Hawkeye Telephone sees change
CUTLINE: Hawkeye Telephone Company employees (l-r) Judy Copp, Tom Mayo, and manager Jeff Rhode are pictured with directors Kay Kent, Kenny Schultz, Chuck Gray, and Bob Campbell. Absent for the photo was director Keith Schlatter. Hawkeye Telephone hosted an open house at the community hall to celebrate its 100th anniversary last week. (Janell Bradley photo)
Hawkeye Telephone sees
phenomenal change in
technology in 100 years
It may be one of the smallest towns in Iowa, but Hawkeye is home to an independent telephone company with a big presence.
Hawkeye Telephone Company celebrated its 100th anniversary last Thursday with a pork barbecue prepared and served by Lynch BBQ in the local community hall. But beyond the social gathering, company employees and the board of directors took the opportunity to reveal economic development efforts taking place behind-the-scenes, making Fayette County one of the most “connected” counties in northeast Iowa.
In an age of corporate mergers and the idea that bigger is better, Hawkeye Telephone maintains viability as an independent cooperative telephone company.
Manager Jeff Rhode has been with the company for three years. In that short time, he says one of his proudest achievements is the acquisition of a fiber optics trailer bought in late April, which was used in the laying of some of the 150 miles of fiber optic cable throughout Fayette and surrounding counties.
Working with West Union Trenching, Hawkeye Telephone did the engineering and managed the entire project in-house. Fiber optic cable was laid going to Maynard and Waucoma – cities more than 10 miles away in each direction. A point of presence was established at Maynard, and then fiber optic cable was extended toward Oelwein and west toward Oran and to a cell tower at Fairbank.
While there is a trend of moving away from the use of land phone lines, "we still recommend keeping them for safety," said Rhode. However, expecting the use of cell phones to continue to grow in popularity, he said it makes sense to partner with those companies.
While cellphone towers use wireless carriers in part to transmit signals, Rhode said the use of fiber optics improves the bandwidth strength of signals, thereby improving service.
With the installation of the 150 miles of fiber optics locally, Rhode said Hawkeye Telephone supplied up to 10G (gigabyte) of data connection to each tower. Since this spring, company technician Tom Mayo said 185 hours of fiber optics splicing and fusing has been recorded in the trailer. The high-tech trailer must be humidity- and temperature-controlled for the meticulous work.
Beyond what's already been completed, Hawkeye Telephone is also working on three more towers in partnership with Ace Telephone, serving the Ossian area.
Rhode believes the partnerships created with other providers and communities will only strengthen service and relationships, thus also growing economic development.
"It allows us to grow our customer base," he added.
Rhode, who began his career as a lineman 33 years ago, mentioned that he was a field engineer when Hawkeye Telephone Company initially installed fiber optics 20 years ago.
Today, he finds himself living in the community and managing the company, along with technician Tom Mayo, who has 15 years with the telephone company, and Judy Copp, who has worked there 12 years.
Hawkeye first saw the installation of poles and telephone lines in town, in August 1899, when the Sumner (Hurmence) Telephone Company was granted permission by the town council.
Early-1900s street scenes reveal that high poles were in place with three cross bars.
In July 1906, Hawkeye Telephone was incorporated. Ernest Wendland, who married one of the Hurmence daughters, operated the telephone company for a short time.
Patrons of the service followed the trend of the times and formed the Hawkeye Cooperative Telephone Company in July 1913. The switchboard operators were Lilllian Schlegel, Juanita Cumming Tibbetts, Anna Held, Tillie Fritz, Nettie Reisner, Olive Bowdish, Jessie Boeckenheuer and Laura Hurd.
An account of the 1919 annual meeting of the company reported that 50 stockholders attended. Directors were Ed Eitel, G.J. Schlatter, A.L. Eitel, H.F. Pieper, F.J. Campbell, C.A. Mitchell, H.S. Swale, F.P. Boeckenheuer and C.H. Bruihler.
The switchboard was moved above the First National Bank building in the 1920s. Operators there were Laura Bruihler, Stella Granneman, Minnie Schlatter, Mabel Kocher and Edna Stedman.
In January 1960, a projected $53,000 capital improvement program was begun. Secretary-treasurer Volney Palmer told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the new $13,000 building on Main Street was complete and ready for the installation of $25,000 in automatic-dial equipment. Another $15,000 was to be expended for new telephones and accessory equipment.
In January 1961 the company began using a new dial system. Patrons could call Alpha, Randalia and Waucoma with no toll charge. Russ Schnor was named manager in 1962. He began the project of placing the rural lines underground.
In 1966, the Hawkeye Telephone Company served 488 subscribers within a 15-mile radius.
On March 29, 1967, Gene Swale made the first direct-dial call out of Hawkeye.
Since then, Hawkeye Telephone has continued to develop a number of services and partnerships to provide the latest technology to its customers. The business is a cell phone partner with US Cellular and iWireless, and offers computer protection service. Cable TV is being updated to a digital system that runs over phone lines.
Current manager Jeff Rhode said plans call for continuing economic development efforts by working cooperatively not only with the local patrons, but with those in surrounding communities and with other independent cooperatives like Ace Telephone in Ossian and the Oran independent exchange.