From party lines to DSL - Skip Layne has been there

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Skip Layne, area operations manager for CenturyTel, said the recent merger with CenturyTel and EMBARQ forming CenturyLink is a major merger for CenturyTel.

"The merger has over tripled our size covering a 33-state service area," Layne said.

CenturyTel and Embarq merge for CenturyLink. Pictured are, from left: Randy Hutchison, plant technician; Marsha Chambers, specialist; Billy Watson, area plant supervisor; and Skip Layne, area operations manager. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

Layne has been a part of the local telephone service for 37 years as of Nov. 6. He started as a lineman for United Telephone in 1972 working with a five man line crew in Monette.

They were converting from 8 party lines to 4 party lines in all of the rural serving areas. United served Monette, Manila, Leachville, Caraway, Lake City, Bay, Trumann, Holly Grove and Clarendon in Arkansas. They also served Steele, Bernie and Parma, Mo. All of those areas were taken care of from the Monette area.

"The people in the country were so friendly," Layne said. "When we were working out in the country it was not unusual for people to invite us to lunch or for us to get a homemade pie for Christmas."

United was the first of the six companies Layne has been part of throughout his career with local telephone companies servicing the Buffalo Island area.

There are currently five employees in the area who have worked for all six companies. They are Layne, Randy Hutchison, Wesley Cranford, Steve Baldridge, and Randell Curtis.

Layne said there was a lot of pole climbing in those early days with the telephone company.

Hutchison, plant technician, has worked for 35 years. He and Layne worked together on the line during their early years with United.

"We did not even have a bucket truck," Layne said. "I remember the first bucket truck we had. It was a real asset to the job. I think it cost about $37,000. It was a big boom truck with an auger to dig the holes for the poles. We were proud to have it."

They put up aerial cable and did all types of cable construction and wreck out of old facilities as they were retired.

Layne worked as a lineman until the spring of 1976 when he became a cable splicer helper. He worked at that position for about a year and was promoted to combination man in Manila. The combination man position required him to work on all outside plant service issues as well as work on central office problems as they came up. He worked in Manila and Leachville for the next 14 years.

During this time frame, Contel traded property with United and acquired the United Property in Arkansas and the Bootheel of Missouri. In July of 1989 United became Contel.

In April 1990 Contel promoted Layne to management as an outside cable plant analyst working in all of the Contel property on the east side of the state.

The next change happened in July of 1990 when GTE bought Contel out coast to coast. The name was changed in 1991 and the company became GTE. Layne was asked to assume the local manager position in Monette during this time.

"There was a lot of position changing going on in the new organization and they needed someone to take the position so I accepted," Layne said.

He worked for the next nine years in that position taking on the responsibility of the day to day operations in 14 exchanges in east Arkansas for GTE.

The next change came in 2000 when GTE merged with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon. It was a short change only lasting one month. On Aug. 1, 2000, CenturyTel purchased all of GTE/Verizon property in Arkansas forming CenturyTel. For 18 months Layne held the same job responsibilities for CenturyTel as he had for GTE until his promotion in April 2002 to his current position of area operations manager for all of CenturyTel's area in North Arkansas. His area includes four work areas of North Arkansas, Mountain Home, Hardy, Pocahontas and Monette.

"I have good supervisors in each of the areas," Layne said. "They run the day to day operations in those areas. Billy Watson moved to Monette and took over my former position and does an excellent job."

Other supervisors include Jeff Stroud at Mountain Home, Robbie Zeiger at Hardy, Roger Billingsley of Pocahontas and Bill Welch at Olive Branch, Miss.

"They all do a great job," Layne said.

Layne also praised the technicians who work in the field.

"We have highly skilled technicians who are ready to serve our customers," Layne said.

North Mississippi was added to the Arkansas operations in 2006. Layne now manages the North Arkansas/Mississippi District. His office still remains in the same Monette building where he started in 1972.

The building has been renovated through the years to meet the needs of the ever changing technology of today's service.

Layne praises the Monette office staff, Marsha Chambers and Cindy Barnes, for the excellent job they do.

Layne said milestones in his career include going from 8 to 4 party lines back in 1972; to retiring all open wire circuits and getting everyone served by copper cable in 1985; installing digital switching in all exchanges to replace the old electro mechanical switching. The access to vertical features including call forward, call waiting, etc. was completed in 1996; upgrading everyone to single party service by the end of 1996; offering access to high speed internet services from CenturyTel in March of 2001.

"Ironically, 20 years to the day, July 1, 2009, that United Telephone Company traded us to Contel, CenturyTel purchased and merges with Embarq which is now the name for the former United Telephone Company," Layne said. "The company name is changed to CenturyLink."

One thing that has not changed through the years is Layne's position of building relationships with customers and employees.

"CenturyLink is committed to offering our customers advanced communications services. It is a leading provider of high-quality voice, broadband and video services over its advanced communications networks. As I said before, it is a major merger for us and it will be good for our customers."

Layne pointed out there will be no changes to customers' phone numbers or local service. E-mail addresses will stay the same. Only new customers who sign up for broadband service will receive a CenturyLink email address.

Layne said he feels very blessed to have been able to remain in Buffalo Island at a job he truly enjoys. He said he appreciates the mentors early in his career who had faith in him to do the job. He said R.E. Bud Cannon was district manager, Billy Pierce was plant supervisor and Jerry Reed was construction foreman for United when he was hired.

"We are looking forward to serving our customers under the new CenturyLink name offering the highest quality of service in our Arkansas operations.

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