Mennonite Heritage Village

Memories of C.U. (“Telephone”) Klassen

By Glen Klassen, MHV Board Member

After my Dad retired from being a lineman at MTS, he became a Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) volunteer. His “schtick” was to make rope at the festival events. Being a life-long inventor of gadgets, he designed and built his own “geschneez” (contraption) for twisting the strands into a rope. I’m sure he didn’t Google for instructions. He had already invented Steinbach’s first drive-in telephone (on a stump in front of the telephone office), a telephone switchboard, and a flat-tire indicator. But no, we were never rich, except in kids (13).

Back in the 50’s Dad was the manager of Steinbach’s home-grown telephone system. He drove his 1950 Fargo all over the southeast, from St. Labre to Niverville, stringing miles of “army wire,” often just laying it on the ground. It wasn’t pretty but the farmers got what they wanted: a cheap and effective phone connection. We still have his pole-climbing harness with the spurs, which brother Ron (Cornie) puts on at every family gathering. C.U. usually got up and down the pole without incident, but on at least two occasions going down went a little faster than he planned. Anyway by the time he was near retirement his knees were shot, and he had to take early retirement. (Which ended up being good for MHV.)

Part of his role as Steinbach’s telephone manager was to preside over a bunch of young telephone operators. They had the job of plugging into your incoming call and demanding: “N’er please?”. You would say “line 34-2-2,” and then you could hear them ringing “drrrrt,drrrrt, drt,drt.” The operator would stay on the line long enough to know that your friend had “picked up,” or longer if the information was interesting. Others on your line would tune in. Sort of a conference call, really.

Once a year Mom would invite all the operators (except those who were working that night) to the house for a major feast. Most of the girls would hardly get through the first course, having taken three refills of chicken-noodle soup. As a boy in my early teens, I just mostly admired the girls.
My oldest sister, Leona, was one of the operators. She drew a one-woman night shift one time and asked sister Alfrieda (Fritz) to stay with her. At about midnight, Fritz headed for the bathroom and flicked a light switch next to the door. Okay, I should tell you that in those days Steinbach had a town siren which was supposed to go off at curfew time, when all the kids were to be off the street. Anyway, when Fritz innocently flicked what she assumed to be the bathroom light switch, it turned out to be the town siren. Oops. Dad was sometimes a little “racht too” (taking short cuts) in solving electrical problems.

That siren woke the whole town, and Constable Ben Sobering jumped out of bed and roared around town trying to find the emergency. The C.U. Klassen family on Mill Street was a little red-faced that night. But not for long. We were proud of our dad (and mom), and two years ago we installed a pocket park on Brandt Street, at the foot of Ellis Avenue, in their honour. Take a rest on the bench on your next walk. C.U. there.

Calendar of Events
August 4-7: Pioneer Days – 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily
August 14-18: Pioneer Day Camps for children ages 8-10
August 16: Heritage Classic Golf Tournament at Quarry Oaks