Monthly Archives: January 2013

Time of the Talk


The year 1952 was a very important year for Donna Brown. This was the year that she began working at a telephone company in Joplin– one of the many favorite jobs that she did during her life.

“There was no interview in order to get the job,” Donna said. “All you had to do was sit down and show that you were able to reach certain lengths in order to work the switchboard.”

The “switchboard” was a device used to manually connect a group of telephones. The switchboard had rows of “jacks” (which served for each subscriber). In the area in front of the switchboard there were several columns of keys, lamps, and cords (front and rear).

Each column had a front key and rear key. The rear key was used to physically ring the telephone and, on newer models, used to collect the money from coin telephones. The front key was used by the operator to talk to the person on that particular cord.

When a call is received, a light glows to alert the operator. The operator takes the rear cord and plugs it into the corresponding jack. The operator then presses the front key and asks who the caller would like to speak to. After the caller replies, the operator takes the front cord and plugs it into the jack that belongs to the person the caller wishes to contact. Then, the operator presses the rear key and rings the phone until the other person answers.

Once the other person answers, the operator will begin timing the call and then move on with other calls. The length of time the callers converse determined the cost of the call. When the “supervision lamps” lit up, that meant that the callers were done.

Donna Brown got the job and soon began working. Her task was to connect people to other callers. When someone picked up a telephone, a light would appear on an operator’s switchboard. Donna would answer and ask what number the caller wanted. From there, she would take one cord and plug it into the slot for that particular number. Then, she would press a button that would ring the phone until someone answered. After the person receiving the call accepted it, Donna would begin to time how long the two people talked so that she could charge them properly.

Long distance calls (which usually cost about fifty cents for every 3 minutes) were much more complicated. In order to make a long distance call for a caller (say from Joplin to New York City), you had to call a number of different stations in order to get to the place you wanted to contact. For example, to make a long distance call from Joplin to New York City you’d call St. Louis, from there, the operator would connect you to Chicago or New Jersey and that operator would then connect you to New York.

“To get to a large city you usually had to go through about four stations; to get to a small city, you had to go through six or seven stations.” This was especially frustrating, because if someone disconnected you along the way, you had to start all over again, or some people could not pronounce the names of some small towns properly, making it extremely difficult.

Operators also had another difficult job. There was no way to tell how much money a person put into a payphone, so operators had to memorize the sounds that coins made in order to tell what the caller put in. “The coins sounded different,” Donna said. “The quarter was a very high pitched sound, the dime made two sounds, and the nickel was almost like a thud. You couldn’t pay with pennies. Emergency calls were the only free calls.”

Operators’ hours varied too. Because anyone could make a call at anytime of the day, operators had shifts. “There was a split-shift, which was 7 A.M. to 11 A.M. and then 4 P.M. to 8 P.M. There was also the straight shift that was 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. or 1 P.M. to 10 P.M. and the midnight shift that was from 12 midnight to 7 A.M..” The days that the telephone company received the most calls were Mother’s Day and then Christmas.

Donna quit working at Southwestern Bell Telephone in 1959 after she married. She had worked seven years there and said she thoroughly enjoyed the job and the friends that she made.

Gardening: More than just a Pastime

rationing posterAt the time of my grandfather Dennis Gilbert’s childhood, World War II was just beginning, and sacrifices had to be made by civilians like him in order to support America’s troops. On top of various materials and tools, such as tires and gasoline, food had to be rationed so that sufficient supplies could be sent to soldiers who were fighting overseas. Although these rations were not debilitating, families usually had little, if any, extra food. Small family gardens were perfect solutions to this food problem. My grandfather assured me that his family would have been fine even if they had not planted a garden each year. Their gardens were simply used to supplement their stores of food. He went on to tell me that their garden produced delicious fresh vegetables that were difficult to obtain in any other way. Because they were such wise investments, family gardens were fairly common during this time. They were small and could be managed by a small team, yet they still produced a fair harvest each year.retired-man-cultivating-plants

Gardens, profitable as they were, required much effort to maintain. Pests, weeds, and disease had to be combated constantly. In addition, the ground had to be marked out, tilled, cultivated, and fertilized on a regular basis. To make matters worse, this work had to be done manually unless expensive farm equipment was available. As a child, my grandfather had to turn the dirt of his family’s garden with a pitchfork, and he and his mom had to cultivate the ground with a hoe before planting. His father was unable to help them, as he worked twelve hour days, six days a week.

Victory Garden

These struggles didn’t stop families from gardening, however! In fact, according to my grandfather, the ratio of agriculture- related professions to more urban, technology- focused professions was 50-50. As my grandfather said, “I enjoyed getting out there in the garden and working.” He also told me that his ancestors were farmers, and that “farming was in our blood. … I inherited that.”Part of small time gardening’s success came from the efforts of the national government, which helped convince people to garden. It glorified these gardens, deeming them “Victory Gardens” because they allowed for a greater amount of supplies to be shipped to soldiers fighting in WWII. In my grandfather’s family, young children did not work on the gardens. As he grew up, however, he began to take on most of the gardening responsibility, and all of the hard labor went to him, while his mother helped out in other areas. Fortunately for him, his family moved to Connecticut when he was in high school, and a neighbor named Mr. Knapp helped plow the garden with his tractor. In addition, my grandfather’s dad got a machine called a rototiller, which dramatically helped him till the ground. These machines made work much easier, and they increased the size and productivity of his family’s garden.


Such help as that which my grandfather’s family received was not uncommon. In fact, families in the same neighborhood usually helped each other out when another was going through a tough time. For example, if a family was too sick to work, or if someone in that family was injured, their neighbors would work the garden until they recovered. Families also shared their harvests, and the elderly, especially, were given produce often. Only a few varieties of crops were planted by each family in my grandfather’s neighborhood, so families would trade surplus produce. My grandfather’s neighbors were very fond of growing zucchini, and they gave their extra stores of it to his family. There were a few staple crops that almost everyone grew. These included tomatoes, squash, green beans, corn, cucumbers, beets, bell peppers, and radishes.


After considering common issues in today’s society, my grandfather told me that he feels every family should have a garden. He then continued to tell me that if family members worked together on such a project, they would develop a closer bond with each Gardens have greatly affected Missouri. Cities, communities, and even individuals are different as a result of it.  This lifestyle has become a part of our heritage, and as long as there is a single gardener in Missouri, it will always be important.  Regardless of how it is conducted, gardening will always play a role in shaping our culture.other. He also explained that young children would come to develop an understanding and appreciation for gardening and hoped that they would eventually begin a similar project with their own families, continuing the cycle.  He concluded, “There’s just something about going out and picking garden-fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, or green beans. There’s a sense of accomplishment. It would help teach responsibility to children.” He told me that it is easy to get into gardening, and that there is a variety of gardens that can be grown, such as flower and vegetable gardens.




Gilbert, Dennis.  Personal interview.  24 Nov. 2012

“Victory Garden.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.

Berger, David. “Country Lore: Homemade Rototiller.” Mother Earth News. N.p., Apr.-May 2007. Web. 07 Dec. 2012.

“Retired Man Cultivating Plants.” 123RF Stock Photos. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012.

Stambaugh, Liz. “How Personal Recycling Can Help Your Garden And Wallet.” N.p., 10 Mar. 2009. Web. 07 Dec. 2012.

Selasa. “Guide Food Travel.” : WWII Rationing: Golden Barley Soup and Mock Duck. N.p., 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.

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