Lyle Keewatin Richards has used century-old telephone technology to accomplish what he couldn’t do with his cellphone — call his house from his garage.
Annoyed by poor reception problems with his 21st century cellphone, Richards strung 12 metres of wire and some old-fashioned glass insulators on teepee posts across his backyard.
He attached one end of the wire to an antique crank-handled telephone that was mounted on the wall of his house. The other end he connected to a similar chunky wooden phone from the early 1900s in his garage.
With a little bit of historic research and some mechanical savvy, Richards was able to achieve his own Alexander Graham Bell moment: his wife responds to the antique phone’s tinny ring in her living room, picks up the conical earpiece, and hears her husband’s voice clearly coming through from the garage.
Richards admitted he was inspired to rig up this century-old telecommunications method when his cellphone couldn’t pick up a signal while he was working in his garage shop and needed to contact his wife, Pat Marcellus, inside their home.
“I collect weird old stuff and I like figuring out old technology,” said the Red Deer resident.
So he thought, why not try to make his antique telephones work again?
He had obtained one of the rectangular wooden phones — the kind with two bells that resemble eyes — from a friend who was moving out of province. The other was purchased from an antiques dealer.
Although Richards, a welder and metal artist, has a knack for mechanics, he didn’t know much about these old conical earpiece telephones. When he looked inside them, he noticed magneto boxes — “same as in a Model T” automobile engine.
Richards explained that when copper coils are turned, the magnets produce an electric current.
Small illustrations were included inside the phones to help people figure out how to connect them.
These drawings didn’t initially make much sense to Richards — so he went online for more details, and found fairly basic instructions: “It said connect A and B together… and the ground wire goes here…”
Indoor and outdoor wire was purchased and Richards put out a Facebook request for old-fashioned glass insulators that resulted in some donations.
After stringing the wire across his backyard on top of teepee poles, Richards was challenged to figure out how to connect wires to the house and garage without drilling through exterior walls. He put them through window frames.
Reusing old things, or making them work again, is one of Richards’ hobbies. He previously crafted a black powder rifle, turned iron bed frames into hide scrapers for some of his Indigenous hunter friends, and connected a vintage-style door bell to his front door.
Visitors to his shop will see a furnace flue starter turned into an air in-/out-take system, and such throw-back items as an old hand-operated drill press.
Richards, an Indigenous man who was adopted into a Caucasian family, said both he and his wife, and now their daughter, have a soft-spot for antiques. He noted he and Marcellus were raised by older parents who appreciated the workmanship inherent in vintage products.
“I don’t know if I picked it up, or made it up,” he joked, but bringing old items back to life has been his preoccupation during the pandemic.
“If I didn’t have this place, I’d be climbing the walls,” he said. “It’s not a good time to have nothing to do…”