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AUTOVON switchboard, Monrovia, MD

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  • Albert LaFrance
    Today I visited AT&T s underground microwave and cable station in Monrovia, MD, where the communications technician in charge kindly showed me many of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 19, 2002
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      Today I visited AT&T's underground microwave and cable station in Monrovia,
      MD, where the communications technician in charge kindly showed me many of
      the facility's interesting features.

      Not the least of those was a beautiful wooden cord-type switchboard, with
      numbered positions for eight operators, formerly used for AUTOVON dial
      service assistance. Entering the switchboard room, on the mezzanine level
      of one of the two underground buildings, is like going back in time about 40
      years. The room contains a small collection of other telephone antiquities
      like big soldering bits (not the electric kind - the ones you heat with a
      blowtorch!), blocks of lead to be melted for "wiping" cable joints, metal
      tags warning "Man Working On Cable", a visitors register book from the
      1960s, a portable analog test meter with a large, mirrored scale, and a
      curved, polished wood tool shaped somewhat like a giant toothbrush without
      bristles, which might have been used for prying and positioning heavy
      cables. And there's a metal desk with a couple of old typewriters
      (electric, I think, but I didn't look closely). Even the acoustical tile on
      the ceiling looks like the original.

      The switchboard is built into a wall finished in dark, polished wood, with
      gold lettering saying "AUTOVON System". The vertical portion of the board
      (where the jacks are) is flush with the wall surface, and at one end of the
      board a door leads to a room behind the board for access to the internal

      I'm not knowledgable about switchboards so I can't ID the specific model,
      but it appeared similar to the toll boards I've seen in commercial service
      with crossbar switches. Each position had a set of plunger-type keys (like
      on an old cash register) for dialing, and there were mechanical digital
      clocks. Some of the jacks were labeled "Conference Bridge", so I assume one
      of the operators' duties was to set up conference calls. Other AUTOVON
      switchboards were located at the Leesburg 5 hardened site, and at Hillsboro,
      MO. Monrovia provided coverage for those locations after hours.

      Adjacent to the switchboard room is a lounge for the operators, and next to
      that is a small lunchroom where a menu board still shows prices for the
      various food items. The room has a kitchen arrangement, apparently a
      self-service operation where the operators could buy canned/packaged food
      and heat them on the stove.

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