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AT&T Prolonged Lines – A Forgotten Machine (2018)

The period spawning from the Fifties all the intention by the Nineteen Eighties will seemingly be understanding to be the golden period of telecommunication. While laptop systems had been rising from items drinking complete rooms to something that can fit on an particular person’s desk, so used to be the intention we communicate. Televisions went from being a luxury item to being in every dwelling. Phone systems had been no longer easiest vulnerable for thunder, but to switch recordsdata from one residing to one more nearly instantaneously. The innovations and enhancements from this period hold ended in technologies we depend on on daily foundation: the on-line, satellite tv for computer tv, fiber-optics, mobile phones, and et cetera. Nevertheless it’s incessantly forgotten how we’ve arrived the assign we’re.

The AT&T Prolonged Lines system is one of many systems that transformed conversation systems but is nearly forgotten about. Without relying on vulnerable, expensive, and high-upkeep wired systems in a time the assign satellite tv for computer communications and fiber optics did no longer exist, the Prolonged Lines system allowed folks to join from all over the assign the country.

An intro to my connection

I grew up in rural Missouri between two tiny towns named Arrow Rock and Slater. For loads of, many miles all you might possibly survey on either facet of the road had been fields of corn or soybeans.

One thing that struck my eyes used to be a enormous tower on one of many roads we frequented to scoot to Slater — a tiny town of lower than two thousand folks. Within the center of a field, even supposing located correct off the road, used to be a enormous tower. Painted crimson and white, at the pinnacle of this tower had been four vast horn antennas — piercing care for eyes watching you drive down the road. Being a baby who used to be in electronics and how they labored – alongside with RF systems, I was mesmerized by the scale of the tower and the horn antennas. At the contaminated of the tower used to be a tiny white concrete constructing with a tiny gravel driveway main to it.

The Slater, Missouri AT&T Prolonged Lines residing as viewed in June 2018. The KS-15676 horns and parabolic dish antennas had been removed sometime after 2010, when we moved.

One thing that also interests me is how this tower had no gentle. Virtually every tower I’ve viewed to that level – and since – has had a gradual-weight on the pinnacle of warn airplanes of its existence. This tower used to be huge ample (no lower than to my recordsdata) to require some form of gentle, and notably since it used to be located in a field without a huge structures or objects surrounding (or anyplace discontinuance to) the tower.

This tower used to be deserted, and its aim used to be unknown to me then and for a few years after that. Over time I’ve located no lower than three other towers of on the subject of an identical produce. One used to be worthy, worthy better and indubitably had a gradual-weight. I realized that every person of these towers perceived to be deserted. The towers had a extremely varied produce from any cell tower I’ve viewed sooner than, and didn’t appear like vulnerable for radio or TV transmissions, either. Since horn antennas are extremely directional, I knew that it needed to hold a more particular aim.

Nevertheless but I didn’t uncover about their aim except earlier this week. These towers had been all formulation of the AT&T Prolonged Lines system.

The history of the Prolonged Lines Machine

At some stage in the hi there-days of cell phone and telegraph systems, wired systems had been the finest option. Prolonged lines of cable connected cities collectively, even supposing this form offered essential components. The essential used to be vulnerability. Noteworthy care for vitality lines and screen above-ground cable systems, a tree limb or storm might possibly with out agonize knock down the cables. This isn’t a foremost topic when ten or twenty folks are affected, but when a complete lot of of thousands of oldsters are affected – alongside with a must hold operations, it grows real into a catastrophe.

The 2d topic is the wired systems had been expensive to setup and required hundreds upkeep. Miles and miles of thick cable isn’t low-fee, and isn’t low-fee or straight forward to set up or restore when it used to be broken. (We’re talking about an period predating “self-diagnostic” systems that can mechanically alert the cell phone company the assign a ruin had came about.)

The Slater tower as viewed from 3/4 mile away. Slater is found roughly 102 miles away from Kansas Metropolis (82 miles east-northeast, because the crow flies, from the AT&T Prolonged Lines regional headquarters in downtown Kansas Metropolis.)

AT&T — a piece of the Bell Machine — obtained a natty concept to replace these lines with something more official: a community of relay towers that labored on microwave frequency.

The essential hover-to-hover cell phone call used to be made August 17, 1951, the utilization of the Prolonged Lines — in most cases identified because the “Skyway” or “Phone Skyway”  — community.

The system grew from it’s preliminary opening in 1951. Now no longer easiest in the scale of the community but the intention it used to be vulnerable. The Prolonged Lines community used to be at ache of retain tv indicators, comparable to community tv reveals and news, moreover to crucial navy recordsdata. Computers would later use the community to transmit recordsdata from hover-to-hover with the advance of teleprocessing systems and modems.

A 1960 scheme of the published lines connecting the stations. (Offer: Prolonged-Lines.gather)

The stations had been connected by task of line-of-look horn antennas which transmitted (or obtained) microwave indicators. A call positioned in one piece of the country would be handed on to the next relay residing, then handed on to the next, and so forth except it reached the residing nearest its destination. Then it would be sent by cables to the cell phone company then to your rental. Every horn antenna used to be positioned so it made an instantaneous route (line-of-look route, or “because the eagle flies” route) to the next residing.

A call positioned in St. Louis, Missouri but meant to be obtained in Kansas Metropolis, Missouri would hold handed by the Slater residing that I desire seeing as a baby.

Undergo in mind that I talked about tv? The towers had been no longer easiest at ache of relay the transmission of cell phone recordsdata, but additionally tv reveals. NBC, CBS, and other networks vulnerable this to air their reveals and news networks all spherical the country. Among the crucial reveals transmitted by the Prolonged Lines system incorporatedAmerican Bandstand andMonday Evening Footballeven supposing the earliest instance used to be vulnerable in 1951 to level to Edward Murrow’sNote It Now.

Designed to closing

At some stage in the pinnacle of the Cool Struggle, the importance of the Prolonged Line towers grew. Navy phone calls and recordsdata had been transmitted by the towers. Many towers had their contaminated stations installed underground in shielded rooms that had been tested to withstand the EMP produced by a nuclear blast. These underground stations also had been equipped with the an identical toiletries and survival kits and items that many Fallout Shelters had.

AT&T designed the Prolonged Lines microwave relay community to be resilient in opposition to harsh formulation and other components that can obstruct on the reliability. A essential being: nuclear detonations and fallout. Many web sites, comparable to this one in Windsor, Missouri, discontinuance to Whiteman Air Force Frightful, consisted of thick concrete structures designed to withstand a nuclear blast. Many web sites located at strategic aspects, comparable to discontinuance to SAGE snarl services and productshad been located underground and designed to continue working even in the case of a discontinuance nuclear blast. Hardened web sites also incessantly featured “blast partitions” (viewed on this constructing) to present protection to the air float system in the match of nuclear fallout. Most web sites featured turbines to continue working the residing in the match of a vitality failure, protections in opposition to EMPs and electromagnetic interference, and even in most cases stalls for nuclear decontamination.

The towers themselves, with the horn antennas, had been also designed to withstand a nuclear detonation. Some above-ground stations also had been designed with sophisticated systems to retain the community on-line in the match of an attack.

All the gear — alongside with the horn antennas, the towers themselves, the transmission gear, and the diesel backup turbines – had been all designed and made by Western Electric. (Which, for these who might possibly bear in mind, helped IBM on some aspects of the SAGE system, which dates from the an identical period.)

IBM had even vulnerable the system for confidential features in Kingston, New York.

New discoveries and post-monopoly decline

At some stage in the Seventies, technological breakthroughs at closing would spell the stay for the Prolonged Lines system.

Among the novel enhancements used to be the utilize of fiber optics. Fiber optic lines are on the complete located underground, laying aside the vulnerabilities of earlier coaxial-based mostly cable systems. Fiber optics also had been worthy quicker than coaxial-cable as fiber optic systems use gentle to transmit recordsdata by strands of clear topic topic that habits the sunshine, performing as a waveguide.

The 2d innovation used to be the utilize of satellites themselves. Television features will seemingly be relayed the utilization of satellites which orbited in our upper atmosphere, which allowed for widespread and almost-instantaneous relays that required minimal gear. And since the relaying gear wasn’t on the ground in the midst of a corn field in Missouri, it used to be much less prone to harmful storms and vandalism.

Nevertheless these enhancements got here at a time the assign AT&T – or the Bell system – used to be feeling the effects of unfortunate industry practices. The Department of Justice used to be sizzling on their case and interested to position in drive antitrust fits in opposition to the company. The Bell system had developed a enormous monopoly which allowed them to price whatever they wanted for cell phone lines.

AT&T, or “Ma Bell”, operated a enormous monopoly in the American cell phone market all the intention by the 20th century. Regional Bell Working Corporations, or RBOCs, had been “subsidiaries” of AT&T which served areas of the US. The RBOC serving Missouri used to be Southwestern Bell. (Southwestern Bell, after the divestiture in 1984, would develop and at closing desire its aged guardian — AT&T, in 2005.)

In 1982, the Department of Justice broke up AT&T – one of many biggest monopolies ever created – to many, smaller cell phone corporations nicknamed “Child Bells.” These “Child Bells”, care for Southwestern Bell and Bell Atlantic, would at closing evolve into many effectively identified telecommunications company of as of late, care for Verizon, CenturyLink, and (the smartly-liked) AT&T.

Following the decision and worried of AT&T got here competitors (essentially Child Bells) who instituted the novel enhancements. Fiber optics and satellite tv for computer systems snappy grew to turn into the norm, inserting the Prolonged Lines system by the wayside.

By the early 1990s, AT&T – now confronted with competitors – made up our minds the Prolonged Lines system had served a protracted, devoted life and it used to be time to stay a nail in the coffin. And correct care for that, the Prolonged Lines system aged from being scream-of-the art technology to correct deserted towers and structures. Thus, ending the incessantly forgotten chapter in telecommunications history relating to the Prolonged Lines system.

The Impact of the Prolonged Lines Machine

Post-ruin up AT&T used to be no longer a tiny company for long. They at closing regained vitality by turning into one of many “mountainous three” wireless (cell phone) carriers. All all over again, towers (even supposing this time connecting mobile phones) were constructed spherical the nation, in most cases even in rural areas.

Picture of the Aullville, MO Prolonged Lines microwave relay residinglocated about 50 miles east of Kansas Metropolis off I-70.

A good deal of the Prolonged Line towers stay as a reminder of how some distance we’ve come on this planet of telecommunications. Now we hold went from celebration lines and operators (“Betty, can you join me to Mr. Smith’s space of enterprise?”) to retaining a cell phone and laptop – blended – in our possess hand.  We don’t ought to face by the phone to create a call or no longer sleep for one – we are succesful of assign all of it from hour palms, from almost anyplace.

The towers will seemingly be at ache of remind you of the Cool Struggle. Factual care for feeble airplanes, nuclear missile silos, or SAGEthe Prolonged Lines system used to be one of many first lines of defense all the intention by a time the assign we had been repeatedly under threat.

As for the towers themselves – some were decreased to scrap, some lay deserted, others were re-purposed. All the Prolonged Line towers I’ve viewed in person (care for the Slater residing) hold sat deserted since the early 1990s. The contaminated stations are surrounded by weeds and trash, while the horns were weathered and broken. Among the crucial stations hold had their horn antennas totally removed. One discontinuance to the assign I currently stay has been stripped of all its horn antennas, leaving correct a flat platform with four holes the assign the horn antennas and their waveguides would hold as soon as went. Per Google Maps the Slater residing has viewed a acquainted destiny – having its horns removed since I closing drove by that residing almost ten years in the past.

A good deal of stations hold viewed a brand novel rent on life. After AT&T sold many of the antennas to corporations in the late 1990s, many were re-purposed for other features. Many were develop into ham radio stations, with the tower serving as a enormous ham radio antenna. Others, mostly owned by one company (American Tower), were leased to cell carriers (care for AT&T and Dash) to be fitted with cell phone relay gear.

Particular thanks goes out to Spencer Harding for allowing me the utilize of his photos. Whenever you happen to chanced on this entry spellbinding, take a look at out his e book: The Prolonged Lines.

Expose: The photos vulnerable by Spence Harding had been now no longer on hand. They’ve since been modified with photos of websites I’ve visited. For more recordsdata on particular web sites, take a look at out the AT&T Prolonged Lines piece of this web residing.

For Extra Data


Updated: April 16, 2022

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