She met troops as a telephone operator
Thursday, July 8, 2010
I worked primarily at the “Ma Bell's” telephone office downtown Vancouver. However when troop ships
were in town a groups of 3 phone operators, a supervisor and a cashier were sent to the phone center
at Camp Hatheway to assist the soldiers get in touch with their families from the mid west all the way to
the east coast. We were called to duty any time of the day or night when the ship arrived and worked
8 hour shifts until all calls were completed.
The phone center held approximated 400 people. It had 10 phone booths along one wall. Each operator
had a switch board with 3 lines. The balance of the room was primarily standing room only.
We had a total of 9 lines that had to keep busy otherwise Portland operators would start
using those lines. Vancouver operators used a system called “Over Lapping” so their lines where never
down. Each operator had three piles of Tickets or Slips which were the requests from the soldiers with
the phone numbers they wanted called. I and my fellow operators had to route these all over the
country. ( No computer routing then) When connected they announced on the loud speaker
the person that placed the call “Sgt Joe Smith or Major Blank” go to booth such and such (1 through
Some memories in my mind are situations that happened at and during my work at the Camp.
As we girls arrived to work we would have to pass through the large group of soldiers to our
stations. That was accompanied by wolf calls whistles etc. These men had been stationed in the
Pacific and elsewhere for up to 3 years and they were thrilled to see “girls from the good old USA”.
The groups were constantly changing as some left and others arrived.
At times when we were on break or things were caught up we would mingle with the troops and visit.
They all talked about their wives, families, and what they planned for the future. These troops were in
Camp for very short stays. I had an opportunity to date a number of them and I must say they were all
gentlemen. Not exactly the same caliber of the local male population of my age.
In regards to our work the biggest obstacle was not routing their calls but being able to pronounce their
names when calling them on the loudspeaker to go to such and such booth for their call
Once I was making connections for a Pvt and Major . I called them to go in booths 2 and 6. As they
entered the booths I realized they were going in the wrong booths. They were talking to the wrong
families!! A quick loudspeaker request to switch booths took care of the matter but it was embarrassing.
Another time I did a “No No”. Normally we had the stack of tickets (Phone #s to process) and would
take the top one and work it through. This one time Major Peppe’s ( very attractive and single) name
came up on my pile. Instead of making the call I placed it on the bottom. This allowed Major Peppers
to linger around my station a little longer for conversation when I had time between calls
One event occurred and left me wondering what might have happened if the timing was better.
A young soldier had placed a call. I called his name to answer the connection. A few seconds later he
came out of the booth and was talking to the cashier. I noticed they were looking in my direction.
At her next break the cashier told me the soldier (he was going abroad instead of coming home) had
asked what time I got of duty. He was leaving at 10 and I got off at 11. Short story.
Once a seat was broken in a booth, a repair man was bending low fixing it. I could not see him
through the mass of soldiers and when I routed a call to that booth the poor repair man was almost
crushed by the rushing anxious soldier.
The only scary event that I had was in Feb of ‘46. A strong storm hit Vancouver. 80 trees came down.
One soldier was killed in his bunk and a civilian on the grounds clearing debris died. All the roads were
blocked. No one could get in or out of the Camp until the storm subsided. At that time Jeeps came in to
transfer us off road and around downed trees back to our central phone office.
If any of this is found of interest to publish could you ask your readers if any were telephone operators
in the mid 1940s to call or send me an email. I have lost touch of all that I knew. I worked in the
Vancouver Telephone Branch from 1945 until 1950
In 1945 I was Patty Rice, I married in 1946 and became Patty Masters. In 1980 my husband Hermann
(Bill) Masters passed away.
Subsequently I remarried and am now Patty Frimberger.
Patty Frimberger lives in Vancouver and welcomes e-mails at firstname.lastname@example.org