Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Romances Of The Telegraph"

(From the September 5, 1891 Western Electrican, pg. 130:)

A pretty little romance of the telegraph comes from a little station away out in the desert from Yuma, Arizona, on the line of the Southern Pacific. The hero of the story is J. J. Stansbury, who, since the incident about to be described, has located at Jackson Springs, Cal., a far more congenial place. Nearly two years ago Mr. Stansbury was operator at the little station named. A more uninvit­ing place of abode could scarcely be found. The station consists merely of a big water tank, a rough shed called the telegraph office, and another shed in which half a dozen trackmen live. During the summer months life at the little desert station was almost unbearable. The tem­perature was generally playing between 120 and 135 degrees—sometimes reaching 150 degrees—and at night if the mercury dropped to 90 degrees it was a signal to pull up the blankets. The tortures of existence in such terrific heat can hardly be imagined and if it were left to his choice, the telegraph operator ordered to a station out on the desert would prefer a berth on the devil's gridiron. Recre­ation of any sort was, like sleep, out of the question, and the only means of passing away the time was found in talk­ing over the wire with other operators at distant stations. It was in this manner an acquaintance sprang up between Mr. Stansbury and the operator at Banning, Cal., whom Stansbury described as a "jolly, cheerful sort of a fellow." Their telegraphic acquaintance ripened into a warm friendship and finally the two operators arranged to have their vacation together and to pass two or three weeks together in the mountains hunting and fishing. ll details were carefully arranged. The Banning operator wanted every convenience in the camping expedition, even refusing to part with rubber boots for trout fishing, despite Suusbury's insisting that he saw nothing the matter with "taking off their shoes and stockings, rolling up their trousers and wading." Finally, after all arrangements had been perfected, the Banning operator backed squarely out of the expsdition, greatly to Stansbury's disgust. He had changed his plans, he slid, and he was going to spend his vacation in New Mexico and would be glad to see Stansbury as the train passed the latter's station, but on that day Stansbury had succumbed to the torrid tem­perature and lay with a burning; fever, unconscious and delirious.

The rest of the story is bast told in Stansbury's own words.

"Into the fever tortured brain there sometimes creeps a semi-cnnsrinusness of the life about it, and so during the days of my agony I was vaguely aware of gentle, womanly hands and a kindly feminine presence in my sick-room, and when I returned to the conscious world I was not surprised to find a fair and pleasant face beside me. Its owner said that she had been upon the train when I was found stricken down, and had staid to minister to my sore need. The idea may seem preposterous, but I believe the foundation of my affection for my kind attendant had been laid while the unconsciousness of fever was still upon me, and the affection grew into the deepest love as she cared for me during the days of my convalescence.

"After a time I ventured to tell her of my love, and to ask her if she would be mine; but I was not prepared for her answer.

" 'John,' she said, 'do you really mean that you wish to marry a girl that insists upon wearing rubber boots and will not—roll—'

" 'Mat!' I said, for I was completely beaten. Then it flashed upon me. She was the operator at Banning, and I, like a fool, had always taken it for granted that she was a man.

"Well, I am not going to tell how I convinced her that I wanted to marry her, boots and all, but I did it, and, like Harkis, she was willin", and here we are on our wed­ding journey. The Southern Pacific has lost an operator, but I calculate that I am ahead on the deal."

This recalls the account of another no less interesting romance of the telegraph, as related to the writer by W.H. Storey, who afterward in response to continued entreaties, produced a clipping from the San Diego, Cal., Daily Union of April 25, 1876, containing an account of his marriage to Miss Clara E. Choate of San Diego, by tele­graph. At that time Mr. Storey was the United States Signal Service operator at Camp Grant, Arizona, and as he could not obtain leave of abseece to make the journey by wagon to San Diego for his wedding, and as there was no minister or other person qualified to perform the marriage at San Diego. Upon being asked permission to use the telegraph lines from San Diego to Camp Grant, after regu­lar hours for the purpose of performing a marriage cer­emony, Lieut. Reade readily consented, and issued the following general order:

To all Managers of Stations along the Entire Division:
You are hereby informed that the wires of this division after 8 P.M. April 24th will be used for the purpose of conducting a marriage ceremony by telegraph between
San Diego and Camp Grant, and you and your friends are specially invited to be present on the occasion, to assist if necessary and to see that good order is maintained.
(Signed) Philip Reade, Lieut. and Officer in Charge.

Each operator on the line accepted this novel invitation and, with invited friends, was present at his station as wedding guests. At 8:30 p. M. the father of the bride sent this message from San Diego to the wedding party at Camp Grant:

Greeting to our friends at Camp Grant. We are ready to proceed with the ceremony.
D. Choate and Party.

The answer at once came back:

We are ready. W.H. Storey. Clara E. Choate.

Then the Rev. Mr. Mann read the marriage service, which was repeated to Camp Grant as uttered, word for word, by Mr. Blythe, chief operator at the San Diego office. At the proper moment, the solemn "I do" came back over the wires signed first by "William H. Storey," then by "Clara E. Choate." Then, following the words of the minister, the instruments clicked.

"As a token of your sincerity you will please join your right hands."

The answer came promptly: "It is done."

The service was then concluded in regular form, after which congratulatory messages were sent the bride and groom from all stations. Suddenly Chief Operator lilythe of San Diego broke in and telegraphed Mr. Storey that "the Silver Cornet band of San Diego is just outside the office, gving you and your bride a serenade," a welcome that was warmly appreciated even though it was not heard at Camp Grant, 650 miles away. Mr. and Mrs. Storey are still living in San Diego and have a happy family of five bright children who will always find pleasure in telling the story of their parents' romantic wedding. Mr. Storey, who made a fortune in San Diego during the memorable Southern California "boom" of 1886-8, says that even yet it is not an uncommon experience of his, upon being introduced to an entire stranger to have the latter ask, "Storey! Let me see, wasn't you married by telegraph some years ago?'' and an affirmative nod would bring out the exclamation: "Well, well, I was a guest at your wedding. I heard the whole ceremony at the telegraph office at ———, Arizona."

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