of a country telephone man.
Friends and Neighbors,
were strange things happening on my front porch the summer of 1956. To a six
year old, losing play space to a strange box and a bunch of wires made no sense.
Then, on September 15, 1956, we became the first family in Beulah to have their
supper interrupted by several phone calls!
were in the telephone business. That box on the front porch was a 50 line cord
switchboard. It connected the 26 telephones in Beulah together and to the world
and I was a telephone operator.
has had phones since the 1920’s. There was a payphone in the Post Office in
Traeber’s Store across from the Beulah Inn. But, the majority of phones were
in the cabins along Pine Drive (and hence the name of the company) and in the
Pueblo Mountain Park. They were on party lines built and maintained by each
family individually. One notable line was the one maintained from Baver-Li-Lodge
in Ophir Creek down Squirrel Creek. It took great fortitude to maintain that
line after the ‘47 flood! Perhaps some of you may remember the “spaghetti”
of wires up and down Pine Drive as each new phone line had to find space on the
poles. Each line terminated in the switchboard located in the Pine Drive Store,
at which time Bill Reynolds was the proprietor and switchboard operator.
1956, Mr. Reynolds decided that he had enough and was to end his service. My
mother and father, Joe and Edith Sellers, saw a way to serve the community and
took on the responsibility to provide and maintain telephone service in the
valley. Dad worked in the Tube Mill at the CF&I and once the family and cows
were fed, the rest of his paycheck went to the phone company. Mom kept the home,
fed the workers and ran the office and switchboard. I got to spend a lot of
“quality time” on nights and weekends helping my father repair and build the
no Investment Bankers in sight, we made do with what we had. We had quality help
from people in the community, employees of Western Electric and Mountain States
Telephone Co. and some of Dad’s co-workers at the CF&I. To keep costs
down, we used quality materials thrown away by the Bell Company and picked up by
a Pueblo scrap dealer. When we needed telephone poles, we went to the forest,
cut down trees, peeled the bark and treated them with creosote; then we dug the
postholes and planted them up North Creek, down 3R, out Siloam, down Waterbarrel
and up 12 mile. People would joke; “Joe Bell would use barbed and trees to get
you service, “ which we did from time-to-time. With the benevolence and help
of landowners, the system grew rapidly and just about everyone that wanted a
phone had one.
comes hard to many, even back then. When we placed the first 5 pair cable (which
could provide service for up to 50 people on ten-party lines) to Beulah Post
Office, one lady commented, “Joe, you’ll never have that many phones in
Beulah”. The Beulah Post Office area, alone, is now served with fiber optics
and over 200 pairs (phone lines.)
we grew, it became apparent that we needed to modernize our switchboard, so in
1961 we installed the first dial switch. No more hand cranks and cranky
operators in the middle of the night. Call who you want, when you want! Of
course we still got a few calls to find out if such and so was home; and would
we take messages to someone that didn’t have a phone? Which, of course, we
did; all part of being part of a small community.
we tried too hard to provide the best service. When we first installed rotary
dial phones, we would set up each party line on the floor of the front porch to
be sure that each new phone worked and rang properly. Once we were sure things
worked properly and, sometimes, re-boxed the phone sets, we’d go to each house
and install their new dial telephone. Years later, a lady told my dad how sad
she was that of all the people he’d given new phones to, he did not give her a
new one out of a box! Can’t win sometimes, I guess.
1968 I went off for 15 years to get my education and serve our country in the
Coast Guard. I met my wife, Lee, and we had two boys, Matt and Mike. Of course
that didn’t stop the company from moving forward. From here on when I use the
first person, it also includes my family!
1969, we expanded the switch, to allow more private lines and people to take
their number with them when they moved. In the 70’s we started to bury our
telephone lines, this had two positive effects: they became “storm proof”
and everyone’s view was improved. We have continued this process and today
about 90% of all of our lines are buried out of sight. This is why your
electricity may be out, but your phone still works (as long as you keep an
“old” phone around the house that doesn’t need electricity!) It was a bit
perplexing, though, to be asked by the young people replacing the poles and
cable I had spent my childhood building “where all this old “junk” came
from?” But, technology was advancing at an ever-faster pace.
retired from the CF&I in 1975. As we grew and demands became greater on him
and those he could find to help him, he gave me a choice: “Come home or I’m
going to sell out.”
came home in 1983, just in time for the Divestiture of AT&T; a brave new
world of telephony that would forever change the intimacy of hometown telephone
service. We were pitted against giants like AT&T, & MCI and forced to
spend inordinate amounts of time and money with regulators and legislators
defending ourselves from having to provide “service” like them, instead of
our home town rural way.
1980’s brought new features like 1+ direct long distance dialing, touchtone,
and 911 emergency service. In 1986, after 30 years of using the front porch of
my mother’s house, we moved the business office to its current location on
Central Ave. In 1988 we installed Digital Switching and converted everyone to
private lines. No more listening to the neighbor’s conversations or fighting
to get to use the line. Big city features like E-911, equal access to long
distance carriers, call waiting, call forwarding, voice mail and other features
Communications was born out of desperation. Depending on where you lived in
Beulah Valley, you received one, two or, if you were really lucky, four TV
stations. My family was one of those with two and we were really tired of eating
supper with A Current Affair. In 1991, there were finally enough people
in the valley with the same feelings that it was feasible to build the Beulah
Cable TV system.
and I organized Beulahland Communications to care for our non telephone
activities in the community and now have over 300 customers and 36 channels of
the most popular family programming available, giving a choice at dinner-time
(the best of which, in retrospect, would be to turn it off and talk to the
installed a two-way video system in Beulah School in 1992. Even though the dream
of having many community meetings and events televised by our school kids
hasn’t been fully realized to date, the capability is there and it has been
used to televise many school activities. I was affirmed one day when I heard how
much a homebound lady appreciated being able to see her grandchildren perform in
a school play.
also brought free calling to Pueblo. Before then, it cost anywhere from 10 to 20
cents a minute to call Pueblo. This statewide Community of Interest Calling Plan
was a great economic boost for the Beulah area.
1993, my dad died. At 79, he was still excited about all the new things we were
going to be able to provide to the Beulah area, including satellite TV for those
we couldn’t reach with cable. Digital Loop Carriers and fiber optics made it
possible to move services, which had only been available to those close to the
central office, out to the far reaches of telephone system. Now all of the rural
areas of Beulah could have multiple private lines, modems, faxes and the
mother quit her active role and turned ownership over to my family in the mid
90’s. But, she still keeps and eye on things today as she enjoys her
with the way that long distance carriers were treating our customers, we formed
our own Long-Distance service under Beulahland Communications in the mid 90’s.
Keeping with our tradition of giving as much back to the community as possible,
1% of all the long distance revenue generated is donated to the Beulah Fire and
Ambulance services. Caller ID and other “Advanced Intelligent Network”
features were rolled out in the mid 90’s as well. In 1997, local dialing to
the Internet became available in Beulah through our association with Fone.Net.
we serve an area of over 200 square miles in Western Pueblo and Southeastern
Custer counties. 90% of our near 1000 customers have access to high-speed
Internet connections using DSL technology. This is one of the highest
availability rates in the state! We are about to complete a fiber optic link to
Pueblo, (for those of you watching our progress, Rock Creek Hill is aptly
named!) which will open up bandwidth for things like Distant Learning for our
school and new features not yet dreamed of. The Beulah area is poised for the
Asked if I have any regrets
over the past years, I have to say no, other than I regret losing the personal
contact I used to have with each of you. As we grew and the industry changed, I
lost the opportunity to be in the field and get to know each of you personally.
In some corners, the industry seems to be more interested in the “bottom
line” than customer service or in grabbing customers any way they can. I
regret this and pledge to fight it anyway I can. I am also concerned with the
direction my industry is leading society. “Personal” communications is
driving a wedge into the community and the family. I fear one day we will be
locked in our homes, our only reality will be provided by the “virtual
reality” of computers, we will order all that we need, food, clothing etc.
electronically; goods will be delivered by armored vehicles to an air-lock in
our homes which we fear to leave because anarchy rules the streets. Beulah has
always avoided these kinds of “growing pains,” and I hope we continue to
keep our sense of community alive and well.
Pine Drive Telephone Co., Beulah Long Distance, Beulah
Cable TV and Fone.Net have one thing in common: We are dedicated to serving
Beulah and the surrounding areas with not only traditional services but also
services like UPS shipping, FAX, Notary, Copies, National Directory Assistance
and provide local information and advertising over the Weather Channel crawl. We
hire local people and return as much as we can to the local economy. When you
call us, you talk to a real person who you likely know from other activities in
the community. (If you don’t know us, please drop in for a cup of coffee! Even
if you do, the coffee is still on!)
I’ve spent this entire essay saying “I” but no
business succeeds without the support and hard work of a dedicated staff. The
people you work with today are the current product of a long line of dedicated
“Beulahites.” So, I want to thank all of you in the past and Dennis,
Marilyn, Dave, Laura, Wayne, Colin, Bob and my family for their dedication and
hard work. I’ve truly been blessed.
seen a lot of telecommunication companies make some big promises that are now
bankrupt or no longer pursuing those promises. As I celebrate 45 years in the
telecommunications industry and 45 years of service to this community, I want to
assure you that we will be here another 45, and more, providing Beulah with big
city services with our personal touch. As long as my family and I have anything
to say about it, it will be a cold day in a very hot place before you have to
spend an eternity on hold and then can’t talk to the same person twice! Thank
you for your support and please look to us for your communications needs of the
will be here!
Lee, Matt and Mike Sellers and the Pine Drive Telephone Co. Staff
September 9-15 is National Small Telecommunications Week. There are 28 small,
Community Based, companies in Colorado and over a 1000 nationwide that have the
same dedication and purpose as we do: To invest, and provide affordable, high
quality, and personal telecommunications service to their friends and neighbors,
in the rural and remote areas of this country.