All of my memories of Dormphone are fond; it was a major formative experience in my life. I know it is now Dormline, but when I was there, it was Dormphone, or formally the Dormitory Telephone System (DTS).
Dormphone never had to recruit technicians; instead you were “tapped” by an existing technician, in my case Kenneth T. Pogran. It was a process akin to being tapped for a secret society, minus the humiliation of initiation.
Or perhaps not.
When I started, I spent a lot of time using a special tool to remove the dust from Strowger switches in the exchange (switch), located in the basement of Walker Memorial next to WTBS. The switch was bequeathed to MIT by John Hancock Life when they upgraded their internal system.
The dusting job was made easier by listening to Bye, Bye Miss American Pie among other hits from 1971 on the WTBS line that ran through the exchange.
One of my other early jobs could have been considered initiation; I was assigned the task of placing the weekly updates from the Bell System into a multi-volume set of loose-leaf binders called the Bell System Practices. They contained instructions on every aspect of running a phone system, often including lavishly well-crafted illustrations.
As as person who was thrilled by learning arcane information, I enjoyed (among many other things) learning the color coding of the 25-pair cable used to install five-button office phones.
And I will never forget the first time I stood in the exchange and listened as the marvelous machine that was a step-by-step exchange loudly translated a set of rotary dialed numbers into a telephone connection.
Of course I also enjoyed walking or crawling through the bowels of the Institute, sometimes drilling through two-foot thick walls to get phone lines where they needed to go; other times just pulling cable, like the 500-pair cable that ran under Mass. Ave.
It was the perfect term-time job for a person who held a First Class Radiotelephone Operators permit and who felt that washing dishes or shelving books was beneath him.
The greatest thing about Dormphone as a job was that you got to decide when you worked and for how many hours. If you needed a few extra bucks for streetcar fare, a movie ticket and some popcorn, you came to school early and worked an hour or two before class. Or in my case, instead of class.
I needed the money, since my parents only contributed $800 (the cost of an education at Portland State) to my $2500 MIT tuition bill (hello $10,000 in debt). Dormphone covered my room, board, books and incidentals, once I ran through the money I made selling my comic book collection.
Dormphone wasn’t all work and no play. Repairing phones allowed you to view a wide variety of interesting dorm rooms, including one full of marijuana plants and another full of partially assembled “black boxes,” handheld devices that allowed a person to make free long-distance calls.
And there was the amusement available in the East Campus dorm (I no longer remember which one) where the telephone junction box was in the shower room. The steam was constantly ruining connections. I don’t know how many showers we delayed or shortened there.
Other than the switches and the BSP pages, there was never a dull moment and often an interesting one, which is why I am fond of my time at Dormphone.