“Strolling across the dusty road which passed for a street in Electra, he entered the general merchandise store which then stood where the Flusche Service Station is now located. He found the proprietor frantically trying to get Central over his telephone. The exasperated man expressed his disgust over the situation created by the only available lineman living in Harrold and not being able to service his telephone as regularly as needed. The casual visitor, the detained railroad passenger, volunteered his services toward making the apparatus talk. He did. It worked and while the grateful storekeeper was expressing his thanks, the owner of the Harrold-Electra phone systems, P.H. Robinson of Harrold, came in. He was told of the near miracle that had been performed in bringing to life a dead telephone.
“Mr. Robinson was evidently impressed. So deeply impressed that he persuaded the Santa Fe railway employee to let the train pull out from Electra without him. Before July 1, that year, a partnership between A.L. Robb and P.H. Robinson was formed. Mr. Robb being a late-comer into the business was assigned the 29-phone Electra system, and the original owner retained the much larger Harrold system. The Electra office at that time was located in the room now occupied by Swanson Brothers Drilling Company in the First State (now Electra State) Bank building. Miss Hattie Price was the operator and as mentioned previously, the lineman and general overseer lived in Harrold.
“Patrons who had hoped for better service when the new man took over, soon found that under the partnership, Mr. Robb was to be the lineman and serviceman and he was kept busy on the western side of the network on village and rural lines. Harrold was, at that time, a more important trading center and larger town, despite the fact that the Electra Townsite opening had taken place during the previous year, October, 1907.
“By September, 1908, the partnership had been dissolved and Mr. Robb became owner of the Electra Telephone Company. The ex-railroad man had been busier than the proverbial cranberry merchant. On July 16, he had gone to Nocona and returned with a bride, a telephone operator, the former Miss Lovie Morris of that city. The newlyweds went to housekeeping in the telephone office, the one room serving also as storage place for equipment and stock.
It had been only a short time since the telephone office had been located in a small boxed and stripped building which stood where the garage of the Auto Service Company building now stands. The first switchboard was in C.L. Aven’s barber shop and the first operator was Ode Moody, a youth around 17 years old. The job was not hard, but bore some, unless there was some special event or emergency causing numerous calls. The lanky lad frequently wandered off to the blacksmith shop, next door, or to the depot to watch the trains come in – or he might be engaged in a horseshoe pitching game at the rear of the shop when the bell would ring. The barbers could and did call him when a subscriber cranked up their magneto type, box telephone to ring for ‘Central.’ Night service was sketchy, but be it said, there was always somebody ready to go after the operator for a long distance or emergency call. It was slower than the present-day communication system – but those were the horse and buggy days.
“With the new deal, following Mr. Robb’s acquisition of a telephone operator for a bride, night service was inaugurated and long-distance connections were stepped-up. The town, with the rapid development of the Waggoner Colony north of Electra into a populous and prosperous farming community, was enjoying quite a boom. Rural lines were being extended and many new homes were being built in town and country. Churches were being built and new businesses founded. A new schoolhouse was planned to replace the frame building to which two additions had been made in the period following the townsite opening and the settling of the vast area of Waggoner ranch land north of Electra. By 1910, the company had a total of 110 telephones on its list. The first listings were written on a sheet of paper and hung above the switchboard. The first directory was printed by the Electra News and consisted of a placard with the names of subscribers in the center and advertising of local firms for a border.
“In October of 1908, the Robbs completed and moved into a new four-room house on North Main Street. Mr. and Mrs. Robb occupied three rooms of the structure for living quarters and the switchboard and office facilities the other. A night alarm was one of the modern innovations added to facilitate service. Mrs. Robb’s brother, D.M. (Buddy) Morris of Nocona came here to assist Mr. Robb as lineman. Mrs. Robb had the assistance of Mr. Robb’s sisters, Misses Grace and Vina Robb as operators. Mrs. Robb’s sister, Miss Kent Sadler, also came on from Nocona to serve as operator.
“On April 1, 1911, pandemonium broke loose. It was no April Fool joke when a member of the crew rushed from the Clayco Oil Company No. 1, Woodruff Putnam, a wildcat well being drilled one mile northwest of the center of the town, to the nearest farm house to call his boss “Dad” Denison at the Marriott Hotel to tell him that the well had blown itself in.
“An oil boom was launched in the early morning hours of April Fool Day, 1911. The Electra Telephone Company was swamped with calls then and for months afterwards and along with other businesses in Electra, began a sudden growth.
“Mrs. Robb had to call in all the family and employ new operators to handle the calls. Mr. Robb and his brother-in-law, D.M. Morris as lineman, added 250 new lines to their 110 in use when the boom began. Another 200 lines had been added by the end of 1913 and the company kept in step with the progress of the town.
“All around the telephone office new buildings, tents and shacks had sprung up. A moving picture show, the Dixie, and a huge livery stable which was the center of oil field transportation, were all in the same block with the telephone office at 212 North Main Street. Rooming houses, cafes and a Bulldog Cider joint added to the cosmopolitan aspect of that vicinity.
“Fire risks were great and the continued expansion called for moving to larger quarters. The company moved to the second floor of the brick building at 100 South Main Street. New switchboards installed along with many of the latest innovations of modern equipment were adequate to serve through the period of 1914-1917. By 1918, a new switchboard was needed to care for the business of the thriving city.
“Before any of the proposed changes had been made, a calamity in the form of a disastrous fire swept the building housing the telephone exchange. Almost the entire block went up in flames.
“This was on Sunday, April 18, 1918.
“The Robbs had successfully met the needs of the hour of that April Fools Day, seven years earlier when the discovery of oil brought such drastic changes to their lives, expansion of their business and prosperity to themselves and their neighbors. This April day in 1918 was vastly different. All equipment was burned and the system paralyzed. In fact, the cables connecting Electra with the outside world were melted and the town isolated – but not for long.
“Before the burning switchboard had crashed through the floor into the blazing grocery store below, a lineman had climbed a pole near the railroad track to make an emergency connection. By dawn Monday, an emergency exchange had been installed upstairs over the old Thomas store building, corner of South Main and West Cleveland.
“In order to appreciate at this time, the records set in this particular event, it must be taken into consideration that Europe was aflame with a war that soon would involve the United States, with the consequent confusion affecting Electra along with the balance of the nation. A new and spectacular oil boom was underway at Burkburnett and the ‘motor age’ was in its infancy, affecting transportation and communication systems. With the Electra telephone switchboard and headquarters facilities lying in blackened ruins, the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company stepped into the breach. A new switchboard had been ordered to serve the rapidly expanding population of Burkburnett. It had arrived there and was made available for the Electra company. That was the solution to the problem of restoring this vital service to the stunned population.
“The company now decided upon a new location and the installation of the new common battery system, hailed as the flash-light service. But World War No. I was now underway. Two rooms in the front of the second floor of the First National Bank building were leased and orders were mailed for new equipment. It was a slow and tedious task to get the material assembled and installed. It was finally accomplished and the city of Electra was cut-over to the new system in December, 1919. Electra was far ahead of most cities of its size in the modern and revolutionary installation of its telephone system. This equipment served the patrons until 1932 when new long distance facilities were installed and leased-wire service added. During this year, all numbers on the switchboard were renewed, requiring 3,000 separate jack connections.”
A.L. Robb introduced dial service to Electra in 1953, the conversion being followed by an open house attended by thousands of proud citizens who had watched the phone company grow and modernize through the years.
Al Robb’s son, D.M. (Dink) Robb, was born in the room next to the switchboard in Electra’s first telephone building. Dink Robb joined the Electra phone operation in 1929 and became manager in 1940 as his father began to devote more time to his farming and ranching activities. In 1950, Dink Robb was named president of the Texas Chapter of the U.S. Independent Telephone Pioneer Association.
A. L. Robb died in January, 1961, and his wife, Lovie, the company’s first operator, died in August, 1985, only days from reaching her 100th birthday.
On October 3, 1988, the Electra company was sold to Townes Telecommunications, Inc., of Lewisville, Arkansas.
A DMS-10 digital switch was installed and cut-over in late 1991. The outside plant, approximately 190 miles of cable, was completed in 1994. With a rebuild now complete, party lines were eliminated. Tone dialing, along with many other enhanced calling features were then available.
Our central office and business office is still located in the same building that was constructed in the 1940’s but only has a fraction of the equipment that it once housed.
HELLO, TEXAS – A History of Telephony in the Lone Star State
Edited by Jerry F. Hall
� 1990 by the Texas Telephone Association