Helix Telephone

Former Helix Telephone Company co-owner Jim Smith gestures toward equipment while explaining how the telephone exchange works in the Helix Telephone Company central office in Helix on Feb. 14, 2012.

HELIX — An end of an era came with the change to the new year for the Helix Telephone Co.

The sale of the telephone company to Oregon Telephone Corp. of Mount Vernon closed Dec. 31, 2019, ending the nearly half century of Smith family ownership of what was once the smallest independently owned telephone company in the state.

The Helix Telephone Co. currently operates approximately 185 lines and had been owned and operated by the Smith family since 1972, according to former co-owner Tim Smith.

“I don’t think there will be too much of a change for the customers,” he said. “I think it’s going to work out well for everyone in the community.”

Brothers Jim and Tim Smith of Helix have run the company since their parents’ retirement in 1998 and have worked to bring additional services, such as the internet, to the company’s customers.

Jim Smith said rumors of the sale began spreading around town when he moved out of the company house and into a smaller place in Helix late last year as he prepared for his retirement. He said while it is hard to leave, it was just the right decision at the time.

“It’s hard and sad for me to leave, but I was ready to retire,” he said. “I’ve been working there since before I graduated high school. This would have been my 41st year there.”

Jim Smith said he and his brother had been looking to sell the company and the decision was centered on finding someone who would be a good fit to carry it into the future. While both Tim and Jim Smith have children, Jim said the company was too small to support all of the children and they had decided to follow other career paths.

“We didn’t just want to settle for some bigger outlet,” Jim Smith said. “We sought out Oregon Telephone because they fit with who we are.”

The Smith brothers said they felt especially comfortable selling the business to Oregon Telephone Corp. because it is a family-owned operation. Oregon Telephone Corp. was founded in 1914 and is owned by the Bott family of Mount Vernon. The company operates more than 2,000 phone lines and has roughly 3,000 internet customers, according to DeeDee Kluser, the general manager for Oregon Telephone Corp.

Kluser said the company has purchased rural telephone operations on several occasions in the past and saw this as an opportunity to expand into a new community.

“We’re very community minded,” she said. “We want to be involved in the community and support local contractors and fundraisers.”

While the sale and Federal Communications Commission approval have been completed, Jim Smith said he will not be fully free of the company until March as he helps to navigate the switchover. Jim’s younger brother, Tim Smith, will stay on to run day-to-day operations and service calls at the Helix office.

Despite the family business coming to an end, both Smith brothers fondly recall their time with the company. Jim Smith said it will be hard to be in Helix and not involved in telephone operations, while Tim Smith said it will be an adjustment not going to work with his family every day.

“I used to own it, but now I don’t,” Tim Smith lamented. “I’m going to miss it.”

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