Peninsula Reflections

Posted: Monday, December 18, 2006


  Kenai Telephone Co., building is shown in this 1958 photo. Betty Idleman

Kenai Telephone Co., building is shown in this 1958 photo.

Betty Idleman

Morris Porter, coming into the Kenai River from commercial fishing, needed a ride into town. There were no taxies around and no way to notify anyone.

In 1952 he and Chuck Brady went to Anchorage and bought three new tomato red Buicks to start a cab company. Immediately they discovered there was no way to notify the newly formed Red Cab Company.

Again Morris went to Anchorage and bought two to three dozen Army field phones, surplus model EE8, to use for the startup of his new business.

Morris passed out the phones to businesses and set up the new Kenai Telephone Co.

Chuck took over the cab company. Frank Rowley, owner of Kenai Electric, told him he could hang phone wires on his electric poles for free. Thus began Kenai’s first telephone system, located at the Civic Center in the old Territorial School.

In 1953 they bought a building from John Munfor and moved there until the business was sold in 1959 or 60 to TransAlaska Phone Co.

Morris’ wife, Bertha, managed the newly formed telephone company while Morris commercial drift fished. Their sons, along with the Mamaloff and Munfor boys, put a stick in the reels of wire then walked them to the poles and through the woods to place the wire while Morris climbed up to anchored it. In the winter they walked under the wires with long poles to knock off ice to prevent them from coming down.

The first genuine phones were new “black cranks.” By now there were too many customers on the lines, necessitating a switchboard while dividing the town in half. A switchboard was found at the Homer Telephone Co., owned by Homer High, and installed, making it necessary to use when calling from one side of the town to the other.

Nick Mamaloff quickly understood the equipment, thereby doing most of the servicing. Land was bought from Dolly Farnsworth at the Soldotna “Y” for $300 for an automated switchboard.

About this time Bertha was trying to get people to switch from people’s names to phone numbers, instead of “gimmie that juke box man” (Vic Tyler).

The phone wire strung through the trees to Wildwood had been ripped out when the Air Force Base was being built. Morris went to the colonel, who hadn’t known what the line was but offered to replace it with two lines.

In 1953 Kenai Telephone now had lines to the “outside” world. Their daughter, Ami remembers making her first trans-Atlantic call for Mrs. Archer, who was calling her parents in England. She listened as operators connected across the U.S. to New York, where it became trans-Atlantic.

I worked as relief for Jean McMasters at the Kenai office the summer of 1958.

The fire alarm always gave me problems. The toggle was red and stuck up higher than all the others and I’d set it off accidentally. Early one morning Mrs. Archer even thanked me for setting it off because she forgot to set her alarm clock.

This column was provided by Betty Idleman with the Kenai Historical Society, 776-8590, Kenai Historical Soc.

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