The Telegraph Office

The Oldest Surviving Associated Press Telegrapher

Aubrey Keel, W0AKL, 97 Years Young and Still Pounding Brass

by Neal McEwen, K5RW

k5rw@telegraph-office.com

[Editor's note:  I am sad to report that Aubrey passed away in June of 1999.]

Copyright © 1997,  Neal McEwen

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I'd like for you to meet an acquaintance of mine. His name is Aubrey Keel. Aubrey was born in Indian Gap, Hamilton County, Texas in 1901. He became a telegraph operator during World War I for the Sante Fe Railroad. He practiced the profession of telegraphy in various capacities until the key was replaced by teletype machines in 1933 on Associated Press wires.

I met Aubrey at the local Morse Telegraph Club fall meeting. He was the most senior member by at least two decades. I was quite surprised to learn Aubrey was on the Internet; you may Email correspond with him at aekeel@juno.com.

The photo at the right shows Aubrey in front of the depot in Goldthwaite, Texas, where he learned telegraphy in 1917. The photo at the left shows Aubrey at the key making a tone tape for MTC members who could not attend the meeting.

Aubrey worked for the Sante Fe for a few years, then in 1926 he went to work for Associated Press, in Temple, Texas copying news stories. AP moved him to all the large cities in Texas, most of the time in Fort Worth. Besides press he copied stock market reports after the the close of the New York Stock Exchange. He entered lots of numbers and fractions on a stock market report form.

Aubrey recalls that press and market report operators had to be extremely proficient or they did not last long. He states that all the copying was done on a typewriter, or "mill" as they were called. A single error in market reports could cause an investor untold grief.

Press operators worked in close proximity to newspaper men. To improve the throughput of press traffic, the Phillips Code was used. Commonly used words were abbreviated and standardized in the Phillips Code book. (these little pocket sized books are very rare and prized by telegraphers and collectors alike.) For example, TD was Treasury Department, CHN was children, BOP was breach of promise. By using these abbreviations the effective speed could be significantly improved. Sending operators would send 30 to 35 words per minute. On the receiving end the operator would be typing 45 to 50 words a minute, as he typed the complete word, not the abbreviation.

Aubrey continued to work for the AP even after the last Morse circuit was closed. He worked in various other capacities and retired in 1966. He currently resides in Kansas City, where his last AP assignment took him. He enjoys ham radio, CW of course, and keeps in contact with friends via the airways and the Internet.

My thanks to Macalee Hime for the photos, and Tony Smith of Morsum Magnificat and Greg Raven for biographical information. For more information on Aubrey and the history of telegraphy at AP, see the February, 1994 issue of Morsum Magnificat. 


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Neal McEwen, k5rw@telegraph-office.com