My New Phone

telefono-heraldo-negroWhen my two year contract with Verizon expires, I intend to replace my smart phone with a Western Electric Model 500.

Never heard of the Model 500?

You probably don’t know them by name –but you know them.

The Model 500 is better known as the black rotary desk phone.

Constructed of thick molded plastic over a sturdy steel chassis, the phone is all but indestructible and the perfect device for playing out the following modern drama:

Ring! Ring!

Me: Hello.

Them: Hi, is this Greg?

Me: Yes, it is.

Them: How is your day going?

Me: Up until now, great.

Them: Fantastic! This is (garble) from Warranty Services…. as you might be aware the manufacture warranty on your (garble) is about to expire… (garble, garble) Today only, we can offer an amazing opportunity….


The last line contains the delightful sound a Model 500 headset makes as you slam it onto its cradle.

The phone is so tough that you can toss in a few more KA-BOOM!!, KA-BOOM!!, KA-BOOM!!‘s just for emphasis.

I have thought about this for a while and created a compendium of reasons why the new and improved smart phones are vastly inferior to the old and antiquated black desk phones of yesterday:

  1. As I stated above you could bang the receiver – but this bears repeating because the only way you can work out your frustrations with a smart phone – is to jab hard at the END button.
  2. It was impossible to butt dial a Model 500 rotary telephone.  Well… that is not completely true; it has been done – but I refuse to discuss it.
  3. At least in the old days, you had to leave the phone at home because it was wired to the wall. Now your phone is a constant companion who accompanies you wherever you go – as does everyone else in the world who has a phone.
  4. The Model 500 is so indestructible that when all the galaxies of the universe are sucked into the mother of all black holes, the only thing that will remain without a scuff or a scratch – will be a Model 500 phone.
  5. With the old Ma Bell, there were no two year contracts.
    All contracts involving the Model 500 and Mother Bell were for life.
  6. Model 500’s came one to a home – so there was at least a theoretical limit to the amount of time a teen could spend on the telephone.
  7. There was no app for that.
  8. Before reality TV, all the intimate secrets of the neighborhood were shared on the Model 500 over a party line.
  9. With a Model 500 you had to know a person’s telephone number. Now I don’t know my wife’s number – I just jab at her photo when I want to talk to her.
  10. I will leave this reason to you. If you used a Model 500 and the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) let us know what you thought of them in the comments below.

Author: Almost Iowa

45 thoughts on “My New Phone”

  1. Its sure been fun reading all these comments from all these really really old people. As for me, I couldnt believe it when my Dad told me he didnt have a cell phone as a kid. I mean how did you text stuff to your friends? How did you put cool stuff online like photos and videos? What did you guys do all day? (My Dad answered that question with one word “Work”. Booooring).

  2. Comments almost as good as blog post. I remember how much effort it took to spin the dial, then wait a few seconds as it rotated back, then spin the dial again, etc. touchtone was so much quicker.

  3. “Well… that is not completely true; it has been done – but I refuse to discuss it.” – Haha 😀

    When I was a kid, my house had one of these, only it was pink. Yup, pink. Never seen another one like it. We kept it long after button-pressing became fashionable and I loved it, except when I got all the way to the 7th digit in a phone number and misdialed, having to go through the long process all over again. Arg!

  4. Awesome post, Greg! Sometimes I too long for those days and old phones, yet I still carry my stinking iphone outside and with me everywhere – even to get the mail most of the time. Every once in a while I give my self a – say – 10 minute break – ARGH!

    1. Don’t feel too guilty. I carry my phone everywhere I go. From a public safety stand-point, the cell phone is the best thing to come along since 911. It saves lives and protects people from harm.

  5. I can think of several more. During the hurricanes of 2004, people were told not to use their cellphones after each hurricane. Emergency services needed the towers open for services. The electricity was out. So no email. But I had a landline. The landline worked just fine. Second reason: If you dropped the darn thing, it didn’t break. And I did my share of dropping. Third reason: You knew what your neighbors were up to because you were on a party line. Fourth reason: you could type on the darn thing with a keyboard so small you were always typing the wrong thing. Either our fingers get smaller or the keyboard gets bigger. I’m betting on the the fingers. Fifth reason: You only dropped a call you wanted to drop.

    Years ago, we started getting a daily phone call from a salesman. We kept telling him no, go ‘way. He just wouldn’t quit. One Saturday, he called. Before he could get his little spill out, I told him what would happen the next time he called. Tell his manager that I had gigantc speakers. I was going to turn the speakers up as high as I could. Put the phone next to them and let them blow his hearing away. He never called back.

  6. I remember the phone well. I also remember the dependability of POTS. Your house could blow away and as long as the phone was plugged in it would give you dial tone.

    1. That was literally true.. In the wake of natural disasters, people were often pleasantly surprised to learn that the phones worked after the power went out. The POTS system had its own power system and back up as well.

      1. I worked for AT&T for fifteen years and during orientation learned about tip and ring. After that, I negotiated the agreements to put in place the internet protocol and equipment for U-verse high-speed internet, phone and video. Very exciting time.

  7. I miss being suddenly jerked to a stop by the limits of the phone cord…and then the joy of unspooling said curling Gordian nightmare whenever the tension was released.

  8. Son, aged 11 (too many years go) to Mom: “They ought to invent a phone that’s attached to the wall or something so you won’t keep forgetting where you put it.”

  9. I hate cell phones. Mine never works properly. Everyone is on them everywhere and they have no relationship to their environment. They annoy me in places where there should be no phones ringing. They even are taken into scheduled meetings. ARGH. And I am nto texting, dammit.

    1. My favorite is trying to commune with the spirits while in the ladies’ room and someone answers a phone in the stall next to me.

      “What’s that? I can’t hear you over the neighbor’s explosive diarrhea.”

  10. My dad had to occasionally tell the neighbor lady to “Get off the phone so I can call the vet.”

    Our black rotary dial phone hung on the wall. And, here’s one more thing: I actually remember life WITHOUT a phone. When the hay bunk on our farm caught fire, Mom had to run to the neighbor’s place to call the fire department. Dad was using the only vehicle we had. The neighbors had way more money than us, thus had a phone.

    1. I have heard those stories too.

      A friend of mine lived in the far north of Ontario. One day, a fleet of industrial helicopters descended on his village and installed a cinder block building with a satellite dish on the top. It was part of a government program to connect the far flung villages. On one outside wall, they hung a pay phone – you had to put a quarter in it to make a long, long, long distance call.

  11. Fine words…I have an old 1940’s Bakelite phone in the attic and just needs the new gubbins fitted within, affix it to the wall in the kitchen and tell my provider they can stuff my smart phone where the sun doesn’t shine.

      1. Losing the old land lines! Criminal act in my book! Surely there are still many people out there who don’t want mobile/cell phones…my wife for example refuses one and although I do have one I have yet to ever ‘text’ – indeed don’t have a clue how to! I had an incoming call on this smartphone thing I’ve got the other day and couldn’t answer it…had no idea. Later my son told me I needed to ‘swipe’ the screen…’Swipe it?’ I replied adding ‘I’ll have you know I paid honest money for it.’

  12. Great post! I think I may still have one of those in my basement, just because. They lasted forever and you’re right, you had to know the phone number of the person you were dialing. Maybe that stayed with me because I never use speed dialing and rarely go to my contact list, unless it’s someone I don’t call very often. Old habits…:)

    1. “Maybe that stayed with me because I never use speed dialing and rarely go to my contact list, unless it’s someone I don’t call very often. “

      Memorizing numbers keeps the mind sharp too.

  13. Remember visiting my Iowa farm relatives in early ’50s. I was fascinated by the crank, on the wall phone. Different rings for the different folks on the line, two short, one short etc. Everyone on the line knew if you got a call. My aunt cranked it one day to get connected to switchboard operator (who was her niece) By the time they finished”catching up” she no longer needed to be connected to her friend. She also would just ask to be connected to “Lucille… etc”

    1. A friend of mine once described how her mother broke down in tears when she saw the telephone/power cable crews working their way toward her farm. It meant not only the end of much grueling manual labor – but the end of isolation as well.

  14. Oh boy. Our multi use phones today do just about everything but make coffee. I guess there’s an app for that though, at least you can “send” a signal to the Mr. Coffee to crank up and begin the process. But the dern thing can’t dump the old grounds and separate the filters so you don’t get more than one.

    But the old style phones were indeed multi use. In a prior life, before this writing thing consumed my free time, I often was called upon to serve and protect. One such mission was to rescue a fair maiden from the clutches of a drunken husband intent upon reducing her face to a bloody mess. Once inside their humble home the husband decided this young policeman needed his face rearranged as well and a struggle ensued. The meager furnishings of their home suffered and tables, lamps and anything not bolted down mingled with the two of us on the living room floor as we worked through the pre arrest dance. Our department had no portable radios at that point in history and the drunken husband was acquitting himself quite well so further assistance was needed. With a firm headlock holding husband in check, I made it to the black rotary phone on an, as yet, undisturbed end table and dialed the seven digit number for dispatch. The 911 system was still a few years in the future. Before the request for help was completed the bloody faced wife switched sides and made her presence known by bashing me over the head with something that was hard and heavy. Well, the options for the future of these two began to narrow. But in my hand was this black object that had a bit of heft to it. Wife got a sound rap to her right knee that apparently gave her something more to worry about than maiming this innocent young cop grappling with her not so long ago attacker. As the back up units roared up outside, drunken husband ran out of stored energy and the second handcuff was going on. The fight was over but at least the back up had another set of cuffs for his limping wife.

    1. “But in my hand was this black object that had a bit of heft to it. Wife got a sound rap to her right knee that apparently gave her something more to worry about than maiming this innocent young cop grappling”

      That says a lot about the ergonomic design of the old Model 500.

      I remember my sergeant once telling a tale of a man beating his girlfriend in a parking lot. When my sergeant ordered him to stop and stand clear, the fellow yelled, “What did you say?” and doubled his efforts.

      My sergeant then said, “So I took out my hearing aid out of its holster and put it in his ear. He then heard me perfectly.”

  15. Yup, loved that classic. Not only the KA-BOOM opportunities but the fun dialing and the sound of the dial reversing itself – a long or short sound depending on whether you’d just dialed a 1 or a 9. Sort of like an analog Morse code.

    Like shoreacres, I had to learn our number, and pre-dial phones we had to say the number of the person we wanted to call to the operator “oxbow 769, please”

    1. “the sound of the dial reversing itself – a long or short sound depending on whether you’d just dialed a 1 or a 9. Sort of like an analog Morse code.”

      As I read those words in your comment, the song of the old rotary dial in my parents home began playing in my head. Many thanks for that.

      1. Always glad to hear my comment is meaningful!

        I relished coming back and reading all these anecdotes and reminiscing. Especially enjoyed the son who suggested we hang current phones on wall so as not too lose them. History does repeat itself.

        I am somewhat alarmed to hear landline systems are being removed in rural areas. Probably eventually in urban areas as well.
        I remember hearing during Superstorm Sandy cell towers weren’t functioning but people with landlines still could communicate.

        We’ve had times here when cell & internet service go out, and the only way we can communicate with provider is by our land line (which is why we keep it). Annoyingly the first recorded greeting on those calls is always “Do you know you can contact us online at Xxx?” Not when online service is what we’re to report as an outage!!

        Great post, Greg. As Ma Bell used to say “You reached out and touched (a bunch of) someone(s).”

  16. I think that you hit the nail on the head with all of the above. The only problem was, we could never get the display to work on it! Great walk-down-memory-lane post.

  17. I actually remember the black desk phone that had no dial. Our number was 1906, and no, that wasn’t the year. But it was the number I had to memorize before I was allowed to play outdoors by myself.

    Speaking of party lines: when I moved to rural south Texas in the 1980s, the Lutheran church, the post office, and the Texaco station still were on a party line. It didn’t make any real difference, of course. Everyone knew everything worth knowing, anyway.

    1. A friend of mine’s father was instrumental in rolling out direct dial in our region. It was a major effort – like most things that we take for granted.

      “the Lutheran church, the post office, and the Texaco station still were on a party line”

      I can imagine how upset the mechanic at the Texaco was with the thought of God and the Government listening in on his repair estimates.

  18. Great post. The term “Five Nines” dates back to the POTS, when things actually did work 99.999% of the time. Not only were the phones reliable, but Ma Bell (well, her people) actually cared about quality of service. We still have a working (detached) black rotary desk phone and we still have a rotary-dial Princess phone attached and sitting on an end table. There has never been a phone that’s as comfortable to hold as that handset.

    1. Ma Bell was a fanatic for quality – but that degree of devotion has a dark side, it was instinctively conservative. It took a court cast to pry open the POTS system to what would become the internet.

      You are spot on about the ergonomics of the old phones. There was a lot about the old headsets that felt “natural”. Natural is like luck, it is what happens when you work like hell for years to get something right.

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