When my family moved here nearly 39 years ago there was a single old telephone line that came overland from Moab and served about a dozen families in the vicinity of Castle Valley and Castleton, all using the same party line. The rest of us simply didn’t have a phone and probably in most cases, really didn’t care if we had one or not. A saying to new residents at the time was “welcome to Utah, set your clock back 20 years.” That was what attracted most of us here and that was the way we basically wanted it to remain.
My first memory of a phone as a kid in southern California was a wall device that hung near the front door. We didn’t have to crank it to get an operator, but all telephone calls on our party line had to go through the operator by simply lifting the receiver from the hook. We even called her to get the correct time and many other questions that didn’t really have anything to do with making a phone call. Eventually, we received new phones that came with a dial. For the first time we could call direct to the local intended party without using the operator but long distant calls still required using an operator. And my old phone number, which was “328-M,” changed to seven digits beginning with SHerwood 5.
One day, as a young teenager and just after receiving our new telephone after the new phone system was officially put in place, I wanted to give it a try on a Sunday afternoon. I decided to call The Daily Times-Advocate, where I worked in the circulation department, knowing that nobody would be there. Just after I heard the first ring someone answered the phone and I recognized the gruff voice as that of the ornery old editor and publisher. In a panic, I abruptly hung the phone up without uttering a word. Several years later I watched as the circulation manager announced that he was going to directly dial a long distance call without using an operator. That was amazing!
Back in Castle Valley in 1978 more people were moving in and the demand for phone service increased. On July 29, 1980, construction began on the new microwave system that involved beaming signals from Moab to Bald Mesa on the La Sal Mountains, then back down to Porcupine Rim above Castle Valley and from there to a concentrator at the end of Rim Shadow Lane in the valley. From there, the signals travel by underground cable down the roads and to individual homes. At the time, Continental Telephone Manager Emmett Mays told us that they expected the system to be ready by Christmas. As promised, on Dec. 19 the first call, from “Santa Claus” in Moab to Edyth Miller in Castle Valley, was placed and then the remaining 49 new customers received a call informing them of the completed phone service.
Our new phone service was taken for granted until July 1984 when then-manager of the Moab office, M. L. Terry, informed the property owners association that no new phone service was available. The 100 service lines installed nearly four years earlier were filled, “something Con-Tel officials thought would never happen,” Terry said at the time.
So 25 years ago, in 1992, the system was again maxed out. There were three homes on the waiting list and the phone company was again laying cable to accommodate the present and future needs, which would be “more than we would ever need.” But telephone company officials at the time didn’t envision the coming of the electronic age and the added load it would put on the system. Cables were added to keep up with the increased demand to the point that new equipment and the replacement of transmission dishes on Bald Mesa and Porcupine Rim were needed. A major overhaul of the equipment occurred in early October 2010, when crews worked through the night until 6 a.m. to properly align the radio waves. The project tripled the capacity of the phone and internet service, but in two years the system was already at capacity. Nationwide, the requirement for bandwidth doubles in the industry every 18 months.
The next step for Castle Valley includes plans for four to five times the size of the current radio equipment and different technology with a fiber-optic line down Rim Shadow Lane and up Castle Valley Drive, but that all depends on funding. Frontier Communications has applied for a grant of several million dollars, but the company will decide where to put that money to make the allocation stretch as far as possible. In the meantime, River Canyon Wireless received permission from the Bureau of Land Management last year to install equipment to provide internet service to Castle Valley and reports of their service have been favorable.