June 19, 2006
The first phone system in Winsted
By Ivan Raconteur
Lois Chaddick left Winsted with her family in 1927, but she still keeps in touch with the area by subscribing to the Herald Journal newspaper, and reading the McLeod County Historical Society newsletter.
Chaddick, who now resides in New York City, saw a photo of the first phone used in Winsted in a recent Herald Journal story.
She then contacted historical society treasurer and Winsted resident, Gerard Stifter, and provided some additional background regarding the phone.
Chaddick said that her uncle, Rufo Vollmer, and her father, Rob Vollmer, told her about the phone.
She said the first telephone system in the county was built by two Winsted residents, Charles Otto Borgersrode and her grandfather, Felton Vollmer, in 1892.
“They dreamed it up primarily as a convenience when having to meet someone at the train in Lester Prairie, where the Great Northern had been coming since 1886,” Chaddick said.
She explained that before the telephone line was built, if someone was expected to arrive on the train, the person meeting them would have to hitch up a horse and wagon, and drive to Lester Prairie. They would have to hope it was the right day and time, and that the traveler had made that particular train.
The line stretched from the office of Chaddick’s grandfather’s mill office in Winsted to the depot in Lester Prairie.
The 20-foot poles used to build the line were made from tamarack trees that came from a swamp south of Buffalo, and they were set 32 per mile, according to Chaddick.
“The wire was 12 BB galvanized single wire, and there were oak brackets and pale blue-green glass insulators,” she said.
“Current was provided by wet cells these were about gallon-size cylindrical glass jars with water and vinegar to provide the acidity. Suspended in the liquid were two crowfoot-shaped objects of copper and zinc. At a later time, dry batteries replaced the wet cells,” Chaddick explained.
The one-piece instruments that transmitted and received sound were named ‘Nowatny,’ which Chaddick believes was a factory name.
“To make a phone call, a person would diddle at the connection to break and then make contact with the electric current. This made a fairly loud clicking noise at the other end. There was no bell,” she said.
Chaddick does not know exactly how long the first phone system was in operation, but was told by relatives that it was, “a good many years.”
She said that the 1917 book, “The History of McLeod County,” states that Charles Otto Borgersrode sold the telephone exchange to his son, Rudolph Borgersrode, in 1913. The Ollig family took it over after that, Chaddick believes.