Paicines – Steve and Harvey Bryan still run the small telephone
company their father and uncle bought in 1955 in a tiny two-room
concrete building up in the hills of rural San Benito County.
may actually be a bit of an exaggeration.
Paicines – Steve and Harvey Bryan still run the small telephone company their father and uncle bought in 1955 in a tiny two-room concrete building up in the hills of rural San Benito County.
The term “two-room” may actually be a bit of an exaggeration. The first room is little more than a hallway with a desk, a flat-screen computer, several phones and a blinking green wall that resembles a giant computer chip. But this is where all the action happens.
“Some days, quite frankly, it’s pretty boring,” says Steve, who along with his brother Harvey, run the Pinnacles Telephone Company. “Fortunately, that’s not that often.”
The Bryan brothers don’t really have time to get bored. Their company is the only means for residents of Paicines and New Idria to place local calls, and just this month they expanded to include DSL Internet service. With about 300 phone, fax and secondary lines in use by their customers, the brothers let the computers do all the work switching lines and transferring calls so they can focus all their energy on making sure the customers are happy.
“Owning your own company does not mean you’re your own boss. My customers are the boss,” Steve says. “We’re here and we’re local and we know most of our customers on a first name basis. If you call our main number, you’ll never get an answering machine; you’ll never get voice-mail. You’ll always get a real person.”
And that person will most likely be Steve or Harvey. They do have two part-time employees, one of whom is their cousin, but other than that they’re pretty much a two-man show.
“It has its headaches and it has its high points,” Steve says with a laugh.
The Bryan brothers never meant to get into the telephone business. They grew up around the industry after their father, Rex and their uncle, Loren, bought about 50 miles of poles and lines stretching from the Paicines hills to Hollister from a farmer named William Butts in 1955. Butts had built the lines in 1908 to keep in contact with his San Francisco-based investment broker. He sold the lines to the Bryans in 1955 and by 1975 Rex Bryan was the sole owner of the only company that serviced Paicines, the Pinnacles and the New Idria quicksilver mines.
But Rex liked to do everything himself, never molding his two sons to take over the family business. Which was fine with Steve and Harvey, because they had other plans anyway. They both left town after finishing school. Steve became an electrical engineer and Harvey worked in different areas of the service sector.
But by the late ’80s, when Rex couldn’t run the business all on his own, his two sons began helping out. When their father died in 1999, Steve and Harvey were ready to take over the Pinnacles Telephone Company. Now the ranch home they grew up in is their office. The small cinderblock-like shack with the giant antenna on top is computerized and switchboard-free, and Steve and Harvey have kids of their own that they don’t think will come back to run the family business, either.
“The kids seem to have found their own niche and they seem pretty happy,” Steve says.
But you never know; their minds could change. Steve’s certainly has.
“It’s kind of fun, really,” he says, standing outside the computerized cinderblock and looking out over the green hills and fields of mustard-yellow wildflowers. “You get to kind of choose what projects you want to do. And it’s a real joy to have a work area in a place like this.”