Tuesday, October 13, 2015

One Day In 1970 Or, How We Fixed Your Telephone

I was having a discussion at the Other Place with a few fellows on the subject of fixing electronics, namely guitar amplifiers, sans a digital multimeter or a scope. So this was rolling around inside my head and maybe it was the story in the AARP bulletin today on the subject of memory loss that had me casting about for something to prove that I'm not dead yet.

So anyway, back in 1970 I was working for New Jersey Bell Telephone Company, better known as Ma Bell. Mother was very picky about a lot of things and when she'd settled on something she liked, nothing else would ever do and no off the shelf stuff either. Mother loved MacMillan Ring Free motor oil and that's all we ever used. Macmillan's only claim to fame was that they'd sponsored the Skoda racing team in the fifties.  The supply crib was well stocked with goodies like Ma Bell bandaids and aspirin, spray paint (olive drab, safety yellow, and black) and other interesting things. They had the best damn first aid kits you ever saw, complete with ampules of antiseptic. They were packed ten to a box with a glass ampule inside a plastic tube with a cap on one end. Pull off the cap, crush the ampule, squeeze the plastic tube and anoint thy self, brother....where was I? Oh, I remember.

When there weren't any big projects going on the repair crew would be sent out to clear defects. What that meant was, there was a defect on a particular pair of wires that the installers and frame men couldn't fix, so they'd bypass the pair (spare pairs, doncha know?) and sooner or later the splicing gang would have it.

The process consisted of going to the frame (usually Somerville), locating the pair, and blasting it with the breakdown set, which was a zapper that would send a jolt down the wire and maybe dry out the fault, but usually ended up fusing the pair at the site of the problem. So we'd read the resistance which would tell us how many miles away it was, and attach a tone generator to the pair. We knew from the print what bundle it was in in the cable.

Off we'd go in the truck watching the odometer and when we got close, a pole with a probe was stuck out the window. The probe was connected to a small amplifier and when we reached the site of the defect the tone would quit. We'd do a little more walking around until we had it located pretty close and then we'd put the bucket up to the cable and open it up to determine the final location. A slack puller on the wire rope could pull enough slack into it that we could dig around inside the cable with a probe until we found the pair. This took a little bit of doing since a 2,200 pair cable is not an easy thing to wrestle with.

Once the pair was located we'd fix it with a splice, put everything back together and install a splice case. We'd wait for a little bit until the air pressure came up, check the case with soap solution for leaks and then head to the diner for coffee.

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