Memoirs of a Telephone Pioneer – by Dale S. Wilkinson

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59 Years in the Telephone Industry 1901 – 1959

Originally penned as a personal family letter, with the opening line, “To My Granddaughters Who Have Requested That I Write My Memoirs”, Dale S. Wilkinson’s family came to realize that their ancestor had a front row seat to the formative years of the fledgling telephone industry during landmark times in the history of Eastern Washington, the United States and the world at large.

Kittitas County Connection?

In a July 5, 2018 Book Review in the Northern Kittitas County Tribune newspaper (read full article here), journalist Jim Fossett interviewed Charlene Kauzlarich of the NKC Historical Society. In that interview, Fossett reports, “She said Wilkinson did in fact visit Cle Elum. ‘After he retired, he made a trip here in September 1966. He was invited by company executives to witness the change to automatic dialing.’”

From 1908 – 1910 Wilkinson managed the Yakima office of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, which Cle Elum residents of that period would recognize as the same company through which their exchange operated. Cle Elum Washington is home to the longest running telephone museum west of the Mississippi. The Northern Kittitas County Historical Society, which operates the museum, was approached by family members who wished to donate Dale’s telephone memorabilia, including his memoirs to the Cle Elum Historical Telephone Museum. (As a side note, Dale’s great-granddaughter Daylin Baker once owned the NWI Building in Roslyn.) “A quick read through the memoirs revealed a fascinating look into Mr. Wilkinson’s life story,” said Charlene Kauzlarich with the historical society, “and an in-depth, well-written historical record of the early days of the American telephone industry. His story was so very interesting, it most certainly needed to be shared with a broader audience than at our little Museum. So, with his family’s permission, we re-formatted the manuscript into this book form and are very pleased to be able to share it with you.” Proceeds from the book’s sales benefit the non-profit historical society’s maintenance and operation of the Telephone Museum and the Carpenter House Museum in Cle Elum.

A Telephone Pioneer in the Family Inspires Following Generations

Dale’s granddaughters Alda and Louise Wilkinson start out the book’s Foreword with, “As children, we found our grandfather a bit gruff.” They went on to say, “We heard about our grandfather and grandmother coming from Kansas farms all the way to Eastern Washington, where our grandfather started a telephone company and our grandmother was the operator … When we first read Grandad’s memoirs, we were disappointed that we didn’t learn more about our father… Reading the memoirs again recently, we were struck by who our grandfather was. He was fascinated from a very early age by how things work, and how to make them work better … We are also very impressed with his involvement in community development in much of Eastern Washington and now understand his continuing fascination with city and land development. He understood the politics and investment strategies that shaped the area before and during the installation of the Hanford Project… Our father … followed  his father in that he had a long career with the telephone company in Seattle.”

Table of Contents:

  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Preface
  • Growing up in Kansas,1881-1901
  • Texas – 1904
  • California
  • The San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906
  • Photographs and Newsletter Article
  • Tacoma, Washington, 1906
  • Portland, Oregon and Wedding Bells – 1907
  • Back to San Francisco, 1907
  • Welcome to yakima, Washington – 1911
  • Butte, Montana – 1914
  • Return to White Bluffs – 1915
  • The Great Depression – 1931
  • Manhattan Project – 1943
  • Retirement – 1959
  • The Dropping of the Bomb
  • Time to Travel
  • Real Estate Developer
  • Telephone Plant for Priest Rapids Dam
  • Final Thoughts
  • A Note to Jean


  • author: Dale S. Wilkinson, formatted by the Northern Kittitas County Historical Society
  • pub date: May 2018 (first edition)
  • publisher: Morris Publishing
  • ISBN: 978-0-69208738-1
  • Condition: brand new
  • soft cover
  • 196 pages
  • 35 images, including historic photographs and printed articles

About the Author

Early Farm Life

Dale Wilkinson, born 1881 in Ohio, spent his youth on a farm in Kansas. The demanding chores of farm life led to a deep desire to find something other than the farm for his life’s work.

His Telephone Industry Career Spans Mile Markers of History

At the young age of 20, he hired on with the local telephone company to dig holes for telephone poles. This was the start of his remarkable career in the relatively new telephone industry, which had only come into existence some 25 years earlier. His profession spanned historic times in America – the Spanish-American War, First and Second World Wars, Prohibition, the Great Depression and Korean War. He worked alongside veterans of the Civil War, listened to President Teddy Roosevelt speak at the Alamo, and lived in San Francisco when the earthquake struck in 1906. Stage coach lines and travel by horse and wagon were commonplace during his early career. He directed telephone operations throughout the Northwest including Boise, Butte, Portland, Tacoma, Yakima and White Bluffs, Washington, where he became intimately involved with the Manhattan Project in 1943. Mr. Wilkinson recounts his life’s story, 59 years of it in the telephone industry, in remarkable detail, and with a dry humor and wit that keeps a reader captivated until the very end.