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Town dials up new museum

Published July 17, 2008 at 6 p.m.

Had E.T. landed in eastern Colorado in 1946, he would have needed some help to phone home.

A radio wave might carry his message to the nearest town and a human operator would patch the call through to its destination.

Both elements are being remembered at the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Museum, which will celebrate its grand opening in the Colorado hamlet of Cheyenne Wells at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Cheyenne Wells is 2 1/2 hours from Denver on U.S. 40, south of Limon.

The museum event coincides with the town's Tumbleweed Festival.

The town of 1,000 played a pivotal role in providing phone service to Colorado farmers 62 years ago.

In 1946, Cheyenne Wells became home to the first radio-wave phone system in the U.S. The technology, developed by Bell Laboratories, allowed rural farmers to make phone calls for the first time. Previously, it had been too expensive to run individual phone lines to far-flung ranches, especially given shortages of materials as a result of World War II.

"We're hoping to draw (visitors to the museum) from the Front Range as a whole," said Rayetta Palmer, preservation chairwoman of the Eastern Colorado Historical Society.

Cheyenne Wells spent $750,000 to $1 million to restore the old phone company building where the museum is located. The building was designed in 1894 by noted Denver architect Robert S. Roeschlaub.

In its heyday, the building had 161 phone lines and was staffed 24 hours by an operator.

Colorado's newest museum is also one of its smallest. It consists of four rooms filled with artifacts and testimonials from an age gone by. In addition to written reminiscences of telephone operators who actually patched calls through, there's a rotary-dial-telephone booth, a 12-foot-high phone pole and a pre-rotary phone - the kind you just picked up and were connected to an operator.

Palmer noted a major difference between a community museum and a big city institution. Museum hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, but can be "personalized."

"If someone . . . wants to see it at a different time, all they have to do is go to City Hall. They have a key," she said.

A free brochure on this and other eastern plains museums can be obtained at ourjourney.info.

Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Museum

* When and where: Grand opening at 10 a.m. Saturday, 60 S. First Street, Cheyenne Wells.

* Admission: Free (regular hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)

* Information: ourjourney.info or 800-825-0208

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