I love a story like this: full of good old American ingenuity filling a technological void from the bottom-up. Damn The Man! The guys didn’t need “Ma Bell” to bring the network to them–they just had to learn to tap it themselves! While on the subject, I remember building makeshift linesman’s phones when I was a kid, and making calls by manually actuating the pulses across the line (back when we still had pulse dialing). It may have been decades ago, but there’s still a lot of hacking (Phreaking? I guess it depends on the context) you can do with the old copper wires if you’re creative.
“Across much of the west,” C.F. Eckhardt explains, “…there was already a network of wire covering most of the country, in the form of barbed-wire fences….”
Source: Fence Phone – BLDGBLOG