Saturday, 4 August 2012

Early Text-Messaging

Try doing this today.

This was a 1958 Canadian Pacific advertisement for sending telegrams, something that was once common and relatively easy to do from any of their once many railway stations across Canada, even those in remote small communities...if the railway went there. All you had to do was...

At a station, all you had to do was fill out a form like this, keep the message as brief as possible, hand the form to the agent or clerk and then pay the bill. Telegrams were charged by the word and rated by how quickly they were to be sent out. Keeping communication costs down required perfecting the fine art of being brief and to the point with as few words as possible.

Once upon a time this was high-tech telecommunications hardware. Today, they are museum pieces. Telegrams were sent over the wires using that telegraph key that is in the centre of the desk...although the wires seem to be missing. That suspended wooden box left worked as an amplifier for incoming messages.

Sending messages over the wires literally meant over wires like these. One can only wonder how many garbled messages were blamed on poles overgrown with vegetation or birds sitting on the wires. In the hey-day of telegraph though, poles and wires were kept dutifully clear of vegetation, snow and other obstructions.

Here is an actual telegram that was sent about 65 years ago. In case you are wondering, telegrams were transmitted station to station by telegraph operators using Morse Code. In later years telegrams were often delivered by a telephone call. If not, then the paper telegram was delivered by hand.

Recognition from the this case the USPS. If messages were not urgent then they could always be sent by mail. In 1944 a letter only cost 3 cents to mail, irregardless of the number of words in the letter. Who could have known that another twenty-five years later telegraphy and telegrams would be history. The USPS may eventually suffer the same fate.

Surprisingly, and 68 years after this stamp was issued, letters can still be sent via Canada Post or the USPS, but at a little bit more than 3 cents. 

The world has changed though and very few people today communicate by writing and mailing letters. Just pick up the i-phone, click a picture or two and send them to someone on the opposite of the world in a manner or seconds. A reply may come back only a few seconds after.

Fifty-four years ago (in those same few seconds) I would not have been able to get as far as the front door of the house to walk over to the train station.

The Oddblock Station Agent


This station may be haunted! 

If not by the mysterious clicking sounds emanating from the modern technology in the bay window accompanied by the chattering of a still reliable typewriter that does not require a modem or suffer from down time, then perhaps this station is haunted by the memories of an age when railway stations were the centers of attention in small town Canada and receiving a telegram was an event and not just a piece of paper.

An experienced eye may recognize this location, but if not, then read on. Barrington was a busy place on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in July 1994. Prior to being whisked away on the Sunday only afternoon local moments earlier, an impatient crowd had been gathered at the wicket in the station's waiting room, anxiously waiting to receive word from a loved one, all the way from Hays.

While the complexities of telegraph have been lost on the younger generations, mine included, the telegraph and telegram were alive and well at the Canadian Railway Museum in Delson, Quebec.

Addendum August 26, 2014

One more thought on the subject... and how communication has changed.

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