Old Pay Phones
There was a time, long long ago, when people did not have cell phones. If you wanted to make a call when you were out, you had to use a pay phone.
Payphones – Calling before cell phones
The phones were located in businesses and on the streets. They were either open as in the example above or in a booth.
Of course, the handset is missing in the image above.
Paying with coins
Calling was relatively simple. The caller could deposit enough money to cover the call. Local calls were simple but long distance calls could be expensive.
The calls were timed. If you went over the time you had to add more change. If not, the call was terminated.
Another option was to “Call Collect”. The caller would dial an operator and provide the number they wanted to call and their name. If the person accepted the call you were connected.
Some people cheated this system. Suppose you wanted to let someone know that you arrived safely or wanted them to pick you up. You could call collect and give a pre-arranged phony name. The receiving party would decline the call but know what you wanted.
An option in later years was a ‘calling card’. You could purchase cards with a prepaid amount on them. You had to enter in the code on the card and then the number you wanted to dial. It was cumbersome but it worked. Some payphones, especially inside hotels, had a card reader to simplify using the calling cards.
One scam to watch for was ‘shoulder surfing’. If you weren’t careful entering your calling card number and pin, a person behind you could get the numbers and drain your card.
The coin return
A lot of people would check the change return for change people forgot to take at the end of their call. Imagine that in today’s ‘covid’ environment.
There was also a scam where people would shove paper into the change return. People who were supposed to get change would not get it. The culprits would return later with a wire hook and remove the paper. The change would then fall into the return.
If you knew the number of the phone, a person at their house, or even another payphone, could call the number.
Some people could scam this by calling a friend and letting it ring once or twice and then hanging up. That would be the friend’s cue to call the payphone.