Back hoe cuts off phone service in town

By Chelle Delaney

For some, it was an eerie calm.

For others, it was a frustration and a natural cause of concern.

It was Wednesday, the day when nearly all of the town’s phone lines went dead, including the area’s 911 emergency service.

“We have a back-up phone for 911,” said Tucumcari Police Chief Larry Ham on Wednesday morning.

Ham was standing with Tucumcari Fire Chief Mike Cherry at the intersection of South First and Charles streets to see first-hand what kind of cut had caused the town’s phones to go dead.

Ham said the department contacted local radio stations to broadcast the alternate number to residents in case of an emergency.

Ham also said that the sudden halt in service had damaged equipment at their central office where a new county-wide phone and dispatch system had recently been installed and initiated.

State and local police still had radio communications between their patrol cars and between most of their cell phones, he said.

Cherry estimated that the town’s population, some 6,000, were without their phone service. Subscribers to Qwest were affected, he said.

Others who were subscribers to Plateau continued to have service, he said.

“A back hoe cut the cable. They were digging and they thought it was dead,” said project superintendent Johnny Macias for A.S. Horner Construction Co., the company that is doing the work on First Street.

Phone service was cut sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

It was restored at 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, Macias said.
“We open at 11 a.m., we came in and said, ‘What’s wrong, what happened?’” said Tammy Fang, owner and operator of the Golden Dragon restaurant.

Golden Dragon employees told customers the restaurant would only be able to take cash or checks.

“Some people didn’t even have checks,” she said. “It wasn’t that bad, we lost about two tickets.”

At K-Bob’s, Manager Ross Harmon had to act a little more swiftly with a morning breakfast crowd.

“We have three phone lines here, I got them all changed over to my cell phone so we wouldn’t lose any business calls,” he said.

“We put a sign on the door, telling customers we were sorry for the inconvenience, but that we couldn’t take credit cards.”

Many businesses, like K-Bob’s and Golden Dragon, could no longer get authorization from credit card companies on customer purchases because their phone lines were dead
“We did take some out-of-state checks, because there was no way to get authorizations (for credit cards). And we did end up taking some credit card numbers and running them through the next day.”

Harmon also said there was difficulty getting change for the restaurant’s cash register from his business banker, Wells Fargo, because the bank had closed.

So, instead he went to his personal banker, the Federal Credit Union, where he was able to get change for his cash register to accommodate customers.

Ben White of Wells Fargo said he could not comment on the Wednesday closure.

Harmon said, “We either lost business or we were able to help the customer in another fashion. It was a major inconvenience, but we made it through.”