service in the Gridley area dates back to the 19th century. Prior to
1900, a few telephone lines existed, operated by various groups of individuals.
The lines were not very well built and often rather makeshift. One of
the several local companies organized to operate telephones around 1900
was run by M.J. Wald, Ward Hiserodt and C.M. Coyle. Hiserodt, a mechanical
genius of the times, was the individual most instrumental in helping
to establish a credible telephone system in Gridley. The surrounding
rural areas were served by a host of small companies and cooperatives.
along with helpers Will Shanebrook and Blaine Tarman, began putting
up telephone lines in Gridley in February 1900. The original automatic
magneto dial system installed was manufactured by the National Automatic
Telephone Co. of Chicago. It began operation in the summer of 1900,
providing dial service to about 60 customers in the village. This was
one of the earliest dial exchanges in central Illinois.
service was interrupted in May 1901 by the Great Gridley Fire, which
destroyed the entire business district including the telephone company
switch and building. Hiserodt said he would have a new system running
by December, but how close he came to that date is not known. A new
Stromberg-Carlson switchboard was installed and connected to the eight
existing rural switcher lines and all the village lines.
About July 1903, most of the local telephone companies and co-ops in
the Gridley area were consolidated under one board of directors, P.
Luckert, secretary; and Hiserodt, manager of the switch. Directors were
P.P. Ehresman, Con Hayes, Charles Hughes and Valentine Neuhauser. Daisy
Whiteman was the operator of the central station.
The earliest telephone directory that still exists for the Gridley Telephone
Co. is dated 1906 and was published by C.S. Rowley. The local area telephone
companies listed in this directory were Fifer, Gridley Waldo, Independent,
Waldo Central, Farmers Private, Waldo Short Line, Buck Creek, Prairie
Valley, Northwestern and Grand View. The directory contains instructions
that are unique to the times. For example: "Parties wanting El Paso
call George Eft, 2 shorts and 1 long on Line 82." Eft would answer,
then connect the caller to the El Paso switchboard in order to complete
1907 or 1908, Harry B. Coyle purchased the shares of Wald. The Hiserodt
and Coyle Telephone Co. continued to operate until C.R. Hughes, Sr.
and C.F. Hoobler, Sr. purchased Hiserodt's interest.
new partnership known as Gridley Telephone Co. was formed in April 1913
by Hoobler, Hughes and Coyle. In April 1914, Hughes sold his interest
to Coyle. Coyle then sold a one-sixth interest in the company to Charles
Hoobler, Jr. On September 15, 1915 Coyle and his wife Alice sold all
of their remaining interest, one-half the company stock, to Charles
Hoobler, Jr., making the Hoobler family sole owners of the company.
The Gridley Telephone Co. partnership was owned and operated by Charles
Hoobler, Sr. and his son until the younger Hoobler purchased his father's
interest on January 31, 1916.
On January 7, 1920, Gridley Telephone Co. was incorporated. Charles
Hoobler, Sr. served as president; Mae Gibbs, his daughter, was vice
president and Charles Hoobler, Jr. acted as secretary/treasurer. Illinois
Commerce Commission (ICC) approval for the corporation was granted,
and operation as an incorporated firm began October 1, 1920.
A new two-position magneto switchboard was purchased in 1920. The Gridley
board was installed alongside a switchboard operated by Consolidated
Switchboard Co. On October 1, 1923, the Gridley Telephone Co. switchboard
began serving the Meadows Central Telephone Co.
Storm Wipes Out Competition
companies continued to provide service to people in and around Gridley
until a December sleet storm downed all the telephone lines in the area.
In a 1970 interview for an Illinois Bell magazine, Charles Hoobler,
Jr. recalled these memories: "The ICC gave me certification on October
1, 1920, and the next year I started getting real competition from a
farmer's switchboard company - really nine companies with anywhere from
one to eight lines each...Then, in 1924, the Good Lord provided a sleet
storm that laid away my competition. It took me the better part of a
year to get all the lines up again." The extensive damage caused by
the storm resulted in the demise of Consolidated Switchboard Co. All
the rural and village lines were brought together into one switchboard
as the result of Hoobler's efforts.
Charles Hoobler, Jr. was a man dedicated to his profession. He engineered,
installed and maintained the plant facilities, wiring the mainframe
and relay rack himself. During the great depression, he and his wife
Lucinda moved into the telephone office because he had no money to hire
switchboard employees. He accepted food, instead of money, from farmer
customers as payment for their bills.
Hoobler brought another major change to the Gridley Telephone Co. in
1946 when a new common battery switchboard was installed. All the subscribers
in the village were able to reach the operator just by lifting the telephone
handset. Telephone numbers became colorful, with the party lines being
referred to as red, green, blue and white. Most residence lines within
Gridley were shared by three or four families, but this situation was
much better than what the rural subscribers endured. The rural farmer
lines had eight-to twenty party service, and users were still required
to crank the telephone in order to reach the operator.
in on Party Lines
The multiple-party farmer lines were quite special. The rural subscribers
were reached by coded ringing. For example, someone's telephone number
may have been two longs, a short and a long.
reach that individual, the operator or calling party would have to turn
the crank on the telephone for two seconds, pause, turn the crank again
for two seconds, pause, crank for one second, pause, then crank again
for two seconds. Whenever anyone on a party line would receive a call,
everyone on the line knew it because his phone would ring as well. Everyone
was able to quickly distinguish his ring without much effort. Anyone
on the line could also "listen in" on the conversation and even participate.
Another use of coded ringing was known as the line ring. One of the
consistent users of the line ring was local grocer Charles Stahl. Stahl
would come to the telephone office each week to line ring each party
line to give his grocery specials of the week. This same line call also
was used to distribute news and call attention to special events. In
those days, answering machines came in the form of your neighbors. They
frequently helped each other by answering calls for one another. It
was not unusual to have a neighbor tell you the person you were calling
was making hay or had just driven by on his way to town.
local telephone operators performed similar services for the businesses
and residents in town. A calling party might be told by the Gridley
operator that the person he was calling was not in his office, but was
seen going to the coffee shop; so the call would be connected there.
The evening call to the doctor might be interrupted with the information
that it was the Doc's night for rummy and he could be reached at the
By the late 1960's, Gridley operated one of the few remaining manual
switchboards in the nation. At that time, calling home from out of state
was an adventure. It was not unusual for a long distance operator to
be confused when asked, "Please connect me to 142 White in Gridley,
Illinois." Many a tale could be told about the reactions of operators
to such requests. One such tale tells of a local service man being apprehended
by the military police when the operator believed him to be intoxicated
while simply trying to call home.
Ownership of the Gridley Telephone Co. changed in 1970 when Hoobler
retired after fifty years as manager. Rogers Kaufman, a Gridley High
School graduate, purchased controlling interest in the firm. In the
Illinois Bell magazine article mentioned previously, Hoobler was quoted,
"Rogers's a hometown boy who's got lots of know-how with telecommunications
and electricity. I'm selling him all but one share. I'm keeping one
Complete System Rebuild
In 1971, a complete system rebuild began. All the aerial wire was replaced
by new buried cable. The old building was taken down, and a new structure
was built at the same location, 108 E. Third St. All the black telephones
without dials and wooden phones with cranks were removed. New tone dial
phones in a rainbow of colors were installed throughout the exchange.
In July 1972, Gridley Telephone Co. cut over a new ITT PC32 crossbar
switch to become the first company in Illinois to provide all its customers
one-party tone dialing telephone service. Residential local service
cost $7.50 a month, including one telephone and tone dialing.
The elimination of the switchboard forced the retirement of all the
operators except Norma Smaga and Charles Hoobler, Jr.'s youngest daughter,
Carol Flesher, who were retained as bookkeepers and customer service
representatives. Also remaining was longtime installer/repairman Charles
True to the family heritage, Elmer E. Kaufman, joined his father at
the firm in 1973. In 1980, Kaufman's other son Eric came to work for
the company full-time after many years of helping during school vacations.
Rogers Kaufman's wife Kathleen even had a brief stint in the front office.
In September of 1983, the Gridley Telephone Co. purchased an IBM Series
One minicomputer to assist in billing customers. Toll tapes filled with
long distance messages were sent to Gridley from General Telephone Co.
of Illinois. These tapes were processed, and the toll call charges were
combined with the customers' local service charges onto a single bill.
Prior to that time, the long distance charges were processed elsewhere
and manually combined with a separate local bill. Software additions
were made to the computer system as in-house processing and record keeping
were gradually mechanized.
digital computer entered the Gridley Telephone Co. switching world on
February 23, 1985. On that date, a Northern Telecom DMS10 switch was
cut into service at the central Illinois company. The new switch further
improved the quality service being provided to the area residents. In
addition, the company began recording and rating the toll calls originating
from its exchange.
of the Independent Telephone Company
time continues to distance people from the past values of personal service
and community pride, Gridley Telephone Co. still maintains the small
town spirit of the independent telephone company. By remembering the
past and still keeping up with modern technological advances, Gridley
Telephone Co. will continue to be the leading source of telecommunications
in the Gridley-Meadows area for many years to come.