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A Hand-Crank Telephone

Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!

By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Historical Society Museum

Wayne Shedd recently donated a battery-operated crank telephone to the museum. A written note accompanying the donation explains its earlier use. “Circa 1900 Rush had a sawmill in The Pines at the confluence of Millinocket Stream and Smith Brook. Pine and spruce logs were driven down Sandy Stream and Mud Brook to holding dams. There were holding dams at the head of Millinocket Lake by the Priest Farm. A wood-fired steamboat towed the logs a few at a time across the lake to the south end to another holding boom. At that location there were two cabins and a cook’s building.” The donated telephone is from one of the buildings at that site. “The crank telephone was used to time the water release from the holding dams to the sawmill ponds on Lower Millinocket Lake. Many of the 1900-1925 Millinocket homes contain lumber from these logs.”

The donated phone apparatus does not appear to have been wall-mounted and has a candlestick stand to hold the receiver. Wall-mounted phones from the same era usually had a hook on the left side of the phone box.

A telephone system was also used by GNP to communicate between farms, woods camps and the main office in Bangor. The following is from Chapter 21 of John McLeod’s The Greater Great Northern.

In 1901, Great Northern built its first piece of telephone line from Chesuncook Dam to Millinocket. Earlier, in the 1890’s, the Kineo & Northeast Carry Telephone Company was formed and ran a line to serve the hotels on the east side of Moosehead Lake and to Chesuncook Village. Another line was built to Rockwood. Then New England Telephone & Telegraph Co. took over the Kineo company and added lines as far as Jackman, Seboomook and Pittston Farm.

The lines were of the grounded type, using a single iron wire, strung on trees. They were gradually replaced, first with two-wire circuits and later with multiple trunk lines on cross-arms. Main lines ran from Pittston Farm to Grant Farm. One lineman with help from timekeepers maintained the 100 miles of wire.

There were no switchboards or operators. You called the closest place on the line, and the clerk or cook switched the call to the next point and so on. By the time the West Branch system was completed, mid 1920’s, there were about 200 miles of pole line along the “turnpikes” and 500 miles of ground line in use. This system was used until about 1952 when the switch was made to a radio system.

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