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TUCoPS :: Phreaking Technical System Info :: findpair.txt

Woes in getting second and third lines in older buildings





The discussion in [Telecom Digest] in recent issues regarding house pair
wiring has been interesting, and brings to mind a problem which is 
chronically popping up in older urban areas like Chicago: the lack of pairs
between the central office and each premise. I've experienced both a
scarcity of house pairs and a scarcity of central office pairs in the past,
and it is interesting watching the installer scrape together a working pair
from a selection of three or four wires not in use in the junction box.

In the late 1920's and early 1930's, many high rise (six stories or taller)
were constructed which operated as 'apartment-hotels', that is, they had
front desk, switchboard, and maid service, among other amenities. In those
days not as many people had their own private phone line. Typically, in a
building twenty stories tall, there would be a dozen apartments per floor,
or about 240-275 units in all. Each unit had a phone through the switchboard,
as did the administrative offices. So the switchboard would typically be a
two or three position cord board, serving 250-275 'stations' or extension
phones; all manual switching of course. Under the accepted rule of thumb
that ten percent of the subscribers (tenants, in this case) maximum would
be on the phone at any given time, and that some of these would be local,
from one apartment to another, typically there would be only 20-25 central
office trunks coming in, to handle all incoming and outgoing traffic through
the board at the front desk. 

In the building I lived in from 1967-1974, the switchboard had 26 trunk lines
in rotary hunt, from Dorchester 3-7500 up to 7525. Now there were perhaps
a thousand such buildings in Chicago at one time; there were two others like
this on my block alone. Sometime in the early to middle seventies, the
economics of running older high rise apartment buildings was such that the
owners of the building decided to close the front desk and switchboard. If the
tenants wanted phones, let them get it direct from Illinois Bell. As more and
more buildings chose to pull the boards out, these posed considerable
problems for Bell in getting at least one pair to each person in the building.

Generally the buildings had an IT, or inside terminal block somewhere near
the switchboard where all the central office lines came in. From the board
to the basement would be the (usually) several hundred pairs needed to bring
each phone to the board. From the basement, these house pairs would typically
run up through conduits to each floor, where they would open up on a smaller
terminal block of maybe twenty pairs each. Let's say the apartment building
had twelve apartments per floor; every apartment would have two pairs to the
local box with one pair actually wired to a house pair coming into the box
and the second pair just loose. Of the twenty pairs that came up through the
conduit to that floor, twelve would in fact be specifically dedicated, or
wired, one to each apartment on the floor. The remaining eight pairs would
be multipled to the floor above and below. The end result would be a pair
for every apartment, and maybe 100-150 extra pairs which could be manipulated
throughout the building by tying any one of the extra pairs to the second
pair for a given apartment. If necessary, the installer could open up a
line at one place and tie down the multiple on the next floor, etc.

The only problem then was the bottleneck *coming into the building*. Only
maybe fifty pairs in all, considering the board had (like ours) around
twenty five central office lines; a few direct lines to long distance if
the board was big/busy enough, and maybe a pair or two to Western Union.
If the building had Muzak, or Western Union Clock Service, or a telegram
machine, then those each took a pair, etc. 

When the switchboards were pulled out, suddenly telco had to find enough
pairs on the pole or in the street to bring a line (or two) into the 
building for everyone. This stretched things pretty thin for a few years,
and in older areas where a lot of these buildings still stand, you can go
into any building on the block; go to the big, humongous old fashioned
wooden terminal box in the basement and get the dial tone from everyone on
the block! In theory, when one person moves out somewhere in the vicinity,
the phone man goes to *their basement* and opens up the pair, then goes
to the place where a new subscriber wants service and attaches the multiple
there. But people have moved into an apartment, plugged their phone into the
jack, gotten dial tone and assumed they were connected only to later on
hear someone talking on 'their' line who was actually down the street and
across the alley somewhere. Other times telco has insisted the service was
working, and the new subscriber was equally insistent that the line was
dead. Phone man comes on scene, goes to the basement, fiddles around awhile,
gets no where, goes out and climbs pole for awhile, comes back to basement
and still dead pair, etc. Using a good pair to call the test board, they
finally scrounge up one wire here and one wire there to make a pair for
the bewildered customer, who *does* have two perfectly good pairs in his
apartment.

BEWARE THE INVASION OF THE PAIR-SNATCHERS! Even the most ignorant installer,
if he hears dial tone on a pair will leave it alone and assume it belongs to
someone in the building. But sometimes the pairs are incorrectly labled, or
not labled at all. I have two lines here. One day looking out my window I
saw a phone man on the pole in the alley. Two minutes later, my first line
is dead. I called repair immediatly, and had a young lady sass me back and
tell me it was 'impossible' that the guy on the pole had messed me up. I
finally convinced her supervisor to at least call the guy on the pole and have
him reconsider what he had done. There are some installers however who wish
to avoid extra work for themselves and they will 'accidentally' snatch a 
working house pair from someone else, figuring it is just as easy for that
person to call repair service and complain about their phone not working as
it is for them to keep searching and ringing out (or sounding) pairs until
they find a good *idle* one for themselves. In these older buildings, the
house pairs are now sixty years old, and with faded tags written on by phone
men who have long since departed this life; so it does get hairy at times.

THE LADY INSTALLER COMES TO VISIT (OR, SHE MEANT WELL, I'M SURE...) About
ten years ago, lady telephone installer comes to the door. Very concientous
young lady that she is, she carefully holds up her ID badge and asks me
to let her in the basement to work on the big box. "I am to turn on the 
phone in apartment 902", she beams at me. In the basement, with the covers
off the terminal box she looks at this spaghetti-like mound of wire and
said, "my gracious! I wonder how I will find apartment 902". I told her,
you might go to 902 *first*, and see if it -is- working already. If not,
put your sounder on the line up there. Then, check the box in the hall on
the ninth floor and listen for your sounder. If you hear it, take note of
the numbers written on the little strip of wood next to the screw terminals
and then come back down here and find the same numbers on the screw terminals
at this end. "Oh, do you think that would work?"  Yes mam, I do. 

Sure enough, she was back five minutes later, to tell me the box on the
ninth floor said HP206. I told her, now why don't you look for house pair
206 in this box. We found it, and she heard her sounder over the wire and
decided 'this must be it'.... She looked puzzled and said well now we have
to get the line from our office. Brilliant deduction, lady... I told her
her order ticket said Rogers Park Cable 97, Pair 34 was assigned to this
customer. By default, the entire terminal box in our basement is Rogers cable
97. It shows up across the street also, but that is beside the point. I
told her you start in the upper left hand corner of the box and count down
pair by pair. The first number is 18, so count from 18 to 34, down one
row, then start at the top of the next row. Stop when you reach 34. She
found it eventually, and jumped it to house pair 206. I had to feel sorry
for the lady. She had only been working for Bell for a short time, and had
probably never done anything in a large high rise building like that before.

She even started to leave *without going back up to 902 to get her sounder
and replace the cover on the modular box in the apartment*!! As I was in need
of a line finder at the time myself, I should have kept my mouth shut, but
I knew she would get bawled out if she had lost it.

In the past decade, Illinois Bell has added quite a bit of additional cable,
so the shortages and pair snatchings are not as severe as they were, but
in some older buildings, particularly when there are two or three on the
same street, there is still a lot of 'fun and games' when someone wants a
second or third line installed.

Patrick Townson



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