A Brief History of
"It shall be the aim of The Pioneer Telephone Association, Inc. to provide dependable area-wide telephone service on the cooperative plan and at the lowest cost consistent with sound economy and good management."
--From the January 16, 1951, minutes of the Board of Directors meeting of the Pioneer Telephone Association.
On October 27, 1950, a group of representatives from Grant, Hamilton, Haskell, Morton and Stevens counties in Kansas met in Ulysses at the offices of the local electric cooperative. The meeting was the culmination of numerous conferences and get-togethers of of citizens interested both in improving existing telephone service and in bringing service to unserved areas. The group decided to take the necessary steps to determine if interest existed in the formation of a telephone cooperative. If sufficient support is present, an engineering study would be conducted and then a loan requested from the Rural Electrification Administration. Earl B. Williams of Grant County was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors, John Persinger of Stevens County was named Vice-Chairman and Glen York of Johnson was designated Secretary-Treasurer. The remainder of the board was made up of Laurence Hennigh, Grant County; Jack Holdren, Hamilton County; Howard Drew, Morton County; Ralph Cutter, Stevens County; Walt Preedy, Haskell County and Glen Sipes of Morton County. The name adopted for the organization was the Pioneer Telephone Cooperative with the principal place of business being Ulysses, Kansas. At the next month's meeting, the organization's name was changed to the Pioneer Telephone Association, Inc. in order to comply with the statutes of the State of Kansas.
While there was much enthusiasm and support for the formation of a telephone cooperative, to improve and extend telephone service, not everyone shared this view. In February, 1951, H.L. Fry the editor of a Ford County newspaper opined that "it's our guess that we'll end up with a socialistic telephone exchange" presided over by "the manager who will do nothing but warm a chair".
In January of 1951, an option to purchase the telephone properties of the Border Telephone Company located in Hamilton and Stanton counties and in the communities of Coolidge, Johnson, Manter and Syracuse were executed. At the same time, an option to purchase the Moscow, Richfield and Rolla exchanges was offered to Ralph Winsted. An option was made to buy the F & M Telephone Company which served Ulysses and Grant County. All purchases were contingent upon procuring an REA loan and obtaining Kansas Corporation Commission approval.
In February of 1951, W.C. Rhodes, the Manager of the Pioneer Cooperative Association, the local electric cooperative, was appointed as Manager of Pioneer Telephone to serve with no pay. At the same time, Frank Horton and Company of Lamar, Missouri was appointed Association engineer. One month later, Ralph Winsted was hired by the electric cooperative to serve as Assistant Manager charged with monitoring the affairs of Pioneer Telephone.
In June of 1951, REA approved a loan in the amount of $1,089,000. The news of this loan was not received with enthusiasm in all circles. In its June 21, 1951 edition, the Ulysses News editorialized that the announcement of this "loan of tax payer's money . . . was full of that black goo they have been putting on Ulysses streets."
An option to purchase the Satanta Telephone Company was offered in September, 1951.
A hearing before the Kansas Corporation Commission on Pioneer's application for authority to establish a rural telephone cooperative was held on October 29 and 30. Among the witnesses testifying in favor of Pioneer's application were thirteen area farmers. Appearing in opposition were city officials from Syracuse and Ulysses, most notably Howard Maxwell, Ulysses City Attorney. The primary objections were the prices to be paid for the telephone exchanges to be acquired and the payment of equity fees by subscribers residing within the city limits of the communities to be served. The hearing was recessed indefinitely pending the submission of a report by an independent engineering firm that was comissioned by the KCC.
The Ulysses News continued its editorial attacks when on November 1, 1951 they quoted the KCC staff as stating that "never in some forty years experience had" the staff "been presented with an application that appeared so impractical."
Near the end of the 1951, the option to purchase the Border Telephone Company expired and the owners of Border declined to renew it.
At the reconvened Kansas Corporation Commission hearing on February 18, 1952, testimony was given indicating that 99 business persons and farmers had pledged more than $72,000 in equity that would be required for the acquisition of an REA loan. The only witness appearing in opposition at the rehearing was Hart Dey, editor of the Ulysses News. Dey "protested rate hikes he said would accompany the consolidation" of Johnson, Manter, Moscow, Richfield, Rolla and Ulysses. In a February 21, 1952 editorial he again expressed his opposition to a "socialistic utility service". In his words, his testimony was a "check rein . . . provided for a little while on the road toward socialism of all industry and business in this country." He went on to state that he was attempting to make a "last ditch effort to get the subject of rates on the record" in order to "save telephone users . . . substantial amounts on their monthly bills."
In June, 1952, the KCC denied Pioneer's application for a certificate of convenience and necessity to operate as a telephone utility. The Commisssion stated that the evidence indicates "that the financial impact of its (Pioneer's) proposals must, by necessity, fall upon the . . . vast majority who now have reasonably sufficient and good telephone service at fair and reasonable rates."
W. C. Rhodes resigned as Manager in August of 1952. In September, Joseph B. Chilen, former Grant County Extension Agent before being called to service in the Korean War, was appointed Coordinator of Pioneer. In December, 1953 he was named Pioneer's Manager. At about this same time a nineteen person Citizens Telephone Study Committee was formed in Ulysses "to investigate the possibility of obtaining adequate rural telephone service in Grant County." At a town meeting in Ulysses on January 7, 1953, by majority vote the citizens of Ulysses endorsed the concept of the Pioneer Telephone Association attempting to purchase the local telephone system and converting it to dial. At its January meeting, the Board called on the "governing body of the City of Ulysses" to go on record as not opposing "the plan of the Pioneer Telephone Association, Inc. to purchase and operate the Ulysses telephone system."
A KCC hearing was held on October 19, 1953 to consider Pioneer's application to purchase the Ulysses exchange from the F & M Telephone Company and the Moscow and Rolla exchanges from the Winsted Telephone Company and to be allowed to operate as a telephone utility. After a three year struggle Pioneer became an operating telephone company and by mid year of 1954, construction on the new dial system had begun.
By late 1955, Pioneer had purchased the Johnson, Manter, and Satanta exchanges pending KCC approval. The Ryus excahnge was created from parts of the Ulysses and Satanta exchanges. Plans were also made to serve some Baca County, Colorado residents from the Manter exchange and to provide service for the newly created Big Bow exchange.
At 12:01 A.M on June 3, 1956, Pioneer cut the Ulysses exchange to dial.
The purchase of the Syracuse exchange from the Border Telephone Company was approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission on October, 7, 1959. The Coolidge exchange was formed from the eastern portion of the Syracuse exchange.
The Deerfield exchange was purchased in March of 1960.
In April, 1960, Pioneer purchased the Lakin exchange from Southwestern Bell.
An April, 1960 issue of the Haskell County Monitor noted that a dial telephone from the Richfield exchange was in use in the home of Mr. and Mrs. T. F. Shumate. The home is a half dug-out sod home that the Shumate's built in 1908 when they homesteaded their farm.
In May of 1964, Pioneer began automated billing using IBM billing equipment.
In early 1965, Pioneer sought funds from REA to upgrade all urban subscribers to single party service and all rural subscribers to one party.
In February of 1969, Suburban Dial, Inc., which consisted of the Colwich and Bentley exchanges near Wichita, was merged into Pioneer Telephone. On July 1, 1969 Colwich and Bentley were traded to Southwestern Bell for the Hugoton exchange. In addition, Pioneer acquired all Southwestern Bell toll facilities within Pioneer's exchange boundaries.
In 1971, billing was converted to a computer based system.
On January 6, 1972, Pioneer was awarded the first Rural Telephone Bank loan granted by REA.
At the March 22, 1975 Annual Meeting, Pioneer committed to providing single party service to all its subscribers.
In January of 1990, Pioneer activated a two-way interactive instructional video network that tied together schools in Deerfield, Elkhart, Hugoton, Lakin, Moscow, Rolla, Satanta, Sublette and Ulysses. It is the first system of its type to be installed in Kansas and the first fully digital two-way interactive switched system in service in the United States.
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