DIALED IN TO HISTORIC PHONES
Looking for a cell phone with the latest electronic gizmos?
You won't find one at Glenn Spilker's La Grande home. In fact, you won't even find a cell phone.
It would be fitting if Spilker had a cell phone, though it would lend historic balance.
Spilker has so many old phones that stepping into his home is like ringing up memory lane.
Kellog wooden wall phones, candlestick phones, rotary phones and early touch-tone models from the 1960s are featured in his collection of about 25 phones.
The phones reflect a passion and a career. Spilker not only loves phones, but he devoted 33 years of his life to serving people who use them. Spilker worked as a lineman, installer, repairman and cable slicer in La Grande from 1950 to 1983. The company Spilker worked for was first known as West Coast Telephone. Later it became General Telephone Co. of the Northwest, Inc.
Visitors to Spilker's home may assume he collected his phones from the company he worked for. Surprisingly, this is not true. Employees could not take phones home, even ones no longer in use.
"If we did, we would be fired,'' Spilker said.
The retired lineman built his collection by finding out where phones were and then purchasing them.
Spilker, who resembles William Conrad, of the 1970s television series "Cannon," has mounted about 12 of the phones on the wall of one room in his house. Those mounted include a metal pay-phone that was located at Wallowa Lake Lodge in the early 1900s. It may be the first pay phone in Wallowa County's history. It has no rotary dial or buttons but does have slots for nickels, dimes and quarters.
The front of the old pay phone has a message that reads as follows: "Directions: Call central office as usual. Do not deposit money until told by operator.''
Spilker's wooden wall phones each have two bells and a crank that was turned to contact the operator. The wooden wall phones have patent dates between 1900 and 1910.
One of these wall phones was once in La Grande's old Sacajawea Hotel, which opened about 75 years ago.
Spilker's collection also includes a line tester. This device used by phone linemen could be attached to a phone line to make a call.
Working as a lineman can be dangerous because of electrical lines and the equipment one is around. Spilker, however, had a spotless safety record. A plaque in his home is testament to this.
His safety record as a driver is also perfect.
"I've never had a ticket of any kind. Not even a parking ticket,'' Spilker said.
Spilker was hired 55 years ago when many people were on party lines. Four or five phones were on each line. All phones would ring when anyone on the line was called. People knew if the call was for them based on the ring pattern.
Spilker later worked with equipment that allowed people calling party lines to ring only the phone of the household dialed.
Even after this change, party lines offered little privacy. Anyone on a party line could pick up his phone and listen to someone else's conversation. Callers could tell when someone was eavesdropping because the reception would get worse, Spilker said.
People would sometimes ask those eavesdropping to hang up so that they could hear better.
Today Spilker's phone collection brings back memories of the party line days. His phone collection is one maintained with the enthusiastic support of his wife of 39 years, Joana.
"It (the collection) keeps you in touch with the past,'' she said.
Would Spilker repeat his career if he had the chance? His expressive eyes light up as fast as a phone signal bouncing off a satellite.
"Definitely, it was interesting. I liked the challenge of my work and meeting the people.''