I just used my cell phone to text my niece, check Facebook and take a picture. It’s hard to imagine a life without these portable computers in our pockets. But, it wasn’t all that long ago phones were a luxury.
Eatonville had phones early on. Mr. and Mrs. Dye and Mr. Biggs incorporated The Mount Tacoma Telephone & Telegraph Company in October 1910. T. C. Van Eaton had one of the first phones in his store.
The offices were on Washington and Center, but burned in 1911. The following year Mount Tacoma Telephone and Telegraph Co. began construction on a new building. There were 30 phones in town at a cost of $1.50 a month to rent.
The story goes, that year, in 1912, Pete Christenson won the telephone company in a game of Pinochle. Soon after he changed the name to Mashell Telephone Company.
Installing your own poles
It’s hard to imagine Rainier Connect telling a potential customer today, “We don’t have lines out where you live. We will, however, give you a great deal on our technology if you put them in yourselves.” But, that’s what happened in those early days.
Per the History of Southeastern Pierce County, it was too expensive for a private company to install services in rural farming areas. So, the Silver Lake Telephone Company installed two lines in 1912. They were 10 miles apart and serviced 23 people.
The farmers must have been made of tough stock back then. Despite the fact that farming in the early 1900s was an extremely demanding job, they managed to find time and energy to band together, build and maintain their own lines, and rent switchboard service from Mashell. (I hope they got a heck of a discount!)
For decades, everything went well with the switchboard system. When a call came in a light would go on at the switchboard. The operator would throw a switch, ask who that person wanted to speak to, and then manually make the connection.
Changes in 1954
By 1954 things were changing. Phones were picking up in popularity. The town had 437 phones at a cost of $2.75 or $3.00 a month and Mashell was moving to a dial system and the cost of a dial system switchboard was $27,000 ($236,000 in today’s dollars).
That year the farmers also wanted Mashell to replace their crank phones with the new “dial” phones. There was a disagreement on the cost, and I’m not sure it was ever resolved, as I remember a crank-style phone in our family farm well into the 60s.
All in the family
Since 1912 the Christensen/Haynes family has never left the phone business. Pete sold the business to his son Henry in 1919, and then it went to Peter’s son Dan in 1929, and next to grandson Arne Haynes in 1954. Arne was president for 36 years before retiring in 1990, when his son Skip became CEO and faced new advancements like the Internet. Now Skip’s son Brian Haynes is CEO and taking the company, won in a card game, into the 21st century.