On Saturday as I sat in the museum waiting for the first visitor to come in, I was checking posts on “Facebook”. One of the posts was “What items did you use growing up that you don’t use now?”

I looked around the museum and saw the Underwood mechanical typewriter. Everyone would recognize it as a typewriter but only people over the age of 40 would ever have had the pain and frustration of using one. The pain of getting your fingers stuck in between the keys. When you typed too fast, you would have the frustration of the strikers bunching up in a mess and having to separate them.

As a sophomore, I had typing class. There was only one electric typewriter, so we took turns typing on it about once a month. That fall, I played JV football, whose games were on Thursday nights. The next day, with bruised and sprained hands, I had to take my weekly typing test. It was not a pleasant experience.

That typewriter also brought back memories of other items which were associated with the mechanical typewriter. Remember the typewriter eraser? It erased the typewriter ink by wearing away some of the paper. If you pushed too hard, you would create a hole in the paper. It didn’t work on erasing pencil lead.

Once they came out with the electric typewriter, they created typewriter ribbons that had an “erase” feature. It essentially eliminated the need for the typewriter eraser.

In the museum, next to the Underwood typewriter is a rotary telephone. Like the typewriter, most people will recognize this telephone but many have never tried to dial a number on a rotary phone.

My first job after graduation was as a purchasing agent for a company in a small town south of Cleveland. One of our major suppliers was located in Grand Rapids. I called them at least once a day to check on the status of our orders. To get an outside line, I had to dial 9. I then had to enter the long-distance access code, which for most telephone companies is just the number 1. However, the small local telephone company’s long-distance access code was 161. I then could dial the Grand Rapid’s area code, 616 and then the company’s number, 661-6161. I had to dial: 9-161-616-661-6161. On a rotary phone, you have to let the dial return to its starting position before entering the next number. If you rush dialing a number before the rotary dial has reset, the phone would transmit the wrong number. I finally had to create a check sheet and mark off each number as I dialed it so I would connect with our suppler.

My grandparents, George and Mary Alice Hoyt, moved to the farm on Bordman Road in 1936. Grandpa was an executive for Ford Motor Company. Grandma went to the telephone office–building directly north of the museum–to get a line connected to the house. At that time, you could have either a private line or a party line. A private line only had one person on the line. This is what Grandpa wanted but there were no private lines available along Bordman Road. The telephone company offered to install a line, which meant running a single line from the telephone office down Van Dyke and then to the farm on Bordman–at Grandpa’s expense. He decline and a party line was connected to the house.

A party line would have multiple telephone numbers connected to it. There was still only one line coming from the telephone office but it had connections in multiple locations and therefore multiple telephone numbers. However, only one call could be handled by a party line at any one time. For someone to know that they had a call, each telephone number was given a unique system of ring tones. For lines with a large number of connections, the ring tone was a pattern of short and long rings. For example: two short rings and one long ring would get you the barber shop and one short and two longs would get you the grocery.

The party line system had some interesting side effects. Everyone on the line knew when someone else got a call and who got the call. If you wanted to make a call, you wouldn’t know if the line was in use until you picked up the phone. There were also frustrations with the system. When someone on the line got a call, everyone on the line heard the rings. If someone called in the middle of the night, everyone on the line was awoken by the call. When the phone rang you had to listen and count the rings or identify the ring pattern, to know that the call was for you.

Initially, when you went to make a call, you rang the operator (located at the telephone office) and they connected you to the person you wanted to call. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that you could dial your call without operator assistance.

Do you remember using a public pay phone? There was one in the lobby of the high school for students to call their parents to come and get them from some school activity. There was one in front of the gas station at the four corners. The last one I knew about was in front of the Mobil station at the corner of Dryden and Van Dyke roads.

I wonder what features of our current cars will be gone in fifty years. Many young people have no experiences with side vent windows and crank windows. Growing up, almost all car seats were bench seats not bucket seats. On a date, your girl friend could sit right next to you–sometimes creating hazardous situations. Even I vaguely remember the push button by my left foot to brighten and dim my lights. How many of you used a “ratchet jack” to change a tire?

Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or jrwade49@ gmail.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.