100 years of Union, Wyoming company celebrates centennial in 2014
The Woody family came to the southwest corner of Wyoming in the late 1800s after unfortunate losses of their cattle herd.
“My great-grandfather and his parents moved here from Texas,” says Brian Woody, Union Telephone’s Chief Customer Relations Officer. “They came to Wyoming and started working on the Oregon Shortline, which ran from Granger west.”
When the railroad hub was moved to Green River, Woody says the commute was far – and John Woody saw a need in the community in the form of communication.
“At the time, there were some independent telephone lines,” explains Woody, “but they were just a line that connected a string of houses down the road. There was no way to call anyone unless they were on the same line.”
John Woody believed there was a way to bring communication to a broader level and bought the existing four lines, combining them into one company – Union Telephone Company – in 1914.
Woody notes that the company has remained small but strong in Wyoming’s Bridger Valley, growing with the energy boom in the valley.
“When my grandfather took over in the early 1950s, there were 125 lines,” he says. “After 40 years of being in business, we found that there wasn’t a large population here, but we had those 125 customers and no one else wanted to serve them.”
At the time, Woody says his grandfather was searching for a way to help the company support both him and his father without borrowing additional money.
“They offered to sell the company to AT&T for one dollar,” he continues. “AT&T sent an engineer to look at the system, and they said it would cost too much to upgrade the physical plant of the company.”
Woody says his grandfather countered by applying for loans from the Rural Electric Administration to upgrade and build more lines.
“We kept growing in that manner, trying to keep up with the technology as we grew,” he adds.
In the 80s, Union entered into the wireless arena by submitting an application for the wireless lottery frequencies.
“We were lucky enough to come away with two licenses – one in southwest Wyoming and one in northwest Colorado,” Woody explains. “We started building cellular sites and offering services.”
The cellular aspect of the business grew quickly, he notes.
“In the early 2000s, we bought more spectrum in the rest of Wyoming and expanded our footprint,” Woody comments. “We’ve been building and upgrading ever since.”
Today, Union Telephone Company offers landline telephone and DSL, as well as wireless, voice, text and high speed data services.
“In some areas we are also working to continue upgrades,” says Woody. “We are currently turning on our LTE sites. Though we have some up already, we plan on having more operational this year.”
“We always try to stay with the leading edge of technology,” Woody emphasizes. “While that is a hard thing to do some days, we work hard to accomplish those goals.”
Keeping on top of the increasing needs of customers and equipment presents a persistent challenge.
“We are trying to do the best we can to keep up with the needs of our subscribers,” says Woody. “We are building out our areas to meet their needs, so we don’t have to do it over again.”
Woody notes that Union Telephone works to serve the needs of subscribers across the state, particularly in areas that aren’t served by other providers.
“This is more true in southwest Wyoming because there isn’t coverage from other providers there, but there are very few places in that region that customers won’t have coverage from Union,” he notes. “We also launched an effort several years ago to accomplish the same thing in Laramie County.”
Woody explains that Union Telephone made an effort several years ago to improve service to customer in Laramie County in areas where they weren’t being served before.
“Ninety percent of Laramie County has coverage from Union, even in Albin and Carpenter where there isn’t coverage from anyone else,” he says. “That is what we try to do everywhere.”
Union Telephone continues to strive to provide service to those customers with no other options.
Enjoying the job.
For Woody, being a part of Union Telephone is something he has always wanted to do.
“I remember as a very young boy going to the switches with my dad,” he explains. “Back then, it was a mechanical switch, and we could hear the relays opening and closing. It was almost like music.”
Since his childhood, Union Telephone has been part of Woody’s life, and he hopes to continue the business into the future.
“I worked away from the business a couple years and spent some time in Kansas City, Kan., and it was great, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t the same as working for the family business,” Woody comments. “I really enjoy that I can help my neighbors and our customers by guiding them the communication and services that they need, and ultimately, we can do it at a reasonable cost to them and to us.”
Into the future
Moving forward, Woody says they continue to keep the latest technologies in focus.
“We are trying to keep up with demand and continue to get more coverage out there in places that don’t have any other option for those services,” he says.
Rural customers, says Woody, rely on cellular communications as much as their urban counterparts but have fewer reliable options available. He works to ensure Union Telephone can meet that need.
“Our goal is to keep expanding and to keep up with technology as it evolves,” Woody says.
Woody looks forward to the next generations of Union Telephone, commenting, “This year, we will be celebrating 100 years of Union, and we hope to see another 100 years or more.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org