Dexter (Iowa) Telephone System

phone1910 (2)
Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Shaw, Managers, and LolaTrent Pohle, operator. 1910

The Dexter Mutual Telephone Company began service in 1902, financed by the sales of shares for $25 each. A quarterly service charge was assessed each member–$1 for resident phones, $1.25 for businesses.

The building that housed the old switchboard and living quarters for the manager was built sometime between 1908 and 1911.

phone1948 (2)
Switchboard operators in 1948: June Love, Dorothy Mount, Mrs. Glen Ferne.

When we lived on Old Creamery Road, our number was 5211 and our ring was “four shorts.” Yes, a party line with several other neighbors.

When there was a fire or other emergency, “Central” would just keep ringing on the line to get everyone’s attention, then when enough people were listening in, she’d relay the information.

The local exchange operated as a mutual company until 1960, when it was sold to the Central Iowa Rural Telephone Company. The summer of 1961, a new building (which housed the new automatic equipment) was built just north of the telephone office.

Dexter got a new dial phone system on May 8, 1962, with New Kellogg K-60 Crossbar Terminal Equipment, fully-selective ringing, automatic time cut-off, and colored phones available.




History of Dexter, Iowa–1968 Centennial book, pages 32-33; miscellaneous newspaper clippings.


  1. It is interesting to read of systems taken for granted – now many people manage their lives without a landline at all.

  2. Great post! My husband and myself worked in the telephone industry – in fact I was one of those old switch trunking operators in the 70’s one of the last of dieing breed 🙂

  3. Anne beat me to the comment. Once upon a time we didn’t have this amazing device that we could pick up, dial a number, and talk to someone an ocean away. We do take it for granted. Thanks for the post Joy, always makes me glad to recall that the world we built was built slowly.

    Now here’s a blast from the past. Party Line!

      • We didn’t get a phone at the ranch until about 1980. The expense of running a line that far was just too great. But when I became a police officer, the phone company did it for pennies. They had some kind of program at the time that gave Law Enforcement what they needed.

    • I’m working on my own edits this morning and when one of the brothers phoned home from his base, all the neighbors knew whose ring it was and wanted to hear his news too. That made the voices so weak that “Central” had to ask the rubber-neckers to hang up!

  4. I really enjoyed this post, particularly the newspaper clippings. Imagine needing a movie to learn how to use a dial telephone! My family lived in Colebrook, New Hampshire in the mid-1960s, and when we first arrived, in 1964, our telephone had a box with a crank attached to it to call for the operator. We didn’t get dial service until the following year. Seems hard to believe now!

    • It was wonderful back then, but guess it helps to get older to put things in perspective. I did this for the Dexter Museum, but was fun to relive some of it myself.

      • For a town of 600 souls, it certainly is! Dexter is most famous for the 1933 shoot out of Bonnie & Clyde in nearby Dexfield Park, and the 1948 speech by President Truman at the National Plowing Match, and their brick 1917 elliptical-shaped “Roundhouse” (AKA Community House), but I keep digging up more fascinating tidbits it. My sister is on the Museum Board.

  5. My Mom worked as a operator in 1955 on the switch board. Her and my stepdad went away for the night and my brother and I were left alone on the farm. As soon as they were gone I got on the phone to kids in Dexter to come out and we would party. What in didn’t plan was for my Mom to stop in Dexter, at the office to tell us something she had forgot. Well she was able to listen to my party plan on the party line and squash them. Boy was I shocked when I heard her voice.

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