At the turn of the 20th century, Beulah was beginning to bustle—hotels, soda springs, horseback riding, campers, summer cabins, cool mountain air—excursionists out for a ride, Puebloans looking for cooler temperatures were making Beulah a destination for retreat, and recreation. With a growing population, and the first U. S. patent issued in 1876 to Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone, the convenience, and speed of a phone to relay a message could not be denied.
Original phone lines found their way to Beulah directly through the 3-R Ranch, down the St. Charles Canyon to the Cedar Grove Cheese Factory, on to the bottom of Beulah Hill and into the Valley.
According to the Beulah Historical Society's 1979 history book, the first telephone system in the valley was in the early 1900s. A toll line was available from Pueblo, and connected at various points by the old magneto system (a hand-cranked electrical generator that uses magnets to produce alternating current from the rotating armature). In 1914 when convict labor was being used to work on the Beulah Highway (SH-76 at that time), a telephone line was strung, as they moved from place to place, over the course of several years, to connect the camp to Pueblo. Soon local residents were permitted to connect to the line.
Public phones have been in Beulah since the 1920’s. There were pay phones at the Traeber store (across from the Beulah Inn on Grand Avenue), in the Post Office, and the Peak View Store (eventually called the Pine Drive Store), at the junction of Pine Drive and Roosevelt Lane, now a residence.
The majority of private phones were in the cabins along Pine Drive, and in the Pueblo Mountain Park area, where the WPA (Works Progress Administration established by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935) had set up a work camp for unemployed single men. Residents erected poles, set up lines, and the Pine Drive Store, and owner Bill Reynolds became the keeper of the switchboard, as most calls were to the store for orders. A build-your-own, take-care-of-your-own system grew to 26 lines.
Growing weary of answering the phones in the middle of the night, Reynolds stated his plan for exiting the telephone business to local resident Joe (Staniforth) Sellers, a familiar face along Pine Drive, and the adopted son of Charlton Sellers (son of Beulah Pioneer Col. Charles Sellers). Reynolds declared he would leave the switchboard in the street that September, and anybody who wanted it, could take it.
The young Sellers family, Joe, his wife Edith, and their six year old son, Dick purchased the operation for $1.
Dick vividly recalls seeing the big box with holes and wires going everywhere—the switchboard was installed on the front porch of his home on 8601 Pine Drive. On September 15, 1956 the Pine Drive Telephone Company started connecting the Beulah area. Their original logo incorporates a tree in the middle of the a road, a nod to the original phone route, and the road, bisected by a pine trees.
The new telephone company ran 'five pair cable', which set up 10 party lines, servicing 50 people with crank phones. New lines went up, covering more of the Beulah Valley. Most folks thought the Sellers would never serve as many customers as was possible, but we now recognize the beginning of an astounding trend in technology, and the perpetual need for more speed and data.
At that time, you couldn't get any better data and fast by way of Grandma Allee—first to get the newspaper at her place at the bottom of Rock Creek, She was known to get on the horn, delivering the news to the Valley, before the paper even arrived! Word traveled fast with the use of party lines.
The business was growing, and the switchboard needs were ever-present, Edith and Dick were the Beulah operator, while Joe worked at CF&I (maintenance and tube mill). In the early morning, evenings, nights and weekends, ‘Joe Bell’ as he was affectionately known, pieced together a larger network to service a greater area.
“When we needed telephone poles, we went to the forest, cut down trees, peeled the bark and treated them with creosote; then we dug the postholes and planted them up North Creek, down 3R, out Siloam, down Waterbarrel and up 12 mile. With the benevolence and help of landowners, the system grew rapidly and just about everyone that wanted a phone had one,” confirms the younger Sellers.
A concrete block building was built behind the home in 1961, shortly thereafter, an automatic switching system was installed to eliminate the need for an operator. Dial phones came in 1962, and touchtones came in 1984.
Joe semi-retired in 1975, and quickly became involved in the organization of a year-long celebration for the Beulah Historical Society, celebrating the bi-centennial of the nation and the centennial of the state of Colorado, and Beulah! Almost 50 years later, the memorable events still come up in conversation.
By 1983 Joe was ready to turn all operations to Dick, who was in the middle of a successful career with the Coast Guard; a husband to his wife, LeeAnn; and father to two sons, Matt and Mike. As luck would have it, Dick was faced with moving to Washington, D.C., or to Beulah, CO—they chose Beulah. And lucky for the Beulah community that they did, as their contributions for quality living have been generous, and impactful in so many positive ways. The Sellers family donated six acres of land to the Beulah Fire Protection and Ambulance District in 2015, and it now serves as the location for the Fire Station No. 1.
Digital switching came to the phone company in 1988, and residents insisted on private lines. The phone company buried cable, took down poles and lines to minimize outages during storms; ending the era of the clicks, blips, sounds of relays, and tones—producing an eerie silence, according to Dick. It was said that a good phone tech could walk into centralized operations, and know if all was well in the system, just by the sound of it.
In 1991 free calling to Pueblo was secured, and in the mid 1990s cable upgrades made it possible to bring cable TV into the Valley, at a time when folks found just one or two channels via antenna. Pine Drive Telephone Company set up LIVE broadcasts from the Beulah School to a cable channel for a period of time. However, technological progress can be blamed for the demise of Cable TV in Beulah, as cable price structures, and Beulah's limited population made it a losing proposition, despite the company propping it up it for years.
In 1997, local dialing to the Internet became available in Beulah through the association with fone.net. Internet services moved to broadband in the new millenium and the phone company rebranded as socolo.net.
The digital age started with Dial-Up, to 1200, then 2400, on to 56K, blazing towards 100Mb, as speeds continue to grow. Improving data quality keeps the dynamic and flexible team busy on a daily basis. Fiber optics to every house is the future, with standard speeds of 10Mb.
In 2018, a 1Ghz backbone and a new switching system brought the ability to easily check email and voicemail and online phone bill.
And now moving towards 2020, Pine Drive Telephone Company will shift to using the name Beulahland Communications, which melds the long-running phone services with high speed broadband services, encompasses the larger role technology has brought to phone companies.
Now covering 226 square miles of area, and approximately 750 customers, Beulahland Communications is on the forefront of bringing more reliable and consistent data to every home. Fiber optics has unlimited capacity, which can be tapped with changes in electronics as they are developed. Higher and higher speeds are rolling out using the legacy copper and the fiber project, which will continue for several years. The forward thinking phone company will focus support to help customers manage new devices, and continue to be the one-stop communications provider.
The entire Beulah area owes a debt of gratitude to the Sellers family, and an exceptional team of employees through the years, for creating a phone company with heart, and personal connection.