The first voice mail came at 4:07 a.m. The first email arrived at 5:07 a.m.
One of the classic tenets of newspaper work is that if someone calls or emails before 8 in the morning, they are usually mad and the tone will be harsh.
Not this time.
The correspondents just wanted to talk about telephone booths following our publication Wednesday morning of a story on the death, so to speak, of the iconic communications tool.
Fifteen calls and emails later the course of the intrepid reporter (IR hereafter, again) was clear. He was going to Halsey.
Because more than half of the emails and phone calls indicated that we would strike gold, so to speak, in Halsey … or Halsey, Oregon, as one correspondent politely and comprehensively noted.
And they were right. Halsey, just 17.5 miles south of the Democrat-Herald on Highway 99E, has a phone booth! Actually, more than one, although to the best of our knowledge (here we go again), only one of them is functional.
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Check it out! It’s at the CFN card lock station just south of the four-way stop at the north end of town. When I picked up the receiver, hit the metal bar and got a dial tone … ah, what a thrill! I didn’t call anybody. Yet. I had to prowl around a bit more because my correspondents all said that there was more than one booth in Halsey.
One emailer, the 5:07 a.m. one, was Rick Peterson, president/CEO of Peak Internet. He said he personally helped install some of the Halsey pay booths for the local phone company, Roome Telecommunications, Inc.
After passing a fantastic partial ruin of a grain elevator and half of a 1950 Chevy sticking out of the upper level of an antiques store I found the Roome (heretofore RTI) office. It had a phone booth out front, with a seat and a phone that was just 3 feet off the ground. Alas, no dial tone.
I headed toward the front door and a customer service rep whom I am guessing saw me loitering in the front of the building suspiciously, met me at the front door. I was pleased, and slightly surprised, that someone was still on the job at 3:30 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving.
I was advised that the CFN phone booth was the lone operable one in town, although she thought it might only be usable for 911 calls. The others, she said, the company just likes keeping around. Kind of like a tourist attraction. Lots of people take photos of them, she said.
Anyway, armed with my new knowledge I went back to the CFN to fire it up. The lovely dial tone still was there, but dialing a number produced a harsh, staccato busy signal. I didn't even get an operator telling me to put in X amount of cash for three minutes. Maybe phone booths don’t do that anymore. Which stands to reason since there aren’t any phone booths.
Amid the dizzying existential notes of all of this, I decided to call the pay phone with my cell (for those interested in noting the number of the booth for future reference, it is 541-369-2062). I dialed, put the cell on speaker and then answered the pay phone. My hello echoed through the booth. It was fantastic!
But is it the end of the story? The IR still has Philomath and Crescent Valley High sites to check out post-Turkey Day.
And he also has a tale that the IR will retell until he is pulverized for it. Corvallis attorney Ron Marek, amid an email about a higher likelihood of finding pay phones in rural mountainous areas such as Blodgett, related a trip with his grandson to the Benton County Historical Society’s museum in Philomath. During the visit, they saw an exhibit that included a manual typewriter.
"Wow, a keyboard and a printer all in one — and it’s so old!” the youngster said.