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Colfax Sesquicentennial 2014: “Hello Central, Give Me Heaven”

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — In honor of the Colfax Sesquicentennial celebration in July of 2014, the Colfax Messenger will be publishing articles about Colfax history from time to time.

The stories will be compiled from materials provided by Colfax historian Troy Knutson and from articles published in the Colfax Messenger.

Here is Part 3: Telephone service

“Hello Central, Give Me Heaven” was a song written in 1901 based on a true story reported in a newspaper published in Milwaukee. A little girl living in Chicago was lonely after her mother died, so she cranked the handle of the telephone to reach the operator and said, “Hello Central, give me heaven for my mama’s there.”

Oscar Anderson installed the first telephone exchange in Colfax in 1903.

Prior to that, there was no local telephone service in Colfax except for a long-distance toll line from Menomonie owned by Louis Tainter.

In those days, if you wanted to call someone, you operated the crank on the side of the telephone to reach the operator in the telephone office, who then connected you through a switchboard to the person you wanted to call.

The first telephone in Colfax was installed between Dr. Larson’s home and his office.

Anderson operated the telephone exchange until January of 1911 when he sold it to T.E. Thompson. At that time, there were 200 telephones on the exchange. Thompson’s sons and daughters helped manage the telephone exchange.

According to “Colfax on the Red Cedar” published by the Colfax Woman’s Club for the centennial in 1964, the first telephone exchange “was located in a small green building which stood about where the old local office is now standing.”

According to an article published in the Dunn County News by John Russell, in 1931, the telephone office was located on the site now occupied by the Berres Family Chiropractic Office at 617 Main Street.

The switchboard system in Colfax was operated until late 1963, just the year before the centennial, when the dial tone system came into use.

According to an article in the August 9, 1917, edition of the Colfax Messenger, the new Colfax Telephone Exchange was expected to be moved soon from the Israels building to the second floor of the new building erected by T.E. Thompson, the owner of the telephone system, which now consists of 150 miles of lines … a new, larger and more modern switch board is being installed, while new underground cables are being laid and the lines generally improved for the benefit of the service and convenience of the rapidly expanding patrons.” The article reported that the telephone company had 450 patrons.

In an October 11, 1917, Messenger article, it was reported that a new telephone circuit was being built from Menomonie. M.A. Matison of Menomonie, manager of the Wisconsin Telephone Company, and Oscar Peterson, a repair man, were in Colfax the day before “cutting in the central office equipment for the new toll line from Menomonie to Colfax, which was completed yesterday, a crew of ten men reaching here with the line. This now gives two circuits between the cities, made necessary on account of congestion. Another circuit is being built from Menomonie to Wheeler, the crew arriving there yesterday, starting on the Wheeler circuit this morning.”

The Colfax Woman’s Club history states that Thompson sold the telephone exchange in February of 1928 to the Community Telephone Company, which was sold a few years later to the General Telephone Company.

When the dial tone system went into effect in late 1963, the last of the telephone operators for the old switchboard system in Colfax lost their jobs.