Calif. Families McBride Arthur Thomas & Elva Telephone Connection
last updated 21 Aug. 2020

Family involvement in electronic communication from telegraph to barbed wire transmission lines to fiber optics.

Several members of our family have had jobs with the telephone company.
Gramp was secretary and business manager of the Antelope Municipal Telephone Association, Thomas (Sandy) maintained the farmer lines, Wesley was a network engineer for Pacific Bell for 42 years, Keith worked as a frame man in Sacramento for 3 summers in the early 1960’s, Margaret was a service rep in Sacramento for 5 years during the 1960’s and I worked as a statistician in Sacramento and software developer in San Francisco in the late 60's for Pacific Bell. In 1973 I was sent to Bell Labs, the R&D arm of the old AT&T on a 2-3 year rotational assignment and ended up staying 45 years.

See Telephone Companies History

Actually the family connection with communications started in 1847 when Samuel Finley Breese Morse our 8th cousin 2 times removed, patented the first commercially viable telegraph system and invented the Morse Code.
The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) was formed from the merger of Morse's telegraph company and Alexander Graham Bell's (another Scot) telephone technology.

See "How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It" by Arthur Herman, 2002.

In a 2016 shoot out on the Jay Leno show our cousins 170-year-old communication technology proved to be faster than current technology.
See two ham radio operators using Morse code with telegraph keys against two guys using texting on their smartphones. Video

In 2011, when my son and daughter-in-law were planning their wedding in the Hudson Valley in New York, where she grew up, I proposed Morse's Locust Grove Estate overlooking the scenic Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, NY, which is available for weddings, but it was too far Rhinebeck where Brooke was from.

Antelope Farmer Lines:
Farmer lines were common in rural areas which were not profitable for larger companies like Pacific Tel (A Bell System company) and Roseville Telephone (An independent company) under regulated rates designed for suburban areas.
The Antelope Municipal Telephone Association was formed with Ray Gould a president, Gramp as secretary, and Thomas (Sandy) as the installer and lineman (Installing the lines.)
See Antelope Mutual Telephone Association

Many times, barbed wire fences were used as transmission lines.
This was especially true during the war (WW II) when wire and other metal products were dedicated to the war effort.
Some lines were on poles, so Sandy had some climbing irons and a climbing belt to go up poles and attach the lines. We still have them at our cabin and have used them for tree trimming. I couldn't find pictures of Dad so I went up a pole myself.

A majority of Bell System subscribers in the mid-20th century were serviced by party-line service, so up to 20 people could be connected to one pair of wires. Private lines were expensive.
Every household had phone # with an exchange name and a one-letter code e.g. Antelope-M.
People had magneto phones, where you turned a crank which rotated a wire coil between to large magnets to generate a ringing voltage which caused everyone's phone to ring.
You rang out a code which went to everyone on the line and you knew the call was for you based on the Morse code for your letter e.g. 2 long rings for M, Of course, everyone could listen to other's conversations.

The line was connected to a Roseville Telephone Switchboard operator who you could contact to make a call to Roseville or long distance.
Eventually a switchboard was put in at the Antelope Store.

Designing the network which Gramp and Dad did had one advantage, you had control over the connection to Roseville Telephone. Gramp had a switch to disconnect local customers when he wanted to have a private conversation with someone in town. He would occasionally forget to turn the switch back on. When someone would come to the ranch to say their line was down, he'd say he would ask Sandy to check it out, wait a while and flip the switch back on.

The Roseville Telephone Company, an independent company run by the Doyle family, was not associated with Pacific Bell, which was part of the Bell System under the original American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) which covered most of the country.
See Telecommunications Technology History at

Northern California Outside Plant Engineering:
Wesley was a network engineer for the Northern California Region of what was then Pacific Telephone, now AT&T.

Telephone cable was expensive to manufacture and install.
One of his jobs was to minimize cost over the long run and maximize flexibility to handle future growth.
The Central Office contained a switch that replaced the switchboard operators to connect calls in your local area or send the call over trunks to a hierarchal network of switches which provided long-distance service connecting the whole country and eventually the world.

Bell Labs Software:
In the '90's I worked at Bell Labs and Bellcore, the software division of Bell Labs spun off at the breakup of the Bell System in 1984. with a team designing a new Planning and Engineering Software System, that would automate much of the work and eliminate much of the paper involved in Wesley's job. It included provisions for fiber optic networks which were the future of voice and data transmission.
This is a HIPO (Hierarchical Input Process Output) diagram for the initial design we put into a computer-aided software engineering system. This showed all the functions and communication between functions for outside plant engineering. It was still a long way from software that would run.

We had people who did Wesley's job giving us input on how the process worked.
I suspect if you could diagram the connections in Westley's brain used to do his job it would look like this. Most boxes in the diagram had more functions within them.
The project was put on hold when Bellcore was sold by the baby bells and it turned out to be more complex to build than originally thought. I moved on to another project and never knew if it was ever implemented.

It was a system with lots of economic data and algorithms plus a type of rule-based artificial intelligence expert system to help in the decision making. These frequently did not work as anticipated because most subject matter experts (Doctors, Engineers, ...) could not put into rules what they intuitively knew from years of experience.
See Artificial Intelligence (AI) at

Classic Telephones:

Historical Telephones on the old Arthur and Elva McBride dining room table.
  1. Steel Lever Telegraph Key - J.H. Bunnell Co. 1881
  2. Stromberg-Carlson Oak Magneto Wall Telephone. 1882-1940
    Also manufactured by Western Electric, Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Company and others.
    When you turned the crank it rotated some coils through several large magnets (the magneto) to ring any phone connected to your party line.
    I think that's the type I remember at the McBride ranch.
  3. Western Electric model 500 dial phone 1958-1984.
    We have one that still works at our cabin. It does not require electrical power so it works in a power outage. They were hard-wired thru a plate in the wall, so couldn't be moved.
    In 1963 they started making them with push buttons for "touch-tone" service
  4. Western Electric Trimline Phone 1965-2000
    Both dial and touch-tone versions.
    Had a predecessor to the RJ11 jack so it could be moved around and plugged into different wall outlets.
    It had a lighted dial that first required a separate transformer to supply power.
  5. Cordless Phone (1980's - present) - A base station plugs into your telephone line and sends a radio signal to multiple other phones you can move around within your house.
  6. VoIP (Voice over IP) (1995-)- This telephone adapter plugs into the modem which supplies your Wi-Fi. It has a plug for your telephone service.
    You can take it with you and plug it into any broadband internet connection in the world and receive your calls with any landLine phone.
  7. A SmartPhone (1999-)
    The first commercial handheld mobile phone was released by Motorola in 1983.
    It operated over the cellular network designed by Bell Labs.
    In 1999 smartphones added functions like messaging, email and limited web browsing.
  8. Wireless blueTooth headset for hands-free calling thru a mobile phone.
  9. The Apple Watch 2015-. Allowed you to make calls through your phone.
    The series 3 (2017) allowed you to make calls without your smartphone.
All of the devices above are currently working except for the telegraph key and magneto phone.
However, I took the guts out of an old 500 set and put it into the magneto phone and connected the old mouthpiece and receiver to it and it worked.

Arthur McBride installed an electrical outlet in the side of the table above, so he could have his toast hot.
I installed a modern outlet with USB charging ports connected to an extension cord which I've pluged into a wall outlet to charge my phone and watch.
If I told Gramp that I plugged my phone and watch into a new outlet on the table to charge the batteries he would think I was crazy.

Other phones :
Candlestick phone with dial (1920-1950) - My Grandparents in Davis had one.
Dad had a car phone in his car he used for his insurance business in the mid-80's before handheld mobile phones.

Acoustic coupler with a modem for dial-up data services - Compuserve, The Source, AOL. (1970-2000)
See telephone history

In the 90's I managed the modem pool at Bellcore, so people could work at home on snow days or when traveling. The Internet was just being rolled out and no one had Internet connection at home. Our modem pool was connected to the corporate network and the Internet. We still had the Bell Labs R&D culture; That and less worry about hackers gave employees more freedom than they have today.

I also managed the AppleTalk Local Area Network (LAN) at Bellcore. It connected 3,500 devices, Macs, Laserwriters and Servers, on 4 campuses. It was also connected to the Internet.
I could only find the total miles on Morse's telegraph network not the number of stations, but as far as the number of devices/stations I think I'd give him a run for his money.😁

In 2007 Verizon pulled fiber through a conduit to my New Jersey house, which provided phone, Internet and TV service. I buried conduit from our basement to the street for that purpose when we built our home in 1990.
Dad saw phone service go from crank phones transmitting over barbed wire to a mobile phone in his car.
I saw phone service go from dial-up where you had to pay extra for long-distance to a phone on my wrist which I could ask to "call Thomas".
I don't want to guess what my new Grandson will see. Will it be an experience he will value or an invasion into his life that he will make him wish he was born 100 years earlier.
More Information:
Telephone Companies History
Telecommunications Technology History
Roseville California Telephone Museum

Return to the Arthur Thomas & Elva McBride Page.