No cellular phones, dial tones, text messaging. phone photos, voice mail. message machines or faxes.

Yes, there was actually a time in our distant, uncivilized past when not a single one of those things existed.

Sure, there were telephones, but early in the 20th century, to make a call locally, you picked up the receiver and waited patiently until hearing: "Number please. "

The usually friendly operator connected you with the person you wanted and perhaps even shared a little gossip.

Remember Sarah whom TV Sheriff Andy Taylor always called when he had to reach Barney or Aunt Bea in Mayberry?

But all that changed in the Inland Valley between 1930 and 1948, when high-tech dial telephones were introduced to residents.

These were hardly today's plastic phones that you have to buy and which disappear between the pillows on the couch next to the missing TV remote.

These manual phones of the past, which were actually wired to the wall, had a circular dial that you slowly turned for each digit.

By 1930, only Fontana and San Bernardino had dial phone systems, and tiny Etiwanda was added shortly thereafter.

Dial phones came to Ontario and Upland in 1936, but it was another 12 years - mostly delayed by World War II - before they were installed in Pomona, Claremont, La Verne, Chino and San Dimas.

And the change to manual phones wasn't an easy one, especially for the resident not used to having to do technical things on their own.


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For those picking up a dial phone for the first time, it wasn't all that easy.

Some just couldn't remember to wait for the dial tone, instead quickly dialing the moment they picked up the receiver. When that didn't work, they cursed a blue streak over the new phone that never seemed to work.

The first day after the changeover in 1948, 140,000 calls were made from the Pomona Valley's 15,000 telephones.

And during that first night, Pomona firefighters lost a lot of sleep.

The fire house only got one real emergency call - an auto crash at 2:30 a.m. - during the start-up of the system on May 31 and June 1.

But it was still flooded with calls, apparently by people anxious to try out the new system but who didn't know who else to call.

Unfortunately, a bunch of those calls went to 2-1311, the fire emergency number. Every call there throughout the night set off the alarms at the fire station.

When the 4,000-phone Ontario manual system started up just before midnight on May 31, 1936, politicians took every opportunity to be in the spotlight, though the mayor of Ontario missed making the historic first call.

With Mayor George P. Weldon out of town, Councilman Roy Boles made the first call to Upland Mayor David J. Cameron, who had left the party in Ontario and driven back to Upland to get the call.

It got even more complicated 12 years later when the Pomona Valley opened its dial phone system.

The day the system began there, Pomona Mayor James B. Pettit made the first call from his city to Mayor E.W. Soper of Chino. Then, after hanging up, Soper got the honor of the first Chino call - by phoning back to Pettit.

Mayors Stuart Wheeler of Claremont and John Price of La Verne also exchanged calls. San Dimas, then not yet a city, joined the phone tag when Jack Carruthers of the Chamber of Commerce called Edward E. Jones of Pomona College.

There's no record of these conversations, though it's a fairly good guess nobody got a busy signal.

Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Valley history. He can be reached at 909-483-9382, email at joe.blackstock@inlandnewspapers.com or Twitter @JoeBlackstock