Shelton serves phone group co-op since 1961

LEHIGH – When Bob Shelton was elected to the board of the Lehigh Valley Cooperative Telephone Association in 1961, things were just a bit different.

His home telephone was a rotary dial model, the lines were copper wires on poles and he shared his telephone line with nine other subscribers – which was known as a party line.

“If somebody else had it, you had to wait till they were done,” he said.

While they no longer exist – party lines were common at the time – they were eventually eliminated as the equipment was upgraded.

Among some of the first improvements Shelton helped oversee was getting the lines into the ground and out of the sky, not only in Lehigh but in the other exchanges in Harcourt, Dayton and Callender.

“By 1967, we had buried cable in all of them and private lines in all three exchanges,” Shelton said.

He missed the old days when a caller needed the help of an operator to place a call, Shelton said; the electromechanical switching equipment was installed in 1954.

“Until 1954, we had to have an operator,” he said.

Another improvement during his tenure was the addition of a new building in 1967. The previous building had become too small and the office was not much bigger than the average spare bedroom.

At the time, Shelton said, it cost $48,000 to build. That location, in downtown Lehigh, was in use until 2002 when a new building was constructed on the west edge of town.

“It had to go,” he said. “We were in the flood plain.”

The 2002 construction cost was $920,000.

“There was a little bit of a difference,” he said.

Shelton said that as new technology became available, the board encourage the co-op to install it.

“In 2007, we went to fiber optic to every subscriber,” he said.

The fiber optic cabling and the digital switching that went with it allowed them to offer subscribers the internet.

“We were some of the first to put it in,” he said. “It was a coming thing we thought.”

When cell phones began appearing about 15 years ago, Shelton said they got onboard by purchasing a block and built a transmission tower.

He recalls his own early experience with one of the first models and what would happen if you strayed too far from a tower.

“You might as well have a pencil and paper,” he said.

Shelton has nothing but praise for the newer ones.

“I think they’re great,” he said.

So will cell phones do away with landlines? He said there is room for both; both offer advantages and drawbacks to the consumer and many will do as he does, have both.

“I don’t think you’ll see land lines go away,” he said.

The monthly bill won’t go away in the future either, although what subscribers pay now for basic service is a little more than in 1961.

“In 1961 it cost me $5.50 a month for service,” he said. “My last bill was about $50 – but that includes internet. Basic service is about $30.”

Shelton feels pretty good about the changes that have occurred over the years. He doesn’t miss his party line.

“Back in 1961, there was no privacy,” he said. “Now it’s all private.”

He’s also not very likely to experience missing out on getting a truck to stop by to help haul cattle because the line was being used by two chatty teenaged girls.

“I asked them nice to get off the line,” he said. When they refused, “I asked them not so nice.”

One thing he doesn’t do is keep any of the old phones around.

“I don’t keep antiques,” he said.