Odessa women got the telephone in the early 1900's. The Odessa Telephone Exchange had a lone operator, Miss Edna Fielding, who kept the switchboard open from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. As in most small towns, she was affectionately known as "Central."
It was impossible to direct dial, so users gave the operator a number, or more likely, just gave the person's name or business. "Central" knew people, where the women were visiting, where the men were hanging out, where the kids were playing. She notified families of accidents, fires, storms, who was looking for them, etc.
"Central" was a true hero of frontier Texas and Edna Fielding's name should lead the list.
Telephone service was available to ranchers by using barbed wire fences as conductors for the line. The Long Distance Telephone Company, extended from coast to coast, and paid county taxes on thirty-four and one-half miles in 1905. These lines utilized many miles of ranch fences.
The Exchange Manager, Rev. George B. Ely, circulated rules which asked that fences be kept clear of debris. He also strongly advised people to get their own phone and not borrow their neighbor's.
Rancher A. Quincy Cooper bought the telephone system in 1911. Toll lines were set up between Monahans and Odessa. He and his family ran it.
An official Texas Historical Marker on the old telephone building on West Second recounts this interesting event: while making repairs on a barbed wire line January 25, 1915, Cooper accidentally interrupted the first trans- continental call between Alexander Graham Bell in New York and his assistant in San Francisco. Bell asked where he was, then retorted, "Where in the hell is Odessa, Texas?"
Southwestern Bell Telephone Company bought the 365 telephone system in May, 1928. The influx of new residents during the oil booms created long waiting lines for telephones. Depending on their location, some people waited more than a year.
In 1942, Odessans were using 2,302 telephones.
Many still remember the inconvenience of the 1946 telephone "Candy Strike." It started when a grateful customer gave one operator a box of candy but didn't bring any for the others. They became disgruntled and went on strike. Emergency calls were the only ones which went through. The strike lasted more than two weeks.
Telephone numbers had only three digits then. The Federal exchange added the FE to numbers in the early '50's. The EMerson exchange was added in 1957. Telephone numbers have seven digits today.
In 1950, Odessa had 8,247 telephones; in March, 1981, there were 28,397 business connections and 74,435 residential; a total of 102,832.
Located Second and Grant Street.
Courtesy: Collins Drug Archives.
Courtesy: Author; John Ben Shepperd & Wanda Snodgrass
Tim O'Reilly Illustrator.
Exchange Club Publication, July, 1981.
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