Montgomery County Elk City, Kansas

 History of Totah Telephone  Company
and Elk City's  Telephone  System

Totah Telephone Company History

E. R. and Lela Belle Gailey purchased the Ochelata, Oklahoma exchange in 1954. In the beginning the family operated the telephone system, Mr. Gailey was general manager, construction crew and maintenance crew all in one. He also worked full-time for Southwestern Bell out of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Their children Jesse and Barbara operated the switchboard at nights and Mrs. Gailey operated the day switchboard. They had 3 part time employees Helen Young, Mary Young and Buddy Evans. The office was in back of what is now the Corporate headquarters and the Ochelata digital switch.

In 1959 Totah acquired the Home Telephone Company of Elk City, the Powell Telephone Company of Havana, Kansas, the Montgomery County Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, Inc. of Tyro, Kansas,the Liberty Telephone Co.of Liberty, Kansas. The Hewins exchange was purchased on May 15, 1961 and on June 7th 1961 the Elgin Kansas Exchange.

Originally the country phone lines served as many as 10 to 12 families on what was known as a party line. Each house having a different ring with combinations of long and short rings. Before radio and television the telephone spread news of disaster, five long rings was a signal for everyone to pick up the phone as help might be needed to help a neighbor or a national disaster.

Some of the rules of a party line were:
Answer only your own rings
Obscene language was strictly forbidden
Conversations were limited to five minutes
Do not blame the operator when the party doesn't answer especially if they are not at home.

Totah installed direct dialing in 1960 doing away with box type phones on the wall. Party lines were replaced with private lines in 1976. . In the 1990's the company entered into non-regulated Customer Premise Equipment (CPE), Inside House Wire, Cellular Telephone Service, and Internet Service Provider (ISP) and all the modern telephone gadgets of today. This year Totah Telephone Co., is working on the installation for Internet DSL connection, also known as high-speed internet. Ronnie Sanders was hired to manage the Elk City, Havana, Hewins and Elgin Exchanges and a new office was built near his home in Elk City. Mike Sanders was hired in 1997 to replace Ronnie upon his retirement. In preparation for the retirement of Mr. and Mrs. Gailey, Totah restructured itself in 1983-1985 so the company could be transferred to the next generation. . In 1996 management of the company was transferred to the third generation by naming Mark Gailey General Manager. His goals are to continue with the established values of his grandparents and parents and, as always, to provide the most state of the art service possible.

Elk City Telephone System History

According to the old newspapers L. E. Lewis and Mr. Taylor put in the telephone system in 1902. The first record of ownership was Mr. Murray, George W. Swallow was manager and operator along with his son, Lynn Swallow of Severy, who was a lineman and did repair work on the telephones. The office was located upstairs in the Wright Drug Store also known as the Harmon Building. The first switchboard operators were called the Hello Girls they were Mamie Gosset and Maud Harrison. Some of the day switchboard operators were Goldie Sayre, Nannie White, Ada Goodwin, Nannie Dodson and Mollie Aemisegger.

In 1927 C. W. Powell bought the Elk City Telephone company and moved the office into the home of his daughter and husband Holden White. This office was located on Montgomery Street across the street south where the Community Building is now (2004) located. It remained at this location until the telephone company was purchased by Totah in 1959.

Newspaper Accounts

Below are the references to the telephone system as found in the old Elk City Newspapers. As items are discovered they will be added to this page.

Elk City Enterprise dated 1-24-1902

We understand the city council will meet Monday night and grant a franchise to the telephone company of Neodesha, which proposes to run a line to this city.

Ordinance No. 190 granting a franchise to the Home Telephone Company, appears in another column of this paper. We presume the company will begin work in town immediately.

Elk City Enterprise dated 3-21-1902

The first load of poles for the Home Telephone Co. arrived at the Missouri Pacific depot yesterday morning. The company will begin work at once.

Elk City Enterprise dated 4-4-1902

Messrs. Lewis and Taylor of the Home Telephone Co. have been in town this week putting up the poles for their system. Nearly all the material is on hand now and before many days Elk City people will be hailing central. The material used is all first class and these gentlemen evidently intend giving us the best service possible.

Elk City Enterprise dated 4-11-1902

The telephone poles are nearly all in place now and the town begins to take on metropolitan airs.

Elk City Enterprise dated 4-18-1902

A great deal of complaint is heard this week over the desecration of shade trees by the telephone company. The telephone franchise granted by the council places the poles only fourteen feet into the street. This, in a great many instances, brings them directly under the shade trees and of course the trees have to suffer. The proprietors of the system are residents of another town and, naturally, they cannot be expected to take the same interest in preserving the trees, which are the pride and glory of Elk City, as a native would, therefore when a tree gets in their way the tree must come out. It may have cost the property owner years of nursing and anxiety to produce it, but it only requires a few minutes to destroy it.

Elk City Enterprise dated 5-2-1902

The Telephone Company has about completed its work of putting in phones and will be ready for business long before the room is ready for them. The instruments they have put in are good ones - in fact, all their work has been first class, and the city is justified in feeling proud of its telephone system. they have put in about sixty instruments.

Elk City Enterprise dated 5-9-1902

The telephone people have connected some of the phones this week and the sound of the bell is heard. They work perfectly.

Elk City Enterprise dated 5-23-1902

C. B. Baldwin an expert from the factory, is here this week putting in the switchboard and starting our telephone system to running. We understand Miss Maud Harrison is to be the "hello" girl.

Elk City Enterprise dated 5-30-1902

Our telephone system is now in working order and has proved a great convenience to everybody. Misses Mamie Gossett and Maud Harrison are the "hello" girls, and they will give us efficient service.

Elk City Enterprise dated 6-13-1902

J. E. Lewis finds his time entirely occupied with telephone business now days. He was down from Elk City Saturday and in a conversation with him he expressed himself as unusually well satisfied with the way buniness was starting out and prospects for the near future. The line is now in working order and giving good satisfaction. The material for a toll line from Sedan to Elk City, thence to Independence has been ordered and work on the line will shortly be under way - The Times Star Sedan

Elk City Enterprise dated 7-18-1902

New Telephone Numbers
The following new phones have been put in since the list of subscribers were printed. Just write these names and numbers in the blank spaces on your card and you will have a complete list of the phones to date:

43 Kelly, H. B. (store)
14 Kendall, Ben M.
58 Mo. Pac. Depot
69 Newkirk, R. L.
60 Reed, J. A.
29 Ruble, Will
56 Santa Fe Depot
67 Sayre, Mrs. S. I.
11 Tenney, J. S. (res)
16 Watlton, A. D. (res)

Elk City Enterprise dated 8-8-1902

The Home Telephone Co. is now at work extending their line to Independence, and in a couple of weeks we will be connected with all the principal towns of Southern Kansas.

Elk City Enterprise dated 8-15-1902

25 J. H. Rice
73 Crane Station
74 C. B. Ricketts
75 C. M. Burton
78 D. J. Robertson
79 M. D. Ricketts
80 Walter Hayward

Bee Smith informs us that he is now at work on his telephone line and it will connect Hale with Elk City. The date of its completion is uncertain.

GovernmentHistory Home Page Links Organizations
Newsletter • Poets Corner Special  EventsUtilitiesVeterans

Explore Elk City in Montgomery County, or visit other Kansas Cities & Towns

July 1, 2004 / Sandy Faler, Elk City, Kansas /

Blue Skyways Visit the Home Page for Kansas
A service of the Kansas State Library
© Copyright 1998
Elk City PRIDE
Kansas on the Net