Eagle Archives, October 4, 1957: Independent phone co. in Richmond continues to connect thanks to the boss, 83 | Story

The telephone, familiar though it is, seems to most of us an impersonal instrument. Even when we occasionally hear an operator, she sounds more of a disembodied voice than a real person. And the telephone company itself appears to be a gigantic soulless business that sends out bills automatically at the end of each month.

But in Richmond, things are much simpler.

Richmond has his own telephone company – for about 55 years now. And when the people of Richmond think of their phone company, they usually think of James H. Barnes.

Mr Barnes is 83, was born in Richmond and has lived in the same house on East Road, overlooking the beautiful Richmond Valley, since the age of six. He was Managing Director of Richmond Tel. since 1923, but he’s not the kind of CEO confined to his office. He’s the kind of CEO who climbs the telephone poles.

In all these years he never fell off one, and his only concession in his middle age is that now he climbs ladders instead of climbing hooks.

Mr. Barnes was one of the 23 original builders and shareholders of the company when it was founded circa 1902. A farmer, he assisted the first managing director, the late Sidney Loveland, until Mr. Loveland’s death in 1923 , when he took over. .

Since then he has been the main man on the outside and inside of the company, “replacing poles, looking for trouble, putting on new lines, a little bit of everything, you might say”.

The company now has around 280 subscribers and continues to grow. It is one of two or three independents that remain in Massachusetts, with the rest of the state served by the New England Telephone and Telegraph Co.

There are some 4,390 independent telephone companies in the United States. Some of them serve large cities, such as Rochester, NY, but most are small.

Richmond Tel. now has approximately 14 shareholders and six directors, Ms. Arthur L. Reynolds, Mr. and Mrs. Jesse H. Fairchild Jr., Ms. Frank B. Sherrill and Mr. Barnes.

The switchboard is located in Mrs. Sherrill’s house on the town’s main road, Route 41. Six operators take turns to manage the switchboard, usually one at a time, although with a new double switchboard set up. last year, two could work at the same time. time.

The equipment might seem a bit odd to a city phone user, but it seems to work. Most phones are French type, but the user must turn a crank before picking up the handset. This rings at the switchboard and the operator turns on. Some phones have push buttons to ring the bell. There are still a few old wall boxes, and a few “chandelier” phones. There are a few private lines, but most are two- and four-party lines.

And Richmond is one of the few places where public phones are free, for local calls.

This story within history is selected from the archives of Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

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