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Galesville firm struggles with hundreds of telephones

Galesville firm struggles with hundreds of telephones

2023-11-11 10:14:41

GALESVILLE — The numbers are staggering, the circumstances lower than preferrred and the longer term unsure.

Time, expertise and altering tastes have derailed a as soon as worthwhile, distinctive enterprise that at its peak offered hundreds of classic telephones to consumers from all over the world and produced revenues of practically $1 million a 12 months.

Solely now, Ron and Mary Knappen are attempting to find out what to do with their vast Phoneco inventory, which pulls little curiosity today. It’s the identical challenges confronted by others who deal in antiques like roll-top desks, units of china, oil lamps, armoires and salt and pepper shakers.

The Knappens, Ron, 87, and Mary, 82, possess a set that over the previous 52 years has clearly gotten out of hand.


Ron Knappen, 87, based Phoneco in Galesville along with his spouse, Mary, in 1971, however gross sales of classic telephones have slowed and Knappen is uncertain what to do along with his huge stock. Knappen has barns, sheds, trailers and a museum that maintain tens of hundreds of telephones.

We’re not speaking a couple of basement, attic or storage crammed with bins and bins.

Persons are additionally studying…

The granary constructed in 1903 is filled with telephones, identical with the barn and its silo in-built 1957 after a twister destroyed the unique dairy construction. The pole shed from Menards put up in 1979 is crammed with telephones together with 33 semi-trailers, some lacking their doorways and surrounded by junked automobiles, vehicles and campers. One, in line with Knappen, holds 1,000 walnut bins for classic wall telephones. One other is used to retailer 1,000 metal desk telephones.

A mile away, on a separate property, the Knappens have stuffed a former hen barn with telephones they usually have an 80-foot-long, 60-foot-wide metal shed, half of which is crammed with telephones, the opposite half with 12 automobiles and vehicles.

The Knappens are additionally within the technique of attempting to empty a 41,000-square-foot constructing in downtown Galesville.

Situated beneath the dam alongside Little Tamarack Creek, the previous dairy manufacturing facility has been owned by the Knappens since 1988. They’re promoting the constructing and must be out by July. It’s unclear if they’ve sufficient house of their different services to carry the gathering from the Galesville constructing that homes hundreds of extra telephones, together with scores which are a part of a multi-room museum.

“At first it seemed prefer it was going to be straightforward, however because the months go by and the older you get, the tougher and tougher it will get,” mentioned Ron Knappen. “It was a really fantastic constructing to function in, however we’re unable to have the assets now, financially, to function out of that constructing.”

The Knappens consider the $240,000 from the sale of the constructing will fund their retirement, however it should do nothing to resolve the problem of discovering houses for his or her phone assortment.


An array of candlestick-style telephones are displayed within the museum at Phoneco in downtown Galesville. Nonetheless, Ron Knappen is promoting the constructing, which additionally has hundreds of telephones and must be cleared out by July.  He is uncertain if he’ll make his deadline.

You identify it

There are picket wall telephones from the early 1900s, metal and plastic dial and push-button telephones and an entire slew of payphones. Some telephones are within the form of Kermit the Frog, Garfield and Mickey Mouse. There are desk telephones with a number of strains and ornate telephones made from brass. The one cellphone is Ron’s black flip telephone he purchased from Walmart greater than 10 years in the past.

A Wisconsin couple has 33 trailers filled with classic telephones on their property.

Along with the telephones, a few of that are priced at greater than $350, there are bins of handsets, cords, plugs, bells and wire. Want the 1977 Yellow Pages from Chicago? They’ve that, too.

What’s missing are prospects and a succession plan. There are few orders and the couple’s three youngsters have no real interest in the enterprise.

“Proper now the order state of affairs is fairly stagnant,” Ron Knappen mentioned. “The gross sales are so pitiful. It’s in a really unhappy level of decline.”


Bins, lots of them broken from water, maintain lots of of telephones on this semi-trailer on the 5-acre property owned by Mary and Ron Knappen. 

The way it began

Ron started studying Common Mechanics whereas in highschool in Illinois and behind the journal have been advertisements for an organization that offered outdated telephones in Turtle Lake, about an hour northwest of Eau Claire. After serving within the U.S. Navy in the course of the Korean Warfare, Ron used the GI Invoice in 1957 to attend UW-Stout, the place he studied training, drove a Mannequin A coupe and have become an industrial arts teacher. He and Mary married in 1960 after they met at a dance and spent 4 years instructing in Amboy, Illinois, one 12 months in Mineral Level and 7 years in Melrose.


Mary Knappen unloads classic telephones from the trunk of her automotive into one in every of 33 semi-trailers on the previous farm that’s now house to Phoneco in rural Trempeleau County. Every trailer holds totally different sorts of telephones and components.

However all through his instructing profession he and his spouse had dabbled in shopping for and promoting conventional antiques. Their life trajectory modified in 1971, when Ron purchased eight picket field telephones from a seller. He positioned a categorized advert in a newspaper and acquired greater than 50 responses. That led to extra, and commercials in Vintage Dealer journal, which in flip led to calls from throughout the nation. Ron stop instructing in 1973 to commit his full consideration to a enterprise that might in the end develop to almost 40 part-time workers after they moved in 1976 from Melrose to rural Galesville.

“The telephone simply rang off the hook and I knew the place there have been outdated telephones,” Ron mentioned. “It was enjoyable within the heyday.”

In 1981, the corporate was authorized by the Federal Communications Fee to check and restore telephones with the downtown constructing housing departments for portray, sprucing, repairing and delivery telephones.


Phoneo house owners Ron and Mary Knappen’s eating room desk serves as a piece station as they attempt to decide what to do with their huge stock of classic telephones. At its peak, their firm had revenues of a $1 million a 12 months and offered telephones to prospects from all over the world.

Their stock exploded in 1991, when the Knappens bought 13 semi-trailer a great deal of telephones from the Turtle Lake enterprise after the proprietor died. Phoneco additionally started supplying telephones to Hollywood for period-specific motion pictures. They included in 2005 “The Misplaced Metropolis,” which featured Andy Garcia, and “Cinderella Man,” directed by Ron Howard. A 12 months later, Phoneco telephones appeared subsequent to Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank in “The Black Dahlia,” and in “The Good Shepherd,” which featured a star-studded solid of Robert De Niro, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Alec Baldwin.

Refined mission

However the glory days of vintage and not-so-antique telephones, which included journeys throughout the nation to purchase and promote telephones, are previously with only a few orders per week now. A lot of the main focus is spent on attempting to empty the constructing in Galesville. The Knappens have taken greater than 50 masses with their pickups and still have used the couple’s Buick Riviera for the 9-mile spherical journey from their farm to Galesville and again.

They’ve barely made a dent.


Aerial view of semi-trailers saved on the Phoneco services close to Galesville.

On Tuesday, Mary drove the Buick across the farm, stopping at particular trailers to unload telephones from her trunk. At one trailer, she climbed up a makeshift ladder to a picket door that had been put in together with plywood instead of the normal steel double doorways. She admits, it’s a bit overwhelming.

“It’s. We’re simply attempting to get all of it out,” Mary mentioned. Ron’s “upset with me as a result of I simply don’t throw it right into a pile. I need to kind it as we go.”

The Knappens nonetheless take trip for dinner with pals and just lately traveled to Quonset Corridor in Thorp to bounce to Polish polkas, however ideas of their telephones are by no means far. Neither makes use of a cane or walker whereas Ron, who will flip 88 in December, continues to climb into trailers, traverse the steep picket steps of the barn and walks briskly, whether or not he’s displaying off the trailers or is in one of many many buildings.

An workplace is below development in a single finish of the barn, which is able to change the workplace in Galesville, however they nonetheless have mountains of labor remaining with the intention to empty out their downtown facility. Winter is close to, which is able to solely hinder the method.

“These outdated vehicles we drive aren’t going to be straightforward to barter,” Ron mentioned. “Mary is optimistic and really energetic and I’ve at all times been an adventurous particular person. But it surely appears fairly dismal to us.”

“At first it seemed prefer it was going to be straightforward, however because the months go by and the older you get, the tougher and tougher it will get.”

Ron Knappen, who’s attempting to promote hundreds of telephones collected from over time


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