The March/April 1986 issue of CONTEL NEWS (Continental Telephone Company of Iowa) Iowa Employee Newsletter, featured an article about Ruth Slusher (Mrs. Audrey "Buck" Slusher) written by Debbi Buchholtz, aided by the following autobiographical sketch written by Ruth Slusher, mother of Delores Slusher Honts of Winfield. (Delores Slusher Honts and her husband, Jim, were proprietors of Honts Grocery in Winfield from October 1963 until April 1984.)
Ruth Slusher wrote in 1986:
In 1940 my husband, Buck, visited with Walter Schrupp at the Hedrick Journal where he was visiting his brother-in-law, Ralph Jones. Mr. Schrupp, after visiting with Buck for some time, asked Buck if he could send him an application for a job with the Telephone Company. Buck told him to send one.
It was one year to the day when we received a call from Mr. Schrupp at 11:00 p.m. one night in April of 1941. He wanted us to come at once and take over the Houghton, Iowa exchange. We talked all night, never went back to sleep at all. By morning we had decided to contact my folks about what they thought we ought to do.
My dad offered to take Delores and I in his coupe car to Iowa. Delores was eleven years old. The job at that time was just for operators at Houghton. The plan was for Buck to take training at Columbus Junction under the local manager who was, at that time, A. W. Sanders.
We took just what we could take in the trunk of the car, which meant we had to eat on a card table and cook on a hot plate. That would have been okay for us for the time being, but what made it bad was we had to board and room Rena Hankhammer who had been sent by the company to train us. (That's another story.)
On the day that we arrived at Houghton, we found it to be a small village with no buildings on the south side of the road at all. We found Joe Lohman, the Local Manager, and Art Sanders, the District Manager, frantically cutting high weeds in front of the house that housed the telephone office. (I guess so we could see out the front window.)
The house was adequate but in bad repair, with a hole clear through the floor in the pantry. The upstairs was rented to a family of children (meirottoes) who lived there to attend the Catholic school. Delores was the only Protestant in the whole school.
In the meantime, Buck was quitting his job at an elevator in Jamestown, North Dakota, and trying to rent or sell our home there and dispose of our furniture and belongings that he couldn't bring in the panel truck that he traded our car for to move with.
When he arrived, he almost went clear through Houghton before he realized he was even passing through a town. He had a mattress and a bicycle on top of the truck, and the truck was well loaded. He later said when he realized he had arrived, he said his first thought was, "Where can I put Ruth and Delores and go back to North Dakota?" He was anything but impressed, to say the least.
We decided to stick it out and he went the next week to Columbus Junction. We were by then all homesick and heartsick. Buck came home weekends, mostly to bring a little "jag" of coal to keep Delores and me warm until he had enough money to buy enough for another week.
Our boarder, being a very demanding person, made our job of learning and coping with her very difficult. For instance, she would not eat her corn flakes unless they were made more crisp, so to accomplish that I put her portion on a pie pan over a toaster. (I should not get started on her.)
Buck got along very well in learning his work. He couldn't get over the hills in Columbus Junction as there are not many in North Dakota. After seven months we were given the Montrose exchange to both manage and operate.
As we left Houghton we remarked as we rode along leaving there that we felt sure we had not made any enemies there during our short stay, when all of a sudden as we passed the home of one of our subscribers, an old hen ran out in the road and we struck her just so that she landed on the fender of our truck. We were then afraid we had made an enemy after all and laughed about it as we drove on.
We were to receive $82.50 per month for operating, plus Buck was to get I believe as I remember it $ .55 per hour. My contract deducted $12.50 per month for living quarters ($8.00 for quarters, $1.50 for lights, $3.00 for heat). Water was in a well across the street. (Once when Buck went for water, one of our neighbors to be smart asked Buck if the Mrs. was sick). We had to hire and pay our own relief help, which we were able to hire at 15c per hour. Delores and I could do most ourselves, and by now Buck could operate when the need arose. After a short time they were having trouble keeping an operator at Houghton and at one time did not have anyone to cover there and Joe Lohman came and took Delores there who was then just 12 years old. She ran it for several hours all by herself until they got someone to come from another exchange until they could hire someone to come full time.
Montrose looked so good to us, not only because the home was so much nicer, but we were together as a family again and the town and the school were good. We were glad to be able to stay there for ten happy years.
During our years at Montrose, Buck, with the help of the high school boys, almost entirely rebuilt the lines at Montrose and Argyle, hauling the poles from New London on a trailer behind his truck. Although I do remember the crew during their lunch hours in our basement, so they must have done some of it, too. What I remember is laughing to hear them laughing. We would sit upstairs and laugh along with Dick Dircks and Cliff Tisor and others as I suppose they were telling stories on each other. Anyone who knows them knows how contagious their laugh could be.
To relate a few incidents that happened at Montrose:
I was at a loss to figure out what was going on when I heard farmers talking about having the vet for artificial "breathing." What they were actually saying was artificial "breeding," which was a new thing at that time.
There was an elderly man who, on occasion, visited a lady friend who lived in the country. Frequently, he would get too much to drink and he'd come to the pay phone on the front porch and ask us to ring her, giving just her name. One night I attempted to make him give me her number just to be ornery and he said, "Listen here young lady, you ring two shorts out there on that gravel road and don't try to give me any trouble."
One New Years we had a terrible ice storm. As Buck hung on a pole trying to pull a heavy ice laden line up to an insulator, he broke his rib with his own strength against the pole. How he would suffer, trying to work with that was awful. During that storm, we had friends come to stay because they had no power at home. We had a minister come to cook on a kerosene stove we had in the basement. We had heat because we had a coal or wood operating furnace. During that power outage we had to do all of our ringing by hand.
We served many times as an answering service, as people would say if so and so calls tell them where we are or what time they would be home.
For extra service we often would call people back when we were able to ring a number that they had found busy for a period of time.
During the time when boys were in service and calling home, often several members of a family expecting a call would distribute themselves around the neighborhood so they could all listen in and talk.
Many a time we would sit and cry when little girls who were camping at the King's Daughters Camp at Bluff Park would come in to call home that they were homesick. We would feel so sorry for them to hear them crying and begging to come home.
I guess you could also say we had to make "House Calls." I had a call one day and a Helen Coe Davis said, "Ruth, come quick. I think Lee is dead!" He was dead. While we waited for the doctor and others she had called to come she kept saying, "He always wanted to die with his boots on," and she repeatedly told him that he really died with his boots on, while we waited.
It was always an anxious time when we would be ringing a trainman to come to work in the night, for fear he would not answer or that his line would be out. We had three that we called regularly.
We had one colored family, and she was a sweet little shy lady. Once as she wrote me a check for her telephone bill she said, "If you ever get one of these and it's no good, let me know 'cause I write so many of them." I took it she didn't know about stubbing her check book.
We also served as an advertising agency in that for $1.00 we would give general rings to announce local happenings, such as a sale, supper or postponement. This was done by ringing a series of short rings on each line and saying, "Attention everyone!" and then giving the announcement.
Buck served on the Fire Department several years, assisted many evenings in helping to build Rubey Hall onto the Methodist Church next door, played a benefit basketball game, dressed as a woman, helped serve watermelon at the annual Watermelon Festival, and many other civic activities.
I claim I did some civic duties as well. I remember serving one year as the president of the P.T.A., several on the library board, but I like to think that the most notable accomplishment which is notable today, was the fact that I ushered our present candidate for Governor into the world because I was present when Lowell Junkins was born.
Buck joined the Masons and we both joined Eastern Star there.
We also had to furnish messenger service. If a call would come for someone who did not have a phone, we would send someone for the party and pay them for that service, usually 50c as I recall.
We also had to give the time several times a day. People would call and say, "Time, please."
Many a night we had to sit most of the night at the board when there was a storm, as lightening, even in the distance, would throw the drops and make the night alarm ring. One night as I sat at the board about 11:00, I was crocheting and I put the work and the hook in one hand while I took a call. I accidentally bumped the hook hard enough to drive the point of the hook into my finger so far we could not remove it. We had to drive to Donnellson and get the doctor to remove it.
When we were transferred to Donnellson in June, 1951, my contract gave me $130.00 per month (but they still deducted $12.50 per month for quarters, etc. However, we lived in our own new mobile home). I didn't have to hire any help. The late Grant Peterson was the local manager and buck worked as a lineman, being raised from 95c per hour to $1.05 per hour.
I remember hearing of cross country toll dialing service for the first time in 1951. I clipped an article and marked it "Interesting, please read," and put it in a book available to my operators at Donnellson. The first coast-to-coast dial call took place in 1947 when Bell Labs engineers made a single operator dial call from New York to San Francisco. Commercial calls by operators began in 1949 and by 1950 more than 1/3 of all long distance calls were handled by this method.
In the beginning, the state was divided vertically, north and south. The code for eastern Iowa was and is 319, central Iowa 515, and western Iowa 712. Each central office had a name. Burlington was PLaza, Des Moines was MAin, Hedrick was OLive, etc., to name just a few.
We did not have as many interesting experiences at Donnellson as we did at Montrose, because we were not one-on-one with the subscribers, but with the operators, since we did not operate the switchboards much. I seldom did except to relieve an operator during her shift.
While at Donnellson, I was sent to Aledo, Ill. to get something on a board out of a larger toll center. While at Donnellson, I became quite friendly with the traffic supervisor in Aledo (Phyllis Milligan) who died in 1952 in childbirth, and I felt honored when the Company gave me her personal headset, which was more modern than those we were using. My daughter has this on display, along with the clock which timed our calls at the Winfield exchange, among her many antiques in her home.
We were at Donnellson two years. We had a big adjustment to make to become comfortable living in a 8' x 30' mobile home. When we were to move and were having trouble finding a home to move to, the company said they would rather move mobile homes than furniture. So began an era of mobile living which continued three homes and thirty-four years later, as of 1986.
Our next move was to Winfield where we stayed until 1958. Buck also had Oakville to manage and it was already a dial exchange, so that was a new challenge for him. The Winfield office was the nicest one we had had to work in. It was spacious and nicely located on main street.
When the previous Chief Operator was filling me in on what to expect from each of the operators, I remember how she described Sadie Honts, who in time became our daughter's Mother-in-law. She said that, "She's so versatile that it doesn't make any difference whether you ask her to lead in prayer or play a game of "craps," she can do either with the skill that equaled her skill at the switchboard.
The end of our time in Winfield came with the exchange being cut over to dial on June 13, 1958. During that cutover, 11 trucks and 22 men came to assist. We had one circuit to Olds and one to Mt. Union; there being no toll to either exchange. The new equipment had a 6-8 minute automatic timing on all local to local calls. That was provided to make the lines more available to subscribers as they might need them. The timing device gave a warning signal a short time before the time limit expired, at which time the connection was automatically released. Much used equipment including telephone was disposed of that would be very valuable now.
We then were to be sent to Albert City, our longest move. Before doing that we took a much needed vacation. Buck was needed there to assist in the cut over to dial there. I did not work in the office as they had a chief operator, but I remained on the payroll and only did book work connected with setting up the cards, etc. for dial. This I did in our home, except at actual cutover time when I did work some in the dial building. The late Glen Reighard was the district manager at that time.
In 1959 we were happy to be transferred back to Wapello, it being nearer to our family. Buck again inherited Oakville.
Buck became ill in 1961 and had to have a lung removed because of cancer, and he died 10 months later. So ends this on a sad note.
I worked in the Drug Store in Wapello a couple of years, and then I went to the County Recorders Office as Deputy, and was there for 18 years and am now retired.