Springfield, MO

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by Eddie Bass

Before I wrote last week's Reflections column about the conversion of Springfield's telephone system from manual operation to dial, I called Steve Vaught, who is Mark Walker's successor as local manager for the telephone company.

I asked him if he knew, or could find out, when the conversion took place. And I asked him how many telephones there are in service in the Springfield exchange.

I had already written my column by the time Vaught called me back with the answers to my questions.

"I had to check with my historian," Vaught explained. "He says the conversion to dial took place in December 1949. And he says at the time of the conversion, Springfield had the largest manually operated telephone system in the country."

Vaught added that there are now about 135,000 working telephone lines in Springfield, before explaining that the "historian" with whom he consulted was Arch Pummill, a retired employee.

"I've been here five months," Vaught said, "and I've already talked to him several times. You ought to talk to him sometime. He should be worth a column."

I took Vaught's suggestion and called Pummill.

Now 84 years old, but with a mind that's still sharp as a tack, Pummill retired in 1976 after 40 years of service with Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.

Born in Shannon County across the river from Alley Springs, he explains Pummill "did a little bit of everything" with the phone company. Most of his experience was "on the plant side" he said.

How did he happen to go to work for the telephone company? "Times were hard, and I was lucky to get a job," he answered.

Pummill now spends a good deal of his time gardening "It's all vegetables," he said. Then he added with a chuckle, "I don't grow flowers, because my wife has learned how to cook them."

Pummill and I both well remember the night of the conversion to dial. Pummill fixes the time as December 1949.

My recollection is that it was on a Saturday at midnight when telephone traffic was light. Pummill's recollection is that it came "late in the month.

The telephone company building at Jefferson and McDaniel, now owned by SMSU, was the hub of the conversion activity.

My recollection was that the late H. W. Ehrler was the telephone company's local manager at that time. Pummill remembers Ehrler and comments that "there has to be something wrong with anybody who didn't like Mr. Ehrler."

Pummill shrugs off Vaught's reference to him as the company's local historian.

"I just have a good memory, " he said.

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