Moab History: Early Phones in Moab and Beyond

Long before cell phones, far simpler phone technology connected Moab to the outside world. In Moab, J.N. Corbin is remembered for many entrepreneurial efforts, including being a key player in bringing telephones to the region. 

The Midland Telephone Company’s switchboard being donated to the Moab Museum by Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Corbin in 1975. From the Times-Independent.

In 1903, J.N. Corbin organized the LaSal Mountain Telephone and Electric Company to build and operate telephone and electric power lines. Top priority on their list was connecting Moab to Castleton, then a bustling community at the foot of the La Sal Mountains in Castle Valley. Lines to Thompson and Cisco soon joined the network, allowing people to communicate across the far reaches of Grand County. 

Soon after, Corbin set his sights beyond Grand County to connect Moab with other towns in the area. LaSal Mountain Telephone started its line from Moab to Monticello in 1905. It took over two years to complete, with most of the work undertaken by Corbin himself, one helper, and two pack horses. The first message transmitted over the line was in 1908, reportedly to the one phone in Monticello, located at Martinez Johnson’s “rock store.” Around this time, various outfits were undertaking similar projects across the region, connecting the fledgling towns of western Colorado and southeastern Utah, and the network of linemen, switchboard operators, and others working in different roles grew as phones grew in popularity.

After a hiatus, Corbin got involved with the local phone system again in 1915, when his new Midland Telephone Company started construction of a line between Mack, Colorado; and Price, Utah. When J.N. Corbin passed away, M.N. Due took over the leadership and J.W. “Jack” Corbin became the general manager. Jack’s wife Ila Corbin served as telephone operator, and various other family members were involved.

“Starting at the age of six, I worked for the Midland Telephone Company as an errand boy,” recalled Jay Palmer in a 1999 issue of Canyon Legacy. A cousin of J.N. Corbin’s grandson, Jay Palmer fondly recalled his role in the Monticello office as a child. “If a call came for a person without a telephone, I would run to his home to tell him he was wanted on the phone. For each run, I earned a dime.”

Technology changed dramatically over the decades, and today switchboard equipment from the Midland Telephone Company’s operation is part of the Moab Museum’s Collection. Memories of J.N. Corbin and many others who were involved with the telephone company live on in oral histories and photos.

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This article was originally published in the Moab Sun News Moab History column, written weekly by Museum staff.