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Geoff Jull

Our New Zealand Correspondent

I was born on a New Zealand dairy farm in the mid 1920s. My father, a returned serviceman from the First World War, had taken up a 50 acre block of land with the Waikato River as one boundary and the main highway between Auckland City and Hamilton as the front boundary.

Paddle steamers were still in use on the river moving coal, timber, livestock and general freight to towns and settlements on the river, even stopping at individual farms if required. On Sundays and holidays a smaller steamer would take people for trips on the river, often tying up to a tree on the river bank to use our property for picnics and sports events. This was always a chance for me to go aboard and question the engineer on the workings of the boiler and machinery.

In later years my parents bought a Model T Ford and in no time I was able to sit in the driver's seat and control the throttle and spark levers that were mounted on the steering wheel while my father frantically wound the crank handle. In those the petrol probably had an octane rating little more than 65 or 70.

Most mechanical things on the farm had to be maintained and serviced by my father so basic principles of gears-pulleys-belt drives and milking machines soon became familiar. One of the most intriguing items in the house was a genuine Swedish Ericsson wall telephone that connected us and nine other families on a line to the nearest manual exchange. In no time I had learned how to open the front when parents were away and remove the two Eveready batteries to use in crude experiments such as putting wires from the batteries into a solution of bluestone (copper-sulphate) and try to copper plate bits of metal. Returning two flat batteries to the phone on one occasion incurred not only appropriate punishment but a complete veto on ever touching the phone again.

The final misdemeanour (still phone related) was an attempt, with a friend, to try to build a spot welder similar to one we had seen in a local engineering shop. From the local rubbish tip we found some old telephone batteries and removed two carbon rods, which we attached to the end of a long extension cord that my mother used for her washing machine. To create some resistance in the circuit we removed the element from an electric heater and wired it to our contraption. Standing away a fair distance we used a stick to get the two carbon rods in contact. The result was quite a shattering explosion of sparks and rubber - the extension cord melted and all power to the house was cut. A very angry father, who had just commenced milking the cows, dragged us off to the shed and had us help him to hand milk about 30 cows as the power fuses out on the main road had also blown.

Following secondary schooling during the Second World War I was man-powered into the local meat-processing plant which had a high priority for labour to keep supplies of food for the war effort both at home and abroad. The job was heartbreaking both mentally and physically so I negotiated an escape by joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force to do a Wireless Technician's training course. The end of the war was a chance to move on so I took up a job with the Government Electricity Department that built the high voltage transmission lines. The towers that carried the lines were up to 20 metres high and put together with nuts and bolts like a giant Meccano set. The job, especially in winter, was dangerous and difficult so, once again, I moved on, this time getting an adult trainees position with the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department where my mechanical and electrical interests were really extended.

I stayed with the Telephone Company for 42 years and that covered the early days on maintenance and construction of drop-shutter boards and telegraph systems, and then on to Western Electric 7A Rotary Exchange systems that were introduced into New Zealand in the early 1920's and, in many centres, operated for almost 60 years. The Western Electric exchanges were superseded by the standard British Post Office 2000 type exchanges to be followed, in turn, by Japanese Cross-bar systems and finally the shift to pure electronic systems.

As I had completed more than 40 years service in telephony, I retired to become master of my own time. Retirement allowed me to build up on my collecting hobbies and I was able to find good telephone artefacts that were still available in the late 1980s. Joining the two Australian phone collecting clubs soon helped with my collections and also resulted in some great friendships and hospitality both in Australia and the USA. I have centred my collection on early L. M. Ericsson phones and intercom sets with other phones representative of Western Electric, Stromberg-Carlson, Kellogg, Automatic Electric plus candlesticks of the period. An interest in early battery electric clocks has introduced master clocks from public buildings and telephone exchanges into the collection.

My long standing membership of the Auckland Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) originally involved vintage motor transport but over the last 10 to 12 years I have been involved in building up the communication section where, with several ex-workmates, we have completed several working displays of automatic and manual exchange equipment up to the electronic era.

The next challenge for us, when space permits, will be to bring in a unit of very early Strowger Automatic exchange equipment. This self contained cabinet dates from the early 1920's and has Keith line finders and pre-2000 type Strowger selectors. Unfortunately water damage during storage will make this project very difficult but we hope to make at least a static display if not a full working one.

Three adult children and four grandchildren provide plenty of diversions from my hobbies and interests as already mentioned.

Written about 2002. Unfortunately, Geoff passed away on 14th January 2010 following a short fight with cancer. He will be sorely missed.

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