Idaho History March 31, 2019

History of Telephones in Yellow Pine

Modern visitors to Yellow Pine have to find the local hot spot for their mobile devices to connect to the outside. Prior to 1997 when the land lines were installed, Yellow Pine was known as the “Town Without a Telephone”. However, Yellow Pine did have telephones before the village was even platted.

Yellow Pine August 3, 2010 by Local Color Photography
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Early Telephones Boise National Forest

Because the years from 1908 to 1919 were light fire years, forest personnel had additional time for construction and maintenance. The first telephone-line construction began on the former Payette National Forest in 1908 with the purchase of a private line from Crawford to Knox. The line was then connected with Van Wyck, Thunder [Mountain] City [in Long Valley], Smith’s Ferry, High Valley, Ola, Sweet, and Emmett. The Forest Service operated a “central” switchboard at Crawford (near present Cascade) for many years, until private use of the line became too much of a burden for the Forest Service.

In 1910, the former Payette National Forest bought the telephone lines from Thunder City to Roosevelt (built in 1903) and Garden Valley to Peace Valley for $100. The lines were then moved to connect Knox, Stolle Meadows, Blue Point, Deadwood, and Bear Valley. A line was also built from Third Fork to Mill Creek.

Costs of phone-line construction were from $40 to $60 per mile, and the cost of cutting and peeling poles was 30 cents apiece.

Leo Fest, a retired ranger, tells of repairing phone lines in the early 1920’s between Third Fork Ranger Station and Cascade:

“I finally got the line pulled together and I was working on it. I had fastened the come-alongs on one line at one end of it, and had the other in my hand ready to fasten, when somebody decided to ring. They put four long rings through, and didn’t want to let loose of that line because I knew I’d have to go back down the hill a hundred yards or so to get it back.”

Glen Smith considers the old “tree-to-tree” phone lines the best telephone system the forest ever had.

“As long as the wire was together, you could talk on it, even though it was down on the ground… We had a switchboard in Cascade, just in the office, or a box with a series of bells and a spring in between so you could see which one was vibrating if you didn’t get there in time to hear it. And we could talk pretty well around the Forest… The first work in the spring when the ranger would move out onto his district and his seasonal men would come on was to start working the trails and the telephone lines. Cut the logs out of the trail and work the telephone lines as they went. Their first job was to get the telephone lines talking.”

source: “History of the Boise National Forest 1905-1976”, by Elizabeth M. Smith
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Telephone Line Knox to Yellow Pine

… In 1924, a phone line was built from Knox to Yellow Pine and in 1924, “The auto road from Cascade to Yellow Pine, with a spur from Landmark to Deadwood was completed…”
(Chapman, n.d.:5).

source: pg 126 “Cultural Integrity and Marginality Along the South Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho”, Thesis by SJ Rebillet 1983 (7 megs)
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Big Creek Ranger Station Switchboard

[h/t CG]
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Early Telephones Payette National Forest

Phone lines were an important improvement in communications. Early attempts at speeding fire messages by using carrier pigeons between Big Creek and McCall were only partially successful. Ranger Walter Estep said in a 1922 report “the experiment would have been more successful if the forest dispatcher had been present to receive the birds in McCall.” In appreciation for services rendered, the carrier pigeons were eaten by Forest personnel.

By 1925 a phone line was completed to Big Creek, and in 1927, a phone line had been run to the Reed Ranch. Rangers of the early 30’s like J. W. (Bill) West no doubt found this to be a great improvement over horseback and messenger. Through the 40’s and 50’s these phone lines were maintained by Forest Service personnel. The biggest effort became a smokejumper project to put the line over Lick Creek back in every spring after avalanches had knocked it down. Although subject to storm damage and grounding by wet limbs, the lines provided fairly reliable communications.

Warren Brown is said to have talked to someone in New York City from Chamberlain Basin over the old crank phone. The lines have now been largely replaced by radios and the wire rolled up over most stretches, but many trees along the routes exhibit a strange growth, which upon closer examination will prove to be an insulator.

excerpted from “Bury My Soul at Krassel Hole” – A History of the Krassel District, Payette National Forest, by Tom Ortman 1975
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Telephones in Yellow Pine

by Ted Abstein

“There used to be Forest Service telephones in Yellow Pine, the old wall-mounted phones with hand cranks where there was a signal ring, like 2 short and a long, or whatever. That was probably one of the longest party lines in existence, and lead to a long-standing feud between at least one set of individuals (Profile Sam Willson and Mrs. Edwards) who each felt his (her) access rights were being infringed upon by the other! Listening to their acrimonious exchanges was a liberal education in the fine art of cussing!

“Dad was one of the last to tie to the Forest Service line and so his ring was a long one: 2 shorts, one long and 3 shorts! Supposedly, as latecomes to the line, our usage was restricted during fire season but I don’t believe the rule was really enforced.”

source: pages 75-76 “Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy Sumner
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Albert C. Behne – Postmaster, Justice of the Peace – Yellow Pine Idaho. Courtesy Sandy McRae
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Telephone Tricks

by Ted Abstein

“The old Forest Service phone line came down the hill and Behne had the switching center at that time, before the store was established. Our favorite trick was to get a long pole and rattle it along the phone line. This would cause nearby phones to ring, so by timing our rattles we could fake Behne’s call. Behne would try to answer the phone and it was take some time for him to catch on that he was being had. When he got it he’d come tearing out of the cabin and shake his fist up the hill at us, he couldn’t see a thing but he knew we were up there doing it.”

source: page 75 ibid.
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Telephone Line Stibnite to Yellow Pine

Bradley installed a mountain telephone line to Yellow Pine. [1928]

During the summer of 1928, packers brought in 385 tons of machinery and equipment with mules, and they were using 75 head in the packing operation by fall. They could make one round trip between Yellow Pine and Stibnite in a day, and they packed in everything: mining equipment, construction equipment, food.

source: “History of the Boise National Forest 1905-1976”, by Elizabeth M. Smith
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Portable Telephone Payette National Forest

A special thanks to a local for bringing this 1932 Forest Service Model A-1 Field Telephone into the Forest Supervisor’s Office. This specific telephone was made by the Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Company, and was used in the Granite Lake area on the then Idaho National Forest.


Per the Forest Service 1937 Telephone Handbook, this is a portable telephone used on trails and in camps. It weighs 30 pounds and is in an aluminum case to help protect it from the weather. Imagine packing one of these around just to make a phone call!


“The Model A-1 is a camp or trail telephone, similar to the iron mine set except that the case is made of aluminum, is reasonably waterproof, and will withstand exposure to the weather. Standard telephone parts are used, including a 6 bar magneto, a 2500 ohm ringer, and induction coil, a 1/2 M.F. condenser in the receiver circuit, 3 dry cells, a hook switch, and a one piece hand set with standard transmitter and receiver. The talking and ringing range of this telephone is equal to that of the average heavy duty telephone. It weighs about 30 pounds, including the batteries.”

[Hat tip to SMc 2014]
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VO Ranch Telephone 1940’s

by Roxie (Cox) Himes

Our telephone was a hand crank phone that you could call the USFS office in Landmark which was 16 miles away or talk to Yellow Pine 10 miles away. If you wanted to talk outside that area you had to call Landmark and the operator would have to repeat everything to the party you called.

– excerpted from “Greyson’s school assignment on my life”
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The Last Telephones?

Q: How long did Yellow Pine have crank phones?

Vernon and Roxie Himes: I know I got pranked on the crank phone in 1959 or 1960 by Iva Kissinger. We got married and moved to Spokane in 1961 and we called home by the radio. However, I don’t know if the ranch could still talk to Yellow Pine on the crank phone.
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Gillihan’s old phone – photo courtesy Kristy Gillihan Scaraglino

Q: Do you remember crank phones when you lived in Yellow Pine 1963-1967?

Pat Gillihan: Yes, Mom would stand me on a chair in the kitchen of our Yellow Pine house to talk to Dad in the hunting camp.

Milton Gillihan: [I don’t] remember the crank phones in Yellow Pine, but that we did have them at the Neal Ranch and we could call to all of Dad’s hunting sites, including Base Camp at Crooked Creek, the Snowshoe Mine, Jensen Cabin and several other places. … when the lines started interfering with and injuring the deer and elk, they hired Dad as a contractor to remove them all.
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Q: How would someone make a reservation at the Yellow Pine Lodge or for a hunting trip? Did you have a back country radio?

Kristy Gillihan Scaraglino: We never had a back country radio when we lived up there. … I believe people called the number on our brochure and then our neighbor would place a call to Cascade Aviation (or whatever it was back then) and they would patch calls through to whomever had a radio.
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Can add a little something to the history. When I worked for Earl Dodds at Big Creek during the early 1960s the Forest Service gave the tele line to Yellow Pine and in 1963 the fire crew took the line down from Big Creek to Yellow Pine. I was part of that group.
– Sandy McRae
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photo by Steve Smith [1985]



by Michael S. Lasky

America is a labyrinth of wires. With more than 160 million telephones in the country today, virtually every home in the nation is connected by wires and space satellites that permit one to talk to anywhere in the world.

Can you imagine, then, a world without them? If the telephone in your home suddenly goes out of order, you can always use a neighbor’s or find a pay phone nearby.

But what would it be like without even those? Could you live without phones completely? Could you live in Yellow Pine, Idaho, for example?

Yellow Pine is truly an American anachronism. It is one of the last towns in the U.S. without a single phone. Situated deep in the mountainous 2.9 million-acre Boise National Forest, Yellow Pine is 52 miles from the nearest town (and telephone). From January to late April, the only way into this snowbound wilderness is by ski plane.

Most people journey to this tiny hamlet (pop. 100; 60 in winter) to hunt, fish and pan for gold. But I came to Yellow Pine to find out firsthand how, in this day and age, people live without telephones.

The main street of the town is just a block long. There are two bars, two inns, a single-room schoolhouse, a nondenominational church and Parks’ Merc, an old-fashioned combination general store-gas station-Laundromat-post office that is usually the first place a visitor stops upon arrival.

I’m no different, and when I go inside, I’m greeted by Debbie Rekow, an employee. “Now I know why you folks don’t have telephones,” I comment as I enter. “The phone installers probably got lost trying to find this place.”

“Yellow Pine isn’t the easiest place to travel to, that’s for sure,” says Debbie. “A burly truck driver came in here recently and said, ‘This sure is God’s country!’ ‘Oh, you find it pretty?’ I asked. He said. ‘What I mean is that God’s the only one who could find it!'” She laughs.

“So how do you get along without a telephone nearby’? Aren’t there times when you wish you had one’?”

“The only time when a telephone seems to be really important around here is when there’s an emergency of some sort,” says Debbie. “We do have a two-way radio to receive and send messages. But there are only certain hours that the radio is monitored.

“Now that I’m a mother, a phone seems like more of a necessity. One night my baby, Amber, was running a very high fever. But it was 3 a.m., and the radio monitor was off. If I’d had a phone, I could have called a doctor to help her and quiet my nerves.

Across the dusty dirt street that is the town’s main drag is the nine-room, 19-bed Yellow Pine Lodge, run by Bob and Darlene Rosenbaum. As soon as I enter, Darlene pours me a cup of coffee.

“How can you live way out here in the middle of nowhere without a telephone?”

Bob … says, “You know, we really can communicate with the outside world. We just have to do it over the radio. We call down to Cascade, and they have some gizmo that patches us into a phone, which they dial.”

“The bad part about these calls is that they aren’t private,” says Darlene. “Anyone who’s tuned in can hear. In winter, some people monitor the radio all day as entertainment.

“Some visitors come purposely to get away from telephones. We had a man staying here who was playing hooky from his wife,” Darlene tells me… “After a while, he decided he’d better call his wife to say he was staying a few days more. They started arguing, and she told him in no uncertain terms to get home.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to handle the radio microphone, which has this button you press in to talk and release to listen. So I stood by him and pushed it in and out at the right moments. When he finally couldn’t stop her screaming, he yelled. ‘Well, listen, honey. right now I have a lady here, and she’s pushing my button!’

“She hung up. It must have been a conversation with very high ratings, because all the radios were on monitor.

“People here are pretty self-sufficient,” notes Darlene. “One man knows automotive mechanics, and there’s another who’s a carpenter and plumber. Someone else can handle electronics, and so on. Neighbors help neighbors. We can’t just pick up a phone and call a service man to come way out here!”


Although the townsfolk enjoy the isolation that life in Yellow Pine provides, the snowbound winters test the fortitude and resolution of everyone.

Some people have gone stir-crazy here, and I’ve had to escort them to Boise for a little R and R,” Sheriff Dave McClintock tells me. “Booze and boredom are the biggest problems I get from the locals. Frankly, my job would be easier if I had a telephone. Radio airwaves are not always dependable. Sometimes atmospheric conditions make it impossible to transmit or receive messages. But, personally. I don’t need a phone. I’ve lived so long without one that I’ve learned to live without.”

Part of the Yellow Piners’ reluctance to install phones is that they are, symbolically at least, the last link with civilization. The absence of phones has kept the townsfolk independent, pioneers and, well, different from the rest of us.

“Like everything else, there is good and bad about having no phones in town,” says Bob Rosenbaum. “The constant ringing doesn’t interrupt your life, especially during meals.

“Of course, potential customers of the inn can’t call us for reservations. But,” he adds, “we don’t get bill collectors bothering us either.”

source: Parade Magazine January 12, 1986 (pages 14-15)
[h/t SM]
link: Page 1
link: Page 2
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Yellow Pine Post Card


purchased at Park’s Merc in mid 1980s.

Refrence Books:

“Yellow Pine, Idaho” compiled by Nancy Sumner
(this book can be purchased in Yellow Pine from Marj Fields)

page updated Dec 21, 2019