Heidi Crabtree | Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp

By the end of the Roaring ‘20s, telephones were fairly common in buildings on Fort Leavenworth. Officers’ quarters had phones installed on the first floors of the houses; some homes on Main Post still have a narrow “telephone nook.” The phone number for the home I live in was 8381 until the mid-1930s.

The 1929 directory gave both tenants and staff a few lessons on how to use this modern miracle. As all calls went through a post switchboard, the main rule concerned etiquette. One was to expect courtesy from the operator, and they expected the same. “Technical trouble” with the telephones was to be reported, along with bad behavior from operators, to the signal officer.

Above all, the operator was there to do a job as quickly as possible and not engage in personal gossip. Long distance calls were for official business only and were catalogued.

Rules for answering were spelled out as well. It was preferred that people answer with something like, “Major Smith’s quarters.”

In cases of noisy disturbances, a caller could ask for the Provost Marshal at 8000.

Fireboxes around post were available, and if calling in a fire with a telephone, you were to shout “FIRE,” spell out “F-I-R-E,” then tell where the fire was. On Main Post, fireboxes were located on Grant, Augur and Meade avenues, and other streets.

No matter what the call content, the modern 1920s user was told to speak clearly and hold the phone as close to the lips as possible.

By the end of the next decade, tenants could make long distance calls, but the costs were added to their monthly telephone charge. During World War II, it cost a tenant $1.50 per month for basic service, paid to the signal officer each month.

Extra extensions in quarters were installed at discretion based upon need, as there were still a limited number of phones belonging to the post. Issued by “class” during the war, Class A telephones were used for government or personal use and could connect to the city. Class Bs were for personal business and connected to the city. Class C meant that the phone was only connected to other areas on post. The central operator was still used, and Class C users who wanted to call someone in town had to ask the post operator to connect them. Quarters were issued directories, as it was not the job of the operator to look up someone’s number.

After the war, classes of phones remained in effect, and Command and General Staff College students had their own switchboard called Normandy Exchange. Students’ numbers were all in the 7000-series. Telephone numbers still had only four digits at this time.

The next step in modernizing Fort Leavenworth’s telephones came in 1948. A newspaper clipping found in the archives taped to a directory noted that on July 17, at midnight, people were able to dial a phone number for themselves. One assumes that telephones needed to be replaced with units that had dials.

Major upgrades began the previous fall by student Lt. Col. William Thames with groups of men from Fort Monmouth, N.J., coming to install new equipment. The Class A, B and C system remained, the Normandy Exchange was gone almost as fast as it appeared, and users were instructed on what a busy signal sounded like. Five-digit numbers were first seen, all beginning with “2.” Any number ending in 99 was a test number.

In 1948-49, the telephone number at my house on Augur Avenue was 6258, so a person could tell that this house was assigned a Class A phone, as all A phone numbers ended with 00-79. The officer who lived here would have paid $1.75 per month, with another 30 cents for an extension bell. An actual second phone extension would have cost him another $1.25. Judging by the wiring going up to the second floor underneath coats of old paint, someone thought the extra money was worth it.

Directories had a separate section for offices and services. Dialing 6201 would get the public information officer, or for a night out, wives could dial 2-2242 for a hair salon appointment, then try to track down their husband at 8216, the officers’ club.

It doesn’t appear that the post had party lines, although the City of Leavenworth did. Officers who lived off post had four-digit numbers with a letter added.

In just a generation or so, tenants went from wanting a telephone to at times regretting the things. By the mid-1950s, staff would complain that the new trend of radio shows cold-calling random numbers with quiz questions promising everything from cash prizes to free dance lessons was wasting their time.

The telephone nook in the author’s Main Post home contains copies of old post telephone directories and other phone paraphernalia. Photo by Heidi Crabtree/special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp

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