How Ranchers Hacked Barbed Wire Fences to Create Phone Lines
Imagine the hard work that went into stringing the first phone lines across the nation. When we think of small communities way out here in the west you can imagine that it would take a long while for the phone companies to ever get around to bringing those lines out here.
But local ranchers quickly realized they had a workaround.
Why string new wires for phones when rows of wires were already strung all over the land. Barbed wire.
There were already miles of barbed wire fences strung as property lines and pasture dividers throughout the expanse of the United States, from the Great Plains to the Midwest and Southwest. Turning them into telephone lines turned out to be a relatively straightforward process. (How Stuff Works).
Since fencing could stretch from one ranch to the next all the locals had to do was hook a line from the phone in their house to the fence. Then it was just a matter of powering it. Let's not forget that some electric fencing was already used to keep animals from bushing up against the wires or trying to push their way through.
The system was not perfect and it did have its flaws. But it was a low-cost alternative until actual phone lines came to the area.
One side problem was that if many people attached their phones to the same fencing everybody's phones would ring at the same time when someone was trying to make a call. They would have to say hello to each other, EVERYONE until it was settled who the call was for. That helped neighbors keep in touch but it also helped eavesdropping and gossip.