For the Love of Morse: George’s Story
American Morse Code (also known as Railroad Morse) is the latter-day name for the original version of the Morse Code developed in the mid 1840s by Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail for their electric telegraph. The 1911 Chart of the Standard American Morse Characters is now obsolete. The International Morse Code has been adopted now.
George Campbell, born May 25, 1926, in Brandon, Manitoba, is the author of the newly published book, “GOOD NIGHT OLD MAN” (Dreamwrite Publishing). In his book, George takes you on a walk down memory lane, a journey into his personal history with the American Morse Code and his days as a land line Commercial Morse Operator (not wireless).
While sitting down to tea, George spoke fondly about his days in the telegraph business. George began as a messenger at the age of 15 years.
He spoke of the joys of being a messenger and the comedy of errors that often occurred in delivering those messages. His benefits were $1.33 per day, plus 1 cent per parcel delivered; no matter how big, how far away, or how bad the weather! This was all done from the seat of a bicycle he supplied himself.
George learned the craft of sending telegraphs at the commercial office in the J.E. Bldg. in Brandon, Manitoba at the insistence of the night operator, who taught and encouraged him. This was all done after hours, of course. At the time, he was also registered at the Brandon Business College to learn typing and short-hand. This was one step further to reaching his ultimate goal. Later, with much practice before hand, George sent his first real telegraph, shaking, yet still excited, and from then on he never looked back, this was his dream job.
Commenting about his telegraph days, George stated, “Some of us operators were able to listen to code, keeping several sentences in our heads and typing at the same time.” He said that Thomas Edison was known to keep a paragraph in his head at one time, rewrite it as he was copying it and produce a better story than the original.
In quoting from George’s book, with permission, he states, “I find it odd that I remember my first career and relate to it much more than I do the other two. The career that defines me as a person, that says ‘this is who you really were, kid’, is still a Commercial Morse Operator, I’m proudest of that one.”
George spent from 1941-1961 in the telegraph business before going on to his two other careers. During this time, he met and married his wife Ruth and they began raising their one boy and two girls. George continued his interrupted education, getting his high school as well as acquiring his Bachelor of Science from the University of Manitoba. He would go on to acquire his Bachelor of Education in 1985.
A career change would take Mr. Campbell and family to Thunder Bay, Ontario, where he would teach for the next 26 years. George told how he had great memories of his teaching years, however, if he could sum it all up, “I’d say that there were two dozen days in my career as a teacher when I was absolutely brilliant, about five times as many as that when I should have been taken out and flogged I was so poor, and the rest of the time where I was quite ordinary.”
Career number three is where George chuckles and tells me how he was a freelance writer as well (is this newbie nervous now), but he reassures and encourages me to go on). He wrote for many years for numerous media, including the CBC. He was also hired to write nine books that were privately published.
July 1991 found George retiring and with his loving wife, Ruthie, moved to Leduc, Alberta, where his son was living at the time, and where George still resides.
George and Ruth got involved in volunteering and volunteer they did! George organized the Telford singers mixed choir in 1992, and conducted them until 2011. They volunteered at Leduc Senior Citizens Club, Leduc Food Bank, Adult Education Project, Salem Nursing Home, Dr. Wood’s House Museum, Leduc West Antique Society, The Alberta Railway Museum (Wetaskiwin), numerous churches, and Prairie Steam tours at Donalda and Meeting Creek where with the members of the Edmonton Chapter of the Morse Telegraph Club. They did presentations about the American Morse Code and their experiences as telegraph operators.
As time went on for George and Ruth, the day would come on August 11, 2010, when George would lay his precious Ruthie to rest. They had celebrated their 60th anniversary the previous year.
George now stays busy volunteering at times. His primary focus is the Edmonton Chapter of Morse Telegraph Club, where they still go out doing presentations, educating as many people as possible, making available CDs with actual morse code messages being sent out. They recently finished a pamphlet containing telegraphs sent, dating from March 26 to May 13, 1885.
On asking George why he wrote his book, he stated, “I wanted to leave a legacy, something for my children and at the same time, preserve history, a memorial as such to the now obsolete American Morse Code and the telegraph operators of that day, personally written from the business end of a telegraph key.”
George is now 85 years old and the forward in his book amply states his feelings “to me birthdays are just lies anyways, because the real person who lives inside this ancient body is the same 15 year old kid who walked into the CPR telegraph office in Brandon, Manitoba, on July 17, 1941 and asked for a job.” This being the job that would remain in his heart and from that experience "GOOD NIGHT OLD MAN" was born.
George Campbell's book is available through Dreamwrite Publishing (www.dreamwrite.ca) and locally from Telford House, in Leduc. Ph. 780-986-6160, and Peace Lutheran Church, Leduc. Ph. 780-986-2688.