Public Telephone - My First Day of Work

Published: 4/26/2017

Submitted by: Jim Gray

"No Job is So Important, and No Service is So Urgent..."

My first day working in the Public Telephone Department at Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania, July 11, 1966, started with a bang. Actually it was 15 to 20 bangs.

My work associates managed to welcome me to the company, the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania where I was to be a Coin Collector for the next two and a half years, taking the money out of every one of the thousands of pay telephones in the City of Philadelphia by participating in the first and likely the only multi-vehicle accident in Bell System history when about 15 to 20 phone company trucks collided while driving to a coffee shop first thing in the morning, contradicting prevailing company policy regarding going to coffee shops first thing in the morning.

The accident happened 50 years ago that morning when the guy who was to teach me the ropes began fooling around while driving the 1964 Jeep Wagoneer the company used as an armored vehicle, with bars on the windows and an alarm, likely to impress me, an 18 year-old kid. But he got distracted and drove into the company truck in front of him. That guy ran into the truck in front of him, and so on and so on until all 15 to 20 trucks had collided with one another. I was a passenger in the last truck in the convoy, the one technically at fault. In spite of the manufactured "story" of the cause of the accident I saw what really happened. But I'm not a snitch. Especially on day one.

Phone calls were made to the Philadelphia Police and telephone company management reporting the accident. The calls were of course made from a pay phone, and one likely from a bar that was open early. Maybe it was The White Horse. Maybe it was Tecco's. It was a long time ago.

Three police cars were dispatched to the scene of the multi-vehicle accident that took place in the 4800 block of Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia and several police officers spent more time laughing at the sight of so many phone company trucks involved in the same mishap than they spent even attempting to write and file a report. They simply waited for the armada of phone company managers to arrive and bury the entire affair in the annals of Bell System history and legend, dismissing the police and saving the disciplining and chastisement of these fine examples of the company's stable of defensive drivers for a future occurrence. One not involving so many of the company's otherwise safety-conscious employees. Yeah... that's it.

Thirty minutes on the job and already a statistic.