The Western Electric Company
In the good old days there was but one telephone company, American Telephone and Telegraph Company. Yes, I know, there were the Baby Bells- Pacific Bell, Mountain States Tel & Tel, Southern Bell, Southwestern Telephone, Central and NE Bells. And maybe even a Northwestern Bell. These regional phone companies were all part of the Bell System. But the red-headed step child of the telephone monolith was the Western Electric Company, a wholly-owned (AT&T owned its one share) manufacturing entity for the Bell System. WECo engineered, designed and manufactured the telephones and telephone switching equipment used by all the above companies to provide service and route telephone calls all across America and WECo installers put in place the switches and power bays that made it all work. And so it was until the infamous Carterfone case, but that’s another story. But, back then, in a simpler world, the work force needed talented, energetic, dedicated workers to install all sorts of telephone equipment- step by step switches, crossbar offices, PBXs, TD2 equipment, power sources- in effect, all the bays, frames, cables, wires and switches and other such equipment needed to set up functional telephone exchanges. Well, instead of talented, energetic, dedicated workers, the company hired installers- hard working, hard drinking, hard living guys who made it all happen. This is their story. More specifically, it is the story of the crews that installed telephone equipment for the Mountain States Telephone Company (and later Southwestern Bell) in El Paso, Texas and the surrounding desert areas in the early 60s and beyond.
The Muñoz Brothers and their Fellow Installers
As it happened, the three Muñoz brothers, first Hank, then Rick and finally Mando, all worked for WECo as installers after they returned to El Paso from their distinguished and all but insufferable military careers. As members of the Communications Workers of America, the union that represented most telephone workers, they helped keep America’s telephone systems humming from about 1961, when Hank first went to work there, until 1973, when Mando left WECo to attend college (UTEP.) But, along with our intrepid trio, working at WECo were other devoted guys, The Guys of Western Electric. It will not be possible, given the devastating havoc wrought by fading memories and the ravages of passing time, to recall all these guys. So, with apologies to those left unnoted, we’ll mention those whose names or exploits we still recall.
There were three groupings of WECo guys. First, those who were there when Hank showed up. Then those who came to WECo about the time Rick hired on. And lastly the youngsters who became installers around the time that Mando arrived at the company. Of course, some of these guys were there for many, many years and did hard time with more than one- and maybe even all three- of the Muñoz brothers. As it happened, the Muñoz brothers had come and gone by the early 70s and it was the stalwarts that remained to fight the good fight, either by sticking around even after the breakup of the Bell System morphed Western Electric Company into Lucent Technologies or by transferring to the Telco (usually Mountain States or, later, Southwestern Bell) to continue serving the telephone customers of the great southwest. Many of these guys successfully navigated those turbulent times in the communications field and lived to retire either from Lucent Technologies or from the Telco.
Let’s start by listing the Muñoz brothers:
Enrique H. (Henry/Hank) Muñoz
First “minority” hire by WECo in El Paso. Hank was a minority in (last) name only as he was pretty much European (Spanish) and taller, smarter and handsomer than anybody already on the payroll at WECo. Hank served as a jet engine mechanic in the USAF for four years. His test scores in jet engine school (Chanoot AFB, Ill) were the highest in recorded AF history. His last military duty station was at Holloman AFB near Roswell, NM. He never mentioned having seen any aliens hidden away in a warehouse in Area 51.
In those days (1960-1961), considering the $60 a month wages, a flyboy’s ride of choice was a 15 year old car. Hank owned a 1950 Olds Rocket 88 about that time but he was later known to have driven/owned a couple of ’46 Chevys. He also came in possession of an early 50s Harley motorbike that he drove to El Paso from Roswell on at least one occasion. After being honorably discharged he checked out the scene in Long Beach, CA then returned to El Paso to take care of business. He hired on with WECo in 1961 and quit in 1966. He was a whiz at electro-mechanical componentry and quickly made Index 3 but eventually became bored with the work and moved on. (RIP)
Ricardo A. (Rick) Muñoz
Hired on early summer of ’63, was “let go” on his first day on the job, rehired later that summer. A good test taker but not a great installer, spent most of his time pulling cable and wiring. Blue-orange-green-brown-slate. Blue-one-yellow, blue-two-yellow, etc. Left WECo in September of ’68 to matriculate at UTEP, working as an installer the summers of ’69 and ’70.
After graduation, returned to WECo (Mountain Region HQ) in Aurora, CO as an accountant in ’72. Rick labored for WECo as an accountant, functional planner and supervisor until mid-1990 when he took an early out and moved with his wife Yolanda and two children to San Diego, CA, where he now resides and enjoys two grandchildren in tranquil retirement.
Armando C. (Mando) Muñoz
Mando graduated from El Paso Technical High School in May of ’65. That June, against his brother Rick’s advice, he joined the US Army where he served as a technician during the Vietnam conflict but in Germany. His ETS was May 19 ’68. In August of ’69 he moved to California (very close to where Hank had enjoyed the beach life) but returned to El Paso in January, 1970. In March, ’70 he hired on with WECo in El Paso and labored as an installer until September of ’73 when he resigned to attend college full time. During his time with WECo Mando worked on temporary transfers in San Diego, CA (where he did such outstanding work on the power systems that he was offered, but sadly, refused, a permanent transfer) and in on some DEW (Distant Early Warning) sites in North Dakota (Winter of 73-74.) Having survived those extremes, he opted for college and earned a BS in Bus Adm (Accounting) at UTEP in May of ’76. He was a consistent Dean’s List student and graduated with Honors.
At this writing, Mando lives in Avondale, AZ and works for the City of Phoenix with his wife Rosa. Both their daughters and one grandson live near them in “The Valley of the Sun.”
Note: The brief narratives that follow are not intended to denigrate, offend or belittle anyone. All who are listed are here because they were a part of our misspent past and are affectionately remembered. Our hope is to gather more info on each listed installer and add those who have been left off due only to our limited powers of recollection.
Area and Job Supervisors and the Secretary:
Red Blanton– The boss at El Paso Main after Roger Graham transferred out. Ended up in Arizona, retired there after a serious off road motorcycle accident left him with debilitating injuries. (RIP)
Ruth (Anderson) Blanton– Secretary to Roger Graham and then Red. Married Red after one too many sips at their favorite watering hole north of 5-Points. (RIP)
Jack Easter- One of the early supervisors, he was in El Paso to welcome the groups being brought in from Phoenix and from Texas east of El Paso.
Jake Farver– Job supervisor when Rick hired on. Very nice person who wore horn-rimmed glasses. sported unique comb over.
Roger Graham– The boss both when Hank, then Rick hired on. Sort of wimpy and much disdained by the crews.
John Griffin- Like Jack Easter and Roger Graham, one of the early bosses in El Paso installerdom.
Walt Pope– Tall guy who worked a lot of temporary transfers in New Mexico. Recent word is that Walt was yet another person to suffer from diabetes and that he, like Henry Sanchez, lost a limb- and apparently also his life- to that horrible disease. (RIP)
Howard Steel- Yet another early supervisor for WECo in El Paso.
Bob Wirth– Job supervisor who was promoted from the ranks of the unwashed to management.
Glen Parker– Somewhat overweight lord of the Las Cruces Main office who ran his fiefdom with his preferred installers for at least 15 years. Bill Tamer reported that Glen died in a tragic accident when he fell off a roof. (RIP)
Next, from imperfect memory, the old timers:
Vic Calabrese– The “Italian” guy. Maybe from The Bronx. Famous Quote: “He who will eat the bush will eat the twig.” (See John the Immortal, below)
Malcolm (Mel) Campbell– Loved MoPars, lived in Westway. Kind of tall, sort of glangly, had limited interpersonal skills. (But then again, who doesn’t?)
Bud Cole– Real old-timer. Stocky, slightly balding guy who wore dark-rimmed glasses. Always smoked (or had in his mouth) a cigar. Served as union rep for quite a few years. Bud was one of the originals who came to El Paso from farther east in Texas, Waco maybe.
Lucky Cullison– Widely known as Lucky Collision due to his many scrapes and fender benders while on benders (driving while impaired.) Lucky was also not so lucky the night he got into a poker game with Bill Tamer after a union meeting and lost his 22 cal pistol to Bill in the game. Bill still has that gun. At one point in his illustrious career Lucky started donning color coordinated outfits by always wearing polo shirts and socks in matching colors, i.e., blue shirt, blue socks; green shirt, green socks. This went on so long that at one point a fellow installer opined that Lucky was not wearing a shirt and socks but a body suit that ran from his neck to his toes. That’s how we entertained each other back then.
Carl Dean- Another denizen of Westway, he lived in a mobile home rather than one of the tract homes in that subdivision. He was second only to Mel Campbell in his love of MoPars.
Bill Echols (possibly Echels)- Not the friendliest of people but a good friend to some. Died in his Volkswagen when it ran off Transmountain Road while he was on some sort of midnight run in the late 60s. (RIP)
Charles R (Buddy) Forbes– Funny guy with many jokes, aspired to supervisory positions. But only if it would be fun and he could tell jokes. Spent many a night in Juarez watching primitive porn. Buddy is said to still be in El Paso where he worked part time in a bowling alley after he retired after his dedicated service to the telephone industry. We’re trying to track Buddy down. Call him at 915-584-9219.
Frank Frisby- No personal info available on Frank Frisby but we recall him as a pretty big guy. Big as in tall rather than corpulent.
Frank G Higgins– Loved old cars, really old cars, lived in Westway, very good friend to both Hank and Rick. Retired to his parent’s spread in Ft. Davis, TX where he still resides. He may have become a recluse as he is unreachable. Frank was called Pokey as a kid growing up in Ft. Davis due to his laconic pace. He acquired his first car while in his very early teens (a near-classic Packard or Pierce-Arrow) and proceeded to start a fire under it when a fuel leak created a puddle of gasoline under the car while Frank worked on it. Something then sparked and ignited quite a fire. We’re not sure how much damage that inferno did to the car but Frank himself survived to tell the tale. He was (and probably still is) one of the most competent, adept and complete mechanics and fabricators around. Wherefore art thou Frank?
(Chicago) Charlie Hill– He was from Chicago (thus the moniker) and was bigger and more outgoing (louder?) that Tucson Charlie Hill. Loved opera. Later hosted a jazz program on the UTEP radio station. He worked off a lot of his girth on a WeightWatchers program but later gained the weight back (as is often the case with WW.)
(Tucson) Charlie Hill– He was from Tucson. Quiet guy, not a big guy, good installer. Married later in life. (RIP)
Harold Hill- That’s right, just Harold. Not a Charlie and not from Chicago or Tucson. A gun collector, shot left-handed, worked in Flagstaff, AZ with Mike Cortez. Drove a brown 455ci Buick Riviera limited edition Wildcat model with no power steering (by choice.) Harry fired from his left shoulder and took his custom rifle with a handmade laminated blond and brown wood stock and cut down a pine tree with a few shots while on a lunch break at the A-1 mountain job. It had to have been about an 8 inch diameter tree according to Mike Cortez. He was into guns, bows, etc and might have been one of the original survivalist. Harold lived up off of N. Piedras Street in El Paso. Described by some as a quiet loner with a dry sense of humor, almost always quite serious. (RIP)
David (DD) Hunt– Lefty Wade’s best friend. Most of us could not understand a lot of what DD was saying due to a slurred manner of speaking. Never recovered from a broken heart. (RIP)
John (Sleepy-Eyed John) Kinard (nee Kennard)- John was exceptional and stories will be told about him as long as installers live to share a beer. He owned a ’66 Dodge Charger. He may well have been driving this very car when he was literally chased out of Colorado by the armed brothers of a girl he ran off with and took to El Paso. They married and had the longest, wettest you-may-kiss-the bride kiss in recorded history. But she later done him wrong. He acquired a Corvair as a project and was last seen trying to get it back on the road. Good luck John! Recent info says John is still in El Paso and is now happily married to a school teacher. He is said to own multiple Corvairs. But the 66 Charger is history.
Bob Moore– Misunderstood genius (really), very cerebral, lone wolf, brilliant mechanic. An outsider to society but no one could ask for a smarter, better friend. Loved fast cars and owned a 426 Hemi Plymouth that was stolen from outside his boarding house on Montana Avenue. Later bought a red ’65 Mustang (V-8, 4-speed) that was soon riddled with dents from one end to the other. Took a temporary transfer to New York City one summer and was never heard from again although it is rumored that he transferred to the NY Telco into a management position. As has been noted, he was a very competent guy. Possibly the guy that Mike Cortez calls “The Toot Guy.” Late info holds that Bob got married at some point but we know not who the lucky girl was nor where those two ended up.
Tony Nowacki– (Shown here smoking his ever present pipe with Gary Holmes at the NE office parking lot.) Index 5 installer who may have later moved into supervision. He was like a doctor, almost always assigned to the most technical and difficult jobs. Bill Tamer tells us Tony is still in El Paso in the same house he was in back in the day. Tony lost his wife of many years in November of 2005 and he underwent by-pass surgery (open heart) in 2003. He is doing great at this writing and dealing successfully with his diabetes. In fact, he recently took a 4,000 mile trip in his trusty LTD to Minnesota to look up friends and family. He reports that a lot of the old farmhouses are gone as corporate farming has moved in to replace the old family farms. Call him at 915-751-4815 or e-mail Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Obie Obeiter– Very smart, nice (Jewish) guy. Drove an old (55?) Oldsmobile. His interests were elsewhere, he would spend his lunch hours (when working at El Paso Main) watching the stock ticker at a brokerage firm on Texas Ave. You could drive from El Paso to White Sands at 100mph and he would follow in his Olds at 80mph and get there 2 minutes after you did.
Whitey Osman- Whitey, whose first name eludes us (we actually never knew his first name), was one of the El Paso installation originals. He was a tall guy, and white. In fact, he was very light skinned and had hair that was so blond that it looked white. Thus the sobriquet “Whitey.” He was more reserved than ebullient, if you know what I mean. Kept his needs and anxieties to himself. I guess you could say he was a quiet yet efficient installer.
Bob Quade– Like Vic Calabrese, Bob was Italiano-Americano, very nice person, loved Mercedes-Benzes and owned an old one. He was probably from Brooklyn. Slim Sheldon remembers Bob as a very slick operator, quite smooth. In his not-so-smooth moments he would sit in his Ford convertible with the guys as they drank beer after work. After the drinking was done, the guys would gather up all the empty beer cans and toss them in the hollow area behind thev rear seat where the top folds down. Bob‘s wife found quite a stash of empty beer cans there one day when she went to lower the the top. Bob was also known to go behind the counter at cafeterias and grab a bunch of oversized plates for the gang so they could get extra helpings from the guys dishing out the food. If given a regular serving he would ask the servers if they were ashamed of the food they were serving. Bob transferred from WECo to Telco where he worked as an engineer and embarked on a successful career there. He is now retired and living in Lakewood, CO.
Chuck Rainville– We need info on Chuck whose name may well have been Charles.
Ron Rutherford– Tall guy who worked in Roswell, NM a lot. Was the ‘tool room guy’ at El Paso Main after surgery that left him a bit debilitated. Ron could never shoot anyone “the bird” due to an accident when, as a 4-year old, he reached up in his mom’s kitchen to grab a bowl and it crashed down on his hand, an accident that, sadly, cost him one of his digits.
Walter Schenwald- Was either from Albuquerque or retired there, where he has two daughters.
Wally Schmader– Wally was smart enough and good looking enough and personable enough and, by golly, proficient enough to be loved by management and spurned by most other installers. Like Dick Wygant (see below), he was anointed an ESS guru and soared to the heights of installerdom. He, like most ESS guys, ended up in AZ.
Patrick John (Slim) Sheldon– One of the seven or so ‘originals’ transferred from Phoenix to El Paso around 1960, he was a big, tall guy. He loved to chat and tell stories about ‘baby dolls’. Called all women ‘Button.’ Always the butt of much good natured ribbing, he inspired an ode (Slimbo). Slim retired from the company around ’91 with a bunch of the other guys at about the time WECo (which had morphed into Lucent Technologies) gave up the ghost as telephone equipment became more computerized and could be ordered via UPS and simply plugged in by a minimum wage temp. Slim has tried to keep away from tasks/chores/jobs in retirement although he did fix up the house he bought with his buyout money. He is serene and has been sober for 24 years, still in El Paso and will celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary in November, 2008. This guy served in Korea during the “police action.” Oh, and Slim really should be the group historian as he remembers just about everyone and no one who met him could ever forget him. But why is a big, tall guy known by everyone as Slim? Because when he was a young man he was so slender that if he turned sideways, he disappeared. Call Slim at 915-593-6424.
Mustapha George (Bill) Tamer– Another one of the original “Magnificent 7” installers transferred to El Paso from Phoenix in 1960, Bill was Hollywood handsome and ended up returning to Arizona (Peoria) in later years where he is, at this writing, retired and leading a very comfortable life with his wife Barbara, having received not only a plush retirement from the Bell System but also quite an inheritance from his parents. Bill has two sons and a daughter who live out of state plus several grandchildren and one-and-a-half greatgrandchildren! And in his palatial home in Peoria, AZ Bill still has the gun he won from Lucky Cullison in a poker game after a union meeting in El Paso. Bill is available at 623-878-9208 or MGT@aol.com.
Charlie Vaughn- Charlie was a Corvette owner/enthusiast. We lost him to cancer. (RIP)
John (Lefty) Wade– Happy go lucky, always smiling, loved beer. His father had a barber shop on Alameda Avenue where Lefty lived (possibly even after he married a very nice woman from New Mexico.) (RIP)
Lonnie White– Index 3 (and above?) guy. Did a lot of “In Charge” time. A real boozer, powerful personality. Nobody who met him ever forgot him. He was found dead in his trailer home one cold and lonely morning. (RIP)
Dick Wygant– A thin, if not small, bookish looking kid, not the most macho guy in the building. Must have had something on the ball because he was one of management’s chosen few so was thus held in mild contempt by some. Was married to an unusual girl who peed outside somebody’s back door one night. Dick might have ended up in AZ when all the ESS work went there. He also earned the sobriquet “The Snake” after he was witnessed scooting along Central Office cable racks much as a snake might do.
Zip Zeller- A sawed off little guy but a high index installer who had the respect of the guys and was a tough little shit. Worked the Roswell office in ’67. Bill Tamer, who calls Zip a “great and smart guy, tells the story that once he and his wife Barbara had Zip and his family (wife and five kids) over for dinner and drinks. After the gathering, Zip and his wife gathered up the kids to pack them in the car to leave. Bill and Barbara found themselves having to yell out to Zip to come back and get their youngest, a four-month old, whom they had (inadvertently?) left behind. Soon after that visit Zip and his wife parted ways.
Next, the mid 60s guys:
Jack Boebinger– Loved to bowl, married young. Bought Rick Young‘s white & red ’65 Barracuda after Young quit and gave the car back to the Telco credit union. Jack was a pretty sharp kid so I’m sure he got a great price on the car. He migrated to the Telco and as a first level supervisor ran one of the switching offices until he could no longer stand it at which time he retired. Still in El Paso and working on secret munitions duty at White Sands Missile Range, he is the father of three and the grandfather of eight! He can be reached at email@example.com or call him at 915-751-5111.
Charlie Cumber– Very tall black (Afro-American) guy. First black installer in El Paso. Made it to supervisor. Very intelligent, great personality, interesting guy. Charlie prepared a mean stuffed pork chop. He cooked and the guys took turns cleaning up afterwards. Henri Sanchez and Charlie worked a job in Portales NM together. Charlie used to live in the neighborhood around Ascarate Park with a white girl when Mike Cortez worked with him. Maybe Charlie’s cooking did him in. He was felled by a heart attack while behind the wheel on a freeway in California with his father-in-law. Charlie slumped at the wheel and his FIL had to grab the wheel to bring the car to a safe stop. (RIP)
Felipe Gutierrez– Very nice kid, transferred to Telco and then became a school teacher. Drove a ’65 Mustang convertible and had a laser-sharp mind.
Charlie Hall- Maybe the second Afro-American installer hired in El Paso in the early 60s, he was more short than tall and more stout than thin and quite dark. He was as enthusiastic about selling pots and pans as he was about installing telephone equipment. Rumors were heard that a significant number of the orders he called in to the pot company mysteriously ended up at a pawn shop on Dyer Street. He was visited by a process server while on a job at Northeast Office at Hondo Pass and Diana Drive. The summons was from a church that wanted to know what he did with the $500 he had been advanced so he could buy chairs for the church.
Phil Hayden– Sharp guy, great technician, climbed the corporate ladder like he had a rocket tied to his ass. His first new car was a ’65 Triumph Spitfire. Worked in Arizona after he moved into supervision. Phil married a very pretty girl who was the daughter of a Telco supervisor. The marriage ended on a sad note.
Gary Holmes– One of several that came on board circa ’65. Drove a mid-60s Chevelle.
Tom House- Tom was an individual who elicited strong (and sometimes harsh) responses from other installers. There was just something about him. He hired on in the early 60s and left before too long to go work at the commissary at Ft. Bliss, TX. Like some of the rest of us, mostly a grunt, never a technician.
Henry Francis Sanchez – Very ‘trucha’, served as union steward and endured to retire from the company. His cars of choice were Mercury Cougars. He bought a new one in ’67 and traded that in on another new one in ’68. Was known to leave El Paso on a Friday night, drive non-stop to LA, and do the return trip to El Paso in time to report to work on Monday morning. Said he had a sweetie on the coast. He destroyed his chocolate brown Mercury Marquis when he hit a bull on the way to Socorro, NM with Mike Cortez to do a battery swap. Henry Sanchez mentioned that he came from NE New Mexico, maybe up around the reservations in that area. But Henry, although more short than tall and more stocky than thin, was more Spanish than Native American. He suffered from diabetes in retirement and lost a leg to the disease. Sadly, Henry passed away on February 27, 2006 in El Paso at the age of 63. (RIP)
Richard O. (Dick) Young– Tall, skinny, handsome, very intelligent college drop out, loved girls, bars and gambling. His looks stopped women in their tracks. Great personality, very smart, got bored with the job, put down his tools one day and said “I quit.” Had to devote a few years to avoiding the draft. He got married the day a draft notice arrived so he was deferred. The couple had a baby about the time the next notice arrived so he got deferred again. He never had to go in the service and he never stopped drinking, gambling and chasing women.
Hell’s Angel Guy– A guy whose name is not at hand but we think his last name was Griffin or Griffith. He rode a very old, very loud Harley, a primitive chopper. He dressed in Angels regalia, lived in the Upper Valley or Las Cruces. We are now convinced he actually worked for Telco rather than WECo, running tie wires on the main frame. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
Then, the last batch of honorees:
Lester (Sarge) Adkins– Retired military guy (Army?) He had a low, gravelly voice. One of his many claims to fame is that he sold Mike Cortez a ’66 Ford pickup and bought himself a white Cadillac.
Scott Anderson– Ruth (Anderson) Blanton‘s son worked for WECo as an installer in ’69. Was rumored to have moved to Tucson, AZ.
Coy Boyd or Lloyd or McCoy- Mando asked if we ever heard of a guy named Coy from Roswell. Loud cowboy type, hated hippies and Mexicans. But more than that, he intensely disliked and was greatly irked by Mexican hippies. Anyone recall Coy? We can only hope he has come to an acceptance of both Mexicans and hippies.
Marvin Carver– Marvin was short and stocky with reddish hair and complexion. He was a friend of Charlie Cumber. He drove a blue 70 Monte Carlo. Marvin had spent some time in Denver and was visiting El Paso and staying at Dave Conklin‘s house when he passed away. He had been expected at a social gathering of installers. When he did not show up, someone, possibly Dave, went to the house to check on his wellbeing. Marvin was found dead of a heart attack in the same bed where he had lain down for a nap before the scheduled gathering. (RIP)
Mike Chavaria– Hired on in ’67 or ’68. Eventually made it to Index 5. Many thought he had sold (bought?) the farm when, returning to El Paso from a night in Juarez, he drove his ’57 Olds (with three twos and shorty headers) into the El Paso courthouse steps. But he survived a severe head injury and stayed around long enough to retire from WECo as a 5 Index installer. After he wrecked his Olds he bought a blue 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger with the 340 CI V8. He drove like a bat leaving hell in it. He served in the US Army in Germany during the Vietnam War. After spending many happy nights at the King’s X bar on Mesa Avenue in west El Paso, he gave up that life and married a very pretty girl from UTEP. But sadly, he died while still young, not long after retiring from the company. (RIP)
Dave Conklin– Big kid. Left WECo to join the El Paso Fire Department.
John Cook– Moved on to politics. At this writing is mayor of El Paso. Who said installers were socially inept loners?
Bill Coors- A recollection from Mando: “Bill Coors. The funniest human I ever met. He lived with his wife (Marlynn) in NE El Paso. Owned an almost perfect ’51 or so Studebaker PU. I was on transfer with him in Silver City, LA, SD, and other places.” Thanks for the recollection, Mando.
Mike Cortez– From 1963 to 1966 Mike was in the Navy where he went right out of high school. After his discharge, he worked a dead end job at SIC Finance on Yandell Avenue until he hired on at WECo in June of ’68. Says Mike: “Hell I wasn’t legally old enough to drink until ’66. I was still living in Smeltertown at the time so my world was very small.” To Mike it seemed even going to El Paso (aka “El Chuco“) was a major outing. When he hired on in the summer of ’68 it was just in time for some strike action. Got caught up in some layoff excitement in ’75 but survived with Bell System by moving into PBXs and then bouncing around the Telcos through the balance of his System career. Retired to San Antonio, TX after 28 years with Ma Bell. Mike has encyclopedic knowledge of every job he ever worked, what equipment he installed and who was on each job with him. Call him if you need a refresher on installation lore. Contact Mike at: E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org or URL : http://familiacortez.com
Larry Estrada– Good looking kid who drove a brown Chevy station wagon. He also had a Camaro and was a good pool shooter
(???) Fox– Described by his greatest admirers as a “nut case.” But in the gentlest sense of the term. Appeared to be an individual who was trying to expand his reality with little pills and stuff. Slim Sheldon once asked him why he bothered to drive to work when he could just as easily fly in.
Reyes Franco– Reyes worked on temporary transfer with Mando Munoz (and others) in San Diego in the early 70s. Mando gained great respect for Reyes’ intelligence, drive and integrity after they got to know each other. Mike Cortez tells us Reyes was married to Delia back then and we assume this is still so. Mando spotted him at Sam’s Club in El Paso in the very late 90s but was unable to catch up to him so maybe Reyes is still in El Paso somewhere. Reyes is part of El Paso law enforcement lore because his diligent work revealed slow police response to a 911 call that resulted in a cowardly double homicide/suicide. Not satisfied by apparent police department incompetence in responding to a domestic violence report that resulted in the death of his niece and her mother, Reyes pieced together shredded police reports that documented failures in police procedures in response to that crime.
Lou Geedy– Lived just south of Las Cruces, NM. Is alleged to be the guy who bought a car for his wife in El Paso and then drove his car and the new one back to Las Cruces by himself by driving one car a certain distance, parking it, walking back to the other car, driving it past the first car, stopping and walking back to the other car ad infinitum. Only an installer would come up with such a scheme and make it work but he will forever be known as the car leap-frog installer. Thin, but strong as an ox, had deep set eyes. Said to be quiet and strong, he stayed to himself. He was suspected by some of being The Zodiac Killer. Some used the “nuts” word to describe him. But nobody messed with him as he seemed to always be on the verge of blowing up. Is said to have died of an aneurism. (RIP)
Dave Hannah– Dave may actually have been with TelCo rather than WECo but he spent a lot of time working on PBXs with Mike Cortez.
Joe Hanson- Joe lived in northeast El Paso off Diana Street. He was a tall, lanky guy and a super nice person. Joe was on transfer with Mando and Frank Higgins in Springerville, AZ from March, 1970 to September, 1970 when Mando was transferred back to El Paso due to a broken index finger. (Due to an industrial accident which had occurred while drilling through a piece of super structure, while standing on top of a ladder, in an upward direction with a 1/2″ drill using a 5/8″ bit. More details available om request.) Back to Joe Hanson. You could not have asked for a nicer person to work with, smart, thoughtful, hard working. Mando doesn’t know the details of what happened but for some reason Joe and management at WECO got into a hostile relationship. He finds it hard to believe that Joe could have caused the problem, whatever it was. Anyway, Mando came to find out from Joe several years after Mando left WECo (sometime in the late 70s) that Joe had left under less than great circumstances. Anyway, Joe seemed very happy, had gotten back with his wife, and had gone into land development in Horizon City, east of El Paso. Mando saw Joe again in the mid 90s and he was still at it. But by then Joe seemed to be living a very fast paced life so he seemed somehow different to Mando than the Joe of old. We hope Joe is still going strong.
Richard (RC) Hernandez– One of the two Hernandez brothers. RC had a maroon Olds Toronado, GM’s big, beautiful FWD brute. He and Arturo (below) were married to Edna and Leticia, respectively and subserviently. <–Joke.
Arturo (RA) Hernandez– Second of the two Hernandez brothers, he was married to Leticia.
Eddie Hidalgo- A pretty boy who dressed too well and drove cars too fancy for an installer. Was found shot dead with gunshot wounds in the back of his head -some say in a rental car, others say in his ever present Corvette- out in the desert. While there are those who felt he was involved in the sale of illicit drugs, more reliable information has surfaced that describes him as a narcotics agent who was killed by drug dealers. Eddie worked a job in Morenci, AZ -a Phelps-Dodge company town of 5,000 near an open pit copper mine- with John Kinard. John describes him as a very nice fellow.
John (Johnny) Hitchcock– A very nice young kid who worked as an installer for a couple of years but died a tragic and untimely death in ’72 when he fell asleep at the wheel of his ’70 Datsun 240Z on the way home to Westway from a night out. Had moved to El Paso to distance himself from his Mormon roots. (RIP)
Joe Juskovish– Owned light blue ’66 Hemi Satellite. Ended up having to leave the country due to a major drug investigation by the Feds. Just left work one day, never to return.
Billy Nolan– Possibly from Arizona. Maybe he was Telco rather than WECo.
Bob Poissant– Bob was slightly heavy set and tall (about 6’1′ or 6”2′) and spoke with a mild New York accent. He had light skin and, although he was in his mid 20s, sported all white hair. He spoke softly and always had the strangest facts at his finger tips. Nice, quiet, smart, sure of himself. Bob was with WECo from ’68 to ’76. He was never sent on temporary transfers because he was always in school. Like a lot of the other guys, he was a real car nut. He graduated from UTEP with Mando in ’76 then moved to Houston where he worked as an accountant and then earned a law degree. He is reported to still be in El Paso where he established a law practice when he returned to that beloved city from Houston. Bob and Mando were friends until Mando left town in 2001. You can look Bob up or contact him at: 915-772-1153, which may well be the number for his law office at 609 N Laurel Street, El Paso, TX 79903-3401.
Rocky Rockwell– Index 5 (that’s the top index) from Safford, AZ. Mike Cortez remembers coming back home from the job at A-1 Mountain outside Flagstaff and taking a shortcut back to El Paso. Rocky mentioned that his family kept horses in the Safford area. In El Paso he lived around the Loretto Academy neighborhood. Rocky was fairly young so we assume he is still around somewhere.
Gene Sherron– Another name from the past with no history available. Mike Cortez remembers a guy with an easy smile and black, curly hair. Just like Mike’s!
Bob Shirloh– Sharp as a tack but a loner.
Dwayne Thomas– No biograpical info available.
Xavier Valdez– Worked as an installer until he was let go due to chronic lateness. He bought an aqua 57 Chevy at the lot on the 500 block of Texas Street. Could shoot a good game of pool.
Dennis Wagner– Scion of a wealthy El Paso developer who made millions developing NE El Paso right after the war (WWII). It is rumored that a WECo supervisor owed the old man a favor so he hired the son. Wagner has been described by some as a not incredibly useful installer. He was the guy who had a very difficult time remembering that slate was the last color in the color code. But the story of how he finally got that through his diffusers (Tony Nowacki should remember it well as he was In-Charge on that job) and the story of how he practiced driving to New York for a temporary transfer by driving around El Paso Main all night are told below.
Bob Wolfe– Need info on Bob.
Harry Zuiggi- With a name like Zuiggi and having hired on in one of the last batches of installers, you end up being listed last. Harry is retired and still in El Paso. He is is a gun enthusiast to this day. One piece of lore about Harry is that the day there was a battery explosion at El Paso Main and the guys at that office were let out early due to smoke and safety precautions, Harry, who was working at Northeast office, demanded to be sent home early also. Should we mention that Harry is also remembered for crossing the picket line in one of the last strikes against the company? No, we’d better not do that.
The Switchboard Operators of Mountain States Telephone Co– There has never been a more dedicated, harder working, sweeter bunch of girls than the ladies who toiled at the switchboard at El Paso Main, helping customers get their calls to the right party. Thanks girls! And they always lit up the break room for the installers with their presence.
The Installer and the Girl at the Bar the Night of the Union Meeting
Learn about the shocking behavior of telephone equipment installers on their boys’ night out. Film at eleven. One incident will live forever in the annals of El Paso installation lore. This event, which is formally referred to as The Incident, occurred one night in a bar on Missouri Street near the union hall. It seems the guys gathered there after a union meeting one night and a dancing girl came into the bar…………..well, we’ll tell that story later.
Installer Wagner and the Blue, Orange, Green, Brown, Slate Color Code
Dennis Wagner and color codes. Now there’s a combination. In installation there are cables that contain many wires. The wires are connected to one piece of equipment on one end of the cable and to another device at the other end. It is important to keep track of which wire is which so the wiring can be done correctly. To identify the wires within a cable, the insulators are color coded. The primary order of the colors is blue, orange, green, brown, slate (gray.) The secondary color scheme is white, yellow, red, I think, as in blue-one-white, orange-one-white, blue-one-yellow, orange-one-yellow on down the blue, orange, green, brown, slate and white, yellow, red code plus the one, two, three scheme. Well, it seems Installer Wagner always had a hard time keeping the code straight so quite often his wiring was in error. On one job Wagner was wiring and Tony Nowacki was his In-Charge (extra ten cents an hour.) Dennis kept forgetting that slate came after brown which came after green, which came after orange and after blue. Tony became so upset with Dennis‘ errors that he harangued Wagner loudly, yelling “Slate is last! Slate is LAST!!” Finally Wagner said, “I got it, I got it.” So Tony left Dennis to do his wiring (wire wrap gun or solder, we don’t know) and both went about their business. At the end of the day Tony returned to check Dennis‘ work only to find that Wagner had used all the other colors- blue-whites, orange-whites, green whites, brown-whites, blue-yellows, orange yellows, green-yellows, brown-yellows, blue-reds, orange-reds, green-reds and the brown-reds and saved all the slates until the end (“Slate is last!”) This was a grievous error on Wagner‘s part that had never before occurred in installation history and the mistake weighed heavily on the balance of Wagner‘s brief but memorable career as an installer.
Installer Wagner and the Dry Run to New York City
It is said by some that at one point intrepid installer Dennis Wagner heard a rumor that he was going to be sent on temporary transfer to New York City. Being a conscientious employee, Dennis became concerned that he might not be up to the challenge of a cross country trip from El Paso to NYC. He immediately concocted a plan to test himself and help him prepare for the ordeal. The evening of the day he heard the rumor, Dennis went home, picked up his wife and together they drove around and round El Paso Main, all night long, to see if he was up to the challenge. The following morning, tired and worn, he explained to his fellow installers what had kept him up and exhausted him the night before. Maybe he was testing to see how he and his wife would get along while locked up together in a car for hours on end.
How to Get Your Wife’s New Car from El Paso to Las Cruces
This is said to be a true story, sworn to by more than one installer. There was a quite peculiar installer, a man apart, a unique individual, a man both scorned and feared by his fellow laborers, one Lou Geedy. He worked for WECo out of El Paso but lived in a mobile home (aka trailer) just south of Las Cruces, NM. That puts his domicile about 40 miles from downtown El Paso. Late one day Lou went out and bought his wife a brand new Ford from a dealer in El Paso proper. After getting the keys to his wife’s new car, he realized that he needed to get both his car and his wife’s new car to Las Cruces that same evening. He was unable to think of anyone to turn to who could help him get the 2nd car home (he was a loner) so he concocted a solution, no, a scheme so daring, so astounding that it stunned the community and whose legend reverberated across the deserts of West Texas for years afterwards. Lou, man of action that he was, decided to leap-frog his two cars home. To accomplish that he simply drove one of the cars a certain distance up the freeway, pulled off the interstate, parked and locked the car, then set back towards El Paso afoot to retrieve the other car. Once back to that vehicle, he cranked it up and drove up Interstate 10, past the first vehicle and well beyond, where he pulled over and parked the car and then walked back to the other waiting car. It is not clear how many miles he advanced (and retreated) with each leap but I think we can safely say he ended up walking 40 miles (and driving 80 miles) that night. But, give Lou credit, he delivered that car to his loving wife that very night (or in the wee hours of the next morning.) You go, Lou.
Slim Sheldon, Washer Salesman
One of the many stories involving Slim, who always- I mean always- wore a white T-shirt and khaki pants to work (and probably to church as well) , has to do with the time he became an ardent proslethizer for a certain brand of clothes washer, probably Maytag or the Sears & Roebuck brand. He enthusiastically shared with his fellow installers his admiration for the power and excellence of that washer. After enduring yet another sermon from Slim about the washer’s prowess, one installer asked him if all he ever washed in that machine was his T-shirts and khakis. If so, said the installer, that is not a valid test for a washer and that washer cannot be considered excellent on that basis. Slim never bragged about his washer again.
Henry Sanchez Up on Two Wheels
We have to believe that this really happened because Henry told the story himself. One night, after a union meeting near downtown El Paso, Henry, who was the union rep for the installers, went for a few beers with his cohorts. After the beerfest, Henry hopped on his trusty two-wheeler and set off for home in NE El Paso. To make that trek, he had to go south to the interstate and stop at a red light in an underpass while he waited to turn left onto the freeway. As he waited there with his feet on the ground Henry fell asleep (or passed out, as the case may be) and he and his motorcycle fell slowly at first, then not so slowly until both he and his bike were laying flat on the street, with Henry still astride his mighty bike. As it happened, there were pedestrians nearby who ran to help Henry get back up, which he did. Then off he went, first east and then north, to his abode near Burgess High School.
The Guy at the Airport and the Guy on the Train
One day, in January of 2003, to be exact, I was returning to San Diego from Detroit, MI having gone there to visit the NAIAS with my son, Rick. NAIAS stands for North American International Auto Show. The show is held in Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit and can be a very interesting exhibition for anyone who loves cars. After attending the show, my return trip to SD included a layover in Memphis, TN, I think. While sitting there waiting for my flight I noticed another guy, roughly my age, waiting for a plane. Now I never, hardly ever talk to strangers. It’s hard enough for me to think of something to say to friends and acquaintances. But, for no good reason I struck up what passes for a conversation with this man. It turned out he was a retired Bell System guy and that he had worked for WECo as an installer. To do the man justice, I must report that he was well-spoken and had moved on from installation into higher levels of involvement within the System. But, still, he qualified as an old installer. He told a story of the time he and a bunch of guys were working on a TD2 tower next to a railroad track out in the boonies somewhere. At lunchtime they would exit the building and sit on the grass on a lawn overlooking the train tracks. One day, a train came by. And, bigger than heck, there was a hobo in one of the empty boxcars. As the train went past the group, the hobo looked up at them and yelled out: “Blue, orange, green, brown, slate!” Once an installer, always an installer. Mike Cortez opines that the hobo was just an installer who lost his car in a card game and was taking the train to his next work location.
An Installer’s Story from a Far Away Place
Mike Cortez found this installer’s recollection while searching the net for WECo installation lore:
At nineteen, I was the youngest Installer in a Western Electric installation group that went from city to city installing telephone central office equipment. Being the youngest in a group of old salts, I was often the butt of jokes and the derision sometimes given to the young by the “veterans.” Also, as I was to find out later, a lot of the mistakes made in the installation were blamed on me. I discovered this one day after the completion of an unusually large job at the U.S. Air Force’s SAGE air defense filter center, at Fort Lee, Virginia. The project manager–Captain Cook–a rather stern man whom we all were a little afraid of, gathered all the employees for a mass meeting. Out of the blue, he called me up to the front. Standing behind me with one hand on my shoulder, he said that the installation was ahead of schedule and was a success, and that he wanted to thank Williamson especially, for “single-handedly installing the office.” He said that he knew I had single-handedly done the job because every mistake found in the entire installation had been blamed on me, therefore I “must have been all over the place.” >From that day on, I was never blamed for another mistake–I had been vindicated.