A local hero's

Or, how a local homemaker saved Blacklick Valley... (tolls on calls to Johnstown)

This feature is for those of us who don't otherwise have access to regular dispatches from Nanty Glo, and is not intended to discourage anyone from subscribing to the Journal. Residents of the Valley and/or those who do read the Journal will find these reports mostly old news, but those of us many miles away tend to miss items like these. And yes, it's a shameless parody of Garrison Keilor's "News from Lake Woebegone," based on the dual ideas that a folksy tone seems right for this purpose, and more and more the news from Nanty Glo seems to be about something being gone {groan}.

Column No. 4, July 20 1998              

The Nanty Glo-begone news has been pretty slow. You might be able to tell that by the fact that we haven't done one of these columns since the one after last November's upset election of a new Nanty Glo mayor. (There have been other news items on the site, however; just not in the endearing—or annoying, depending on your perspective—style of these reports.)

And this news is really old to many people, but new to me and probably some other readers, and I would think a good trip down memory lane for those who recollect it from their personal grey matter. It's the story of how a valley homemaker fought establishment powers and won...in 1980. What's gone in this tale of Nanty Glo-begone is the old order of having to pay a toll to call Johnstown from any Nanty Glo exchange. I found out about the events that brought this to pass through a conversational email exchange I carry on with a friend I met through the Home Page shortly after its launch, Trudy Myers, who grew up in Blacklick Valley, now lives near Dilltown and works at the Cambria County Library in Johnstown.

In the course of discussing matters famous and arcane, Trudy mentioned: "In 1980 I filed a formal complaint with the Public Utility Commission against GTE to get toll-free calling from Nanty Glo to Johnstown.  After lengthy and comprehensive research, working with the Attorney General's office, and trying to find a local attorney who would represent us (class action) gratis; we finally went to hearing.  I went on record as having the most people turn out for a PUC hearing in the judge's history—over 500.  (And out of the 500, only) nine people testified to protest the move.  That never made any sense to me.  However, we won the case in 1981.

"(The opponents') ultimate complaint was that we would have to pay $2 more a month for the service and (some argued that they) never made phone calls to Johnstown.  I'll bet they did after they were free.

"There have been major changes in the long-distance service since those days.  I like to think that I played a big part in that, though I'm not certain.  Yes, Ebensburg is still part of that toll-free system (from Nanty Glo).  It was one of biggest arguments in the case that we could call from GTE into a Bell exchange with no charge, but couldn't call our own exchange toll-free.  We were the only exchange (749) in the system that couldn't call our own system without a fee.  The deciding factor was that all our natural trading was done in Johnstown, not Ebensburg. Further, all hospitals, most government officials, etc., were in Johnstown, not Ebensburg. 

"We presented an excellent case.  The judge was quite impressed.  He was most impressed, though, about those 500 people showing up for the hearing and that he had to have parking space reserved for him, and had a police escort into the firehall in Nanty Glo.

"Everyone was on my side; and they did everything they could to make me look good.  I had excellent witnesses, and all my ducks in order.  We spent one entire day of testimony just with my witnesses; GTE never even got on the stand, which was what the Attorney General's office had directed me to do.  They were very impressed that a mere homemaker could make such a show.

"My lady friends all banded together and brought covered dishes for the attorneys and judge (or whoever) because there was no place to eat in Nanty Glo at that time. 

"Having the hearing in Nanty Glo was a kind of funny part of the whole process. I argued and argued with the judge for him to come to Nanty Glo, rather than to hold the hearings in Pittsburgh, which was the normal process.  Then he agreed to come to Cambria County and have it in Johnstown (thankfully there were no courtrooms available); then he decided he'd come to Ebenburg, which was the next point of government property. 

"I finally convinced him that it snows very heavily in Cambria County in January and that there was no parking in the vicinity in Ebensburg where he wanted to hold the hearing.  I said, 'Besides, there's going to be hundreds of people; they can't all park in Ebensburg.'  He was frustrated with my persistence, but finally gave in with the admonition, 'Ms. Myers, I will try this just once.  In my history of being an Administrative Law Judge, I have never had more than about seven little old ladies show up for a hearing, and they always complain that their feet get cold in firehalls. If it doesn't work out and there's a second hearing, we'll do it my way.'

"After all this happened, then the Ebensburg exchange got extended calling into Johnstown, but Johnstown cannot call Ebensburg without a toll."

I considered this one of the best local stories I'd come across, and begged Trudy to let me share it here. I remember well the years of resenting the tolls to call Johnstown when I lived in the Nanty Glo exchange, and even though it's an issue long gone from my own life, it was pleasant to hear that this was something that had a happy ending for Blacklick Valley residents.

That's the fourth report from Nanty Glo-begone; send us your
responses, corrections, questions, and most of all "news."

Harrison Pielor is the pen name of an erstwhile Blacklick Valley journal keeper.

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