Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

March 20, 2002, Page 24

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Compiled by Dee Zimmerman




Clark County News


March 1902


Our Chili area correspondent has sent us news:  The Chili Creamery Co. is preparing to make cheese the coming season.  They expect to make the fancy full cream cheese for Crosby & Myers that will start about April 1st


O. E. Counsell bought the grain elevator and operated it for the past two months.  He has received a carload of flour and is now ready to buy all kinds of farm produce in its season.  Many varieties of flour, grain and feed will be available there.  Counsell has also purchased a building and lot from S. D. Fraser.  He and a new partner, L. H. Howard, have formed a company that will be selling a full line of machinery out of the former Fraser Building.


On March 17, 1902, the sad news was brought to the city of Neillsville that Charles Foote had died suddenly at his home in Pine Valley.  Foote was apparently in usual good health when he had gone to the barn for milking, but was taken suddenly sick and died before medical help arrived.


Charles Foote was born in Summersetshire, England, July 18, 1835, and came to the United States in 1852.  Two years later he came to Neillsville. In 1861, he enlisted in the Fourteenth Wis. Infantry and served until he was mustered out on October 9, 1865.


In 1866, he was married to Maggie Ross of Pine Valley.  His wife and five children survive him.  The two sons, Frank and Oscar are at home, the daughters: Mrs. H. R. King and Mrs. H. R. Ayer reside at Great Falls, Montana, though Mrs. King is at present at home on a visit.  The youngest daughter, Blanche is with her other sister in Montana.


Foote was a man of quiet and unassuming disposition, devoted to his family and highly respected by everyone who knew him.  He was a member of the I.O.O.F. Lodge and the Church of England.


The Marathon County Register is a new newspaper that has started at Unity.  The first copy came out this week with a good write up about the village of Unity, Clark and Marathon Counties.  L. H. Cook is editor and publisher.  We wish the new inter-county weekly success.


This week’s Columbia news was brought to our office.


Frank Babcock is busy clearing land and soon Lookout Knob will not be an eyesore to the passerby any longer.


An entertainment will be given at the school house next Friday evening by Miss E. Ruddock and her school children.  We hope a good crowd will be present as they deserve it.


Wm. Heiling is clearing the eight lots bought by his father located just east of Dr. Scherman’s home.


John Wolff has sold his city residence on Fourth Street to Mrs. Legare Potter.  He will remodel and enlarge the house on his farm that lies in the northeastern part of Neillsville.  The Wolff family plans to reside on the farm when the remodeling is completed.  Wolff has greatly improved the farm this past year and will have as fine a suburban residence as one could wish for.


The first consignment of iron for the new bridge across the Black River on Grand Avenue arrived.


The Merchants Hotel barbershop has been completely overhauled, repainted and repapered.  It is now presenting a new look in appearance.


The Merchants Hotel, circa 1940, conveniently located near the railroad station and center of Neillsville, offered a barbershop and cafι-coffee shop for its overnight guests in the early 1900s.  (Photo courtesy of Bill Roberts’ collection)



Pat Kelly’s Rigs are always found at the head of any procession in the city.  He provides fast horses at the lowest prices.  You may rent a rig, so get in line at the stables on West Sixth Street.


March 1952


W. L. Smith observes 50 years of life’s work at Badger State Telephone Co. in Neillsville, being its veteran manager.


Fire broke out, some years ago on the Charles Schlegelmilch place, on the Ridge east of Neillsville.  It was a small fire, but could become a large one, unless there was help to fight it.


But how could they get help?  The telephone in the Schlegelmilch home had gone the way of scores of other telephones in the days of the Depression.  There was a phone, however, in the Harold Huckstead home the first place east of Schlegelmilch’s.  So there was a run for the Huckstead home and with the immediate cooperation from Central and a scurrying of neighbors.  The fire was put out before major damage was done.


That was a great demonstration to the neighborhood and especially to Schlegelmilch in the importance of telephone service.  Telephone rental, it was obvious, was a good investment, Depression or no Depression.  Grateful for the help, Schlegelmilch tried to pay for the emergency service, but the money was not accepted.  The telephone is now in his home.


This episode is not exceptional.  In its history of half a century, the telephone in Neillsville has rendered effective service in many such instances.  With the telephone people such service is so common that they have difficulty in recalling specific instances.  From its first day the company has been the fire alarm agency for Neillsville.  In the days of the old fire bell, Central used to phone some available person, who would run and ring the fire bell.  When the old fire bell rang itself to death on Armistice Day of 1918 and was succeeded by a siren, Central was supplied with a direct connection that now touches off the siren.


For a quarter of a century Central has operated the red light over the Neillsville Bank building and has thus given night warnings to the city police.  That light is still at work, though it is being superseded by the radio in the police car.  Even with the use of the radio, Central is still an active and necessary agency, for the calls for police go through Central to the county radio with No. 21.


Community service has been the ideal of W. L. Smith, who has been head of the Badger State Telephone and Telegraph Co. for all but two of its 50 years of service.  He has proceeded upon the belief that the Telephone Company would prosper in the degree to which it made itself a servant of the public.  Hence the Telephone Company has not confined itself to making connections as numbers are called, but has added the extra services which are not specifically included in station rentals.


Take the May case of recent memory.  Alone in her home in the dead of night, in a terrible fright, Mrs. May had the telephone as her only contact.   She found quick response; was given immediate connection with the officers; received help as soon as help could possibly reach her.  Her telephone was off the hook and the intelligent operator could follow by sound something of what was happening at the May home.  Except for the telephone, it would probably have been hours before the episode could have come to light, with the stricken woman.


Most of the help given by Central attracts less attention.  The fact is that word of it is suppressed by law and by the rules of the company.  The telephone operating girls who take care of Central’s calls are tight-lipped and are able to school their forgetters.  But the operators, especially the more experienced ones, are encyclopedias of the community.  They know voices and recognize them when old-timers call in. They know the places where local persons are likely to be found and track them down when there is a need. 


Al Marg knows about that.  There was an urgent long distance call for him in the morning.  He must be found quickly if the call were to do any good.  So Central started to track him down, knowing something of his morning delivery routes.  Presently, the girl working Central found him; being able to complete the call.


Fifty yeas ago, when Badger State came into being, the telephone was hardly more that (than) a novelty in the Neillsville community.  There were not more than 150 telephones in all of Clark County.  Acceptance of the service had not grown much beyond occasional and exceptional use.  The start of all phone service in the county had been the private line of the Black River Improvement Co., which followed the Black River up from Onalaska to Hemlock, north of Greenwood, and was used in the log driving and water regulating activities of that company.


From a small beginning there was a growth, not well organized, until in 1901 when the Badger State Telephone & Telegraph Company was formed.  Chief factor in it was H. H. Heath.  Meanwhile, W. L. Smith was teaching school in Neillsville, preparing, as he thought, for a career in the teaching profession.  He was a principal in the North Side School; then teacher in the Neillsville High School; also coaching athletics.


Smith married a local girl; presently finding himself tied into the Neillsville community.  Soon the Telephone Company was in the family and W. L. Smith was running it, with his teaching career side-tracked completely.  The young man had not been educated for the telephone business; knew little mechanics and nothing of telephone engineering.  The telephone was young and the development of specialists had only begun.


Not being an engineer, Smith appreciated the telephone business from the angle of what was needed rather than from what was readily available.  He saw the problems from the standpoint of the subscriber.  Hence his management over the years has been in the direction of demanding the service wanted by the public and putting it up to the engineers to produce.


Throughout the early years, Smith made a point of making all the local collections each month.  As he went the rounds he was able to sound out the subscribers and learn what they wanted from the service.


As years passed, the business grew beyond the point of personal collections, but Smith has never lost his acute consciousness of the public viewpoint.  In recent years the marvel to him is the patience of the public with the service.  He and his associates are keenly aware of the troubles that have afflicted the Telephone Company.  The troubles are in common with those of other businesses, due to the shortage of materials and help and the necessity of training inexperienced personnel.  They do their best to reduce the troubles, but they are aware that considerable is yet to be done to restore the service to pre-war efficiency.


Early trouble was cross talk on the lines, with plenty of noise.  Much of this was due to the use of common return and grounded lines, instead of each phone having two wires.  The common return line, with a lot of phones hitched to it, would, when overloaded, create a lot of ruction, much to the disturbance of subscribers. There was a way out, and Smith found it; two wires for each phone and cables laid in Neillsville and Granton.


Another trouble was the bother of twisting the crank on the phone for every call.  To do away with that it was necessary to provide a common battery, with automatic signal to Central when the receiver was lifted a change that was made over much of the system in 1911.


Worst trouble, to the teacher-manager and his patrons, was the constant ringing on all party lines.  Whenever there was a call, you listened and counted the rings to see whether it was for you or some other party.  That was an eternal nuisance and Smith sought the answer.  He found there was one, from which the experts were inclined to shy from.  It looked good to him and he went for it. So in 1914 Badger Telephone patrons heard only calls intended for them; all other phones on the line were silent.  That was a major contribution and it has worked fine ever since.  Smith likes to believe that, if he had been a telephone engineer and had known a lot about mechanics, he might not have ventured into that development at that early period.


The next step for Badger State, as seen by Smith and his associates, is the dial system.  For several years work has gone on in preparation for that.   The larger cables installed this season are part of the plan.  They, and all other improvements and installations of recent years, have been made in such manner as to centralize the system on the lot owned by the telephone company just north of the Farmers Store.  War and its consequent difficulties have slowed down the realization of this project, but it is definitely in the plan of the management to bring it to a head as soon as conditions permit.


In the early years a toll of 10 cents was charged between Neillsville and Granton.  That toll limited the number of calls very definitely.  The toll charge was discontinued in 1919 and the calls quickly multiplied.  Now it is possible for Frank Van Horn, Tioga Town of Foster, to talk with John Breseman at Lynn, without a toll charge.  The distance approximates 30 miles.  Another way to put it is that the area of operation of Badger State, without toll charge, is about 900 square miles.   This wide area has not only popularized the telephone service, but it has multiplied personal acquaintance and business relation. The area served is a cohesive and unified community to a degree that would have been impossible except for the extensive use of the telephone.


In Smith’s first 10 years with the company, from 1903 to 1913, the gain in number of phones was from 187 to 714, a gain of 527.  The next 10 years brought the number to 1,043, a gain of 329, an average of 33 per year.  Then (along) came the Depression, with a loss of 198 phones.  By 1943 the Depression losses had been more than made up for, with a total of 1,078 phones in service. The next seven years showed the biggest expansion, with 1,576 phones in service at the end of 1950.  The rate of gain in seven years was 498, the rate averaging 71 new subscribers per year.


Public regulation and business conditions have never contributed a large amount of frosting to the business cake, but the telephone company has always kept on the right side with its balance sheet, being always able to meet its obligations and practically always producing reliable, but modest profits.  Even in the Depression years, the telephone business kept right side up and the past 20 years have witnessed a relatively rapid expansion of earnings.




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