The Telegraph Office
The Oldest Surviving Associated Press Telegrapher
Aubrey Keel, W0AKL, 97 Years Young and Still Pounding
by Neal McEwen, K5RW
[Editor's note: I am sad to report that Aubrey
passed away in June of 1999.]
Copyright © 1997, Neal McEwen
Telegraph Office Main Page
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
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 email@example.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
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.
For more information, visit the Telegraph
Office home page
[The following is a short AUTObiography from Mr. Keel
who lived in Kansas, MO. until his death in June of 1999. Mr. Keel
submitted this short autobiogrlaphy in 1997.-- ray weathers] =========================================================
Now 96 yrs old. Born July 3, 1901 at Indian Gap, Texas, Hamilton
Moved to Goldthwaite, Texas around 1903 where my father ran a grocery
store. Attended public schools at Golthwaite.
During WW1 there was shortage of telegraph operators so I learned to
telegraph at the old Santa Fe RR freight depot in Goldthwaite. Took
telegraph operator job at that place, later moving to Temple Santa Fe
Telegraph Relay Office.
In 1926, having become a proficient operator I signed on with the
Associated Press and was employed in transmitting and receiving news
reports via the telegraph which was the only means of sending messages
long distances at a fast speed.
Around 1933 The AP discontinued the telegraph in favor of the Teletype
automatic printers. I stayed with the AP as a Teletype maintenance man. In
1935 the AP started transmitting pictures via telephone lines and I became
a Wirephoto technician, advancing in 1936 to national supervisor in New
York City, a position I held until WWII when I entered the military
service. I was stationed at the Fort Worth Army Flying Field (now Carswell)
until I was discharged.
Returning to the AP at the end of the War I became AP Chief of
Communications at Des Moines, then at Los Angles and finally at Milwaukee.
I retired in 1966 after the final 25 years in Administrative work for the
My wife, Alcia also was employed by the AP and since she was ten years my
junior she continued after my retirement. Her job took her to Kansas City
in 1972 . She passed away in 1994 and I remained in Kansas City.
I have one daughter Mari, and one granddaughter Tara Lynn McElyea, living
next door to me. Both of us are on adjoining acreages.I am still quite
active and able to take care of my acreage and home.
In 1948 I became an amateur radio operator better known as ham operators.
My present ham radio call is W0AKL. (That's a zero in between the W and
Altho somewhat at novice, I own and use two computers, mostly for E-mail
and word processing. I have a flatbed scanner and a digital camera, etc.
Recently the AP flew me and my galfriend to Washington where I put on a
Morse telegraph demonstration at the 150th anniversary celebration of the
Associated Press. Altho the telegraph is outmoded (long ago) there still
is some interest in it and I have put on numerous demonstrations.