How Telephone Switchboard at Holyoke is Run

by Laurel | April 4th, 2014

16 July 1922

Night Operators at Holyoke Exchange

Night Operators at Holyoke Exchange
Misses Frances Moriarty and Lulu M. Chase

Sometimes 30 Operators on Hand, But only Two in the Wee Sma’ Hours
Big Fires Mean All Lights Ablaze
How Emergency Calls are Handled — Operator Must be Alert and Keen-Minded to Hold Down Job

Holyoke, Jul 15 — Just before 8 every night at the telephone exchange there are 30 operators at work; just after 11 there are two — and from 2 until 6 a.m. , most of the time two, some of the time one. So that for a considerable part of the 24 hours, the 10,500 Holyoke telephones are handled by two girls, who are also at the same time and collectively the chief operator, supervisors, toll operators and, incidentally, do some little clerical work for the company. The “night shift” as it is called, is from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., but each girl is required to work only six hours and a half. Nevertheless, there is no very great rush for the places, and as a matter of equity, the night shift is changed about every month.

Misses Frances Moriarty and Lulu Chase, who have been at work on the night shift, will finish their month tomorrow, but they may be back later in the season. They will be succeed by two other girl for the present. The complement of girls is based on the volume of traffic and varies in a surprising degree. From 6 to 7 p.m. is about the busiest of the day for local traffic, though the toll traffic “peak of the load” is at a different hour.

Here is the working table of the evening hours giving number of girls at work and periods: Hours, 6 a.m. to 7, 30′; 7 to 8, 30; 8 to 8:30 23; 8:30 to 9, 17; 9 to 10, 11; 10 to 11, 7; 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. 2;. The “night” shift works through to 7 a.m., but girls come in after 6, so there are four girls from 6 to 6:30, 5 from 6:30 to 7, “and then,” said the night operator reflectively, “the whole gang comes in.”

“Generally we are pretty busy from 11 to a little after 12,” said Miss Moriarty, one of the night shift, speaking of the work. “Then it begins to fall off.”

“What is the dullest time?”

From 2 to 3 in the morning, our calls are very few. After 3 there begins to come in the early calls of milkmen and other early ones, so we are often fairly busy from that time on.”

“Do you have many emergency calls?”

Emergency Calls

Most of the calls after 2 until 3 or 4 a.m. are emergency calls of one kind or another. Calls for a doctor, calls for the hospital, calls on account of a night accident and the like. In the majority of cases the calls are of some specified doctor; but  on occasion we have a call, “Get me a doctor, quick please!” and then we try and get the nearest doctor or, if he fails to respond, some other. We work fast then. Some doctors are disinclined to go out on such calls; but we have two or three that we can always depend upon to answer an emergency call any hour of the night.”

It appears that the second alarm and general alarm fires are the times that try the operators. On such alarms the girls being nearest come trooping in as fast as they can, and on a big general alarm often the office is soon filled. And they are needed especially for a fire in the middle of the evening when about every light on the board shows.

Another interesting feature in connection with the call for doctors is that the office has the doctors all listed and arranged according to the streets, so that if an emergency call comes from someone on Chestnut Street the operator can call the nearest doctor to the scene of the trouble.

Emergency Numbers Most Used

The night operators have a certain emergency list, like the fire station, the police, hospitals, etc., which they learn by hear. Anyone who calls, “Police, emergency,” “Fire, emergency,” or “Doctor, emergency,” gets the best that the girls can do. There may be a few moments delay in the small hours, and perhaps it is well to explain this to the Holyoke subscribers. One girl is on alone part of the night, as each girl is entitled to an hour and a half between her hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. So the whole board has to be covered by one girl. Now, if she is answering a call at one end she cannot read the numbers across the room. And this takes time, especially if she is trying to ring up some sleepy milkman or reluctant doctor.

As toll calls are handled in Springfield, that presents no great difficulty, only some of the time the Springfield office seems to be undermanned, and it takes quite a while to get the Springfield toll operators.

“No, we girls are not afraid,” said Miss Moriarty, in answer to a question. “We are too busy most of the time. Nor are we annoyed by outsiders.” Which brings to mind that the modern up-to-date telephone operator is a very alert keen-minded and self-reliant young person, and has no time for personal calls, flirtations, jokes or anything but business, The traffic doesn’t permit these things as it did in the beginning. You must try it and see. You will be talking to a supervisor or the chief operator so quick that you will be startled.

Adapted from The Springfield Republican.

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