office was opened there. There was no change until 1920 when an extension of 32.75 miles was made to Hacke. New offices were opened at Twin Lakes, Valleyfield (Whiskey Gap), Del Bonita, and Hacke. These were toll phones. The wire used on this line was Number 9 instead of the usual Number 12. The telephone poles to bring the line into the Newton home in Del Bonita had been laid out across the valley in the fall of 1919. Winter set in and the ground froze before they were erected. The spring floods in Shanks Creek washed most of them down the valley. This entailed extra work and expense for AGT.

In 1922 there was a further re-shuffling. Offices were closed at Kimball, Taylorville, and Twin Lakes. New offices were opened at Richfield (Rinard), and Seaforth in the MacKenzie home, Twin River.

A map of long-distance lines in the 1922 annual report thus shows a line running from Cardston to Valleyfield, Richfield (Rinard), Del Bonita, Seaforth (Twin River), and Hacke.

The line from Seaforth, the MacKenzie home, to Hacke, the Hacke home, gradually fell down, and there was just one phone, Seaforth, in the Twin River district.

Richfield and Hacke toll phones disappeared after 1923, and Valleyfield after 1930, leaving just Del Bonita and Seaforth.

The January 1934 Lethbridge and District telephone directory consisted of twenty-eight pages, including advertisements. Whiskey Gap had day service, with telephones at the three elevators. Alberta Pacific Grain Co. Ltd. No. 3 Alberta Wheat Pool No. 2 United Grain Growers No. 4

Del Bonita and Seaforth were listed as toll phones.

Records are not available, but it is recalled that about 1934 or 1935 Jack Ellison, Soph Schriver and Chris Jensen bought the line from AGT and Jack Ellison arranged for its maintenance. A few more telephones were installed in some homes close to the main line - as far as the Del Bonita district.

The Twin River area still had a toll phone at Seaforth in the early 40's. However, in 1950 the people there obtained telephones, and set up their own system within the community. At first the telephone line was strung on the fence. Later higher extensions were added to fence posts to elevate the lines. This system served the Twin River Community until 1967, when underground telephone lines were laid from Milk River.

Meantime in the early forties telephone lines were in need of repair. According to AGT records the Boundary Mutual Telephone Company began operation on December 1, 1945. The line was purchased from Jack Ellison, and had to be repaired and serviced by the company. More subscribers were added. A trouble man was hired to care for the system. Heber Sheffield and George Henry were two of the trouble men who served this area. George Henry recalls that he and his brother, Edgar, rebuilt some of the line for the Boundary Mutual Telephone Company, and had some hair raising experiences. When they were re-building the line past Aetna, the poles had rotted off. George had climbed one firm pole, and Edgar another. There were several poles between them. When George cut the wire both he and Edgar went down - and all the poles between them fell. The line was all that had been holding the poles up.

The rural subscribers were shareholders in the boundary Mutual Telephone Company connecting to Cardston. Shares were fifty dollars each. Service was extended to more subscribers along the line, and in Del Bonita area. However, some people in the district had a private phone on the fence line to a neighbor on the Cardston line - and in this way could have important telephone messages relayed. Wayne Mehew and Iven Rasmussen had fence phones to Bob Arnold's home. Ted Walburger had a fence phone to Ray Powlesland's. At one time the Canadian Customs was on the Cut Bank, Montana telephone exchange.

When phones went automatic all lines were rebuilt. The rural telephone lines were sometimes damaged and put out of order by high winds, lightning, and heavy snow storms. Maintaining the service was a real challenge.

In the 1960's AGT repurchased the lines from Boundary Mutual Telphone Company. All phones connecting to Cardston converted to dial operation on May 17, 1964. Rural lines to Del Bonita were converted to buried cable on October 22, 1973. Service was much better.

Then came the task of dismantling the telephone poles and lines. The Boundary Mutual Telephone poles and wire were stacked at Lynn Sommerfeldt's at Whiskey Gap and later sold by auction.

The area around Shanks Lake and north of the Milk River was without telephone service of any kind until 1973 when underground lines were extended from Magrath.

Now in 1980 - the area from Whiskey Gap to Twin River and north to Crystal Springs Colony is really one community, but is serviced by three telephone exchanges, Cardston, Milk River, and Magrath. However, this telephone service fills a vital need, and saves many a mile of travel for people in this widely scattered community.

Remember the Old Phones?

The first toll phone was a wooden box structure. Inside there were dry cell batteries and the intricate mechanism of wires and magnets. The front of the phone had two bells at the top, an adjustable mouthpiece at the centre, and a shelf at the bottom. The bell shaped receiver hung on a hook on the left hand side. There was also a button on the left side, a crank on the right side of the box.

To ring central it was necessary to lift the receiver off the hook and ask if the line was busy. Then the button was pressed with the left hand - and the crank was turned with the right. When central's cheerful voice said, "number please", the number to called was repeated, and she rang the party.

These same phones were used on the rural telephone lines. Each party had a telephone number and definite signal of longs, shorts, or a combination of both. To call someone on the same party line the signal for that party could be rung with the crank. Everyone on the party line heard every ring that came though. When the call was completed, one short ring was made to indicate that the line was not busy.

At one time there were over twenty subscribers on one party line in the Del Bonita area.

Gone now are the miles and miles of telephone poles, and the nostalgic hum of the telephone wires on cold winter nights.

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Mary Tollestrup