Printer Friendly

Indiana's smallest telephone company.

Indiana's Smallest Telephone Company

Don't bother looking for Geetingsville in the current Rand McNally Road Atlas. It's not there.

Unless you're a Clinton County native, or maybe a trucker or sales rep who routinely drives between Lafayette and Kokomo, chances are you've never heard of this unincorporated town of 25 residents. Located almost exactly halfway between those two cities at Indiana 26 and County Road 200E, Geetingsville is known for two identifying features: an impressive brick Presbyterian church on the southeast corner of the crossroads, and 3-D Auto Parts, an equally impressive auto salvage yard on the southwest.

Few drivers ever notice the brownbrick structure that lies about 100 yards to the north. It's the home of the Geetingsville Telephone Co.--the smallest of Indiana's 38 independent phone companies.

The company's "238" exchange provides service to 421 customers in northeastern Clinton County. It covers five unincorporated communities. Sedalia, the largest, has about 75 residents and the area's only branch post office. Geetingsville is second with about 25 residents> Middlefork, on the crossroads of Indiana 26 and 29, is third.

The other two, Beard and Frogtown, barely qualify as communities at all. Beard, which once had its own telephone company, offers little more than a Masonic lodge. Frogtown is so small that Jim Hizer, an area native who is executive director of the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce, never even heard of it.

Not surprisingly, most of Geetingsville Telephone's customers are area farmers. Only 10 businesses have multiple-line service. Three of those businesses have a dedicated line for fax transmissions> one is the phone company itself.

Its only pay phone, located in front of the old post office at Sedalia, generates about $10 in revenue every two or three months.

The company's manager, Steve Scott, also serves as its serviceman and overall troubleshooter. Another full-time employee, Jeanine Garrison, handles accounting> a part-time clerk, Carolyn Carter, does the billing.

If all this conjures images of a quaint "mom-and-pop" operation based in a farm family's kitchen, you've got the wrong impression. Despite its small size, Geetingsville Telephone doesn't lag significantly behind other Hoosier independents in its physical layout, operations or services. In fact, in many ways it is ahead of some companies that serve rural Indiana. About 95 percent of the lines in its service area are buried.

And early this summer the company will make a giant technological leap forward when it replaces its electronic switches with a digital fiber-optic system. After that upgrade, any differences between it and its larger sister companies will be minor.

"I think we're on the tail end of getting all this new equipment," Scott admits. "Most independents that I work with already have converted. When we get it working during the second quarter, we'll be able to offer most of what other companies offer, such as call forwarding and call waiting."

The cost of this upgrade? About $485,000, or $1,150 for every customer that Geetingsville Telephone serves.

Scott, 32, says it isn't always easy to convince his board of directors to commit to making such major capital expenditures. As might be expected, the board reflects the conservative values of this agricultural area.

The board's frugality, however, has enabled it to survive in an era when independent phone companies are becoming a thing of the past.

Indiana had more than 600 independents at the turn of the century, according to John Koppin, vice president of the Indiana Telephone Association. "By 1965 we had roughly less than 100 in the state," he says.

Mergers and acquisitions since then have cut the number to 42. Four of those are the major system companies: Indiana Bell, GTE North, United Telephone of Indiana and Contel. Only 38 independents remain, and that number is expected to shrink.

So is Geetingsville Telephone ripe for a takeover by some larger company? Scott doesn't think so. "The board we have right now likes what they're doing," he says. "I don't think they would sell at the present time, and I don't think it's in the future."

Nor does Scott expect his board to buy another operation, as it did in 1947 when it acquired the Middlefork exchange, or in 1953, when it bought the Beard Telephone Co.

Scott is reluctant to reveal how much the corporation nets annually, but admits it does operate in the black.

This year the Geetingsville Telephone Co. celebrates its 90th year of service. Its first terminal poles were cut from then-plentiful native timber> its first switchboard was installed in Arthur Richard's grocery. When the store closed for the night, so did the phone service.

The grocery is long gone> so is nearly all the area's native timber. Today, the company's only link to the past is a farmhouse immediately north of its current office--the home of Edna Patrick. From 1948 until 1955 Edna and her late husband, Dale, ran the entire operation from one room in that house. The company moved to its present building in the mid-'50s--about the time it installed multiline dial service.

And what about future? Scott doesn't anticipate many changes. Most of Clinton County's industrial recruitment efforts and construction activity are centered in Frankfort. Mulberry, in the county's northwest corner, is benefiting from its proximity to Lafayette's Subaru-Isuzu Automotive Inc. plant. Greater Geetingsville seems unlikely to reap any rewards from these developments.

Koppin thinks the company could have hedged againsth the future by investing in a nearby corporation that will provide cellular phone service to the county. But Scott disagrees. "We could have gotten into a corporation to own cellular service, but the decision was made not to," he says.

With a service area that only has 10 business customers and three dedicated fax lines, that decision was probably wise. "I think it's going to take a few years before cellular even turns a profit," Scott says. "They sound good, but they just don't apply here.

Scott foresees a much greater future for the company in another field. "Everybody in the rural area wants cable TV," he says. "That's about our most demanding thing."

If current federal regulations protecting the cable television industry are modified to allow rural telephone companies to get into the business more easily, Frogtown's three houses may yet get their MTV.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Greetingsville Telephone Co.
Author:Samuelson, Dave
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Back to work; Indiana's occupational health centers cut worker's compensation costs and get employees back on the job.
Next Article:Terre Haute turns out tofu.

Related Articles
Indiana's long-distance choices; after six years of divestiture, a host of companies and services are available in Indiana.
WATS the difference?
The name game.
Dueling for dial tones.
Dueling dial tones: why local phone competition has been slow to arrive.
In the fast lane: low-cost, high-speed Internet zipping across Indiana.
The Alternatives?
Doing MORE with LESS.
2001 Excellence In Leadership awards.
The state of broadband: Indiana ranks 34th in digital infrastructure. Goal is top quartile of states.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters