> I don't believe that eight-digit numbers have ever been used anywhere
> in the NANP.
In cities, if you had a party line (2 or 4 party) you had a listed
number the same as anyone else. If someone called you, they dialed
the listed number normally and only your phone rang. The Bell System
used a special wiring technique to isolated the ringers of up to four
separate parties so only the desired party would ring. (I believe it
was a combination of bias and grounding). The independent companies
used different ringer frequencies to isolate ringers.
However, in many places, party lines had a letter suffix (J, R?). In
the literature, the panel readout boards had that letter suffix. Some
old telephone books show that letter listed after to the number.
I presume in some manual systems one gave the letter to the
But in dial systems, did one dial the suffix letter to reach party
lines so equipped?
Note -- the above is for party lines of up to 4 customers. I believe
anything beyond 4 had to be on a manual system and had to use special
short-long ringing codes. Everybody heard the other phones ringing
and had to listen if it was their code. (Or they always answered to
listen in on other people's conversations.)
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: No, we did NOT dial the ending letter.
All those letters (-B,-J, -M and -R) were merged into seven digit
numbers, and tied together in the central office for individualized
ringing purposes only, sort of like the 'distinctive ring-ring'
numbers today. The parties still shared the same wire (that is, a
conversation by one would cause all to be 'busy') but at least the
ringing was mostly silenced since the polarity of the ringing was
swapped around. The intended party got a full-bodied ring, but the
others at best got a sort of 'tick-sound' from a feeble hammer hitting
the bell inside the phone. In the pre-dial days, the operator had four
buttons with the letters B,J, M and R printed on them on her board,
and she would press and hold one of the buttons while pulling the
My grandmother once told me about hot summer nights in Coffeyville in
the 1930's era. People would sit their phone inside or upon a
galvanized washtub, to amplify the 'tick-sound' when a 'party line
neighbor' got a phone call. All they had were those heavy-metal type
phones to use anyway. Hot summer night, all the old biddies sitting
outside on their front porch; suddenly in the background you could
hear the 'tick-tick ... tick-tick' sound, and after a few seconds to
be polite and not appear to be nosy, the old biddies would one by one
disappear inside their houses to quietly take the telephone receiver
off hook and listen to what the other two were discussing.
And while in high school, my best buddy Dennis Hill called me on the
phone one night for a juicy gossip session, replete with some crude
conversation about something or another. We had our own private phone
line, Dennis was on a party line. I heard the 'click' which warned
someone might be listening, and warned Dennis he better shut up for
that reason. Dennis replied, "oh, that's just Mrs. Murphy, our party
line neighbor; she has been on our line for over twenty years, if she
does not by now know all there is to know about our household, she
never will figure it out." After a few seconds, another 'click'
when Mrs. Murphy decided to restore to us our privacy.
And telco used to also print an admonition to party line subscribers
in the phone book along with instructions on how to call your party
line neighbor: You told the operator you wished to call the (whichever
letter) side of your party line; then you would hang up. The operator
would ring that side of the line, and once the ringing stopped then
you were to pick up your phone and do the conversation. And if
_anyone_ broke into your conversation to say 'the line is needed for
an emergency call' you were to PROMPTLY disconnect and wait until the
emergency was concluded. And 'to claim that an emergency exists
requiring police, hospital, fire or doctor when in fact no such
emergency existed, (or refuse to surrender the line in case it did
exist) you have committed a class five felony under the law, and will
be punished accordingly, up to or including the loss of your telephone
service.' Things were different in those days. PAT]