In December I found out that our member Anna's husband, Henry, set-up a Telex network for themselves. I was intrigued (and confused), so I asked Henry to explain more. He wrote me back and I completely dropped the ball on making a blog post about it. So, here is my very delayed post on Henry saving Telex units that were destined to rust to death in order to revive and create an almost forgotten communication network in his own community.
While Anna loves letters, her husband's interests sway towards communication's electromechanical equipment, like telephones and telegraphs. The UK used a Telex system, which is a network of teleprinters (like a telephone network) that send text-based messages, up until the '90s. This service was run under the same department as telephones and telegraphs in the UK, the General Post Office (GPO). When Henry found out that their local exchange was being upgraded and some of the Telex units were going to be "unceremoniously scrapped," he decided to do something about it. Why? Well, here is his story as to the why and what behind the personal Telex exchange he has rebuilt for himself:
"Finding a use for things is by far and away the best means to preserve them. What you have done mirrors almost exactly what I have tried to achieve with the Strowger exchange equipment.
When our local exchange was finally updated, I discovered the equipment was all going to be unceremoniously scrapped. Yet some of the units were installed when the exchange was first opened just at the end of the war - in fact, all the older equipment was designed around 1935, so I thought I should try to save some of it.
The equipment is all hand wired, with lovely laced bundles of cables - a work of art really. Unlike today's printed circuit boards containing components which either work or do not, this old apparatus needed adjusting and maintenance skills. Faults could be found and put right. Even upgrades could be accommodated by adding new circuits.
The rural exchanges in the UK were assembled from pre-wired units. Each piece was self-contained, so it is entirely possible to make a working system from a very few of these racks. I was able to save just enough to make a little intercom system for my home and that was all I ever thought it would be.
Broadband has changed all that. I expect you've heard of Skype; there are a number of similar systems and I believe Vonage have a nationwide broadband based telephone system also. These use broadband adapters to regular telephones.
I discovered, by using similar remote Voip adapters, it is possible to connect an old telephone, such as the Princess telephone, to the exchange. Like the typewriters, it is slower but very satisfying! Calls are connected using the old-fashioned tones and ringing. Just like having a private wire between your home and the exchange!
In order to provide for this new and ambitious use, I had to obtain far more equipment than the pieces I originally saved. Plus, I had to embark upon a thorough overhaul of the apparatus as the Voip equipment demands a high operating standard. All of this was not so much of a chore: as you can no doubt appreciate, this new-found use made the hobby suddenly much more challenging and satisfying. The equipment had a new relevance.
Teletype, or Telex as it was known in the UK, operated over a similar system. When it was first introduced, the machines used Voice Frequency converters to signal using tones, over regular telephone wires. This means it should be entirely possible to use a similar system to reconnect Telex over Voip. Interconnection would be via the exchange.
I am presently working to achieve this. The goal will be to utilise the remote adapters to connect, via the exchange, Telex machines anywhere in the world.
For example, I read that you regularly host seminars where visitors can come and use typewriters. If you had access to broadband at your venue, then you could have a Teletype machine take centre stage. Anyone with a similar machine, anywhere, could take part and send and receive messages. Not sure if you've ever seen one of these things running, but it is nothing like an electric typewriter. They are completely mechanical and motor driven, only the telegraph switch is electrical (not electronic)."
Thanks to Henry for sharing his story! Believe me, I have been dreaming of a way to get a Teletype machine running at one of our Letter Socials, but I just haven't had time to plot it. So much awesome stuff and so little time to do it. I applaud Henry for his amazing work with these Telex units. Do any of you have a broadband adapter (ATA) to send and receive Telex messages?