A Trip to the Telephone Museum
By Annette Rey
It shouldn’t get boring to hear, “There is no such thing as writer’s block.” That should be good news to those of you who find it difficult to populate your screen with words.
One of the techniques to fill that screen is to change your physical environment and seek out resources with subject matter about which to write. The subject does not have to be an unusual one, but when you find one, pounce!
A trip to the Telephone Museum filled that bill.
Can the thought of old dial or crank telephones be made to sound exciting? Let us see.
First, don’t let the negative, inner voice inside your head make you reject this subject and tell you no one is interested.
Second, it’s up to you, the creative writer, to go beneath the surface and make a subject interesting to your readers. In fact, strive for exciting writing.
Third, gather data to go from the mundane surface to the deeper background, adding historical facts that transform an item into a curiosity. Satisfy your readers, yet inspire them to want to learn more.
Fourth, remember writing is a craft. Continue studying to create fine and exceptional writing.
Fifth, and this is really a first in my book, your faithful sidekick should be a camera. Carry one wherever you go. Take pictures for your blog, to submit photos to a publisher along with your article, to study when you are home. Photos put you back in the moment and reveal minute details you missed while busy interacting with the environment.
The challenge: Make an article on old telephones an exciting one to read.
Employing the techniques above, here are some fascinating facts I learned.
In the beginning, when the phenomenon of transmitting voice by wire became known, some individuals took it upon themselves to have telephone communication with a select few others. A farmer, for instance, wired his closest neighbors (usually family). The system could have incorporated a whole two or four homes. Another farmer became a sideline entrepreneur and wired twenty-five lines. He installed three master boxes in his home, one in each of his daughters bedrooms. They were to answer calls and connect the caller to any of the other twenty-four customers on their circuit (photo right).
Pay telephone stations existed in hotels as early as 1878. Payment for calls was collected after the call was made. Apparently, mankind has always had the tendency to “short change” the other guy. To avoid not being paid, the attendant locked the caller in a booth and wouldn’t let him out until he received payment for the call. This gave me a chuckle. I could visualize the surprised caller, eyes a-gawk, kicking at the door, and the attendant on the outside of the temporary prison, shaking his head while pointing to his flat, open palm.
Jump way to the 1930s through 1960s and people hadn’t changed. They still sought ways to cost-cut (steal). Light bulbs in the ceilings of phone booths were a hot commodity and were stolen with such frequency, the booth’s manufacturer, Western Electric, installed a uniquely machined screw head that prevented access to the light bulb.
The above two facts opens up a whole other aspect from which to write about the history of the telephone which could be elaborated upon with a bit more research into cost and comparing human nature over time, and contrasting rural and urban living.
The writer can find other angles from which to write on this subject. Study of the evolution of the telephone can go into resources needed at the time including consumer safety. An 1876 model had a container of acid enclosed in the lower section of the telephone (the model on the right in the photo). When a call was made, a chemical reaction in the container conducted electricity and enabled the voices to be carried over the line. The longer the conversation ensued, the quality of the voices faded as the chemical reactions in the container reached its limits.
Trying to improve on efficiency and safety, a later model was equipped with batteries (the model on the left in the photo).
The museum has the switchboard (photo right) that was only wheeled out for four United States presidential visits. It was used for Presidents Johnson through Carter. Think about that. That is relatively recent history in the life of the United States.
This opens another avenue to focus on in a series of articles – how far we have come, technologically, in so short a time.
Can you see how this subject, which at first seemed boring and mundane, has turned into a writing bonanza for a series of articles? I have only scraped the surface of the wealth of information that can be tapped from this target (see my other site, Life Nuggets, https://annettecrey.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/a-trip-to-the-telephone-museum/).
So get out there with your camera and your creative mind and chip away at that block you might think still exists.