The following history is Part 2 of three parts and was written in June, 1956 by Mrs. Cy Stone, wife of the field representative for the R.E.A. Telephone Loans Program. The history was prepared for Oliver J. Stone (no relation to Cy Stone) when he was Manager of the Delta County Co-operative Telephone Company the same year. This history predates the transition to dial telephones in the county. It has been edited for clarity.
Outside the Co-op Telephone office in Paonia – 1907. O.J. Stone second from left.
Oliver Stone carried a 30-30 along in his buggy, but said he only used it to kill coyotes. However, the area was not without its excitement.
Crawford, Colorado, was quite a rough town in the early 1900’s. Cowboys would whoop-it-up in the town theaters (saloons), and dancing girls decked out on the stage would sing some little ditty to the crowd. The cowboys would “catch on” to the words and sing in lusty unison, then punctuate the atmosphere with gun shots through the roof of the building. Oliver stone was very quiet and mild mannered, and claimed only to be an observer to such scenes of real western thrills, or chills.
On one of Oliver Stone’s first trips to Delta to repair phones in 1906, the first resident he called upon for repair work, curtly informed·him that “it was about time the phone was fixed”. Then added, “The only reason we keep the phone is because of that nice operator, Sadie Guyer.” Sadie was the first operator in Delta. Her folks ran a room and boarding house in Delta. Stone stayed there when his duties took him to that town. There he met Sadie’ s sister, Miss Ethel Guyer, who became Mrs. O. J. Stone in 1912. They had two daughters, Harriet and Shirley, and one son, Wendell, who served as Paonia Exchange manager and assisted his father for many years.
Subscribers with telephones began to pay their bills more promptly as Oliver Stone got around to getting them operating correctly. The original rates for the Co-op were residence, $1.50, and business ; $2.00, per month. Only two rate increases were initiated in the life of the Co-op. In 1931, rates on business phones were raised to $2.50, and residence to $1.75, which only raised residence rates 25 cents and business rates 50 cents per month. This was done so that tolls would not have to be charged between exchanges. The second raise in rates came in November, 1952 in order to meet rising costs of operation, which more than tripled during World War II.
By 1956, there were several pioneer linemen still residing in Delta County. One was W.M. Erickson, known as “Wes” to the folks at Paonia. He served as a lineman from 1911 to 1938 and was Exchange Manager. He started out on a salary of $85 a month. He came to Paonia as a carpenter three days after O. J. Stone, on July 4, 1906. “Wes” said that Oliver had been like a brother to him all his life. After Wes retired, he still operated a repair-shop. Stone claimed that Wes could fix anything that needed to be fixed.
Mr. H. H Addams, President of the Hotchkiss Bank, had been a director of the telephone company since 1924, and became President of the company in 1938, and was still president in 1956. Mr. Addams took a keen interest in the new plans for converting the system to dial phones. He observed that the growth and progress of the Delta County Co-operative Telephone Company closely followed the economic conditions in the county. He had high praise for Stone’s fifty-some years of service as a superintendent, secretary and manager of the company.
Sometimes the labor situation had its difficulties. In 1909, Ray Stanford and O.J. Stone built fifteen miles of telephone line at Crystal Creek, south of Crawford. They employed about a dozen Japanese workers. Cowboys told them to get the “Japs” out of the country. But Stanford and Stone were not easily intimidated. They went to the pool halls and told the cowboys they would not replace the Japanese unless they could get available help elsewhere. Thus, the Japanese men stayed on the payroll, digging holes for $1.25 per day.
Stone believed that the bigger the pole, the longer it would stand. There were some about two feet through at the butt. But he found out that the bigger they were, the harder they fell and they rotted off just as quickly as the smaller poles. The Forest Service was interested in the line at Crystal Creek because it provided a means of communication for fire alerts. The Forest Service provided a vat of creosote and a farmer supplied a hay derrick to lift three white spruce poles at a time to dip into the hot vats of creosote. The penetration was not very thorough, and these poles didn’t last much longer than the untreated poles
However, Juniper or cedar poles were bought by the company by the thousands, and a lot of lines were constructed from red cedar poles, costing $1.00 per pole, delivered on the ground. Many of these poles lasted the life of the company. Some of these were used in the main toll line from Hotchkiss, then across Redlands Mesa to Eckert. It was lots of work to get the poles out of the mountains and deliver them by team and wagon to Delta and Hotchkiss and surrounding exchanges. By 1917, an inventory of the system was made and there were 10,000 standing juniper poles and several thousand spruce poles. Stone says, “It’s hard to believe we can rebuild this system in a year and a half. We’ve been building it now for more than fifty years. There’s some that have helped a life-time too – like Wes Erickson, Grant Miller, Herman Schulte, – just so many people have cooperated with this project that I would like to give credit to all of them; in fact, the whole story would fill a book.”
In 1956, the Delta County Co-operative Telephone Company system had a total of forty-eight employees. There were seven operators at Paonia, five at Delta, five at Crawford, seven at Hotchkiss, eight at Eckert, and five at Cedaredge. Four exchange managers were in charge of repair and maintenance. They were Wendell Stone of Paonia, Ralph Crim in Hotchkiss and Crawford, Orville Hanson in Cedaredge and Eckert, and Vanoy Welch in Delta.
The system then consisted of approximately 1,934 miles of wire line in Delta County, 44 miles of wire line in Montrose and 10 miles of wire line in Gunnison County on a total of 416 miles of poles. Even though there were only 2,500 subscribers, there were about 10,000 people who made use of the phone system.
The records of the company were preserved exceedingly well. The Field Representative for the REA Telephone Loans Program observed that they were the finest ever encountered for any independent company applying for financial assistance.
O.J. Stone took over as Secretary for the company in December, 1912. Yearly audits of his books were always found to be accurate to the penny. The basement of the exchange in Paonia housed the records of the company. The first directory of the Delta County Co-operative Telephone Company was printed in 1903. The directories were all printed on the basis of money collected for advertising space by business firms, and the company never had to expend their own funds on a book. Several telephone listings were unchanged from 1903 to 1953, and they were Henry E. Welborn of Crawford, who operated a drug firm in Paonia in 1903, and Abner McKee of Paonia. The Independent Lumber Company listing in Delta also remained unchanged.
In Delta, the first telephone exchange was above the Stockham Hardware building (Columbine Mall, today), and then in 1911, office space was leased in the Delta National Bank building (City Hall building, today), later occupied by The Colorado Bank and Trust Company on the ground floor.
For thirty years (1908-1938) Judge Milton R. Welch advised the growing company as legal advisor and served as President of the Board of Directors for many years. He assisted the company greatly in solving its difficulties over the years. Judge Clyde H. Stewart filled his vacancy, along with other Board members, H.K. Ferguson, C.C. Hawkins and R.L. Stanford during the early years.
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