It was 1946 and World War II had just ended. Things were hectic
at the phone company. Returning service men and women were
returning to the company for their old jobs and new veterans were
just looking for their first job at the phone company.
One of the new veterans, a former lieutenant, joined the mix of
employees looking for a job. He was hired
as a "nickel-snatcher" in his "hometown" of Greeley, Colorado.
This means he collected coins from the pay phones in the area and
collected overdue bills from customers.
The young lieutenant's name was Robert K. Timothy, and he began
his new job working the only way he knew how. Hard. He'd been born on a dry-land farm near Gilcrest about 14 miles from Greeley. Hard work is the only way to survive on this type of farm.
His hard work paid off and in 1949 Timothy was promoted to
Manager of the Miscellaneous Unit in the Colorado Springs
Mountain Bell Commercial Department. The new job was to test Timothy's mettle as no other job in his 37-
year telephone career.
In those days the training for a new first-level manager consisted of
reading a booklet, asking your second line questions if he was
around and doing the job you were assigned. Timothy had been
learning the job for less than a year when his boss told him that he
was to drive to the airport and pick up his newest customers.
I wasn't at a high enough level to get a company car, so I drove to
the airport in my '37 Chevy that I'd bought used from the CCC. It
had more than 100,000 miles on it and was rusted through the floor
At the airport he met his new customers--Colonel Haskill E. Neil
and Major Duffy of the United States Air Force.
On the drive back to the telephone office Timothy found out what
his new customers wanted. It wasn't much really
just that the Air Force was moving its North American Defense Command
from Mitchell AFB in New York to Ent AFB in Colorado Springs.
NORAD needed an entire telecommunications system designed,
installed and working in a matter of weeks.
The Cold War
was heating up. Atomic bombs, long-range
bombers and intercontinental missiles were in the news headlines
nearly every day.
A year later Mountain Bell would have an entire department
dedicated to supplying the Federal Government's
telecommunications needs. In 1950, however, Robert K. Timothy
"I was on the phone with Col. Neil every day, seven days a week.
I'd have never made it without his help," Timothy said.
Working more than 100 hours a week, reading BSPs (Bell System
Practices), manuals, product descriptions, learning to draw
schematics, talking to Western Electric product managers, Timothy
came up with a plan, which Col. Neil approved with minor
Timothy ordered the equipment--switches, cable, telephones,
TWX machines (teletype), switchboards, emergency power
generators, ringing machines, wiring, batteries and thousands of
other items. The order went directly to the main Western Electric
(the Bell System's manufacturing arm) order center.
Because of the importance of the job, Walter Koch
Bell's president, interceded for Timothy and arranged for him to
have absolute top priority at Western Electric, so the company
began to build the special items on the order on the day it was
"I went down to the our loading dock in the Springs and watched
the trucks being unloaded. I said to myself, 'Tim, what have you
Right after recovering from the shock of the initial order, Timothy
remembered a small picture hed seen in the Monitor
Bell's employee magazine. It was a picture of a new type of phone
called a key-system phone
"I remembered that phone and I read some of the Western Electric
material about it. It was new and hadn't really been used in the field, but I knew Western Electric didn't make junk. It looked like
it would do exactly what the Air Force needed and it could be
installed while the buildings were under construction, so I ordered
Mountain Bell and Western Electric installers worked around the
clock installing the key system, TWX machines, switches, wiring
and switchboards for the bigger permanent system to be cut into
service later, and on trunk lines and thousands of miscellaneous items.
Timothy was at the work site most of the time offering advice,
making field changes, running errands and doing whatever else had
to be done.
The end result--the entire job from equipment delivery to
installation and full operation--was accomplished in 11 days!
Col. Neil and Robert K. Timothy became lifelong friends. Col.
Neil retired as a four-star Air Force general; Timothy retired as the
president of Mountain Bell. Russia retired from the Cold War;
perhaps the key-system helped.
Links to more
See more facts about Robert K. Timothy and the events surrounding this story at the following links:
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