Phones and Fences

Iowa Internet

A lady from the East Coast that I work with via e-mail asked me today why our e-mail is always so questionable here in the Midwest. What follows is my reply:

E-mail is tricky in rural areas. It all stems back to infrastructure, you know. I hear rumors of cable television and fiber optics and other exotic critters that live on the coasts, but here in the mighty Midwest it’s fences.

What they did, way back when they put the original phone lines in, was to run the phone lines along the roads. If a farmer wanted to hook his phone up, he’d request the phone company to run a jumper from the phone line along the road to the farmer’s barbed wire fence. The signal would then run up the fence, where the farmer would run a jumper to his phone. Worked pretty slick! Saved everyone tons of money, rural folk like us got to talk on telephones…

The downside is bad quality, and “party lines.” You see, when someone calls the farmer, everyone else whose phone is hooked to that same stretch of fence would ring.

Once the Interweb started catching on and getting popular, the quality issue came to the forefront. When a couple birds would land on the fence, your modem would crash out and you’d lose your connection. That’s not too bad, ’cause as soon as their little feeties leave the fence your connection comes back on. The real problem is cattle. If a cow rubs up against the fence it grounds out the signal altogether, and all you can do is try to reconnect. Kinda sucks, ’cause the main reason for the fence in the first place is to keep the cattle in, which means there are always cattle hitting the fence.

All of which we’re pretty much used to.

But now we’ve got a problem. The neighbor has a bull that positively, absolutely HATES chickens. Wouldn’t be a problem, except that the guy on the other side of the fence runs a poultry outfit… Most of the chickens steer clear of the fence, ’cause they know the bull will chase them, but there’s one rooster that simply loves to taunt the bull, and will sit on the fence, crowing his little heart out until old Toro comes stampeding over to chase him away… And, of course our Internet goes all wacky since the signal happens to run through that particular fence. So the neighbors are all taking up a collection to buy both the angry cow and the chicken for our Labor Day Celebration so we can keep a constant connection. Chicken and ribs! My oh my… Hand me the barbecue sauce!

And if you believe THAT cock and bull story, I have a bridge for sale…

If you’re reading this on Facebook, you can see the original blog at, click on “Blog.”

6 thoughts on “Phones and Fences

  1. pistols at dawn

    Ha! I love it.

    I think that the place you grow up determines so much about where you feel comfortable for the rest of your life. For my cousins growing up in Mason City, that meant, “I need to spend the rest of my life not living in Mason City.” For me, it means that while I love the non-people part of more pastoral settings, I hate the fact that there’s only one grocery store in town, two stoplights, and one convenience store (oh, Kum & Go, where art thou now?).

  2. Bert

    Bridges for sale jokes are now politically incorrect, unless they do not contribute to global warming. Glow Ball warming is okay though.

  3. Chris

    Bert — True, the bridge thing is probably a bit insensitive. Apologies.

    Cap’n Fogg — Bridges aren’t as cheap as they used to be!

    Pistols — Ah, the Kum & Go station… Often referred to as “Spurt & Split” and “Stop & Rob.” They have the best Diet Coke there. Fresh.

  4. katrocket

    I’ve always preferred the ol’ “In and Out”.

    I lived in the countryside as a teen and we had one of those party lines you talked about. There was always a chance that some adult was listening-in on your conversations, so me and my friends developed a highly complex secret code to exchange gossip and social plans. In the end, it was great practice for the homeland security bill.

  5. pistols at dawn

    If only my grandparents had lived longer, maybe I, too would be well versed in the many nicknames for the “Kum & Go,” and would also know waaaaaay too much about Behlen (?) grain bins. Ah, the ol’ family business…how glad I am that no one in the family wanted to keep ‘er going.


Leave a Reply