Contributed by James T. Sears
IN LIPAN HE’S KNOWN AS THE TELEPHONE MAN
Herman D. Howard is the telephone company to residents of Lipan and Bluff Dale in Hood and Erath Counties. Howard took a small antiquated rural telephone cooperative and built it into one of the most modern, if still small, telephone companies anywhere
Fort Worth Star Telegram 1976
By Art von Reyn
For most telephone company executives, the first task of the day is to get ready for work. But, for Herman D. Howard, the first task of the day is to get out and feed the cattle.
Herman D. Howard is one of a diminishing breed…the independent telephone company owner. Howard’s acquisition of an antiquated rural telephone company operative in Lipan in the late 1950’s has blossomed into one of the most modern, if still small, telephone companies in the area.
In addition to his telephone company and the 60 beef cows on his ranch, Howard also owns the water system in Lipan. And, most members of his family participate or have participated in his various concerns.
Howard’s involvement with telephones began in the early 1950’s when he was elected to the board of directors of the telephone cooperative at Lipan. The Lipan Telephone Cooperative had served Lipan and its rural environs since the early 1900’s with the subscribers working a number of days each year to keep up the system and elect a five man board of directors to oversee the operations.
At the time of Howard’s election to the board, the telephone cooperative was in a rather precarious state. Crank phones were the only kind in use (the operator placed all calls), there were only 115 subscribers and just one long distance line — to Granbury.
The board of directors decided to make some improvements to the telephone cooperative at that time. The cooperative was incorporated in 1956 as the Lipan Telephone Company and 650 shares of stock priced at $10 each were placed on sale at the Lipan bank to raise the needed capital for improvements.
Unfortunately, the shares were not best sellers, and most remained at the bank.
Howard says that with the encouragement of all but a few members of the community, he borrowed $5,000 to buy 500 shares, making him majority owner of the Lipan Telephone Company (Howard now owns all but four of the 650 shares) and putting him in the telephone business.
“I was in the dry cleaning laundry then. They just put me in as a director, and it seemed like no one else was interested or wanted to fool with it,” Howard said.
But, Howard did fool with it. He began borrowing more money for improvements and in 1960 or 1961 (he doesn’t remember exactly), the big switch was made to dial telephones.
1973 was really the big year for the Lipan Telephone Company. With low cost loans, Howard was able to have all the telephone lines placed under ground, add direct long distance service, and convert over to one party lines exclusively…a most enviable accomplishment for any telephone company.
The Lipan Telephone Company consists of two exchanges, one in Lipan and the other in Bluff Dale, a small community southwest of Lipan. The total number of subscribers is 550, mostly in Hood County, but also some in Parker, Palo Pinto, and Erath Counties.
Howard said, “I never would have dreamed that we could have brought this thing up to the kind of investment now (about $600,000)…I just enjoy anything I can start out within the community and see an improvement.”
Howard said he had received a number of offers from other companies to buy him out, including one several years ago for $320,000. But Howard apparently won’t see his telephone empire any time soon. Howard said, “If the kids want it, I’d probably keep it.”
Among the company’s half dozen employees are Howard’s teenage daughter, Rhonda, who works after school as a bookkeeper, his 15 year old son John, who installs the telephones and runs the ditching machine, and his older brother Horace who serves as a supervisor. A Lipan resident, Emma Gene Conners serves as the full time secretary and bookkeeper. Others are occasionally employed on a contract basis.
Howard said his wife of 20 years, Bobbie, used to be a part time operator and sole bookkeeper, but she is now occupied with other things.
As for the operator, Howard said his company hasn’t had one for some time, and that the person answering “Lipan Operator” is actually in Fort Worth.
Asked about the newly formed Texas Utilities Commission, Howard had a fairly predictable answer: “I think the Utilities Commission is a bunch of red tape and expense my customers will have to pay for.”
Howard said that his ownership of the Lipan Water Works came in 1954 when he bought that company from an uncle. It now has about 150 customers, mostly in or close around Lipan.
Asked about his other accomplishments, Howard said that he organized the Lipan Volunteer Fire Department, that he was a former mayor of Lipan, also a former school board president. He is still on the school board today.
What’s the future for Howard??? Well…maybe the electric company!
|Herman D. Howard was born March 20, 1926, at Natty Flat in Palo Pinto County to Robert Terry and Emma Mae (Compton) Howard. He married Bobbie Haralson on January 26, 1957 in Lipan, Texas. He died on July 14, 1985, at Granbury, Texas. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery at Lipan.|