Back When -- Belle Lovelady Was On The Line -- Part 2



Belle Russell had married Walter Lovelady at Globe in 1919, and come with him to live on Webber Creek.

There, just up from today's Flowing Springs community, Walter had homesteaded a 160-acre ranch. However, Walter's tuberculosis, the result of being gassed in World War I, made ranching too difficult and they sold out to their friend Bill Craig.

They moved to the Hammond Ranch west of the town of Payson, just in time for their daughter, Dorothy, to be born in 1920. After a couple of years the money from the sale of their homestead was running out, and the family moved into town.

At first they lived in Texas Flats, in the vicinity of today's Julia Randall School, and Belle went to work in the local cafes. She also did housework about town while Walter was recovering from his tuberculosis.

By 1924 Walter had regained his strength and became Payson's town constable. He held that office for 12 years, having succeeded his father, James Lovelady, who had been constable in Payson from 1918 to 1924.

After a two year break, Walter began a second 12-year stint as constable in 1938. He was famous for his method of handcuffing the drunks to trees, car bumpers, and utility poles during Rodeo Week and on weekends.

Belle and Dorothy would go around to check on the culprits, and when it was determined they had sobered up they would call Walter to come and release them.

Their son, Larry, had been born in 1926. He went on to fulfill a childhood dream to be a pilot, and flew bombers in World War II.

It was following the war that Belle took on the job for which she became best known. She was Payson's switchboard operator. For years the telephone had been a simple Forest Service line that linked Payson to surrounding communities. A line to Globe accessed long distance calls. She went to work for the Forest Service managing the line in 1947, and operated from a small building adjacent to the Ranger Station (today's Rim Country Museum).

A month after she started the job, a public utility took over the service, Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company. She managed their office for the next 10 years. When Walter's health relapsed and she needed to stay with him, Belle had the switchboard moved to their home on Frontier Street.

She said, "I soon found out that I was married to that thing. It controlled my life."

Many were the times Belle put through life-saving calls for help, and it was clear she needed to be present 24 hours a day.

On such occasions she said, "We never ceased to pray."

She added, "I can't turn the switchboard off and go lie down somewhere for someone's life might depend on the communication."

She did manage to get someone to spell her, and her assistant was Anna Mae Deming.

The town was growing and with it the phone lines expanded. Instead of eight calls a day she was fielding more than 40 calls. This was a party line, so she knew full well that folks were listening in all over the area.

"You have to be careful what you say," she emphasized.

But everyone knew Belle's readiness to help, and later testimonies affirmed "it would not be possible to tell the love and devotion she gave the town and its people."

By the 1960s Walter had secured a position that was not too demanding, as fire watchman at the Diamond Point lookout.

Then on Aug. 5, 1962 tragedy struck the Lovelady family.

Their son, Larry, who had traveled extensively as a pilot, and was then living with his wife and four children in Mesa, flew to Payson to see his parents.

As the plane was coming in for a landing, those watching heard something like an explosion. The plane's wing structure had failed, and it disintegrated in the air dropping mangled parts into the meadow south of the Ox Bow Inn and onto Main Street buildings.

Larry was killed along with his passenger. He was 36.

Several years after that, Walter Lovelady succumbed to his long illness on Jan. 28, 1966.

In her retirement, Belle once again took up the oil painting she had started earlier in their marriage.

Eventually she moved to Oregon with her daughter Dorothy and son-in-law, Eugene Pyle, where she died Sept. 4, 1997. She was 95 years old.

She often said her main regret was that she could not finish school and go on for a career.

"That's what I wanted to do more than anything else."

But her compensation was in her loving family.

"I know that I felt my life really belonged to my children as it did to my husband."

She had a faith that enabled her to accept her circumstances and rejoice in the beauty around her.

Belle would often speak of how she loved the Mogollon Rim with its "fir trees and walnuts. It seemed like you were so close to God in places like that. You can practically see the Lord's face among those tall trees.

"You couldn't go up on the mountain and not be inspired to write poetry. I had it written on calendars and everywhere."

Then she quoted one of her writings:

"I'm glad my town had a road that winds through a million shimmering, singing pines, to the crest of the beautiful blue Mogollon Rim."

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