Wisconsin couple challenged by the curse of a million telephones

Back in the winter of 1971, Ron Knappen, of Galesville, Wis., (east of Winona, Minn.) went for a drive while he and his wife were on a trip to visit relatives in Illinois for Christmas. He came back with eight old wooden wall telephones which he’d bought from someone for $50 each.

“I said, ‘You gotta sell these.’ He’d spent our savings, which was about $400,” his wife, Mary tells the La Crosse Tribune.

Ron paid attention to his better half and put an ad in a magazine and, surprise, people started calling wanting to buy them. So he bought more.

“He started out with a station wagon and then a station wagon with a trailer, and then a trailer,” Mary said.

Ron used the school copier — he was a teacher back then — to make posters and the business grew. People loved old phones. And Ron loved collecting them.

He’s got more than a million of them now, he figures. They stacked in a pole barn. There’s also 29 semi-trailers on his property. They’re all jammed full of old telephones. In one trailer alone there are 1,700 oak telephones.

At one point they had 40 full-time employees filling orders for old phones — Hollywood was a big customer — and repairing the ones that people sent them to be fixed. It was a good business. But now they’re down to 10 part-timers.

He’s getting on in years now and he wants out. But how do you get rid of a million old telephones?

“Before, each one was like a goldmine,” Ron tells the paper. “It’s not been like that these days. It’s becoming a curse.”

“The biggest problem is how do you get rid of it,” Ron said. “If you buy me out, I’ll help you load.”

Bring 65 trailer trucks with you.