By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
The Pioneer Telephone Museum is in a simple wooden building just outside the Pioneer Living History Museum. The technology inside defies its walls.
“I would say we’re one of the country’s best-kept secrets,” says Ron Eastwood, a two-year telephone museum volunteer.
“Telephone museums are so few and far between. We’re desperate for more room, too. We have phones we can’t put in cabinets.”
A variety of telephones ranging from a novelty piano push-button phone to a bag phone to equipment from the Alexander Graham Bell era are lined in display cases throughout the building. And yes, there are these things called dial phones and switchboards.
Ron Eastwood formerly worked in the “line gang” for Bell of Pennsylvania, and then house and coinbox installation for Mountain Bell and AT&T. His wife, Joan, joins him at the museum.
The telephones have been at the 2,700-square-foot Pioneer Living History Museum for about five years. Previously, CenturyLink housed the museum in Phoenix, but it pulled out of the sponsorship in 2016.
“The most impressive item in our museum is the switch system,” he says. “That’s the way we made calls from the 1940s to the 1970s. The kids get the biggest kicks out of the switch system and how we dialed a phone back then. They’ve also never seen a rotary dial phone.”
Joan especially enjoys the children who come in by the busload.
“We had two heavy days this week,” she says. “We had 400 kids and then 250 kids. Even with the children coming in there, we’re teaching the parents and the teachers, too. They don’t know about all of this.
“We’re hoping something will spark and they’ll come back and see us. I can only pick a few things for them to concentrate on. We want them to come back when we’re not so busy. I hate to see it, but the novelty phones are what the children like the most. We let them demonstrate and try stuff on their own. If they can dial the phone and listen, that’s what they enjoy the most.”
The tour starts with an Alexander Graham Bell display in honor of the first—albeit accidental—phone call on March 10, 1876, and it goes on from there. The collection includes a crank phone and an 1895 telephone directory of all of phones east of the Mississippi River.
Cellphones from brick/bag phones to flip phones to iPhones are on display at the museum. TDD, or telecommunication devices for the deaf, are in the displays.
The tour guides offer fascinating stories about telephones. When cell service came to Phoenix, there were only three towers.
The museum gathered the telephones through “years and years of donations and grabbing every piece we can,” Ron says.
Both of them say the museum is in “desperate need” of volunteers. Those who are interested can call Ron Eastwood at 602-549-4678.
“They don’t have to have knowledge of phone stuff,” he says. “We can teach them.”
Pioneer Living History Museum, 3901 W. Pioneer Road, Phoenix, 623.465.1052, pioneeraz.org, $10; $8 for children ages 6 to 18, veterans and seniors; free for children younger than 5.