My SG-1A

In the summer of 1997, ad the ripe old age of 16, I found myself inside a run down down motel known to the locals as the Murder Inn, . I was listening to an auctioneer sell off what remained in the soon to be torn down building. One item that caught my eyes was the building’s phone system – a big blue box in the basement, and a console with blinking lights behind the front desk. A few hours and $70 later, and the system was mine. Everything had to be out by the building end of the day, so my dad, my brother and I set about extracting the system from the basement of the building. A few hours and a lot of lifting later, we had the behemoth crammed in the back of my parent’s ‘92 aerostar, along with 30 telephones that were apparently also part of the deal.

Once we were home, the rules laid down my by dad were simple; the big blue mystery box would sit at the end of the driveway, protected only with plywood and tarp, until I cleared out enough stuff in one of the outbuildings to make room for it. It was destined for my dad’s old workshop, an unheated building that was assembled from pieces salvaged from an old covered railway bridge. I spent that day shuffling stuff eround to make room, and that night reading through the binders that came tucked away inside the big blue cabinet.

By the next morning I was ready to load the system into its new home. With the help of my brother, we lifted the pieces into the building. Because of recent changes made during renovations to the nearby house, The doorway to the building was 4 feet off of the ground, and there were no stairs. Using a bit of wobbly 2x12 as a ramp, we ‘eased’ the cabinet into the building. I spent the rest of the morning putting the cabinet back together, and inserting the cards. Once everything was back to the way I found it, I flicked on the power switch. At first there was a high pitched squeal from the power supply, and a couple moments later, a healthy “ca-hunk” as the system finished powering up. It was alive!

I had nothing to connect to the system; we had to cut the various 25 pair cables serving the cabinet in order to get the system out of the motel in time. The cross-connect cabinet that it came with had at one point suffered from the fallout of a nearby leaky pipe, and needed to be gutted. I set to work rewiring the cross-connect cabinet, and manually re-terminating the 25 pair cables onto the Amphenol plugs with a punch-down tool crafted from a piece of steel strapping. Soon enough, I had the console re-connected, as well as a couple telephones.

At this point in my life, I had absolutely no experience with telephone systems. There were so many concepts that were completely foreign to me. I didn’t know what a “trunk” was, or what “class of service”, “glare” or “loop start” meant. I learned a lot about telecom from just reading those manuals and trying to figure out from the text what these things were.

In my search for spare parts for my first SG-1A in 1999, I came across another SG-1A in nearby Calgary (a 3 hour drive) for $200. Of course, only when we arrived to pick the thing up did we discover that we had to somehow get it down off of a loading dock before we could get it into the back of the van. My dad and I made some wooden card crates to store the cards in while the system was in transit, and we removed all of the cards to help lighten the load. Soon enough, we had assembled a posse of people to clumsily lower the cabinet down to ground level.

The same rules (you need to clean up a home) applied with the new SG-1A, but my original switching headquarters were a little bit too cramped, and I had my eyes on new digs anyway. There was better real estate available on the property, with carpeted floors, double glazed windows, and best of all, heat. The only catch was that it was in the second floor of a building. I again recruited the help of my brother to haul the new system up the stairs and into place. The plan was simple; He would take the high side, and I would take the low side. It wouldn’t be fair to expect him to get crushed by a piece of my hobby, would it? The plan looked good in theory, but things “fell apart” in practice. The stairs in question were covered, but they were still outdoors, and the wedges that held the treads in place had managed to work themselves loose.

Had I thought things out a little better, I would have probably checked on the wedges before we started to pack the PBX up the stairs. They were always falling out. I didn’t. At the half-way point, by brother managed to kick 4 stair treads in a row out completely. This left him holding one of the end of the PBX and me holding the other, with 4 feet of nothing in between. It was at this point that I should have realized that this hobby was not going to be a convenient one. Fortunately, Jesse and Stanley, the kids that lived across the road, had stopped over to watch the spectacle. With a little coaching and convincing, we managed to convince Jesse to crawl under the looming cabinet of doom, and re-insert the missing stairs. After a while, I moved my first system into the same location. This time, I made sure the stairs were firmly in place, and I also removed everything I could from the cabinet, reducing the trauma significantly.